Tag Archives: India

The Power of the Metaphor in Innovation

Last night, Times Now featured a heated debate on television on the allegations of Team Anna against the Prime Minister. As the debate progressed, it emerged that the speaker had used the statement where he likened the Prime Minister to being used by his government like ‘Shikhandi’. For those who may not know, Shikandi is a male-female (hermaphrodite) character in the Indian epic of the Mahabharata who was used as a shield during battle because men would not fight somebody not “fully man”. The implication here was that the (honest) Prime Minister is being used as a shield by his highly corrupt government against their fraudulent practices. This was an unfortunate choice of a word (‘Shikhandi’, brings all the connotations of social misfit, gender misfit, and a mask for heinous activities. This was, quite frankly, in poor taste). The speaker tried to explain that he had used it as a metaphor, and not literally. But what is interesting is the power of the metaphor to bring out such strong emotions. When metaphor has such strong emotional connect, imagine the power it would hold for innovation!

Metaphorical thinking is what allows problems to be connected to solutions across domains. A Guttenberg is able to invent the printing press by recognizing the metaphorical connect between the pipe organ playing in his church and the coin press he worked at. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the art of the metaphor relegating it to some “soft skill” that is only fit for students of literature. In our systems- and process-orientedness, we refuse to look beyond and see that metaphorical connect that can lead us to powerful new ideas and innovation.

Click here to see the video.

Understanding a Story – The Vivékin Way

Almost all the houses in the community I live in have solar water heaters installed on their terraces. For most of these house owners, while the logic behind doing this has more to do with considerable savings on the monthly electricity bill than any green initiative, they still are managing to do their little bit towards energy conservation. Then again, all these houses have inbuilt reverse osmosis water purification systems under their kitchen sinks. Convenient and safe, yes. But I wonder how many of them have taken into consideration the fact that for every glass of clean water produced, another glass gets wasted; that it is possible to channel this water to the garden for watering plants. And if anyone has actually done that. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? In one shot, the good that was done has come undone. But, I digress. What I actually wanted to write about was an article I read last week – about this gentleman in Bangalore who has gone way beyond just installing a solar heater. He installed a whole set of solar panels on his terrace, bought himself a few hybrid inverters and now manages almost all of his household energy needs (with the exception of one submersible pressure pump) with the supply from these solar panels. And if that were not enough, he supplies the surplus energy, around 8-10 units, back to the Electricity Board. Free of charge. Now, if only more people in our country could be like him! Even if some of us were able to take care of half our energy needs, the load on our energy reservoirs could be decreased and so much electricity would be freed up to electrify villages and towns in rural parts of India.

In Vivékin terms, what is the significance of this story? Here is someone who has done something rather innovative – but what is the dominant Leadership Intelligence here? Because he is being innovative, does it imply that it is Inventive Intelligence? Surprisingly though, it is not. To understand why, we first need to break this story down a little more. He used Analytical Intelligence when he studied the different kind of panels and inverters available and decided which combination to use, Operational Intelligence while setting up the whole system (even if he didn’t do it himself, he drove the process) and some amount of Communicative Intelligence while dealing with the equipment dealers and engineers/ technicians who set up the system. But not really Inventive Intelligence, as he didn’t apply knowledge from another domain for this innovation. He simply extended what he already knew – the ability to channel solar energy using solar panels to power something other than just a solar heater.

But where does he use Ethical Intelligence? To understand this, let us take a step back and try to understand why it is that he even chose to embark on such a project. Was it to save on his electricity bills? To start and follow a green initiative in order to conserve energy? To free up energy for others to use? To set a precedent in his community in the hope that it would inspire others to follow in his steps? It could have been one or the other, or all. The point is that he explored a possibility, weighed his options, looked at the long-term implications and then made a decision. Without a doubt, this is a perfect example of a dominant Ethical Intelligence.

To read the article, please click here

Great Leaders Have Great Causes: What is Yours?

A cause is the raison d’etre of leadership–it answers the question, “Why do we need a leader, why this leader?”Great leaders are associated with particular causes on which they focus fully. The resolution of that cause becomes an all-consuming goal for them and their followers. The more humanistic the cause, the broader its appeal. In a way, the cause itself ultimately defines the leader.George Washington and the other founding fathers of America made their cause the liberation of America from the colonial grip of Britain.Abraham Lincoln, after a frustrating first year in office, found a twofold-cause: the abolition of slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, and the simultaneous cause of holding the Union together through the Civil War.Mahatma Gandhi made it his cause to liberate India from the ravages of English colonialism through non-violent means.Nelson Mandela’s cause was getting rid of apartheid.Martin Luther King’s struggle was against racism and the Jim Crow South.This brings us to the question: What is Barack Obama’s cause? The sooner he finds it and declares it, the better it is for him and for all of us.But the most important question is one that each of us has to ask of ourselves: What is my cause?

How Mahatma Gandhi taught ethical intelligence

Ethical intelligence reflects the leader’s ability to recognize and act upon the ethical dimensions of an issue. It is not about the ethical beliefs of a leader or how ethical you perceive the leader to be. It is also not about doing “good work” (as in “the ethical mind” that Howard Gardner of Harvard has proposed in Five Minds for the Future). Rather, this aspect of intelligence reflects how capable the leader is of recognizing and understanding the ethical implications of a new situation. Ethical leadership intelligence makes the difference between why somebody like Mahatma Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln is called a great leader and why somebody like Hitler is called a demagogue.Great leaders display the ability to lift the question of ethics from that of the personal, and transform it into a question that reflects and impacts the ethics of all of humanity. For a demonstration of how to practice this intelligence, watch Richard Attenborough’s movie, Gandhi. Toward the close, there is a scene that depicts Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the immediate aftermath of Hindu-Muslim religious riots that followed the partition of India. Gandhi went on a fast-unto-death if the riots did not end. The scene that I mention shows that the riots have stopped, and rioters are going by the house in which Gandhi lies. They are throwing down the arms they used in the riots in front of Gandhi who lies on a cot. Suddenly a Hindu man rushes toward Gandhi’s bed, throws a piece of bread at Gandhi, and orders him to eat it; the man then breaks down and tells Gandhi of how he killed a small Muslim boy because the Muslims killed his young son. Gandhi’s answer: “Adopt a Muslim boy the same age as your son, and bring him up as a Muslim.”Watch the clip: