Design determines results. A train will never fly no matter how powerful the engine because it is not designed to fly. A microlight aircraft flies with an engine smaller than that of most motorcycles.
The problem with schooling is not that it’s failed but that it’s successful. It does what it’s designed to do..create mediocrity and conformity so that we have more and more compliant plodders who will never rock the boat, never question and God forbid, never rebel against injustice. It delivers very effectively what it was designed to deliver – obedient morons. Or to put it more charitably obedient servants for industrialists and the State. That is exactly what our education system does very well. We on the other hand want it to create children who will question, be creative, challenge the status quo, invent new ways to achieve results and generally buck the system positively. That is like expecting a train to fly by revving the engine. Our system is designed to create followers, not leaders. It is designed to create compliance not questioners. That is why we reward obedience and label questioning as disobedience and punish it. For the average teacher the ‘troublesome’ child is the one who asks too many questions in class. But it is only questioning which opens doors to new vistas and find solutions to problems which we don’t even recognize yet.
We all agree that the pace of change is such that quite literally we don’t have a clue about what the world will look like five years down the road. The only thing we can be sure of is that it will look very different. We also agree that the two critical ingredients to success in that world are imagination and divergent thinking of which creativity is the result. Yet we have an education system that destroys these things very effectively, ruthlessly and quickly. If you doubt me ask yourself how many times you have heard the statement, ‘Forget that. You can’t get a job doing that.’ And you are right. He can’t get a job doing that. But perhaps he can create jobs for thousands if you leave him alone with his dreams and not destroy his creativity and divergence. Or maybe he will not even create jobs but will be a happy human being living his life to fulfilment. Now what’s so bad about that? But that terrifies the daylights out of you and so you force him to comply until he succumbs – another one bites the dust.
If you want your child to be a leader with a chance to do something valuable, to leave a legacy of honor, to change society, to alleviate suffering, help the oppressed, stand up against injustice and be a credit to you, then formal schooling is the first thing you should save him/her from.
Our education system doesn’t need change. It needs a decent burial. Then we need to put in place a system which is focused on developing the natural talents of the child, enabling him/her to leverage them to their greatest benefit and then help them to apply the learning. If you tweak a railway engine it will still not fly. If you want flight there’s nothing in the design of a railway engine that you can learn from. You need to forget railway engine and learn how to design something that’s the opposite of a railway engine. And that’s our problem…we’re trying to create a flying school using engine drivers. It’s not about fancy infrastructure and air conditioned classrooms but about opening minds, re-learning how to teach, writing new books and encouraging questioning, tangential thinking and unbridled imagination.
As a friend of mine who is a teacher put it, ‘We are churning out robots who can neither think for themselves, nor do we equip them to deal with life’s challenges, which is why there is such a high percentage of emotional and physical burn-out at an age when they should be at their creative peak!’
The big problem in schools is that the whole atmosphere is soul destroying. Homes are not much different. So most children don’t look up to either their parents or teachers. And the fault is not theirs. Most parents and teachers are only fit to be quietly pushed under the bed when you have polite company. Generally parents today seem to believe that upbringing of children consists of satisfying their physical needs alone. So there is no focus on developing their minds, fulfilling their spiritual needs or teaching them manners and social skills. We program our children to fail when they are faced with life’s challenges and those that still succeed do so despite us, not because of us.
When I am invited to speak to parent-teacher bodies in schools I usually start all such talks by giving them a task and asking one question:
1. Please think of your role model (someone you know or knew personally)
2. For how many of you is it a parent or a teacher?
I have never had more than 5% of the audience which had as their role models, parents or teachers. That means that 95% of the population doesn’t look up to parents or teachers – though they are the two roles which have the maximum face time with children.
Then I ask them another question: What do you think your children would say if they were in this room instead of you? Would they be thinking of you? The biggest problem today is a total starvation of role models. And that is the biggest challenge of education.
Today we have confused education with literacy and knowledge with information and stuff the children’s minds with disconnected data which makes no sense and then test them on recall at a specific time and we call that process of regurgitation – exams. That has given birth to the industry of Examination Factories who exist only to teach children how to ‘crack’ exams. Learning is the last item on their agenda, if it is even there at all. All that the child is taught is to cram select information on the basis of questions that have been asked for that exam in the past and the Exam Factory’s analysis of what is likely to be asked in the exam that the child will take. Once he does that successfully his photograph is used as the bait to draw other aspiring fish into the trap of mediocrity. The champ in our system is that poor beast who can stuff himself with random information which he has no clue how to use and faithfully regurgitate it on call. If the poor child recalls that same piece of useless information (E.g. When was the Magna Carta written?) five minutes after the bell, he would have failed the exam. To know the place of birth of Shakespeare is essential to pass our exams – not to write creatively in English. No wonder that many of our successful ‘scholars’ can hardly carry on an intelligent conversation for ten minutes or write a powerful letter to the editor in the papers. Did you ever wonder why all letters to editors are written by old codgers with nothing to do – not by school children whose future is being squandered by adults who couldn’t care less?
Our children spend on an average 15 years in what is called Primary, Secondary and High School and come out of there, completely unable to do anything useful, worthwhile or important in life. The only job they can get with 15 years of schooling is to wait tables for which also they have to be trained onsite. They can’t even do anything their education was supposed to teach them. How many school graduates do you know who wrote a book for example? After all they all learnt languages and passed papers in them for 15 years. And yet that is not enough for them to use that language creatively to express their thoughts. But we find nothing wrong with this. Their parents amazingly don’t think this to be odd at all even though they spent a fortune, which many could ill afford, on this thing they called ‘education’. I won’t even talk about how we squander science, math and humanities. Our society is the most powerful witness to that.
In this whole process I can’t possibly under-emphasize the importance of wise adults in the lives of children that the children can look up to. But where are we going to find them? We don’t need huge numbers of them (not that it would hurt) but we need at least one or two in the life of each child. The problems of drugs, rave parties, teenage pregnancies, alcohol (also a drug though we don’t like to call it that) and so on are really symptoms of the sickness of our society. That these are to be found in our schools is a sign of how deep that sickness has reached. We are very, very sick. We need surgery – not pills. And certainly not placebos.
Problem definition is always easy. Solving it takes a lot of time, pain and investment. And that is usually another story. But somewhere there is a spark, alive and waiting for the chance to flame into a conflagration that will light up the world.
The Final Essence – The ‘Can’t do without 7’ list
As I come to the closure of this book, and although I see my life as a work in progress, I would like to encapsulate some of my key learnings thus far. It has been my aim to show in this book that ordinary people can take leadership stances and make a lasting, positive difference in their world. Whether I succeeded or not is for the readers to judge. I continue my journey, ever looking forward to mountains still to climb and valleys still to gaze over. I realize that what I have written here is from an Islamic perspective and some parts may seem strange or foreign to the non-Muslim readers. But I am a Muslim and this is about my life and my experience. So I will speak my language just as the Dalai Lama would speak in terms of the Buddhist perspective or someone else from the perspective of his or her own faith, religion, or philosophy. In all these cases it is for the reader to ask questions, clarify and understand, and after having understood, to accept, or reject. We are all free to do this and to this freedom do I point you.
So what did I learn?
I call it my – Can’t do Without 7 List: The 7 are:
7. Desire to Serve
1. You can’t do without Faith:
I have mentioned one of my favorite quotes by Barbara Winters earlier in the book: “When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is to know that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.” I know exactly what she means because my life is full of instances where I was taught how to fly.
When you work with faith in ultimate success you enter into a state of ‘Grace’. I have talked about this state earlier as a place you enter after exerting supreme effort where there is a special quality to the sunshine, a special pleasure in being alive, and the taste of success is sweet.
I have mentioned the example of marathon runners who enter the state of grace, earlier in the book. Take another example from the pages of history, when an outnumbered Mongol army faced the vast army of Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, the Sultan of Khwarezm. The Mongol Tumans (brigades) led by Jochi ( Ghenghis Khan’s eldest son) and the Mongol general Jebe were vastly outnumbered by the Sultan’s army. So they executed a strategic retreat.
They escaped from the battle field and rode into the night, pursued persistently by the Sultan’s army. Both armies rode all night without break after having fought through the day. This ride is probably a global record not only of individual riders but entire armies who covered over 150 miles in 24 hours. One has to appreciate the endurance on both sides that the chase was continued long after any reasonable person would have given up. The sheer ability to master pain, sleep, and hunger is mindboggling, especially in today’s comfort loving culture. These were some very hard warriors, pitted against one another, carrying out the will of their generals. Early next morning the Mongols turned. The Sultan’s archers, dog tired after the hard night’s riding had the sun in their eyes. Nobody expected the Mongols to actually turn to fight. They expected them to get away. But they did the unexpected and turned. The result was the complete annihilation of the Sultan’s army – a victory unprecedented as it was unexpected. I can’t help but presume that Jochi’s and Jebe’s soldiers had entered the state of grace and they continued to fight on. The rest, as they say, is history.
There have been many instances in my life where I would feel midway that I had been crazy to take on the challenge. Having no alternative but to go forward, I would continue. And slowly I would stop feeling the tiredness and become conscious of the greatness of the journey. I would know in my heart that all my effort had been worth it.
Whether the challenge be physical or spiritual, the route to the state of grace is through great effort. This is easy to see in examples of war or martial arts or other physical challenges. It is much more difficult to see in the invisible challenges of the heart and mind. Nonetheless, you cannot reach the state of grace without exerting effort.
2. You can’t do without Courage:
Courage is passion. Courage is the willingness to be confident in that passion and to express it without fear. Passion kindles the fire in the hearts of others who you need in order to succeed. Passion is the light that illuminates the dark road of heartbreaking effort and enables you to keep walking when others want to turn around. Passion is what brings tears to the eyes – tears of great commitment, not weakness. If it can’t make you cry, it can’t make you work. Work without passion is drudgery – with passion, a joy in itself.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to continue. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending. Fear is a sign of intelligence. It shows that you recognize the enormity and danger of the challenge and are not living in a fool’s paradise. Courage is the willingness to face that challenge, to face that fear and look it in the eye and continue on the road to success with your eyes wide open. Courage enables you to set extraordinary goals because only the courageous realize that it is in the nature of the extraordinary goal to inspire extraordinary effort. Nobody rises to low expectations. People rise to high expectations. Courage enables you to set high expectations. Courage comes from knowing your strengths and being able to leverage them. Courage comes from living thoughtfully and building on the life experience of having won other battles in the past and having learnt lessons from them. Courage comes from living intelligently and being able to recognize and use assets strategically and to jettison liabilities.
Courage is the ability to say no – firstly, to yourself. Courage is the ability to take hard decisions knowing that if there is a cancer then it must be cut out. Courage is the ability to take pain; the physical pain of great effort and the far greater emotional pain of betrayal, confusion, and loss of hope.
