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A Different Way of Curing Addictions (A Buddhist Perspective)

Generally we look at curing  addictions by eliminating the impact of the external environment. For example if a person is addicted to alcohol, he is persuaded to reduce the dependence on alcohol by suggestions on how alcohol is bad for health, its effect on the family, health and financial security. The patient is also exhorted to join Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) so as to reduce his dependence. These interventions work sometime but also tend to fail when a patient relapses as he is unable to resist the temptation.

Let us look at an alternative model from the Buddhist perspective. (Refer figure). An event (stage I) that happens outside is perceived inside the body through any or a combination of the five sense organs like eyes, ears etc. Sometimes it can be only an aural input like a piece of music or a multi-sensory input like relishing delicious mutton biryani ( sight, smell, taste, partially sound )This second  stage is called as perception and acknowledgement of the external event which is a MAP and not the actual event and is termed as Vigyan in Pali. (Stage II). The moment an input is perceived,  it is immediately evaluated by Sangya (stage III) which compares the event with something similar in the memory bank. Based on the comparison the event is either pigeonholed as either good or bad. The comparison instantaneously produces a sensation (Stage IV)) on the body which is either a positive or a negative one. The positive sensation may be tingling, soothing or a similar sensation whereas a negative sensation can be an itching, pain or a similar sensation. So far so good. The journey up till now from an external event of tasting a morsel of mutton biryani produces either positive or negative sensations which do not exclusively depend on whether the biryani is good or bad but depending on how it is perceived and the corresponding sensation it produces on the body. For example, a person who loves spicy Hyderabadi Biryani may like the taste if it is comparable to the one prepared by his mother. (Evaluation – stage III) An American who is used to bland food may find the Biriyani quite pungent. The same food has produced two different body sensations:  for the former   it is positive, and for the latter it is negative.

At this juncture, the subconscious mind comes into play and depending on the type of sensation, shall either produce a bond which is either of craving/attraction or Aversion (Raaga or Dwesha Stage V). The person decides to either have the next morsel or avoids depending on the bond that is created by the subconscious mind. A simple example of biryani can be compared to Alcohol, Nicotine or any substance drug.

 Myths of Addictions:

  1. An external event is the cause of addiction: If it were so, all people who take alcohol should have become alcoholics which are not the case. People do not become addicted to an external event or stimuli but to the sensations on the body.
  2. By telling what is right people can come out of addictions: When we tell the message only reaches the conscious mind. However the subconscious mind which constitutes 90% of the mind and is more habit prone refuses to acknowledge the message given to and by the conscious mind. Quite often alcoholics know the ill-effects but the thought pattern prevents them. On the contrary the subconscious mind now starts justifying the action. Like a person says he is drinking because he had abusive parents, pathetic childhood, financial problems, spouse etc. However he does not realize that the addiction is not for the alcohol but for the craving of pleasant sensations (relaxed feeling) and the aversion of the negative feeling (turkey, shivering, irritation etc.)
  3. Happiness and Pleasure are the same: We believe that pleasure is good and pain is bad. However any event whether pleasurable or otherwise, creates misery in the long run. Let us say a person who loves gulab-jamun feels that the sweet is the source of happiness. If it were so, irrespective of the quantity, galub-jamuns should make him happy. He may enjoy the first few very much, however if continued beyond 10 or so it may produce irritation. So the pleasure was not in the gulab-jamun but in the sensations it produced on the body.

How to Bring Change:

It should be clearly understood that the  first four stages are  primarily  automatic on which a person does not have much control, which include the event(I), the perception & acknowledgement by the senses( II) the evaluation ( III) & the sensations on the body due to evaluation (IV) .However the reaction to the body sensations is within a person’s control. The bonds of attachment and aversion are continuously in the subconscious mind every moment. Taking an analogy of the hard disk of a computer, continuously the data is written by way of bonds (sankhara) which are habit forming.

