Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Ten Principles of Optimality: Beyond Both the Obvious and the Paradox

Life’s greatest feature is that it requires individuals to execute things which are obvious on one hand and balance seemingly opposing points of view on the other. This is true for organizations as well. Some would characterize this as management of the obvious and the paradox in life. Obvious is something that is easy to see or understand. It is also something which most people would think of or agree to. The natural expectation, therefore, is that individuals and organizations would think of or do the obvious most of the times, if not always. Paradox is a statement or situation containing two opposite ideas that make it seem impossible or unlikely, although it is probably true. For example, ‘More haste, less speed’ and ‘Hasten slowly’ are two of the well-known paradoxes. The expectation here is that one should negotiate the paradoxes of life.

A little more distilled view of life would reveal that nothing is as obvious or paradoxical as it would seem. For example, healthy diet and rigorous exercise together constitute the key to good life. Few people, however, practice either of the two. Similarly, it is paradoxical that even the most educated tend to be most ill-informed about certain responsibilities or developments. Both obviously and paradoxically, therefore, there exist certain individual, familial, social, economic, demographic and cultural factors that make individuals and organizations deny the obvious and succumb to the paradox. As these macro aspects are neither a matter of choice nor amenable to modification, individuals and organizations must follow their own principles of deriving optimality in life, looking beyond the obvious and rising beyond the paradox. Here are such ten principles.
1. Productive safety, Safe productivity
Most inventions of the human race are intended to increase speed and productivity, and in that effort carry intrinsic safety issues. The pedal bicycle and the motorized two-wheeler are the two prime examples of the speedup options carrying inherent risks of accidents. Almost all sports, except mind games, involve the risk of injuries. Yet, the human race keeps pushing the envelope with Formula 1 races and such other events. Similarly, plant and equipment are constantly upgraded to turn out more parts per minute imposing more pressures on materials and men. Technology and practice fortunately provide several risk mitigating options to increased speed and productivity. Doing nothing or status quo will never be an answer in the path of progress. Embedding safety in product and process design, and accepting productive safety or safe productivity as an operational paradigm is an enabler of optimality. 
2. Purposeful Quality, Qualitative purpose
Quality is the ultimate governor of product design and operational excellence. Quality sets the limits of design excellence but quality has also to examine what is fit for purpose. For example, would it be sensible or viable to design an instant food product to last five years? Pursuit of perfectionist quality without regard to usage characteristics would be a profligate use of resources. The purpose must first be established to define the quality standard. A most exotic vaccine would be powerless in a rural market of emerging country compared to a normal vaccine that can tolerate the high temperature conditions. Quality has to be interpreted purposefully in terms of a larger ecosystem and there could be occasions when the entire product paradigm would need to be reconfigured. For example, if a frozen vaccine provides unmatched benefits, logistics need to be reworked to transport toddlers and kids to cold storage centers rather than transporting vaccines unreliably to diverse habitats. Qualitative purpose is as critical as purposeful quality.  
3. Creative conformity, Conformist creativity
Creativity and conformity are two sides of the life coin. Without creativity, there will be neither progress of achievement nor joy of fulfillment. Without conformity, there will only be disorder and anarchy in life. In most cases, there exist a number of familial, educational, social and organizational norms that reduce or constrain the creative instincts of individuals and in some cases the very same factors lead to unbridled and disruptive creativity. The essential thesis is that creativity has to be combined with conformity for success. A student, for example, has to be conformist in reading the entire syllabus but will also have to be creative in achieving the study modality that provides maximum absorption. Organizations may have to be conformist in catering to a common marketplace but need to be creative in developing segmental product-market fits. A recruiter has to be conformist in addressing the available talent pool but needs to be creative in offering distinctive value provisions.      
4. Innovative continuity, Continuous innovation  
Innovation is the lifeblood of human progress. As contrasted with creativity which is more in terms of ideation, innovation is more focused on bringing products and processes into fruition. Innovation springs from a foundation of knowledge and is opened up by one’s observation, openness, empathy and persistence. The best innovations tend to be breakthrough but the most helpful ones are likely to be continuous innovations. Societies are slow to accept breakthrough innovations (for example, the decades being taken to popularize electric cars, or even hybrid cars) and are rearing to accept incremental innovations (for example, the way incrementally innovated smart phones are bought every six months). Individuals and organizations need to anchor on a thematic product or process for innovative continuity while aiming for continuous innovation in anchor products and processes. Individuals and organizations need to make space for innovation as a daily routine (for example as an innovation hour in a day or an innovation day in a week). 
5. Expressive thinking, Thoughtful expression