The story of Genghis Khan’s troops against the Sultan of Khwarezm’s army is a classic illustration of courage on both sides but where in the end the Mongols won because their courage was greater. This courage has nothing to do with the outside world but everything to do with the inside – challenging yourself beyond what you believed possible. It is truly said, ‘Nobody knows the best that he can do.’ For we only know what we have done until now. The best is what we discover when we stand to face the challenges that life throws at us and even more those that we consciously choose. Challenges and difficulties do two things – they test our courage and they increase it. It is only when you stand up to a challenge that you realize that you could overcome it and that is a hugely empowering feeling. Without the challenge you would never have known your ability and now that raises the bar for you in terms of what you can face. So physical toughness is very important and mental toughness even more than that – for tiredness is a state of mind, not body. The body will continue as long as the mind refuses to accept defeat.
Courage is the ability to pick yourself up and climb out of that abyss; while those around you have no idea about the path that you are walking on. Courage is the willingness to open your heart to others and allow it to break because the heart was made to feel and to be broken – not to be protected from all emotion and preserved, unbroken, turned to stone. Courage is to realize that it is the broken heart which is dearest to the One who created the heart. Courage is the ability to take hard decisions and face the pain that comes with them, secure in the belief that what you did was for a greater cause. The killers in life are the excuses that we make for our own laziness, low quality and so on. Hard decisions bring us back on track.
Courage is the willingness to eat less, sleep less, work harder, delay gratification, and continue to work for the great goal that you are pursuing. Finally courage is linked to faith; deeply and inextricably. The courage of the one who lacks faith will break at some point because he will suddenly realize that he is all alone. But the one who has faith knows that he is never alone and that the One who has no limits to His resources likes those who embark on great endeavors and will help them to succeed. So he stays in the race long after others have fallen by the wayside. For the truth is that the race of life is most often won, not by the fastest but by the one who stayed in it long enough.
3. You can’t do without Dua:
Dua is to talk to Allah. This may seem unreal in a world where we are so sunk in materialism that God is unreal. But believe me, I learnt this all through my life, God is real. Allah exists. He listens, sees, and knows. He cares and helps. And when you ask, He gives. The key is to ask knowing that He is real. And that is what Dua is. To turn to Him not only when you are in trouble but when you are happy. To simply have a conversation. To tell Him your story. To ask Him questions. Don’t worry about how He will answer. That is His choice. But I learnt that He does answer and if you keep your heart clean, you will know when He answers. This requires you to build a relationship with Him. Everyone has a relationship with Him willy-nilly because He is our Creator. I am talking about taking that relationship to a higher level of understanding His greatness, of expressing thanks for His bounty, and of recognizing Him in His signs and glorifying His Majesty and Grace. Dua is the essence of worship – it is to talk to Allah who is the only one who is worthy of being worshipped. You can’t do without Dua, believe me.
Dua gives courage because it strengthens the connection between the Creator and you and reminds you that you are not alone and that your Creator wants you to succeed. Like most things of this nature, dua must be experienced for you to taste its sweetness. There is only so much that anyone can explain about its beauty, power, and comfort. After that it needs you to experience it – like a big, warm hug – how do you explain what it feels like to the one who has never been hugged?
4. You can’t do without Discipline:
We must all suffer one of two things; the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
Of these two the pain of discipline is far easier to bear. Discipline is simply to get up and do what must be done without making excuses. Discipline is to realize that excuses don’t change reality. Failure doesn’t change to success because you have a good excuse. Loss doesn’t reverse to gain because you have a good excuse. Excuses change nothing. Discipline is to stop making excuses and do what it takes to succeed. Discipline is to realize that everyone has the same 24 hours and the same choices of what they choose to do with that time. Discipline is to realize that opportunities don’t come; they don’t knock on your doors. They have to be sought out, grasped, and taken advantage of. When did you ever see the deer come in search of the hunter? Opportunities are like deer. They exist for the benefit of the hunter who has the discipline to prepare his trap, wait patiently and then spring to the kill. For all others there is the dust of the road to eat watching the tail of the deer disappearing in the distance.
5. You can’t do without Resilience:
Resilience is the willingness to get up, every time you fall. Not the ability, but the willingness. I say, ‘Not the ability’ because if the willingness is there, the ability will emerge. But without the willingness the ability, even when it is there, remains dormant and you stay down. Resilience comes from the willingness to face the brutal facts without any whitewashing or pretension. To face the truth about yourself no matter how ugly that may look and then to have the willingness to do whatever it takes to change yourself, your actions, your beliefs, your strategy, and your tactics. To change everything except your goal.
Resilience is to combine the willingness to accept the harsh reality of present failure with an unshakable faith in the fact that one day you will win. So you continue to work, firm in the belief that it is only a matter of time and strategy before you succeed. This is very important because in all great endeavors there comes a time when there is darkness all around. When those who started with you with great hope, have become tired and some have fallen by the wayside. Many start to lose faith in you and in your ability to succeed. And to speak the truth you also start to doubt yourself in your heart. The night is cold and dark. It seems that dawn will never come. It is at this time that it is most essential to remain constant, to keep the faith, to keep smiling and positive and never to compromise the goal or reduce the standard. There will be great pressure on you to compromise, to accept a lower standard, to sacrifice your principles. To do that is suicide. To remain constant is the true meaning of resilience and this is not possible without the first two – faith and dua. For only with faith in the Creator and the relationship with Him that enables you to talk to Him, can you retain faith in eventual success when all the signs around you are only pointing to failure. I have seen this many times in my life, that when you withstand the night, you start to see the glow on the horizon which tells you that the sun will rise again. The truth is that the sun always rises. We only have to last out the night. That is resilience which you can’t do without.
