Aspiration and Transformation

(I have submitted this essay for a competition in our company)

Transformation happens when old conventions are broken and a new standard for conventions are set. When Americans were making the best Motorcycles, it was taken for granted that there will be frequent oil leaks, but when the Japanese bikes came into the market, it was taken for granted that oil leaks were unacceptable. Transformation happens when there is an aspiration to make something better that it is. The journey from aspiration to transformation is often a counter cultural process needing a catalyst.
In Jim Collin’s seminal work, ‘From Good to Great’, he questions conventions, “We expected that good-to-great leaders would begin by setting a new vision and strategy. We found instead that they first got the ‘right’ people on the bus… then figured out where to drive it”. Peter Drucker supposedly said, “At the end of the day we do not bet on ideas, we bet on people”. Transformation requires a right start. Transformation starts not with ideas, but with people. In fact, transformation starts with the person whom we look at every day in the mirror. Transformation starts with the aspiration to make oneself better than one is.
Back in the days of the great Socrates, the father of philosophy, the famous inscription at the temple for the Oracle of Delphi supposedly said, “Know Thyself”. In fact Socrates said that he was deemed wise by the Oracle of Delphi because he was only one in Athens who was ‘aware of his own ignorance’. He knew who he was, ‘an ignorant man who ardently pursued wisdom’ and he transformed the world of ideas for generation to come.
The first step in the journey from aspiration to transformation is to aspire to ‘know oneself’. The irony of our society is that we presume to know other people and things far from us but we do not know who we are. A literate person would know why Steve Jobs is named the best CEO by Forbes, he may even know the surface temperature of a star that is a billion light years away, but he would likely be lost if he were asked to write an essay about his passion, strengths and weaknesses.
Unfortunately, the corporate culture often seems to work against pursuit of the truth about self. If a person is attending an interview, he is expected to sell himself as someone having Narayan Moorthy-like qualities. He is expected to not expose his real passions. He is expected to showcase his passions reconfigured to suit the job description. He needs to talk himself up and sugar-coating weaknesses. We are too eager to emulate someone else without knowing who we are. Genuine transformation cannot start where one does not aspire to ‘know oneself’ for who she is. The aspiration to know one’s passions, strengths and weakness is the first stage in the journey from ‘aspiration to transformation’. The second stage of the journey is where having already known who we are, we aspire to make ourselves better than who we are.
In the book ‘Type Talk at Work’ the authors say that leaders are people who clearly understand what their strengths and weaknesses are. The authors go on to say that a person develops into a successful leader if she, while naturally being strong in her strengths, is able to go the extra mile by aspiring to work on her own weaknesses to make them her strengths.  In a culture where one is constantly expected to mask ones weakness, to acknowledge the weakness and pro-actively work on ourselves is often counter intuitive to our ‘corporate conditioning’. This is why we need a catalyst.
In the book ‘What is wrong with the World’, G.K. Chesterton says that for a doctor to set the broken hand right, he needs to know how a good hand looks like. For us to transform into people better than ourselves, we need role models whom we can observe and emulate. Transformation cannot be a self-centered individualistic effort. C.S.Lewis says, “We are but pygmies, who stand on shoulders of giants”. We need help to become better than we are. We need real-life role models who are willing to be vulnerable and encouraging coaches acting as catalysts in our process of transformation. I would learn more from observing my mangers at who are such catalyzing role models than by reading biographies about distant Charismatic business leaders.
An organization that does not aspire to bring about transformation through top-down catalyzing role models, will turn destructive. This was apparent in the recent collapse of the financial industry in the west. There was too much self-centered aspiration, but no role models who exemplified the true meaning of ‘collective’ transformation for the betterment of the world. The wall street instead of being the transformational industry doing the ‘work of God’, as Lloyd Blankfein CEO of much reviled Goldman Sachs claimed, had become a ‘den of robbers’ facing criminal charges, for having made millions off  a bubble created by misleading the public, in-turn causing pain for millions of common folk.
A great example of true transformation in the financial industry is the Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus’ Micro Finance enterprise the ‘Grameen Bank’. Yunus knew his passion was economics. His heart was with the poor. His strength was in setting up corporate enterprises. His weakness was being a man of ideas too ahead of his age in a society entrenched with old conventions. He supplemented his situational weakness with a 30 year iron-like resilience. He pursued to bring about collective transformation by doing what can truly be deemed the ‘work of God’.
The impetus for transformation is an aspiration to make things better than they are. Transformation starts with aspiring to ‘know oneself’ and progresses through aspiration to make oneself better than one is and then consummating transformation by helping each other achieve collective betterment that results in organizational transformation which in-turn makes the world a better place to live in.