Communication is the backbone of human network. Thoughts and expressions constitute the core of communication (listening being the other part). That is stating the obvious. However, there is a skill that is beyond the obvious in titrating thoughts and expressions against each other. The human mind is wired to think and express spontaneously but such ability is conditioned by a host of environmental factors. Life would be hollow if mind ceases thinking while it would be overwhelming if mind is excited by continuous thinking. Life would be static if thoughts are not converted into expressions while it would be draining if all thoughts are converted into expressions unfiltered. The purity and efficacy of thought that come with a focused and meditated mind results in expressive thinking while the clarity and coherence of expression that come with a logical and purposive mind provide the optimality of communication.   
6. Spontaneous deliberation, Deliberative spontaneity
Allied to the earlier principle is how prompt or affected one is in communication. Spontaneity in communication, both in terms of expression and response, is reflective of transparency and trust in communication. However, spontaneity should not be at the cost of deliberation. As a saying goes, before saying anything to others, one should evaluate how one would feel if one were to receive the same communication. Apart from time, the only thing in life that cannot really be taken back or made up is ‘word’, or in a broader sense spoken or written language, and body language. Being deliberate and spontaneous simultaneously reinforces one’s communication stature. What is not obvious is that it requires a trained mind tuned to quick thinking and high processing to achieve this capability. As one gains education and experience, one must balance the paradox of managing spontaneity and deliberation in response, whether in oral and written communication or in body language. Face, is the index of the mind; a calm and steady mind is reflected in a pleasant and reassuring face.       
7. Disciplined empowerment, Empowered discipline
All human beings seek empowerment. Some people tend to use power to control or throttle others, some to discipline others and some to lead others. Most people, however, consider it paradoxical to set limits for their empowerment and it is also an obvious phenomenon that most people are also reluctant to grant to others the same level of empowerment that they seek for themselves. Good parents and teachers realize that their power to lead comes from their role modeling while strong leaders in organizations derive their power from knowledge and experience well deployed rather than from reporting lines authoritatively imposed. Empowerment is an ultimate lever that is available in an organization to harness individual capabilities. It cannot be doled out to the undeserving, nor can it be used without discipline. Disciplined and directed empowerment needs to be responded with empowered discipline and dedication.     
8. Collaborative competition, Competitive collaboration
Many believe that collaboration must come obviously to individuals in a family or organizational system and would find it paradoxical to see competition in those ecosystems where collaboration must exist. Many also believe that collaboration cannot obviously exist where competition exists, say between the players of an industry and are surprised by how competition exists between team or family members  (for example, between siblings) and collaboration exists between competitors (for example, between Samsung and Apple, or between licensors and licensees in a competitive industry). It is the strength of competence and the viability of aspiration that determine whether collaborators and competitors stay as such or reverse the roles. An ability to collaborate and compete strategically provides optimality of resource deployment without losing competitive edge.
9. Dispassionate passion, Passionate dispassion
Passion, besides its other connotations, has emerged as an important, but often misused, concept in management lexicon. Passion denotes, from a leadership and management perspective, a very strong feeling of dedication and commitment to a domain or accomplishment. Renowned scientists, technologists, professionals, sportsmen, actors and public servants as well as all inventors have passion as their DNA of inspiration and accomplishment. At the same time, passion should not blind a person to seek preeminence beyond the expertise. Sachin Tendulkar would not have become the legend that he is today if he sought continuous captaincy as the recognition for his cricketing greatness. A dispassionate approach which signifies an unemotional and impartial view of one’s capabilities, contributions and relevance adds value to one’s passion. That said, it does not pay to be only dispassionate; one needs to have passionate dispassion to be professionally successful and socially relevant. This wonderful characteristic is akin to what Hinduism defines as Sthita Prajna, a hero whose soul is unmoved by circumstance, and who accepts pleasure and pain with equanimity. This esoteric principle, which is neither obvious nor paradoxical, differentiates superior organizations as much as individuals.  
10. Ingenious ingenuity, Ingenuous genius
Being ingenious is critical in today’s competitive world. But being ingenuous is also equally important. Knowledge, intellect and innovation, however desirable as characteristics they are, also somewhat distance the followers. Being ingenuous, that is being honest, trustworthy and approachable, adds the human touch to the genius of a person, and makes him or her an even more adored and followed manager or leader. Being friendly alone, on the other hand, is of little benefit in today’s world where followers need scientific, technical and professional mentoring to be able to enhance their competencies and solve their problems to become well set for their career progression. Contrary to the popular but misplaced notion that knowledge is power, knowledge with sharing and intellect with empathy enhance meaningful power of individuals and organizations.  
Maximal optimum, Optimal maximum

Optimum means the best possible or producing the best possible results. Maximum means the most that is possible or allowed. It is established in economic research as well as operations research that the most is not necessarily the best. It would appear beyond the obvious and paradoxical that optimum should have higher levels leading up to a maximum or a set of maximums would have an optimum. In matter of fact, it is possible to have more than one optimal solution and strive to make maximal outcomes optimal outcomes. The ten principles that look beyond both the obvious and the paradox help the processes of optimality in life.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on November 10, 2013



1 comment:

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