6. You can’t do without Companions:
There is a rider on this one – not simply companions but the right companions. This is a deal maker or deal breaker. Our companions can help us to succeed or fail. So it is essential to be able to judge people accurately. There is nobody in the world who can win alone. There never was. There never will be. People who win in any aspect of life are people who know how to build, cherish, maintain, and sever relationships. Please note that I have mentioned also severing relationships. That is because relationships can be positive and negative. With the latter it is essential to sever them, but to do that in a way that is not damaging to the people involved. That is the skill. How can you part as friends?
A very essential skill in having good companions is the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. To agree to disagree; to accept differences, even major ones, but still see areas of agreement where you can collaborate and work together. This is essential because success depends on having people with the right competencies and skills with you – not merely people you like or who like you. Conflict is a sign of commitment but it must be resolved. So the ability to resolve conflicts in a way that strengthens friendship is essential to keeping good companions by your side. People like to work with those who they believe value them and there is nothing that builds credibility more than accepting that you were wrong. Resolving conflicts often is simply about accepting your own mistakes. And it is about helping people keep focused on the ultimate goal in which we all have a common stake.
Good companions are those who push you to greater heights, who don’t accept poor quality, who hide your faults from others but point them out to you with love. Good companions are those who make excuses for you but don’t allow you to make excuses for yourself. Good companions are those who refuse to accept from you anything but the best because they believe that you are capable of achieving it. Good companions are those who share your passion, dream your dream and are willing to do what it takes to make it come true.
Good companions are those who understand and appreciate, not merely tolerate – one another. This is an outcome of good communication and that is a critical skill in building that team of good companions that leads to success. Good communication is not about talking but about being understood and more importantly about being believed. Good communication is built on a platform of trust which is the adhesive that keeps companions together. Trust typically takes long to build and an instant to break. Trust is the result of consistently demonstrating concern and compassion for others, even at your own cost. Trust results in the lowering of defenses between companions and so its betrayal is very damaging. Trust must be protected and cherished, for once lost, it can never be restored. Good companions are those who can be implicitly trusted. So ask yourself, ‘Am I am good companion?’
7. You can’t do without the Desire to Serve
What is the benefit of serving? Think contribution, not entitlement. Entitlement comes with territory. Contribution defines territory. Service is simply good business. To serve one must be aware of what people need, deliver according to need, be concerned with how it is received, provide the support that may be necessary for the recipients to enjoy the service, and make amends if something goes wrong. All these are principles of good business and result in great wealth and influence without tension, fear or aggression. The desire to serve is at the bottom of great quality. It is the foundation of great customer relations, employee satisfaction, social responsibility, and universal goodwill. Those who seek to serve are those who have the maximum power and influence and add value to themselves and others.
Imagine a world where people seek ways to help one another. Imagine a world where people are genuinely concerned for the weak. Imagine a world free from oppression because those who have more seek to give it to those who need it; where surplus wheat is not dumped into the sea to drive up wheat prices, but rather shipped off to places where people are starving. Imagine a world that doesn’t dump billions of dollars’ worth of food into the garbage, but instead looks for those who are hungry. Imagine a world where doctors and pharmaceutical firms seek to heal the sick as cheaply and simply as possible – not make money out of other’s pain.
Imagine a world where teachers are paid more than entertainers. Imagine a world where there are no wars because those who have natural resources and those who have the technology to utilize them, work in fair and just relationships where both parties benefit. Imagine a world where knowledge about what harms the environment immediately results in stopping that harm and nobody needs to be reminded, persuaded or forced to comply with laws to protect the world. Imagine a world where people are concerned about the future and don’t confuse vice for freedom and seek to keep the environment clean from all forms of physical, mental, spiritual and material corruption.
Imagine a world where people feel responsible for each other’s welfare and ask the question, ‘What will my neighbor feel if I say or do this?’ Imagine a world where freedom is exercised with responsibility and is not confused with anarchy. Imagine a world where hurting someone else is considered serious enough for one to ensure it’s never done.
I wish we didn’t need to imagine such a world because we lived in it and it was real to us. I also believe that be that as it may, the opportunity to create such a world exists as long as we live.
So I live by my motto: “I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control.” And that is my gift to you.
We make money from Islam
They brought others into the Ummah
We send Muslims out of the Ummah
Their leaders were the best of them
Our leaders are the worst of us
They measured Net Worth in character
We measure Net Worth in money
They were known for their courage
We are known for our cowardice
They stood up to kings for the sake of Allah
We stand up to Allah for the sake of kings
They honored their teachers
We abuse our teachers
They gave to the people
We take from the people
They gave up their rights to their neighbors
We take away the rights of our neighbors
They were known for charity
We are known for stinginess
They were known for self-denial
We are known for self-indulgence
They were known for simplicity
We are known for ostentation
They were known for practicing more than preaching
We are known for preaching more than practicing
They looked for opportunities to please Allah
We look for opportunities to displease Allah
They gave to the people
We take from the people
They gave up their rights to their neighbors
We take away the rights of our neighbors
They were known for charity
We are known for stinginess
They were known for self-denial
We are known for self-indulgence
They were known for simplicity
We are known for ostentation
They were known for practicing more than preaching
We are known for preaching more than practicing
They looked for opportunities to please Allah
We look for opportunities to displease Allah
They competed in obedience
We compete in disobedience
The Malaika knew them
The Shayateen know us
The Malaika recognized their voices raised in praising Allah and dua
The Shayateen recognize our voices raised in Rap and Beat Boxing
Their criterion for the Dunya was Islam
Our criterion for Islam is the Dunya
They were proud of their Islam
We are ashamed of our Islam
Following Islam honored them
Leaving Islam dishonored us
They showed the way to the world
We don’t even know that we are lost
They were the Sahaba of Rasoolullah (SAS)
We are those about whom Rasoolullah (SAS) will complain
(May Allah save us from that)
There are two kinds of losers.