If we stop creating new bonds, slowly the old ones will wither way and gradually the change starts happening.  To bring this, awareness of the mind and body plays a very important role. It is not about concentration of the mind but a simple process of choiceless awareness which helps a person see the rapid thought process happening in the mind. Simple exercise like watching one’s breath slowly makes the mind so sharp that at one stage one is able to observe the body sensations. These sensations in a day-to-day life are generally not observable as the mind is gross.

The major trap for the mind to get into is while observing the sensations. People may start hankering after the pleasant ones and despise the bad ones. At this juncture, one has to observe the sensations with equanimity developing a clear insight that any sensation: be  it positive or negative is ultimately going to create a sankhara, an impression on the mind. By developing equanimity towards any sensations; slowly the bonds get reduced in the subconscious mind. A change happens at the subconscious level which is long-lasting.

For most of us there is a gap between knowing and doing. At a cognitive level people know the terrible effects of excessive smoking, drinking. However the behaviour can change only at a  subconscious level. To summarize, the sensations on the body produce the addictions and not the external event. This profound technique has been the unique contribution of Gautama Buddha. His  technique of  Vipassana has helped a number of people to bring a behavioural change in managing anger, fear, curing phobias or come out of addictions. Experiments were carried out on the prisoners of Tihar Jail by this technique which has amply demonstrated the efficacy of the technique.

Apart from curing addictions, the above technique of choiceless awareness which provides insights into the mind-body connect can be used in curing phobias, pain, dysfunctional anger etc. Amygdala is the seat of emotions in the human brain from where anger, fear, jealousy etc emanate. The addictions which happen at a subconscious level are very difficult to eradicate by instructing the brain at a conscious level or a cognitive level. Following examples will illustrate  the change was completely or partially brought by this technique.

  1. Subconscious Anger: Ramesh P. aged 61 years is an engineer and has worked at quality control in different spheres of management. The last position he held was that of GM level at an Automobile company. With financial stability, considerate wife and two children, both well educated and well settled we would perceive that Ramesh is be a happy person. Being his room-mate in one of the training programs I could see Ramesh shouting and screaming in his sleep which used to happen  between 12 -1 PM. For first few days, I could not comprehend what he was speaking but later on I figured out it to be a few sentences of vitriolic anger against one of his former managers. Next day when I discussed with Ramesh about the incident,  he confessed that he was not aware of  such an incident but when pointed about the contents of his diatribe, he said that the incident happened around 12 years ago when his company was going through a major expansion and Ramesh was going through testing times when his immediate boss put him under tremendous pressure. Now Ramesh and his boss both have retired.  Whenever they meet,they exchange pleasantries  and are good friends. Only  when it was pointed out to Ramesh about the  latent anger he could see the impact of subconscious mind. Ramesh realized that when he resisted the negative thoughts about the past incident the negative sensations were produced on the body. By denying them he was creating more bonds of aversion ( stage V) thus multiplying his misery. Instead when he decided to be aware of the incident; slowly the impact reduced. The more you resist the more it persists!
  1. Limitation of Chanting: Swati is a housewife from a lower-middle class family and her husband is working as a supervisor in a small private firm. Due to some reason or the other, the two could not get along well. However by sheer persistence and will Swati was able to control her frustration by regular chanting of sacred mantras, making holy pilgrimages etc. A highly religious person she had managed to keep her emotional life under control. However during the Vipassana program on the  7th   day, Swati refused to continue the course. She said now the anger within her has come out so badly that she feels a great urge to kill her husband with a gun. The anger which was lying dormant was exposed, exploded  and resulted in her violet behaviour. By becoming aware, she was able to peep into the subconscious mind and get out of her anger.

You will observe that by the chanting of mantras,  Swati was feeling calm and serence  at a conscious and a superficial level.  However when she looked deep within with awareness she could see the tremendous anger.

