Monday, May 16, 2011

incredible india!

What can I say?  I think I am falling in love!  Yes, it is noisy.  Yes, it is crowded.  Yes, there is poverty.  But it is spectacularly beautiful.  You can smell the fragrant flowering trees in the breeze.  They are a remarkably handsome population.  They dress beautifully.  They are gracious and kind.  They are amazing entrepreneurs.
Maybe it is Bengalore that is causing me to swoon.  From our arrival (at 1:30 a.m.!) at their new, lovely international airport, to our walk to the cars in the soft night air, to our spectacular greeting at the hotel (ITC Windsor), we are having a rich experience. I was greeted with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and when I asked for a vase in which to keep them, the charming man asked whether I would give him permission to take them away, and put them in an arrangement.  Which they did. Below is the photo. 

Our first day was supposed to be more touristy, and we had lined up a visit to an ashram about 45 minutes from our hotel.  Just before leaving, we were advised that the spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravishankar, was present and would be available for a private audience.  What a treat!  It is a lovely location, and there were thousands of people milling about, waiting for the open-air session with the guru.  He was very charming, and spoke to us about his leadership model, which is really about facilitating others.  At the same time, he acknowledged that he had been driven from a very young age by a vision of a world without violence and without stress, and he has dedicated his life to that vision. And he now has a presence in many countries, and a separate foundation dedicated to world peace.  We started with a meditation session, which was all about stilling the loud voices and listening to oneself.  I could sense the scepticism of my colleagues, and was trying hard to suspend my own tendency to judgement.  The guru's followers seemed a very happy group of people, dedicated to their cause.  They are doing a lot of good work with the rural poor in India, and with prisoners and at-risk youth in many countries.  They have no religious affiliation...they are promoting an approach to meditation with the goal of a more harmonious world.  Who knows?

We also met a beautiful elephant named Indrani, who let me pat her trunk.

  And we visited the ayurvedic university he has set up where he had a brief tour of the facilities.  We finished up in the magical temple…a bit like a rounded wedding cake, all white and pink (for lotus blossoms) and gold, and with breathtaking views in every direction.  

And the food here in Bengalore!  Oh my.  Even trying to stick to vegetarian food here, I can feel my waist expanding. 

So looking forward to the rest of our meetings.  What a great start!

Of consensus and state capitalism

Our brief visit to Oslo was very intriguing.  It is the richest country on earth, blessed with a huge supply of oil and gas.  It also has a very industrialized past in shipping and fishing, with an excellent labour force. As one of our speakers noted, “we are about the sea…underneath it, in it, and on it”.
They are a fascinating example of a socially progressive country trying to deal with massive wealth (a sovereign wealth fund valued at 500B).  They are managing this wealth cautiously…NOT using it to lower taxes, or invest in mega infrastructure.  Rather, they are using it as a rainy day fund, investing it much as pension funds are invested…cautiously and for the longer term. 
It is a country that has been remarkably cohesive.  There is a social contract that everyone…government, business and labour…adheres to.  Their systems seem designed to keep things moving forward carefully and sustainably.  I was surprised by the consistency of messaging from the variety of people with whom we met.  Being a small country, they put enormous emphasis on the rule of law, and international frameworks.  They are also adamant about the importance of evidence-based decision-making and the importance of science.  There were concerns that advocates have supplanted hard science (this in respect to oil and gas development).

The degree of consensus was impressive.  At one point, however, I found myself asking whether it was too good to be true? 

The downside was accessibility.  Full marks to our wonderful hotel, the Continental,  however the same could not be said for every place we visited.  One ministry, housed in the former Gestapo headquarters, did not have accessible washrooms…and most of the existing ones were accessed via a flight of stairs!  And many of the shops in the downtown were completely inaccessible.  It appears that older buildings are not required to accommodate wheeled people.  That meant that I spent no money at all on purchases.  And I could not understand how a society so given to social cohesion and so unbelievably wealthy, would not have universal access.  Disappointing.

sooooo jet-lagged!

just back, and apologies for lack of posts.  Internet access was spotty, so instead I created word documents.  So there will now be a few posts all at once, outlining some impressions of some pretty amazing visits.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

my brain hurts!

And so here we are en route to Oslo, Norway, after 2.5 packed days in Brussels.  We have had meetings with representatives of the European Union and NATO…and  all of this playing out against a backdrop of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the Canadian federal election. 

I am trying to process everything we have experienced, but it is difficult.  The combination of jet lag, back-to-back meetings, and too much food makes it hard to make sense of it all. 

Let me try.  I am starting to get an idea about leadership.  That it is a combination of factors….yes, certainly, the ability to articulate a vision and strive to achieve it is one….but it is also the ability to harness the energies of others…and not in a hierarchical way, but almost in an intuitive way of reading the moment and providing the space for something new or better to emerge.  I don’t know how we cultivate this talent in our hierarchical universe.  The pressure to deliver, the imperative for short-term results  may  favour those who are more inclined to direction.  And I ask myself, do I have the ability to back away?  Do I even want to?

And then there was another dawning realisation.  Listening to the bureaucrats from the EU, I found myself thinking, “ is this what we sound like to non-bureaucrats”?  It was an awful moment…we were being bored witless by a series of safe, measured observations on the mechanics of decision-making at the EU….by someone clearly fascinated by the subject matter…but incapable of making it interesting.  As one of our other speakers mentioned later, “it is a system designed for paralysis”…in which accountability is almost impossible to establish, and in which every country has a veto, and in which there is a mania for creating new committees and structures designed to make things better, but in the end it seems as though all they really do is talk about how they ought to do things.

Perhaps I simply failed to understand, but it seemed to me bureaucracy run amok.  It reminded me a bit of my experiences with IT specialists, who sometimes can become  so enamoured of the systems, that they forget why they were created:  to support the business, to make it easier to achieve better results.

Now, I admit that I have a bias towards action, but I worry that this obsession with process is a great way to avoid having to do anything.  And perhaps it makes me reflect a bit on our own system, which certainly has its own bias to process.  Is this the price we pay to live in a comfortable country? Does inattention to process lead to chaos and ineffective public institutions?  Does anyone get the balance right?  

Oh, I pray that the fog that is clouding my brain will lift!  Perhaps I need to eat more fish....and so, off to dinner in Norway!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Next chapter

So here I am, after some absence, embarking on the next adventure. We are en route to brussels, then oslo, then onto two cities in india: bengalore and delhi. This trip fills me with anticipation...excitement at the prospect of visiting new places, and a little scared at what promises to be some interesting mobility challenges in india!
I have been doing a lot of thinking about leadership, and what it means for our public service today...and tomorrow. I hope to share my experiences honestly...and this time, with photos!