Organic Architecture

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Recognized by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time”, Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term organic architecture which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design approaches so sympathetic and well integrated with its site, that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition.

Source: Wikipedia

Take a break

Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us..

My last post in the blog was on June 7,2015. Till then I was at the rate of writing one post at least each week. After my last post, I felt thoroughly drained and couldn’t come with any new ideas. I decided to stop writing for a while and concentrate on other things. Enjoyed my summer by attending countless bbq parties, camping, adventure sports and travelled quite a bit. Being in Canada, even though the government and companies work hard at promoting a solid work-life balance, most of the time it is never the case. Either in home or at work, I have seen from experience how Murphy’s laws are consistently fulfilled causing you to be in tenterhooks till the problem gets fixed. Sometimes, one gets the feeling that he/she cannot take a break as work keeps piling up. One then hopes and longs for that long vacation to take a break and seemingly fails to do so because vacations usually ends up with long travel times, delays and other unexpected events that throw you off the balance. In short, you are simply working all the time. And it is not good. Because working all the time doesn’t necessary translate to high productivity.
 
Our brains are not like the modern CPUs always plugged in and solving problems for us. Being an integral part of our body, our brains do need downtime to process the plethora of information that comes its way. Let’s take the example of the information that comes our way daily- At work we are faced with documentation after documentation of seemingly never ending information. To unwind, we turn our focus to social media where we are again inundated again with never ending information. Where does the brain gets time to process these information? How does it ever filter the information to see what needs to be retained and what doesn’t need to be retained? Our brains need substantial downtime to generate ideas, connect the dots between the information received on a day to day basis and provide us intuitions that takes us to promising new destinations. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times.
 
Ferris Jaber writes in the Scientific American that when we are relaxing or daydreaming the brain is not seen to slow down or stop working and instead a ‘dazzling array’ of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night. Quoting the work of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her collaborators at the University of South Carolina who found that when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtimes is sessional to the mental processes that affirm our identities and develop our understanding of the human behaviour. The detailed articles extols the virtues of rest management and how to ensure optimum productivity levels are attained.
 
“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” Maya AngelouWouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
 
I was never a proponent of sleeping or taking rest and I used to push myself everyday as I felt one shouldn’t waste time resting and needs to get things done. Recently I forced to take rest following a freak knee accident. As I gave myself adequate rest, I could see that the rate of healing was exponentially proportional to the time I rested. My own perspective on rest has changed dramatically ever since. Sometimes one just needs to unplug and allow the body and eventually the brain to catch up.
 
Recommended reading:
  1. http://tinybuddha.com/blog/40-ways-to-give-yourself-a-break/
  2. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/
  3. http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~immordin/papers/Immordino-YangetalRESTISNOTIDLENESSPPS2012.pdf
  4. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/
  5. http://www.treehugger.com/health/why-your-brain-needs-breaks-work.html
Photo Credit: Tim Allendörfer via Compfight cc

The Talent of Time

Parable_of_the_Talents-Matthew_25_14_-_30--Proverbs_28_20a (1)

‘Once upon a time’ did start the tale,

Of the rich man that gave each his servants talents.

Some used it well over time and was rewarded in talents,

One saved it well over time and lost all he ever had.

In no time did the tale get over.


Time and tide never waited it did ever,

Stories were told and songs were sung.

The sun rose and the day rung,

The sun set and the night was flung,

On people who simply rose and fell.

Seasons went by though cyclically,

Yet time kept on marching forward ceaselessly.

Earnestly and diligently did he work each day,

To do those things he wanted to do someday,

Dreams and hopes he had many,

He was eager and he had the way,

It was easy for him to start them quickly,

He did not know if he could complete them quite easily,

For time was his friend and his enemy.

He did not know whether to trust it come what may.

When he needed time, he do not have any,

When he did not need time, he did have many.

With time everything will be alright,

Said the seer to the impatient man in his youth,

He wasnt ready to accept the commandment,

Hot blooded and never without remorse,

He did not heed the advice and went on his way,

He did the unthinkable and realised his folly,

Wasted was he as he spent the rest of his time.


As a man can change his image in front of others,

He can never change his time that shows his image over the years.


Listen my dear friend, your time is your talent,

Use it wisely and you will be given more,

Dont be foolish not to use it judiciously ever,

You use your time well and you will be blessed many times over.


