Subba’s Serendipitous moments

January 4, 2010

Looking backward, looking forward

Filed under: Learning,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Having lived all my life on the edge, I am kind of used to the vicissitudes of life and have taken it in remarkable stride. By all standards 2009 was a very difficult year as I found myself helpless or vulnerable at some very crucial moments. Now, 2010 appears to be challenging — a new environment and a different set of expectations. And since challenge is something that I have always thrived on, it should be exciting.

Last couple of weeks I had no human contact or access to an electronic network. I was practically shut out from the outside world. It was rich solitude barring the chatter and noise from the deeper self. It gave me time to build new perspectives and perhaps shed some old ones.

Clearly, five key passions either individually or some combination has governed my life: the longing for understanding and love, the urge to learn constantly and pass the learning to others, the drive for personal excellence and to build excellence around me, the deep empathy for the underprivileged and finally a sense of fairness to others even in the most intense conflict.

These five passions have driven me to unknown stations in life, thrown me amidst deep chaos, and yet helped me emerge stronger and more rooted to life, growth and humanity.

I longed for understanding and love, because at a deep level, I am a loner despite my extrovert self. I am a solitary thinker and learn independently. Understanding relieved the loneliness and the occasional feeling of love moderated the rebel in me.

Learning came naturally though I despised formal learning approaches. I was always intrigued by the ambiguous and the dichotomous, the interface areas between two disciplines and the process of discovery . That explains the number of posts on learning here. I also cannot contain my enthusiasm to share what I have discovered.

The pursuit of excellence served as an elixir for growth and discovery. I have often got upset when some people routinely chose to be mediocre without even examining the trade-offs.

While the above helped me soar, the sufferings of the deprived and the underprivileged held me to the ground. Their pain often brought tears to my eyes. I could empathize with their state and reach out to them. Whenever I saw them struggle them to break out of their circumstances, they inspired me. I just wanted to be a catalyst in some way to help them in their endeavor.

A sense of fairness has always governed every action even if I have to deal with conflict. Perhaps I am intrinsically cognizant of the law of karma!

As I said earlier I passed through some big challenges last year and in a way felt compelled to review my passions. The solitary sojourn was a great opportunity. I realized that the law of unintended consequences applies to personal passions as well. Delving deeply, I discovered the following:

I have been naive that by discussing people’s weaknesses and/or the system’s weaknesses and showing them a better path, I would contribute to a better individual, community or organization. I have learnt now that people have interests, beliefs, biases and prejudices that, once firmly entrenched, are not easily dislodged– and certainly not by logic or even by evidence. My role is to do my best, understand my boundaries and respect their mental orientation

Yes, people do change their minds, but experience has more influence than even the best argument.

Helping people change their minds is more art than science. As a change artiste, I need to have a lot more tools in my repertoire.

Many people would rather live with a problem they can’t solve rather than adopt a solution which (they think) is risky.

Pragmatism often decides people’s choices. And sometimes the pursuit of excellence is too high a price to pay for pragmatism. The same is true for honesty and sincerity. My role at best is to highlight the tradeoffs and not champion my values.

I just have to accept that the longing for understanding especially the philosophical and emotional dimensions of an issue combined with the pursuit of excellence have led me to be overbearing. Some have benefited, but quite a few have been bruised. I am only fortunate that I managed to keep this streak under control whenever I wore the counselor’s mantle or took on a coaching responsibility.

For me, the passions– no matter how contentious or futile– has a stand-alone meaning. It is called freedom. As I start the new year I hope to improve my awareness and understand the boundary conditions better.

Hopefully the world will follow Kahlil Gibran’s dictum: To understand the heart and mind of a person look not at what he has already achieved (or failed), but at what he aspires to do.



  1. Well articulated and deeply thought thro experience. Like you said experience is the best teacher so I guess being an individual experience there is no comment to offer.

    One thought that did strike while I was reading thro this, pursue your aspiration in action and not just in words.

    Comment by ajay — January 5, 2010 @ 12:57 am | Reply

  2. Dear Subba

    You must have probed yourself with deep insight to arrive at such realization. I am sure this will lead to more peace and tranquility within yourself and coexist with the turmoil that has been your trigger for marching on your five fold path.

    I wonder what medium you chose to be away from human contact – real or virtual world. But i am sure the medium must have been apt crucible for you to delve deep deep within the mind ocean.

    May 2010 bring you what you would like it to be.

    Best Regards

    milind pappu

    Comment by milind pappu — January 5, 2010 @ 9:36 am | Reply

  3. Very well articulated and demonstrates a deep insight into the workings of the human mind (and its shortcomings – human, all too human [?]). It exposes issues that frequently impedes us in our attempt to be better individuals.
    One thing to add to the observations about sharing and attempting to change others’ mindsets: the others have to be ready for it first. Otherwise you will be an unwelcomed guest. I think the Buddha says it best (paraphrased): to pour milk into the container, one must ensure that (a) the lid is taken off; (b) the pot is not cracked; and (c) the container is clean so as not to spoil the milk.
    Thank you for sharing your insights!

