Being a part of any change

I received an interesting comment from a very close friend of mine…

Today’s Times of India has 2 pieces of news, front-page – in big print: 4 out of 8 richest people in the world are Indian; not Israelis, not Arabs, not American, not British, not Sudanese, not Japanese, not Chinese, not Spanish, not German, not Italian, not Australian, not anything… INDIAN… In very small print: India ’08 polio count is world’s highest.

How can WE be a part of any change?”

This got me thinking about being a part of change…

In my view, being a part of a change depends a lot on understanding the problem that has to be fixed, the situation that has to be improved and then finding the appropriate path to do so. And once the path is known, it requires dedication and perseverance. Change isn’t easy, it is hard. Very, very hard!!

I did a Google search on “change” and came to know about Ronald Heifetz (Professor at Harvard University) and his view on leadership and transformation. You can read his interview here – A conversation with Ronald Heifetz: Leadership without Easy Answers. It is worth reading and understanding.

Professor Heifetz places problems into two categories – Adaptive & Technical. Technical problems are those that are more or less mechanical in nature and can be fixed by an expert or an authority. They require a fixed set of steps to achieve the desired change/results. Adaptive problems are those that require changes in behaviors, attitudes and views. It requires a rethinking of the approach, a change in the way of doing things and probably even thinking.

Replacing a light bulb is technical problem, removing the darkness from people’s lives is an adaptive one. India’s first war for Independence was fought in 1857; India gained Independence in 1947. I believe one of the reasons for this could be that, perhaps we were trying to solve an adaptive problem in a technical fashion. However, Mahatma Gandhi’s approach was an adaptive solution to an intrinsically adaptive problem. And that’s why it worked like a charm.

Let’s get back to the state of affairs.
India has been an interesting country in recent times. It is precariously perched on the precipice, with greatness on one side; and ignominy, despair, and perhaps disintegration on the other. This puzzle of India is a mixture of technical and adaptive problems with one dove-tailing into another. And this leads to the confusion that my friend has expressed above. I will try to breakdown his problem and deal with the parts one at a time.

4 out of 8 richest people in the world are Indian – The rise of modern India economically is a story of an adaptive solution followed by technical one. Lakshmi Mittal, Mukesh Ambani, Anil Ambani, and K. P. Singh all sensed a business opportunity, adapted to that situation (and at times changed the game itself) and profited from their ventures. Once their cart had hit the road, it was more or less a technical problem to keep it going. It is the same case with the IT Industry, where the opportunity was sensed, adaptations were made, technical changes were made, and billions were earned. But trust me on this; even then the changes were hard. I am sure that the ride for all these wealthy people wasn’t exactly a cake walk.

India ’08 polio count is world’s highest – Although societal changes in India have been happening over the last few years. However, their occurrences have been more sporadic and random in nature rather than uniform. So comparing them to the economic growth pattern or assuming that societal changes would follow the economic pattern would be foolish. Unlike other countries in the world which are more or less uniform in their structure, India is cluster of different communities, religions, and classes all living under the same roof. With 18 official recognized languages, and scores which are not; with food habits and traditions being dictated by religion and region that an individual belongs to; it’s almost impossible to have a uniform change.
Societal changes in India are a purely adaptive problem. Maybe another decade down-the-road it could become a technical one, but still there is long way to go. Why do I say it’s an adaptive problem? Well, with the kind of social and economic disparity that exists in India, it’s virtually impossible to have a generalized rule to bring everybody to the same plane and then continue from there. The mindset, attitude, way of thinking of people has to change. Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” Similarly, pockets of changes have to begin (and the good news is that they have). The task is huge but this need not be a time for despair and giving-up. It’s easy to sit-up, take notice, cry, and slump back; but what is difficult to stand-up and take action. Change isn’t easy, it never was.

I believe that India is in a state of ferment, which is good. I also believe that it’s only through this fermentation, that the true national ideas will crystallize.

A parallel can be drawn between the India of today and the USA during the great depression. During the 1930s, America was almost falling apart. With rampant poverty and unemployment, the citizens of the United States were already thinking of radical changes – such as Marxism. There was an inferiority complex and feeling of futility building up. During the 1930s, America was in state of ferment. But, the great depression in its passing and hardship taught the American people the true meaning of economic security and need to endure, survive hardships. It taught them the true value of their democracy. And when the great depression ended it left the American people with a reaffirmation about their culture and tradition. There might have been countless unknown people working in the background in small pockets working these adaptive changes. I don’t know who they are and what their story is. But I do know for sure that it couldn’t have been just one (or a few) nation wide policy that would have brought that change.

I came across a book – Unsung by Mahesh Bhat & Anita Pratap – which tracks the life of nine extraordinary people who are devoted to improving the lives of the people around them. These are the people who toil away in the background with none or minimal resources. Their only driving force is their vision of a better tomorrow and the will to endure and to change against all odds. The book documents nine, but I am sure there are countless out there. Their beauty and achievement is in being nameless, their shunning of fame and glamour. These brave hearts are not only changing the light bulb, they are also removing the darkness from people’s mind.

How can WE be a part of any change? – Its simple, just look around, and be that change!!

To borrow the words from a fellow colleague – “Angels exist. I saw them in action. They wear pants, shirts, salwars, jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts. They are of both genders. They spread hope and cheer. They help out in chores. They teach. They make a difference.

And so I believe, that let each man be for himself and yet let each man be entirely for others. Let’s strive to be that change. Let’s try to start out alone on our journey. The road is long and treacherous, and there are no directions. However, there are footprints of people who have tried, some have failed and some have not. Let’s have the fortitude to own up that the path taken was wrong and begin again. Let’s build that critical mass, when the change and the revolution is more like a fly wheel effect, picking speed from its own momentum. I know this is easier said than done, but hey what’s the loss in giving it shot? History is replete with many a people who have started with this attitude. We are not the first ones.

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step – Martin Luther King Jr.

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Prashant

Technologist,by profession. Principled,by nature. Nonconformist,by choice. Thinker,by habit. Corporate Slave,by force. Dreamer,by desire. Seeker,by destiny.