Image courtesy: http://www.thejoecatholic.org/2014/11/navarre-bible-commentary-33rd-sunday-in.html

The Art of Questioning

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

Among the many traits that I was known for from childhood, one that stood out was the unstoppable trait from my vocal cords asking ‘Sir, one question, please’. Traditionally in a school environment, the teachers asks questions to students based on an information-seeking model which relies on a predetermined subject taught by them. In my growing up years, I remember subjects such as biology, geography etc., where I simply crammed text books to get good grades in exams. The right answers in these subjects were praised and the wrong ones were corrected. Most of the time we were discouraged from articulating our thoughts. These subjects never struck an emotional chord with me and I never meandered even near them once high school was completed. However in some rare classes we had teachers who provoked us to articulate what we thought about the subject and why we thought differently.  We were encouraged to elaborate on our previous answers and ideas, and thus the process helped us to have conceptual knowledge. I still remember subjects like maths, computer science, physics and chemistry to this day because of this approach taken by those teachers that taught them. The fact that I chose my profession as a Process Engineer bears strong testament to the questioning method permitted by the second approach.

Questioning is rarely encouraged and generally frowned in organized communities including religious societies even though the religious texts do sometimes encourage questioning. Prior to Renaissance, the christian catholic church encouraged a credulous medieval spirit that accepted any picturesque tradition or marvellous tale without inquiry as to its source or credibility. However during Renaissance there was a new found questioning and critical spirit which first awoke Francesco Petrarca, also known as the father of Renaissance in Florence and then spread around the world. Renaissance had profound effects on humanism, arts, science, music and even religion. It actually propelled our civilization to the modern age that we currently live in. However even to this day, organized religion dissuades questioning and refuses to evolve causing incessant human grief and suffering.

“The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” Peter Abelard.

How to question? Have you ever heard about the 5 Why method? Two years ago, I was introduced to this method by one of my mentors in the company I earlier worked for.  5 Why is an iterative questioning method which helps explain the cause and effect relationship to any particular problem or situation. It is very simple. Suppose you have a problem or an issue at hand and you want to know how fix it so that it doesn’t happen to you or anyone again. You ask 5 Why questions, iteratively based on the answer to the preceding questions. For example let’s consider an imaginary conversation between Bob and his son Sam.

Bob: Why is the car not clean, Sam?

Sam: I did not get time to clean the car.

Bob: Why did you not get the time to clean the car, Sam?

Sam: I was busy in the afternoon.

Bob: Why were you busy in the afternoon?

Sam: I was busy as I had friends over.

Bob: Why did you have friends over?

Sam: I had friends over as we had a game session.

Bob: Why did you have a game session with your friends and did not let me know?

Sam: ……I am sorry.

Without understanding the root cause, simply trying to resolve the effect may/ may not prevent the reoccurrence of the event. Sam in this story was clearly hiding the fact that he had friends over and he did not take cleaning the car as a priority. Note how within a span of 5 question, Bob was able to understand why the car was not cleaned by Sam. Thus by questioning, one is able to understand the root cause of any problem and then find the fix or solution. 5 Whys were first used by Taiichi Ohno, the architect of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s who describes the method as “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach, i.e.,  by repeating ‘why’ five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.” It is a very simple process and can be used for a wide range of applications from problem solving to even questioning beliefs, assertions and even daily issues.

Summarizing the ability to question is a necessary skill one needs to have in this ever changing world. It is important to ask the right questions to obtain the right answers. I agree that sometimes it is hard to make sense of this world that we currently live in or the people that we meet each day. However by questioning and never conforming, one should be able to see his/ her world in a new light and carve a new path for themselves.

Image courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcobellucci/3534516458

All images follow Creative Commons license. Slightly cropped the source file.

Education

Recently a friend of mine shared an article on social media written by a well meaning Indian journalist about the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, as to how the lack of having superior educational credentials, makes him unfit for the job he is doing currently as the prime minister of India. Written by a known Modi-baiter, the article was eye-opening in not failing to subtly hint that the prime minister (who has achieved his credentials through distance learning courses following working as a tea seller his whole life) should lie low and allow the ‘educated’ technocrats to do the work. After reading the article, I kept thinking as to whether education was after all the only credential one needs in order to have a successful life.

On one hand we have educated people of the likes of people like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Satya Nadella who became successful in life having a superior education, we also do have people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg who dropped out of school in their quest to change the world we live in. Never once did any of them mention that education helped them achieve the superior success that they so proudly enjoy to this date. They felt in them the ‘sense of urgency’ and the ‘never say never’ spirit to make profound decisions that has left an inedible mark on the human race.

If so why does one ever need to get educated? Kerala, my state in India boasts of near 100% literacy. In unemployment it is the first in the country with very low productivity rates. Constantly plagued by never-ending political protests and work strikes, around 10% of the people from the state leave the place for greener pastures around the world often ending up being extremely successful. There is a question hanging in reader’s head- if the state has such high education numbers, why does these things happen? Has education failed to be a key performance indicator for the progress of the state?