  1. Sense of remorse reduces pain: Homi D. was a working as a fighter pilot for the Indian Air Force ( IAF) during the India-Pakistan war in 1971. He had shown exemplary courage in fighting the enemy. He was decorated with awards. During the war, while going out for a sortie most of the  pilots in a vainglorious manner used to  blabber about  the number of bombs they dropped, and the number of people those were killed by their bombings. It was taken as a measure of one’s achievement.  During the war Homi was injured badly, almost to be captured by the Pakistani army. He  had to crawl on his wounded legs for almost 5 hours to return safely to the Indian base. His right leg had been amputated and left one was hit by few bullets. He had to undergo a number of operations but still the pain was unbearable for more than two decades. He even lost his left eye and was fitted with an artificial eye. He underwent a number of treatments, however nothing could alleviate his pain. While undergoing the meditation exercise, Homi became aware  of the pain that he had caused to a number of innocent people killed due to his bombings. Till then, what he considered as  his success, was nothing other than an act of barbarity. And this sense of remorse and guilt helped Homi to reduce the intensity of the excruciating pain. Now the pain even though not vanished, has been reduced by almost 50%.

From the above three examples, you may observe that the events which had happened more than a decade back were stored in the form of sensations. However due to the automatic nature of the subconscious mind whenever this sensations appeared on the mind there  were repeated cycles of aversions which made the subconscious mind filled with aversion; which the conscious mind was not aware of. However by sheer mindfulness slowly the  bonds of aversion ( Stage V)  were reduced and the people were able to come out of their misery.

Rajan Parulekar| Bangalore | India| rajan@paradigm-info.com| +91 98450 14098

 

Importance of Weak Ties in Strengthening your Social Network

In your social network you have two types of ties:

  1. Strong Ties: These include your close friends whom you know well and with whom you interact frequently.
  2. Weak Ties: These are the acquaintances who know you superficially and your interactions with them are rare.

Between the two of them who should support you more in propagating your service? The intuitive answer is obviously the former,  that is the strong ties.  Let us look at a hypothetical scenario.  You (A) have strong ties with B & C with whom your total strength of the network is 28 connections whereas with X & Y you have weak ties and the total network among you is 25 connections. Which one should give you more mileage? (refer figure below)

strongweak-tie

Let us look at it mathematically.

You will observe that in strong ties there are lot of common connections which lead to a great deal of overlap. Whereas in case of weak ties, the overlap is less and the distributed network is high.

strongweak-tie_graph

You will observe that your message will spread to 7 new connections with strong ties whereas with 18 connections with weak ties.

Let us look with two examples:

  1. My book, Contextual Selling was published a few years back. I had conducted a few sales training programs for Rittal India, a leading manufacturer of IT enclosures. When Jacob Chandy, the Vice president Sales and Marketing went through the book, he immediately ordered for 80 copies. In the last 5 years I might have met him hardly 3-4 times.

I was delivering a Keynote address for Metrology Division of Carl Zeiss in 2014. After seeing the book, Mr. Wolfgang Schwarz, VP Sales based in Germany ordered for 30 copies. Our interactions over mail and linkedin are hardly 3-4 in the last two years.

I suggested Sunil my good old friend (strong tie) who was in sales about the book. He said, “I need a complimentary copy.”

  1. Last week I was conducting a program for Bruker Analytics in Mumbai. I had interacted with Dr. Shreeram Oak CEO, only once in 2012. After that meeting the second time I met him was while conducting the program.

In Mumbai I have two close friends, Amar and Ramesh (names changed) who are CEOs of companies in similar field and competing with Bruker. Both of them know me for the last 25 years. (We were working in the same company earlier ) Whenever we meet,  they regularly  complain about the poor quality of their salespeople and the need for a training program But training program to Rajan , no way!

Strong Ties:

  1. They know you too well. ( familiarity breeds contempt?)
  2. They move in almost similar circles
  3. There is a considerable overlap in their networks.

Weak Ties:

  1. They know you enough about your professional competence.
  2. More novel information about you can move into this network.
  3. There is a less overlap

The concept paper on Weak ties was developed by Mark Granovetter a Harvard Theoretician in 1972 as a part of his Ph. D. thesis. The Strength of Weak Ties is considered as a most influential sociological paper.