1. One is a loser who lost despite his best effort but doesn’t accept defeat. He analyses what happened, accepts what he needs to change in order to win. Then he disciplines himself and works ceaselessly until he wins.
2. The other doesn’t even understand why he lost, doesn’t bother to reflect on it, accepts defeat and tries to adjust himself to his new situation as a slave.
The biography of Genghis Khan is a good place to study Loser # 1. His story is a litany of woes and losses and defeats one piled on another right through his childhood, teens and twenties. But what shines through is the almost irrational belief in his ability to win, when there was nothing happening in his life to indicate that there was even a modicum of proof to show that his belief was true. I am sure there were people in his life who thought he had gone mad. Yet his life shows that he didn’t waver in his belief and continued to make attempt after attempt, shrinking at nothing which he thought would enable him to win. As they say, history is then witness to a man who created the largest empire that the world has ever seen in his own lifetime of just over 60 years.
The biography of Muhammadﷺ the Prophet of Islam, 7 centuries before Genghis Khan is another example of a man who didn’t accept defeat when there was no sign to show that he would ever win. His life, after he declared prophethood, is usually divided into two parts – the Makkan period of 13 years and the Madinan period of 10 years. The first part, the Makkan period is a story of defeat after defeat without a ray of hope, piled one on top of another. It was almost as if anything he touched, failed. He lost his reputation, his position in society, his wealth and influence, even the love and friendship of his people which was legendary before he declared prophethood at the age of 40. It was as if 40 years of gain in his life were wiped out with one fell stroke when he declared prophethood and proclaimed Islam. Yet he never faltered, never gave up hope, never accepted defeat and never stopped doing what he believed to be right; working for his mission when there was nothing to show that he would ever succeed.
I am sure there were people in his life who questioned his rationality. But once again, history is witness that in his own lifetime he once again became the most beloved man in Arabia, the uncrowned king of his people. A king, temporal, emotional and spiritual whose kingdom continues fourteen centuries after his death.
I have quoted two examples which are almost opposites of each other in terms of focus – one completely worldly, merciless, ruthless, materialistic and which though it spread like a forest fire, like a fire, it died out in less than 200 years such that there is not a single sign of its passing – disappearing as if it never existed. The other not only continues undiminished but grows continuously despite all forms of opposition. There are lessons in this about the longevity of empires of greed compared to empires of love and compassion but that is not my aim in this article except to simply place a marker so that we can also reflect on that aspect.
The lessons that I want to draw from these two very different examples are that the laws of winning and losing are like the laws of physics, universal, which give the same result every time. And these are three – the unwillingness to accept defeat, willingness to learn from their own lives and the discipline to do whatever it takes to win.
Let me give you a more modern example as well – the example not of one man but of an entire nation which refused to accept defeat or slavery. Japan – a classic example of a nation that refused to accept its crushing defeat as anything but a temporary setback. An entire generation dedicated itself to building the nation. Unlike other similar situations, crime and hopelessness didn’t dominate the scene and instead examples of selfless service were the order of the day. History is once again witness to the fact that in the lifetime of that one generation – in less than 50 years Japan emerged as not only one of the most powerful economies in the world but as a leader in scientific development, innovation, creativity and productivity.
Once again, the same three lessons are visible:
1. unwillingness to accept defeat,
2. willingness to learn from their own lives
3. and the discipline to do whatever it takes to win.
The Japanese demonstrated the three critical requirements for winning:
1. Willingness to analyze what happened,
2. Learn from it and make tough choices and ..
3. Support them with moral and material investment to make a difference.
Today if we look at the plight of the Muslim Ummah (nation), generally speaking, we find the absence of all these three factors which can change defeat to victory. We have accepted defeat, we refuse to face the facts about our own mistakes and we have no discipline to change our lifestyles or to make hard choices.
The history of slavery in America is a good place to study what happens to people who accept defeat. Once again generally speaking, the average black person in the South had accepted defeat to such an extent that black people brought up, served and protected their masters, sometimes with their own lives. Masters who treated them worse than they treated their pet cats or dogs. Yet not a single hand was raised to protect the dignity of the human being. True, that the masters used heinous ways to punish the rebellious because the purpose of such punishment is to serve as a deterrent to future aspirants and not merely as a recompense for the sin. So, it always exceeds the gravity of the crime. Yet instead of fueling righteous anger, the punishment fulfilled its intention by striking terror in defeated hearts, further confirming the belief that they couldn’t win. It took action outside the purview of their lives to eventually free them from slavery – Abraham Lincoln and his comrades from the North – and we are left to imagine how much longer slavery would have lasted had this war not happened. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule that go on to prove the rule – that people who accept defeat are condemned to slavery.
That is our situation today. We have accepted defeat. We have accepted slavery. So, we do two things – we speak of days of bygone glory forgetting that the key word is bygone; and we wait for an Avatar to come to save us, forgetting that Avatars exist only in mythology and Facebook. Meanwhile we engage ourselves in the equivalent of slave pastimes of drinking and singing sad songs – intoxication in an attempt to forget the horrors of our existence.
We spend money in ostentatious pomp and splendor, in fat weddings, in self-indulgence and materialism but not in anything which has a chance to take us out of our slavery. How else do you explain personalized aircrafts, 13 million-dollar Christmas trees, solid silver cars, multi-million dollar colored rocks and a collective reading average of ½ a page annually. How do we explain a society which has palaces known for their shameless ostentation and luxury and universities known for the bankruptcy of their ideas, teaching and learning?
We fight anyone who talks about freedom and do our best to discredit him and ensure that he doesn’t win. We don’t support him, call him insane and refuse to help him even to the extent of what we spend on our mindless entertainment.