I do not think so. I believe the present modern education system is in a dire need of a technological disruption. With efforts by Google, Microsoft and Apple, the modern modes of education are being challenged which will have a direct impact in developing skills rather than mere assimilation of knowledge. The education that I was exposed to was of the latter variety. Certain life skills in my opinion need to be developed at an elementary level. This can only happen with a complete overhaul of the education system that in my opinion is inevitable.

Why I stress on the importance of skills is the fact that the road to success is not paved by having or lack of education- but by being focused and working hard. Satya Nadella the current CEO of Microsoft has two Masters degrees and worked painstakingly for 22 years before becoming the CEO of Microsoft. He is credited with the turnaround of the fortunes in the short time he was the CEO with shares rising to 16% since he took over. Barack Obama spent 11 years both as Illinois State and US senator moving bills, writing books, speeches etc., before he became the president of United States. Narendra Modi spent 13 years as a successful chief minister of one of India’s populous state before he offered his model of development to Indians who bought into it by electing him. Even today he works anywhere between 15-20 hours per day and travels extensively around the world as he tries to secure India’s future. Steve Jobs thrown out from his own company, spent years building PIXAR and Next Computer before taking the cues from these places to return to Apple, rescue the floundering company and take it to its greatness that we see today. His hard work in those companies evolved into his efforts at Mac, iPad, iPhone and the iPad. Mark Zuckerberg spent hours coding to build Facebook and he works tirelessly even today to develop and consistently improve the social network. Bill Gates’ family lived near the University of Washington which enabled a teenager Gates to feed his programming addiction by sneaking out of his parents’ home after bedtime to work on the University’s computer. From 1968 to 1975 he and Paul Allen ensured that they got their feet wet thoroughly prior to launching Microsoft. I strongly believe that nothing life works like hard work.

However mere hard work doesn’t cut it. One needs to have intent and the belief that he/she could do something to change something…even change the world. As Steve Jobs once said “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”. Without these, will just being educated end up making you someone/ something noteworthy? It is the same as saying that just because your parents are doctors, you will be healthy and live one hundred years. Just because you are educated doesn’t give you the ticket to greatness. It helps but doesn’t provide.

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Intuition

I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am. Albert Einstein

a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence : a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why…Merriam Webster

Have you ever felt the inner voice that tries to talk to you before you undertake a significant task in life? It tries to explain to you whatever you are doing is right or wrong; how you should/shouldn’t be taking that step. It tries to prevent you, sometimes even instigates you to do something. It gives you a spark of an idea to start a fire within you. It tries to possess you and wouldn’t even leave you till you do what it demands of you. It can be stubborn and it can be patient yet forgiving. However most of the time, you wouldn’t forgive yourself for not listening to its voice. The ancient people believed in the intuitive insights from the seers whom they referred to as the voice from god. Buddha taught that intuition, not reason is the source of ultimate truth and wisdom. Alberta Einstein was a strong believer in the intuitive knowledge and once famously remarked: ‘I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am’.

Frederich August Kekule spent years trying to perfectly describe the aromatic structure of benzene. Being a hydrocarbon, benzene couldn’t be described a simple or normal paraffin structure. He spent years if not decades of his life researching unsuccessfully about the same till there came a day when he dreamt of a snake gobbling its own tail. As the ouroboros form (also represented in the figurines of Shiva Nataraja) whirled mockingly before his eyes, he describes the eureka moment as a flash of lightning which awoke him in the night. Bedazzled he spent the rest of his night working on his life’s worth of calculations. Eventually he came up with the ring structure of benzene that is so common today. It changed the world forever with a marked effect in the field of pure and applied chemistry. Of the first 5 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, three of the winners were his students. I do not have to explain the effect it had on the hydrocarbon age and us understanding the properties of hydrocarbons.

Let us think for a moment as to who gave Kekule that idea or intuition? What made him dream about that snake? Is it the voice of God? Is it the spirits of the world as claimed by Aboriginals or natives? The whole premise about the movie Interstellar is based on how the future humans build the tesseract for Cooper to reach out to his daughter. Any ordinary viewer of that movie would try to shrug off the strange happenings in the library that the young girl witnesses in the beginning of the movie as cinematic liberties being used to tell a story. The same viewer would be dumbfounded in the end when it turns out that it was her father who was trying to communicate with her supposedly from the future in the tesseract about the impending doom to humanity. The concept explained in the movie is Vedic in nature wherein it is mentioned that all human life is connected like the Indra’s net and there is a universal consciousness which transcends time and space.

The very concept of human understanding being directed by our future-self or even of our descendants is something very astounding. Even in the Bible there is a mention of this concept where Jesus claims to the people that Father Abraham knew about him and was glad about him. Was he the one that spoke to Abraham just as he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac? This concept bewildered the poor Israelites and could be one of the significant reasons to why they crucified him because it was blasphemous. Anything that went against their realm of understanding and/or if not was written in the religious texts was considered blasphemous at that time. A similar tale is also mentioned in the Isra and Miraj journeys by Prophet Muhammad. Did it influence the benevolence shown to the Ishmaelites by the Jews back in the Biblical times? We may never know.

