Thursday, April 8, 2021

Mindfulness on the go: A working definition

Mindfulness is an abstract term and it means multiple things to multiple people. Hence, a working definition helps in bringing out key aspects and contrasting them with other connotations. The suggestion here is to "work with" this definition and adapt it to one's needs. Before we look at the definition, let's first take a look at the "overconfidence trap" to which mindfulness is a response. 

Overconfidence trap: The picture above illustrates a bistable optical illusion and a related cartooned cognitive illusion. To quote Daniel Kahneman, "Your cognitive biases act like optical illusions". One way to understand how such an illusion is sustained is through the loop of an overconfidence trap (see the figure below). Here, we have two biases reinforcing each other: the confirmation bias (What you believe is what you see) and WYSIATI bias (What you see is all there is). Please note that not all biases are subjected to this trap. Typically, beliefs related to religion, race, caste, politics, culture, some scientific ideas if you are a scientist are susceptible to the overconfidence trap. Also note that there is nothing wrong with a belief, it is the confidence attached to it that creates conflicts. It is just fine to worship duck-god, but when you say duck-god is all there is, trouble starts.

A working definition:

The definition has 4 parts (1) a process of learning (2) to see clearly (3) despite fast, automatic, and biased thinking, and (4) anytime, anywhere. It is sometimes understood better when it is contrasted with what it is not (see below).

1. Process of learning vs state of knowing: This is a process-oriented definition and not a state-oriented definition.  

2. To see clearly vs to do rightly: It puts emphasis on seeing (or perceiving) rather than doing. Willingness to learn to see clearly implies the presence of some doubt about what you see. It means the WYSIATI bias is not very strong.

3. Despite fast, automatic, and biased thinking: The biases could still be operating i.e. I may still see only duck-god. However, I may now be open to other possibilities despite seeing only duck-god, especially when someone else says she sees a rabbit-god. 

4. Anytime, anywhere: This implies that this process of learning is not restricted to a specific time of the day when I sit quietly with my eyes closed. It could happen anytime, anywhere.

5. Absence of any goal: This definition does not assume any goal. Learning to see clearly not in order to get anywhere, but for its own sake.

How do I know I am seeing clearly? I don't know. All it means is to carry some openness about a possibility that I may not see clearly. If someone expresses a view different from mine (duck-god vs rabbit-god) or if I see that there is an expectation mismatch (I try to diet, but end up overeating), it is a hint that I may not be seeing clearly.  

Happy to receive your inputs.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Book review: L R Natarajan’s “The 9 nuggets of innovation”

It was a pleasure to read “The 9 nuggets of innovation: outsmart competition” written by my friend L R Natarajan. Over the past decade, I have seen LRN in action as a guest speaker several times at IIM Bangalore executive education programs. His powerful narrative style combined with his personal experience of democratizing innovation at Tanishq, the jewellery division of Titan was a big hit among participants. I am glad he took the pains to pen down these inspiring stories and weaved 9 nuggets of innovation in this book.

One of my favorite stories in the book revolves around the “3-day miracle” challenge at Tanishq. The idea was to bring down jewellery manufacturing time from 30 days to 3 days. The challenge was especially daunting because jewellery manufacturing at that time was an unorganized sector and the manufacturing process was believed to an art form.

In the chapter titled “Democratize innovation,” LRN presents how he and his team went about designing and executing a number of interventions from 2003 to 2011. It involved several multi-pronged initiatives starting from launching challenge campaigns each year with a specific theme such as putting up “What’s new?” board in each department, enrolling the vendor fraternity and goldsmith in the process of innovation, and many more. Anyone involved in the innovation process would know how difficult it is to sustain an innovation initiative. LRN’s grounded perspective is a testimonial of one of the finest such examples in the Indian context.

LRN was fortunate to have a visionary champion in the form of Bhaskar Bhatt, the then MD of the company. And Bhaskar Bhatt has aptly written a foreword to the book. Bhatt correctly observes that “India’s R&D investments and innovation lag far behind the world” and suggests that “every company needs to raise innovation as a Board agenda”. I couldn’t agree more.

One of the core messages, “anyone can innovate” is loud and clear in the book. However, another core message, “Innovation is simple” is not so clear. For example, the book presents how Titan Machine Building division went about developing robotic kit-marshaling equipment to automate the process. It is possible that the technology development involved Intellectual Property (IP) creation in the form of patents. And it is not clear that some of these technology development aspects can be characterized as simple. Perhaps “innovation can be simple” is more apt.

The book has plenty of pictures of real-life examples of innovations and their enablers especially in Titan. In the Indian corporate context where innovation stories are kept mostly within the four walls, this book shows a way for other innovative companies to publicize their innovation journeys. Recognition of smart failures plays an important role in cultivating experimentation. “9 nuggets” does talk about removing the fear of failure. It would have been nice to see some examples of smart failures too.

Overall, LRN has done an excellent job of synthesizing and presenting his learning from the Titan experience. I wish him and the book best wishes.

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