We must choose; we who refuse to accept defeat and we who seek to change the path of the destiny of an unwilling people. We must accept that we will not be supported easily so we must stop relying on support from those who have chosen to accept slavery and defeat. We must understand that behind the resistance is fear. They have learned to be afraid. You and what you represent scares them ****less. They don’t want you to rock their boat even when they are mere rats in the hold. They have forgotten what it felt like to stand on the bridge with the wind in your hair and the spray of the ocean in your face, guiding the destiny of the ship. Until you can help them conquer that fear nothing will happen. Remember that to the uncommitted, commitment always looks like insanity. But only the totally committed can take risk. Commitment removes the fear. When they call you mad, understand that this is a sign that you are on the right path. Walk on and you will find that slowly they will awake, remember and start following you. Walk on.
You will need supporters because nobody can win alone. Don’t hire rabbits to climb trees. Don’t try to convince the frightened. Find those who resonate to your goal. You need people you can rely on. One you can rely on is better than a thousand who need pushing. Great goals need engines of power not bogies that need pushing. Finally remember that if you want to soar in the heavens you need condors for companions, not chickens trying to fly. Both are birds but worlds apart.
And remember that as I mentioned earlier, the laws of winning and losing are like the laws of physics; universal, which give the same result every time. Results depend on choices, not on who made the choice. So, choose well.
In my many visits to the beautiful country of South Africa one of the things that I was struck by was the proliferation of violent crime. The situation seems to have reached truly alarming proportions where people have lost all sense of safety and are in a state of siege. The situation appears to be at a stage that if it is not tackled effectively and urgently it can easily result in a total meltdown of civilized society. The most ‘alarming’ thing in my view is the ‘acceptance’ of the situation that I heard in the tones and words of the many people, who seem to be getting resigned to the situation. I remind myself that in the presence of injustice, the truly alarming sign is the lack of will to fight against the injustice. That is the truest guarantee that injustice will prevail in the land. As long as there are those who fight against injustice, those who perpetrate it, need to fear the consequences of their actions. When that fight stops, then the criminals will rule the world.
The classic example of this is the difference in the stance of people, between Tibet versus South Africa in the apartheid regime. In the former, the people of Tibet tacitly accepted Chinese occupation. And so, it remains under the heel of Communist China with no hope of ever becoming free. On the other hand, in South Africa, the oppressed people fought against the oppression and though it took 50 years and the lives of countless martyrs, South Africa is free. For as long as the fight continues, there is hope for those who believe in justice and freedom. This shows us that the first thing to do in the fight against crime in South Africa is for the people who are law abiding citizens, not to lose hope and never to accept the current status quo. It is their duty to continue to look for ways to make South African society a place that the criminal fears. Not the law-abiding citizen.
Multi-pronged accelerated Strategy
I am not going into a detailed analysis of the causes of violent crime. I believe these reasons are clear to all those who know the history of this beautiful country and all those who fought and laid down their lives to create a land where people can live with dignity, in freedom. The martyrs of the freedom struggle did not die to create a situation where the normal, law abiding person still has to fear for his or her life and dignity. To change this situation is the responsibility of those who inherited a free South Africa. In my view crime in South Africa must be tackled at multiple levels. The objective must be to remove or reduce the ‘need’ for crime and make it as difficult as possible to commit it. This must be supported by very tough policing which raises the stake for those who commit crimes. And finally, a judicial system that is swift in its disposal of cases so that criminals pay a fair price for their crimes. It must be remembered that the purpose of law is to make it safe and comfortable for the law-abiding citizen to live in society.
Not to make it safe for the criminal to commit crimes and then to hide behind the cloak of fairness and justice. It was the criminal’s choice to breach good faith and violate the law of the land. And for this he must pay a price that is not only ‘fair’ in the context of the crime that he committed but becomes a deterrent for any aspiring criminals who may seek to emulate this ‘easy’ way to earn a living by preying on people.
1. Partner with Companies to alleviate poverty and create employment
The historical reasons for poverty are clear to all those who live in South Africa. I will not go into them here as we are more concerned with ways to solve the problems. Poverty breeds crime. It is not that rich people are intrinsically honest but that if people are extremely poor, then respecting other’s life and property becomes more an academic argument that is easily lost sight of in the search to fill the belly. We know for a fact that the government is truly concerned with doing all it can, to alleviate poverty. What needs to be done is to get citizens involved in the process as well. A very successful model that has been adopted in India voluntarily by some corporate organizations is to adopt villages. This means that the company pays for schools, hospitals, cheap housing, roads & drains and all welfare civil work as well as to create employment opportunities for the people. Some companies have also entered the area of micro-credit and entrepreneurship development. They also work to introduce better farming methods, seeds, fertilizers and so on. The government allows the company to deduct some or all of the expenses incurred from its taxes. These are all hugely empowering programs and since companies are compensated for what they spend there is an eagerness to contribute.
2. Police Training & Citizen Partnership
Once again, I draw on the Indian example because it parallels the South African one. In some ways, the Indian situation is more complicated and the forces of corruption are more entrenched. After all we have had more than 200 years of practice. However mercifully violent crime is still a rarity in India and holdups and robberies South Africa style are seen mostly on the screen in Bollywood movies. The way the government has tackled this is by setting up an elite officer cadre called the IPS (Indian Police Service). This consist of cadets who are recruited on the basis of a very tough examination at the all India level (called the Union Public Service Commission exam) that allows successful candidates to enter the bureaucracy in different ‘Services’ like the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS), Indian Audit & Accounts Service (IAAS) and so on. The minimum qualification to appear for the examination is a graduate degree. Most applicants are post graduates.
