Saturday, July 02, 2011

Evolution Versus Revolution

Keynes said - in the Long run, we are all dead. Let's leave this evolution business to God: If we want to get something done in our lifetimes, let's go revolutionary.

I am a rather placid character. I don't like violence. I don't even play the World of Warcraft. I cringe at the sight of blood. But, when it comes to doing things, I never thought evolutionary mindset would work for me.

The reason is that everyone knows evolution does not work, but want to hide behind it. Because it is easy to do so: That's the way everything else work. If we follow nature's rule, we look natural: Won't we? But this is an excuse for inaction. Remember Louis the Fourteenth, looking at the bread riots in Paris and thinking that at least his time would pass. It may, but we are most likely to be caught up in the revolutionary mess as we are born towards the end of the twentieth century.

This is because revolution takes less time to make these days. This is because while you are thinking evolutionary, someone, in your sector/ industry/ city/ village/ profession/ party, is already thinking revolutionary. If you are not at the crest of the next revolution, you will be crushed.

I was quoting Einstein to my colleagues: A problem can't be solved at the level of thinking it was created. It is not about thinking better, it is about thinking different. It is about pushing your assumptions aside. It is about getting a fresh pair of eyes. It is about forcing yourself to your discomfort zone. You don't need bloodshed: All these are revolutionary.

People wonder why I am doing what I am doing. They almost assume there is something wrong with me. Why am I not trying to go into a bigger company or a better job, I am asked. Sometimes, almost out of pity, someone will whisper an opportunity to me. When I turn down and say I am alright where I am, they think I am queer, in terms of my aspiration.

What I can't explain is that I wish to be part of a revolution. In a modest way, not in a world- changing-way: I am trying to craft a small great company within a sector which is undergoing revolutionary change. I have all the ingredients of revolution here: Courage, the ability to dream, the political negotiation that enables change one step at a time, a revolutionary team.

Yes, and a fuzzy goal, I can't explain what I am after, but neither what I do can be explained by the reality around me. Because my job is to dream. You indeed dream about things that weren't.

Does it really matter that the reality is messy? Does it really matter that most people don't want to dream? Even that some people are afraid of their dream. Some others are plain hostile, because it threatens the cozy life they built around doing little or nothing. Does it matter that my dreams make no difference, and that it is the world around us - technologies, legislation, ways of doing things - is actually leading the change I aspire? No, it does not. I make no pretension of being a revolutionary: I am happy to be its chronicler.

So, what revolution? After the discovery of table, we have just discovered the next big thing in social connection, the social Internet. And, after the discovery of classroom, whoever managed to do that first, we are tinkering on the edge of next big thing in teaching: The social, networked classroom. And, politically, the state suddenly feels it is okay to give up control on Higher Education, as the whole subversiveness of the business seems to have been effectively demolished, and hand it over to the private sector. So, this juxtaposition of revolution in media, revolution in teaching and revolution in how and why education is delivered present an interesting opportunity for anyone who cares to play: An open field to change the world, only if one public square at a time.

This is the big revolution I am playing for, but there are small ones. This happens in daily installments of trying to change the place I work in. It is an interesting dance, two steps forward one step back, as Lenin would have said, and I shall add, a few sidesteps then. The key is to remain focused on big picture, all the time. It does not matter how I get there, but as long as tomorrow we do one thing better than we did yesterday, and nothing worse than we did before, we move forward. That isn't evolution: This whole sense of dream-propelled progress is revolution at a place where people feared dreams. That gives me pleasure, kicks!

So evolution is for the wimps: I have always been cautious, observant, but these are not things you do when thrown in the middle of a changing world. At the turn of a long term business cycle, an upside-down society, when the war of the religions is a possibility in a world where God is almost obsolete, it is time for me to declare independence from evolution. At last.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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