    Comment by Foong — January 5, 2010 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  4. Hi Subba,

    Indeed a very well-composed and well-thought out piece…I guess all of us do go through these “serendipitous moments” in life…but rarely dwell enough to rediscover and / or rededicate ourselves…No wonder silent meditation / Vipassana is a tool employed by many to look inwards and derive peace with the world around

    Have a wonderful 2010…Look forward to hear more from you…

    Chandrakiran Tambe

    Comment by Chandrakiran Tambe — January 5, 2010 @ 11:51 am | Reply

  5. Hi Subba
    As always : ruthlessly examined, fearlessly faced, deftly mined & skillfully articulated !!
    Looking forward to more reflections to surface in the coming weeks after your brief dive into solitude.

    Comment by Sudhir Nerurkar — January 5, 2010 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks for sharing this insight and how you came around to it. I do hope you are able to make a positive difference to the way you lead your life going forward.
    Wish you a wonderful 2010.

    Comment by Krishna — January 5, 2010 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

  7. You have a gift Subba. Someday you are going to win the Booker Prize or similar for making the world a better place….loads of love, umesh

    Comment by Umesh P — January 5, 2010 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  8. Subba

    Insights, insights, insights!

    We realise the futility of trying to help people change… and still we go back for more.

    Like you, I have been challenged by my need to show people ‘the right path’ when really I only needed to empower and nurture their own learning and emergent behaviours. This is how I came to that conclusion:

    As you know, in November my book ‘The Change Equation’ was published. In the course of researching and developing the book, I became very interested in project complexity and its implications for change management.

    Change management is usually about managing specific process changes into the organisation to achieve a planned outcome and typically involves communication, training and support activities which run alongside the other technical and logistics activities in the project or programme. Although the intention of these interventions is to create new ways of working, in a complex project they often block or constrain emergent patterns of behaviour, especially if they attempt to design and control the outcome too narrowly.

    Its only in a climate of trust and confidence that people are motivated to look over the parapet to find out about others’ needs and priorities, to see the end-to-end processes, recognise the need for change, even if (as often happens) it only makes their own job more difficult and become creative, innovative agents for change. That doesn’t happen overnight – it needs good leadership and communication, a nurturing not a blaming culture and the right infrastructure to support this emergent behaviour.

    Putting this culture and enabling infrastructure in place, then embedding the emergent behaviour, is really what change management needs to be about – and that can’t be achieved within the implementation lifecycle of a project. It has to start beforehand – and continue long after the project team have gone on to the next project.

    If ‘consulting the staff’ is the first item on the project’s Change Management plan, your project will probably end up with the other 70% in the Standish Group’s ‘failed’ or ‘challenged’ categories!

    So that’s where I have got to…
    Have a very good 2010 and maybe we will find a way to change the world this year!
    Best wishes

    Comment by Peter Duschinsky — January 6, 2010 @ 7:19 am | Reply

  9. Only at the depth of silence, the ‘real self’ is realized. Once this point is reached,the real purpose of the human existence falls to its place. This may sound philosophical though this is the ‘Truth’. Innerview always provides the answer for the external.

    Wish you all the very best in 2010

    Comment by Siva — January 6, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Reply

  10. Wish you peace and bliss in whatever you do.

    Though the article is well written, the inner conflict comes out and is as yet not resolved, but who are we to judge, we are only here to work/deliver/help to the best of our abilities and not expect much from others.

    Wishing you a happy 2010 and many more years.

    Comment by Nikhil Gujar — January 6, 2010 @ 6:44 pm | Reply

  11. Dear Subba:

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Reading your five key passions, I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography. In the prologue titled What I Have Lived For, he wrote,

    Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

    I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.

    With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

    Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

    This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

    There are clear parallels between how Russell saw his life and how you do.

    Best wishes for a wonderful 2010.


    Comment by Atanu Dey — January 10, 2010 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  12. Subba, very well written. In fact I should say very thoughtfully introspected and then well expressed in writing. I am inspired by your sharing and considering to imbibe the process and do a similar review. In fact this is not a one-off, I find in the last few years of getting to know you, one of the things you’re particularly good at is sharing valuable and thought provoking ideas in a manner that inspires people to build further. Its a gift you have, so keep going further with it!

    In fact your new role in tha academic world in some ways is even more suited to allow you to do so. I wish you all the best in the role and best of everything in 2010!

    Btw – I also find it uncanny how closely your thought process matches that of Bertrand Russell!

    Comment by Neeraj — January 18, 2010 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  13. A very introspective and honest piece of writing can only come from honest thoughts and from a person who is in touch with himself. All of that is evident in this blog post of yours. Best wishes for 2010. Journalist Robert Samuelson made similar observations – based on four decades of journalism – about neither logic nor evidence being persuasive in changing people’s minds.

    If so, are we or should we consider ourselves change artists before looking for more tools? If experience guides others’ changes, what tools can we ask for, to ‘change’ others. Isn’t that inherently presumptive?

    We can share our experiences, if we are comfortable with it.

    Comment by Anantha Nageswaran — February 11, 2010 @ 11:09 am | Reply

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