The written exam which is conducted anonymously is number driven. Competition is at least 1/300. Following this, there is a personal interview with a board comprised of serving and retired officers. Once the candidate passes this he or she enrolls into a very intensive 2-year training program consisting of both college study in the different Service Academies (for the different services) and field training in real-life situations. At the end of that period they formally enter the Indian Police Service. These officers are supposed to be of higher quality and more dedicated and committed than the rank and file that is recruited apart from the UPSC exam route. I say, ‘supposed to be’ because this is not always the case, but the system itself is an excellent one.
I suggest that a similar system be created for the South African Police where highly qualified young people are recruited into a fast-track officer cadre and then intensively trained to become career service professionals. I am personally involved with training IPS Officers at the Indian National Police Academy in Hyderabad, India and can say that we can do wonders with the right training. When these officers take charge, they will change the face of policing.
Simultaneously with training the officer cadre it is essential to start a Police-Public Network where citizens become the eyes and ears of the police and partner with them to solve crime. Citizens must be armed and formed into policing committees with some police officers accompanying them. There must be frequent interaction between police and the public in informal settings to build bridges and create an atmosphere of mutual trust. Religious leaders must take a lead role in this and have interaction with local police officers as a part of their religious event calendars. If enough awareness and openness is created then it makes it difficult for police officers to be corrupt or to support criminals.
3. Education: Moral and ethical code of behavior
The third element of the strategy to fight crime is to work on the minds of the young ones by introducing and strengthening their code of moral and ethical behavior. This may be done both through religious and faith organizations as well as through the secular school system. The key is to help them see the value of morals and ethics in their own lives. For this, apart from theoretical instruction it is very useful to have an exchange program where children from backgrounds which are high crime, deprivation and lack of good parental models visit homes where there is a strong sense of family, moral and ethical behavior is clearly evident and the home has a sense of harmony and safety about it. When children see these models and experience love, respect, concern for one another and good manners, they start to see the value of these things and theoretical instruction starts to make meaning.
4. Fast-track Courts to handle criminal offences
The fourth and last element in the strategy to fight crime is to create fast-track courts to handle criminal offences. These courts must naturally insist on proper investigation and following of due process of law but must dispose of the cases without any delay. The sentences handed out must be in relation to the seriousness of the crime. More serious the crime, more severe the sentence. The death penalty must be reinstated (even if it is done temporarily) for all convictions of murder and rape. This may seem harsh but in my view the torment and suffering that innocent women undergo when they are raped is far more. As also is the torment of the families of those who are murdered in cold blood for no fault of theirs by criminals who have no concern for either the law of the land or for the lives and dignity of people. As I have said earlier, the purpose of law is to protect the one who abides by it. Not the one who breaks and violates it. The law breaker must feel the pain of breaking the law which he chose to break without any compulsion from anyone. It is his choice. And all choices have a price tag.
We get what we pay for. What we support, grows. It is essential to ensure therefore that we don’t support lawbreaking and lawless behavior no matter who does it. And to ensure that the lawbreaker pays a price that is at least equal to the harm that he has caused. Only then will we be able to create a society that is safe for those who respect the law.
As you can see, the situation of crime in South Africa is complex in terms of the reasons behind it and needs solutions that are multi-pronged. Some of them must be empowered by legislation or ordinances. Others by training and education. The situation is grave enough to warrant all the energy that we can put behind these efforts.
What is kindness? Is it accepting substandard work or is it insisting that only the best quality is acceptable? There is often a lot of confusion about this and people think that they are being kind when they say nothing to their group members, family or friends who routinely over promise and under deliver. I want to distinguish here between inability and unwillingness. If someone is learning English I wouldn’t discard something he had written because it had spelling and grammatical errors. But if the same work comes from someone who knows English well, then it indicates an attitude of carelessness and inattention to quality, which is a reflection, not of their language ability but of a much more dangerous malaise of an attitude of lack of attention to detail and a lack of concern for quality. When I see this I know I am looking at a person without self-respect because in my book, my work is my signature. So if I am not concerned about putting out sloppy work, then it means I am not concerned about my own image. It is not about projecting an image but about becoming complacent and comfortable with poor quality. Such a person in my opinion is not someone who I would want on my team, no matter what his qualifications are.
In my book, ‘Hiring Winners’http://amzn.to/1xFWmgO I have argued and shown that technical competence can be hired or trained, but attitude must be selected and hired. It is almost impossible to change the attitude of people once they are hired. I say ‘almost’ because it is possible in exceptional cases with exceptional leaders in exceptional circumstances. It is not something that I would recommend to everyone. Much simpler and easier to hire people with the right attitude and train them in the skills you want.
Just to give you an idea why I call this dangerous let me share some statistically valid data:
1. According to a 2006 study looking at the frequency of surgical errors in the United States, each year there could be as many as 2,700 mistakes where a surgery is performed on the wrong body part or the wrong patient. That’s about seven per day.
To understand this properly imagine having your good kidney or good eye removed. Both have happened.
2. The Federal Aviation Administration lists pilot error as the leading cause of plane accidents, but pilot error is almost always part of a chain of events that starts …
The details above are only to give you an idea of the seriousness of being careless – it can result in loss of life and limb. I am sure that the more we dig the more we will find incidents where significant loss could have been avoided if only someone had checked. That is where this is related to spelling and grammar. They are indicators of attitude. Someone who sends out a letter full of spelling and grammatical mistakes is more than likely a person who will not do an instruments check if he were flying a plane or read the patient’s data sheet or count the number of sponges he took out of the incision in a surgical procedure. I for one, wouldn’t want to be on that plane or that operating table.
