I work as a catalyst in two areas: innovation and mindfulness. As an innovation catalyst I help organizations foster a culture of innovation. As a mindfulness catalyst I help individuals perceive the illusions created by their own thinking process.
When does an intervention begin? Story of Dr. Kiran Bedi’s first day at Tihar Jail
My engagement with my clients is called an intervention. It is similar to your doctor or fitness coach intervening in your regular routine through your working engagement with them. The objective is the same: help client become healthier. The question is: When does an intervention begin? There are two schools of thought. One school says that an engagement has two parts. The first one is about diagnosis which in an organization setting begins with surveys and/or interviews of various stakeholders and ends with planning of the intervention. The second part is the actual intervention. Prof. Edgar Schein belongs to the second school which says that intervention begins with the diagnosis itself i.e. with the first question you ask your client. Now, you might say, “What difference does it make?” Following story tells how much of a difference it can make.
The post of Inspector General (IG) of Tihar Jail, India’s largest prison was lying vacant for many months when Kiran Bedi was posted there. By then she had finished nine months of “paid wait” period after a full tenure as Deputy Inspector General of Police in Mizoram, in the North-East of India. The appointment was more like a “punishment posting”. One of the ex-IGs (Prison) told her, “What will you do there? There is no work there! I was IG (Prisons) many years ago; I received just two files a day. So I used to clear them from my home.”
Monday 3rd May 1993 was Kiran’s first day at Tihar. She had made a brief visit the previous Saturday and met her direct reports. Without settling down Kiran went for a round of Prison No. 1 (there are 4 prisons in Tihar). It was just a 20-yard walk from her office. She had to pass through two giant gates before actually entering the prison wards. Wearing a uniform was not mandatory. So Kiran wore a full-sleeved pastel pathan suite topped by a waist-length Nehru jacket. “This gave me a full cover, with a sense of grace” She writes. The Superintendent of the jail, K. R. Kishore, followed her. There was no armed guard. She held a notepad in her hand to record on-the-spot observations.
As Kiran filed past the waiting prisoners, the Warders, perhaps from the force of habit, started to physically contain the prisoners without the slightest provocation from them. Some even waved their sticks menacingly the onlooking prisoners, in a gesture to show concern for her security. Kiran signaled the Warders to stop doing this.
There were blank stares all around her. Kiran stood there not knowing what expression would be most suitable for the moment. Not being in uniform had already communicated a desire of informal tone. She started wondering if our system was at all designed to help change offenders and forgive those who were willing to mend. Perhaps in continuation of the thought, she suddenly broke the silence by asking them: “Do you pray?”
No one answered.
She repeated: “I am asking you, do you pray? Please tell me.” She spoke in Hindi.
The men looked towards the Warders as if to ask them if they were permitted to speak. The Warders were confused.
Kiran moved closer to the bunch and directed the question to one inmate chosen at random.
He answered, “Yes, sometimes,” nodding his head.
“Very good. Who else does? You?” She pointed to another prisoner, again at random, getting even closer to the crouching men.
And then one after another, voices joined in saying, “Yes, I also do. I recite the path. Most of us pray at our own timings…”
Perhaps the first human contact was made. She probed on, “Would it be better if ‘we’ say a prayer together? Would you like to?”
They fell silent again. They had never prayed together.
Then one of them, with one by one the staff and the other on me, said hesitantly, “Yes…” Others nodded their heads in agreement, wanting to be part of the prayer.
She said: “All right, which prayer should ‘we’ sing together? Can you suggest one?”
“Do you know ‘Aye Malik tere bande hum, aise hon hamare karam, neki par chalen (O Lord we are your creation/ May our actions be worthy)?” She asked.
This time there was an enthusiastic and instant response, “Yes!”
She said: “Get up to sing together.”
“Close your eyes and sing with me”
And they sang. Kiran says, “When our eyes opened, theirs and mine, I felt we had together succeeded in giving out the first signal of mutual trust which could set the pace and for our work relationship from now on”
Imagine if Kiran had sent out a survey through the Warders as the first step to gather the data!