Our bodies are composed predominantly of carbon. Many of the elements that comprise the cosmic matter can be found in our own bodies. Our existence on this earth is also guided by the same cosmic rules like gravity that guide the stars, planets , etc. If we think that we are matter, so we are also energy. Frances E. Vaughan in Awakening Intuition describes the vibrations of energy or vibes that extrude from people as a form of emotional intuition. It is believed in Hinduism that meditation and a disciplined control of mind provides intuitive insights and one of the main aims of Yoga is to develop that intuition. Our intuitive feelings can be strengthened if we know what we need to do in life. Just like we love to learn from the mistakes of the past, we should be able to see our future and try to develop our present through our intuition.

Intuition (is) perception via the unconscious. The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semihuman, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, “divine.” Carl Jung (1875-1961)

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Natural Selection

One needs to be intentional about the behaviours or habits that he allows into his life. As E.O Wilson remarked, “We have decommissioned natural selection and must now look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become“.

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful is preserved, by the term of natural selection”. Charles Darwin

Natural selection is one of the most beautiful, yet simplest concepts in science and is the cornerstone of our understanding of the human evolution. It was explained by Darwin as the gradual process by which your heritable behaviours are altered by inherited behaviours due to the influence of your environment that if you survive, shall cause you to evolve. For example domesticated animals like dogs were descended from wolves captured by early men hunters and domesticated as much as 135000 years ago.

Natural selection as explained by Darwin takes a long time to materialize. Yet it has been found by epigenetics that certain inherited behaviours can occur as quickly as within the next generation. Few years ago a research team in the University of Linköping created a henhouse where a group of chickens had to live in stressful conditions. Lighting was manipulated to make rhythms of day and night unpredictable. This caused the chickens to lose track of when to eat or roost. As a consequence it was noticed that there was significant decrease in the ability of these chickens to search for food in a maze.

The chickens were then later moved to a different henhouse with natural conditions (and less stressful conditions). It was noticed that their offspring also had a similar decreased learning ability to search for food. The inherited behaviours  during the time the parents were stressed out in the earlier environment stuck on to them at a genetic level, which was subsequently passed on to the children.

In the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg vividly explains the story of the amazing turnaround of Aluminium Company of America-or Alcoa. In 1987, Alcoa was deep in red with mounting losses from a spate of unprofitable new businesses. Alcoa was one of the word’s largest companies with a new CEO, Paul O’Neill, a former bureaucrat and a surprise choice for the position. At 51 years, Paul stood in a ballroom stage facing panicky investors who wanted to hear new promises of cost cutting, raising profits etc. Instead Paul talked about safety and how he intends to turnaround Alcoa’s pathetic safety record and thereby make it the safest company in America. The confused investors tried to bombard the new executive with complex financial questions. Paul ignored them and mentioned that if we bring our injury rates down, it will be because the employees of Alcoa have agreed to become part of something important.

Following this presentation there was a literal massacre of Alcoa’s shares as the investors started selling heavily. Little did they know that what they did would be one of the worst financial decisions they ever made in their entire careers. Some estimates put it like this- anyone who invested a million dollars in Alcoa on the day O’Neill was hired would have earned another million dollars in dividends while he headed the company for 13 years-and would have seen the value of their stock be five times bigger when he left.

Darwin explained the mechanism of natural selection as the “survival of the fittest” where evolution of the organism in its environment is directly proportional to its struggle there. In both the examples mentioned here one can see how an inherited behaviour can result in either a positive or negative impact to an organism or even an organization. In the case of chickens, the stress filled environment resulted in a fight for survival-where certain negative behaviours  were developed and it subsequently made its way to its offspring. Paul had a company that killed people due to its poor safety record and lost money heavily. He had to change the environment of Alcoa by introducing a culture that focused on safety. It forced the company to change itself and thereby fight for its own survival within its newly changed environment. This fight percolated to a genetic level of the company allowing it to accelerate itself to huge economic success.

The key message here is that one needs to be intentional about the behaviours or habits that he allows into his life. One of the main objectives of this blog is to introduce the reader to newer behaviours that could be inherited and would help in challenging the status quo of this ever-changing world (the environment). Articles like ‘Never Conform’, ‘Be Your Narrative‘ and many more help in this objective. E.O Wilson put it this way, “We have decommissioned natural selection and must now look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become“.

Image courtesy: http://static.blogbook.fi/wp-content/uploads/sites/76/2014/11/Human-Evolution-Went-Terribly-Wrong.jpg

Video courtesy: http://www.subbable.com/minutephysics