Monday, November 16, 2015

My, how time flies...

A typical view of time goes like this.
Few of us who are old enough, can remain detached when we see a photograph of ourselves 20 years ago. We have aged. We have less hair, perhaps less teeth, and certainly more wrinkles. Maybe we didn't or couldn't do all the things we had planned to do. Time has passed and has exacted its toll on us. So what is this mysterious thing that threads days, months and years together so inexorably? We can't see it, hear it, smell it, taste it or touch it. Time has changed us - our physical appearance and inner experience, yet we have been unable to change it.
We say that it flies or drags by, but in fact it just rolls along with the same constancy as ever. We don't want to waste it. We are always coming up with new technologies that supposedly help us "save" it. We invent new vehicles so that we can get from one place to the other in less time. But we forget that time is also life.
We see time's cycles. The earth revolves on its axis and we call it a day. It makes a complete turn around the sun, and we call it a year. We can measure it, but it's deeper secrets elude us.
There is a story about a rich tourist visiting a fishing village in the Amazon. He tried to convince a fisherman to hire more people to help him.
The conversation went like this:
- Why would I want to do that?                           
- So that you can catch more fish.
- Why would I want to do that?
- So you could earn more money to invest in your operation, maybe buy a few more boats.
- Why would I want to do that?
- With more money you can have some time off to relax.
- But I'm already relaxed. Why would I want some more time?
- Then you could do what I do. For one month every year I just come fishing and leave all my troubles behind.
- But I'm already fishing...
You can see where the story is going.
The mystery of time has haunted us throughout the ages, so much so that we have an ambiguous relationship with it. We want to save as much time as we can, but when we have it available, do we really know how to make the best use of it? We plough through the day thinking about the time that we will have for relaxing in the evening. We struggle through the week to enjoy our weekend. We work so hard during the year for our annual vacation, so that we can have time for our well earned rest. The years roll by and we start to plan for our retirement, which passes sooner than most of us want. Old age brings sickness and finally the death of the body has to happen. We then think that our time is up.

Understanding time from the perspective of being an eternal soul, playing a role on this huge world stage, moves us to a different level of perception, in which time becomes just as important as our consciousness. Life is a happy mixture of both.

Excerpt from my upcoming book:
The Carousel of Time

Friday, November 6, 2015

The hidden cost of conflict

There are all sorts of conflict between human beings. At this time of panic and confusion because of the financial crisis, they have become more exacerbated than ever. If conflict can be defined by the friction that occurs when two or more people or groups try to occupy the same 'space' at the same time, the possibility that this happens in this current moment of chaos, is great.

This 'space' can be physical, in the case of two people hurrying to catch the last taxi on the rank. It can be emotional when the parties involved want to occupy the same historical territories. It may be a fight due to psychological incompatibility of positions, assessments, interpretations or ideologies. And they are usually expensive.

With all that is going on, the short fuses are abundant and lead to dysfunctions in our organizations. Contacts between people become more stressful and rules of coexistence less clear. Relationships, production, plans, customers and consumers and finally society and the environment - all suffer.

Because of the fact that conflict has been a central part of human society since the beginning of recorded history at least, we could hardly find someone who had never suffered personal loss due to it. The problem is not the conflict itself but how we perceive it and deal with it. Well understood and worked on, conflicts are drivers of positive and necessary change. Otherwise, they may cause major losses and delay our best plans despite noble intentions. Often it is not the best idea that prevails, but the strongest or better supported ego.

In the context of companies, the list of victims of conflict is great - lost business opportunities, breakdown of partnership, demotivation, high turnover of people, bad customer service and even sabotage, litigation, harassment and serious aggression. They say that people do not leave companies when they resign. They leave unpalatable bosses or colleagues.

In the breakneck speed of change and the gap between what we really do and what we have to do, we run out of the time needed to understand and manage the day-to-day conflicts. The lack of time also leads us to a superficial and symptomatic treatment of them without comprehending their true causes. This leads most to just pretending they did not happen, they either try to run away from them or smother them with false positivity. The situations that unsolved conflicts produce, sustain and grow as become organizational cancer.

Generally we only try to solve them when they are too difficult or too expensive to solve. As the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "We learn geology the morning after the earthquake." The only problem is that the earthquake has already done its damage.

Almost always, the biggest losers of major conflicts between economic interests, governments and religious traditions are the society and the environment. Millions of ordinary people are ground up by wars and poverty caused by the intransigence of relatively few so-called leaders. Species and forests continue to disappear, the sky becomes darker and weather warmer - often by the clashes and infighting of these 'leaders' who are not willing or able to reach deals for a sustainable world.

The benefits derived from understanding how to prevent and deal with conflicts in a systematic way are huge. The good thing is that conflicts expose the problems that need to be resolved and often point to the people who need to enter, leave or change their positions in  organization.
Imagine a kind of 'egometre' in your company able to measure the cost of exacerbated egos and their effect on the monthly numbers. Conflicts definitely impact on the balance sheet. The problem is that they are difficult to measure and therefore ignored in the name of rationality.

We should always seek to understand the hidden complementarities and the apparent incompatibility. There is a story of the fear that a king of the current state of Gujarat (west coast of India) had when large numbers of 'Parsis' started to migrate from the current Iran. They were practitioners of Zoroastrianism who had been expelled by the Muslims.

To show that there was no room to share with so many people, the king sent a large glass of milk full to the brim. The Parsi leader's response was to return the glass with a little sugar added with the message: 'We can live together like milk and sugar'. So it has been to this day. It's not such a bad idea.