Quite often life is illogical and counterintuitive, do not ignore the weak ties,make the best use of them to improve the strength of your social network. Wish You a Very Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Rajan Parulekar|Paradigm Trainers Private Limited| #7, 7th Main, Binny Layout, Vijaynagar, Bangalore 560 040| T: 080 23207930, M: 98450 14098| rajan@paradigm-info.com

Importance of Tacit Knowledge for Organizational & Individual Growth – Part I

The two crucial challenges faced by today’s organizations in remaining competitive and thus  profitable are:

  1. Cut-throat Competition: I was talking to one of my clients who is in carbide tools, mould and die business. Twenty years back there were only 3 players. (two from Sweden and one from Israel) Today there are more than 20 players.(including  those from  Korea, Japan etc.) This has brought down the average margins by almost 50%
  2. Attracting and Retaining Talent: High competition leads to higher levels of attrition. It is assumed that a new executive starts contributing to the organization only after 7-8 months. Later he starts earning his salary and the real contribution starts only after 18-20 months. However in the present context, by the time the organization expects the employee contribution; the latter has already started looking out for greener pastures elsewhere.

Peter Drucker, the eminent management thinker predicted 40 years back that the future belongs to  knowledge workers and firms can have a competitive advantage only through effective knowledge management. There are three ways how firms can  remain  competitive:

  1. Generate new knowledge continuously.
  2. Disseminate the new knowledge across the organization in a systematic manner.
  3. Apply the new knowledge to develop new technologies , products and services.

There are two types of knowledge:

  1. Explicit Knowledge: Is the one which is available through systems, processes, technology, patents etc. This knowledge to a greater extent can be shared. Through technology transfer it can be acquired.
  2. Tacit Knowledge: This type of knowledge is with the individual and does not reside in SOPs. It is also context-specific. This is acquired through experience. The term was coined by Michael Polanyl in 1958 who said, “we can know more than we can tell.” It can be defined as skills, ideas and experiences possessed by an individual. Quite often they are not codified, written or verbalized and hence difficult to transfer from one person to the other. Examples of tacit knowledge are playing a musical instrument, preparing a signature dish, driving car etc.

Three decades back I was working with a renowned electrical consultant called P.H. Padhye in Mumbai  who was having a consultancy assignment  ( paralleling of existing Petbow and Skoda DG sets with the MSEB supply) with Ceat Tyres.  Once the plant had tripped off and the entire production had come to a grinding halt. The maintenance head and others were struggling to solve the problem but could not succeed even after 24 hours. When we went to the plant,  Mr. Padhye told the maintenance head, “ the setting of the speed governor of your alternators are wrong and that is why the tripping has occurred.” The problem was sorted out in half an hour. This is tacit knowledge.  Mr. Padhye was a very knowledgeable person. Once after a marathon session on electrical circuit design, I asked him,” how do you know so many things?” He replied, “after 32 years of experience in the industry, I know what I don’t know.”

Many of you must have heard the apocryphal story where the boiler of a steam turbine had malfunctioned. An expert mechanic  was called . He asked for a hammer hit it at the right spot and lo behold… the boiler started working.. When the mechanic submitted the bill of Rs. 10,000 /- The finance manager was quite perplexed. When asked for the breakup of the  bill for a task which did not take more than 5 minutes,  the mechanic replied as follows:

  1. 100/- for hitting the hammer
  2. 9900/- for knowing where to hit and thus solving the problem.

You will observe that the former is explicit knowledge whereas the latter is  tacit knowledge.

You will appreciate the importance of tacit knowledge through this example. recognising the face of a person in  a crowd is tacit knowledge;  whereas to  recollect the other details is explicit knowledge.  Only though experience this tacit knowledge is acquired. Every evening when the employees leave the office such tacit knowledge is leaving the organization and when a talented and experienced employee leaves the organization; such tacit knowledge is lost forever.

At a number of places I see that there are no jobs available for executives who are 45+.  This shows our irrational bias towards explicit knowledge (read technology) which youngsters seem to possess. But we fail to realize that  a fast-changing technology can even make a young executive redundant equally fast. What  is important is not so much as knowing a  specific technology but the ability to learn new things and the organization having such workforce (who are willing to learn continuously)  is called as a learning organization. A number of organizations feel cost to be  the only driver to retain a competitive advantage and replace older executives.

