Complexity for good leadership & Innovation

Let us apply complexity theory, which is the backbone of innovation and leadership, to the current issue of Ind-Pak relations.  As is known,  India and Pakistan are having perpetual problems over Kashmir. Of late, the issue has got exacerbated by an attack on a bus near Pulwama (J&K) carrying paramilitary forces of India, resulting in 40 plus casualties. In retaliation, India claims to have struck a terrorist training camp inside POK  (Pak Occupied Kashmir), which was followed up by a aerial dog fight between the Air forces of both nations.

One reason why all our efforts to handle the Kashmir issue seem to be coming to zero could be that we have not correctly analyzed which domain this topic falls into. As a consultant of Complexity Theory, let me analyze this thread further. It is my belief that we all our failures can be attributed to us treating these issues as being in either the simple or complicated domain, whereas these are actually complex issues. Just as a preliminary clarification, simple issues are those where cause and effect are directly linked and foreseeable by anyone, whereas complicated one are those where cause and effect are indeed linked but are visible only to the experts. Complex ones, on the other hand, are those where the two are linked so tenuously that they can be seen only in hindsight. No amount of expertise can reveal or forecast how I’ll respond if you slap me today. Yesterday, I may have turned the other cheek but today I may not. That’s complexity.  Human affairs are complex issues, as are foreign relations, business and war.

In book ‘Coming to our senses’ (Oxford university press), Viki Gabe poses the question – Can we know the world directly or are we predisposed to creating theories in order to make sense of things?

Why don’t we see directly? We don’t because our need is not so much to make sense of the world as it is to prove ourselves right. We rely on words to label and mentally separate things that cannot be separated. This strategy leaves the world, and what is actually happening on the ground, out of the equation. When we add theories in the mix, we retreat further from the reality into a parallel world of our inferences and assumptions. We override our direct perceptions with our theoretical conceptions. When we fail to check back with the world, we further ensnare ourselves in unworkable webs of self-deception.

In last few days, I’ve heard numerous experts on current issues. They theorize that Pakistan is a failed, anti-India state in which the nation doesn’t have an army but instead the army has a nation. However, the reality which is staring us in our face is that for many months now, we’ve seen Pakistani politicians going to their public seeking a vote on a pro-India stand. That clearly indicates that the politicians feel the voters will reward them only if they show a pro-India face. That doesn’t look like the theory that Pakistanis hate India and want to go to war with it. Quite the contrary. After elections too, Imran Khan has made at least 4 distinct overtures of peace and talks, one of them at the height of Indo-Pak tensions. It is India that has consistently refused. As I’ve brought out already, what we are perceiving with our senses directly is not getting filtered through the prism or our theory. Result – the reality is getting left out.

Another theory being espoused from pre-2014 days is one of a muscular Modi, determined to cut Pakistan to size. Common sense telsl us that to do that, we need a well equipped army and Air Force. On ground, though, we find something different. 4 years after Modi rule, we find the army officially informing the parliamentary committee that it has less than 10 day of ammunition left and its weapon profile is so obsolete that it is ‘not fit for war’. The Air Force says it is short of 12 squadrons.  Both these markers of war preparedness are not from the time when Sri Modi took over from UPA but a good 4 years after that. And what was the corrective action of this report? The committee chairman, a BJP man though, was changed and a more pliable man placed.

Does this look like acts of a man preparing to cut Pakistan to size?

Had that been the case, he would have assiduously built up the armed forces, even ‘if we were to eat grass’. And, of course, we are not eating grass. Today’s Indian Express (7 March) has  5 full pages of colour advertisements of BJP and Sri Modi, some informing us of things as childish as ‘ Water and toilet on all stations’ and ‘Stations reflect history and heritage’. So, we don’t seem to have any shortage to money.

Nation building, society building, war etc are complex issues. For one thing, complex issue do not lend themselves to reductionism in which you could deal with issues in isolation. There is an emergent quality of the system as a whole. This has been described in details elsewhere.

If theories and precedents do not work, how does one proceed in the complex domain? One does so by consciously working to make sense of the fuzz, as seen directly be the senses rather then refute it in favour of some pre-conceived theory.

Sense is not so apparent because complex issues do not follow certain some assumptions of the logical world, as under –

  • The assumption of order – that there are underlying relationships between cause and effect in human interactions and markets, which are capable of discovery and empirical verification
  • The assumption of rational choice – that faced with a choice between one or more alternatives, human actors will make a “rational” decision based only on minimizing pain or maximizing pleasure;
  • The assumption of intentional capability – that the acquisition of capability indicates an intention to use that capability, and that actions from competitors are the result of intentional behavior.

Complexity for leadership and Innovation

Complicated issues, as Rocket science, IT and Swiss clocks, are best tacked by the sense- analyze- respond algorithm of decision making and problem solving. This is so because once we (experts) have sensed and analyzed the issue, they can respond with the most appropriate ‘Good Practice’ for it. However, there is no good practice in complex issues.  Here one does not start with ‘sensing’ but with ‘probing’. One probes for reality and everything depends on what one sees in that specific situation, rather than fall back on pre-conceived theories. This has been explained here.

In the book, Viki Gabe goes on to say that a dangerous theory hatched in someone’s mind can escape, and, like an alien virus, lay siege to other minds. However, with progress of knowledge, things get better. Not many today would buy into the theory that ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction’ or that banks are ‘too big to fail’ ( they failed because they were too big). Once we also believe that the world was flat and that the sun goes round the earth. But we don’t do so any longer.

Let us deal with Indo-Pak-Kashmir relations and War as complex issues. As a starter, we must keep aside all previous theories and probe for reality. That is best done by interacting. In innovation this is termed ‘prototyping’. In simple terms, prototyping is experimenting. We take a small step which allows us to fail at low cost, see what happens and build on that experience.

We need to prototype peace and prosperity. And if we really need to cut Pakistan to size, let us prepare our armed forces for it. As an ex-officer, I can say with certainty that it will take us about 3 years to reach that state.  Since Sri Modi has been PM for more than 4.5 years now, it can safely be said that had he started when he took charge in 2014, India would have certainly achieved its objective after the Pulwama attack. That shows that the theory that he had always wanted to cut Pakistan to size, was wrong. So, let’s discard that and work on realities.

In the present situation, it makes sense for us to jaw-jaw rather than war-war.




2 responses to “Apply Complexity theory to the current issue between India and Pakistan”

  1. Sarita Biswas says:

    Good to read a different perspective of the situation. Well analysed.

  2. Brijesh baburam Singh says:

    Nice decision sir very good

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