This attitude of careless is not restricted to English writers or pilots and surgeons. We have careless teachers who ruin children’s enthusiasm to study. Careless parents who bring up little animals instead of responsible human beings. Careless scholars who leave the remnants of their mistakes to confound people long after they are dead and gone.
And that is where the issue of demanding quality comes in. Sloppiness is not a sign of passion but of the lack of it. By and large we seem to have quality problems in third world countries because we accept poor quality. People can do better but they need to be convinced that it is worth their while to do so. We must demand quality without apology. And without confusing it for a lack of kindness. In my opinion, the willingness to take tough calls is the key to quality. Ask yourself, ‘Is it kindness to allow cancer to develop because you don’t want to hurt the patient by cutting him or is it kindness to be concerned enough about the life of the patient to cut out the cancer?’ That is what you are doing when you allow sloppiness in the name of being kind. You cut out cancer because you know it will kill you even though it is your own cell. That is precisely why your internal defence mechanism can’t deal with it and you have to use external intervention.
That is why Jack Welch of GE used to say that the ultimate test of the leader is if he had ‘Edge’, which he defined as the ability to take tough decisions. Among the 4Es of GE – Energy, Energize, Edge, Execute – Welch would say that a person may have three of the four but if he didn’t have Edge, then he would fail even though he had the others. See this excellent article about this: http://www.stratoserve.com/2011/05/jack-welch-ges-4-p-and-one-e-curve.html Quality is all about being tough for the right reasons, firstly with oneself and then with one’s team. Without that Edge, there can never be any quality. Of this I am absolutely convinced.
Mikel Harry of Motorola was the man who conceptualized the 6 Sigma Quality Standard based on the principle that one can only measure mistakes. You can’t say how efficient someone is except to count the number of mistakes they make. The fewer the mistakes, the better the product or service. So let’s say someone has a service delivery of 99%. Now that may sound perfectly acceptable and we may say to ourselves, ‘We must be compassionate and not give that person a hard time because they made just one mistake in 100.’ Until of course you translate it into 6 Sigma terms – how many per million? 1% is 10,000/million. 6 Sigma is 3.4 mistakes per million. How would you like to fly at 39,000 feet in a plane where the engines were manufactured by a company operating at 99% efficiency?Or where the pilot is operating at 99% efficiency? Or be operated for heart surgery by a surgeon who is 99% particular about hygiene? Do I need to give any more examples?
This is where the importance of metrics comes in. It is only when you have metrics to define what is meant by acceptable quality in your context, can you be sure that everyone understands the standard, can be measured and will know clearly if he or she met the standard or didn’t. What you don’t measure, you don’t know. What you don’t know you can’t control. What you can’t control you can’t guarantee. Subjective assessments can’t substitute for metrics. So do take the trouble to measure quality.
This is what Toyota did with the development of their luxury car. They went to the owners of Rolls Royce, Mercedes and BMW and asked them questions about what they felt (felt, not thought) when they used their cars. They asked for example what the owner of the Rolls feels when he gets into his car and shuts the door which shuts with a very satisfying thump – not a tinny clang like the door of a small cheap car. They asked them what they felt when they sank into the luxury of real leather seats which hug them and give them back support. They asked the owners of BMW what they felt when they were behind the wheel and on an open stretch of road, they floored the accelerator. Those who have driven BMWs will know what I mean. The car acts like a leopard gathering itself to pounce. You can feel it in your belly before it leaps forward and thrust drives you back in your seat. Toyota engineers took all these highly ‘touchy feely’ answers and converted them into engineering drawings – the most specific of data. The result was the most successful and fastest selling luxury car on the market – the Lexus. This is the magic of numbers; the power of metrics. They convert wishes into reality, vision into action, effort into result.
Quality is serious. Lack of quality is deadly. Lack of quality happens simply because we permit it. It happens because we don’t insist on quality. It happens because we accept poor quality, most often in the name of being kind and compassionate. Not realizing of course that there is nothing more unkind and unjust than accepting poor quality. It fools the provider into believing that his/her product or service is good enough. It takes away their incentive to improve and makes them vulnerable to collapse. This is not kindness but a lack of understanding of the whole issue of quality which has very long term and very destructive effects. Unfortunately our society is full of examples of people who don’t keep their word, don’t deliver on promises, don’t work to high standards and give ridiculous excuses when challenged. People who confuse effort with result, while it is only results that count.
Let me tell you two stories about quality to end this article:
The story goes that Motorola ordered a part for their Pagers from their Japanese ancillary and impressed upon them that they were a 6 Sigma company and wouldn’t accept anything but the 6 Sigma standard of 3.4 mistakes per million. When the consignment was delivered, to Motorola’s surprise they found two packages – a big one and a small one. When they opened the big box they saw that it had the entire consignment of one million parts that they had ordered. The small box had four parts in it. When they asked their Japanese partner they were told, ‘We didn’t understand why you wanted us to give you defective parts. But since you asked for them, we gave you four defective parts. Otherwise we don’t manufacture anything with defects.’
The second story is about Tata Motors who were plagued with re-work and cost escalations and hired a Japanese consultant from Toyota to help them to solve their quality problem. The man entered their factory and walked straight to the end of the manufacturing line and saw that there was a huge area marked, ‘Rework.’
He said to them, ‘Please remove this sign and eliminate this work area. That is all that you need to do to fix your problem. If you have no rework area, you will have no rework. People will do the right thing, first time.’
Tata executives however were not convinced and reduced the size of the area but were too frightened to remove the rework area entirely. The results were predictable.
My question is: If you had a choice, which car would you buy? A Toyota or a Tata.