E.F. Schumacher in his book, Small is Beautiful has something relevant on this topic. Quote:

Education can help us only if it produced ‘whole man’. A truly educated man is not the one who knows a bit of everything, not a man who knows all the details of all the subjects (if such a thing is well possible). The whole man in fact may have little detailed knowledge of facts and theories (read explicit knowledge). He may treasure the Encyclopaedia Britannica because SHE KNOWS and HE NEED NOT, but he will be truly in touch with the centre.

He will not be in doubt about his  basic convictions, about his views on the meaning and purpose of his life. He may not be able to explain these matters in words; but the conduct of his life will show a certain sureness of touch which stems from his inner clarity. (read tacit knowledge)

Unquote (italics mine)

What are the different ways the tacit knowledge can be effectively harnessed shall be looked into my next blog…

Rajan Parulekar| rajan@paradigm-info.com|www.paradigm-info.com

On Human Nature – Case of Irom Sharmila

Irom Sharmila has called off her hunger protest against AFSPA. She went through pain, misery and deprivation for 16 long years. There were hundreds of people who have been killed in the encounters with army. What was Sharmila’s demand? It was to repeal the AFSPA act or to modify some of its provisions. Continue reading

What makes it difficult for us to spot talent?

It is heartening to know that the Magsaysay award winners from India this year are Bezwadi Wilson & T.M. Krishna for their yeoman service in manual scavenging in KGF and propagating Carnatic music in slums of Chennai.

The flip side of this is Wilson and Krishna were never recognized by the Indian establishment till date. Continue reading

Cognitive Biases that affect Decision Making

“I tried to get an appointment with my client for six months, I could not succeed”, said Shashi, my friend in an Omani Company. “However the moment my Scottish counterpart sitting in the next cabin called him, he got an appointment the next day”.

Two Caucasian ladies, one French and the other a Polish, sang an average composition on peace & harmony in Bangalore for 2-3 minutes. After their recital, there were hordes of people from the audience who wanted to get photographs along with them. The singers were neither celebrities nor accomplished singers, but the colour of their skin made all the difference! Let us look at the different types of perceptual biases most of us have.

  1. Blind-Spot bias-: Your own cognitive bias is a bias in itself. People notice cognitive and motivational biases much more in others than in themselves. We have a positive bias towards the Caucasians but may discount brown or dark-coloured skin executives.
  1. Anchoring bias: People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear. In a salary negotiation, whoever makes the first offer establishes a range of reasonable possibilities in each person’s mind
  1. Availability heuristic: People overestimate the importance of available information. A person might argue that smoking is now unhealthy because they know someone who chain smoked and still lived upto 100. Quite often the information is taken out of context or only a sample is selected by ignoring the other data.
  1. Bandwagon effect: The probability of one person adopting a belief increases based on the number of people who hold that belief. This is a powerful form of group-think and is reason why meetings are often unproductive.
  1. Choice-supportive bias: When you choose something, you tend to feel positive about it, even if that choice has flaws. Like how you think your dog is awesome – even if it bites people every once in a while.
  1. Clustering illusion: This is the tendency to see patterns in random events. It is key to various gambling fallacies. Like the idea that red is more or less likely to turn up of a roulette table after a string of reds.
  1. Confirmation bias: We tend to listen only to information that confirms our preconceptions – one of the many reasons it’s so hard to have an intelligent conversation about climate change.
  1. Conservation bias: Where people favour prior evidence over new evidence or information that has emerged. People were slow to accept that the earth was round because they maintained their earlier understanding that the planet was flat
  1. Information bias: The tendency to seek information when it does not affect action. More information is not always better. With less information, people can often make more accurate predictions.
  1. Ostrich effect: The decision to ignore dangerous or negative information by “burying” one’s head in the sand, like an ostrich. Research suggests that investors check the value of their holdings significantly less often during bad markets

It is not possible to eliminate all the biases, but the least we can do is to be aware of them and in mindfulness the chances of our decisions going wrong can be minimized.