Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Why I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand periodically?

Why is it that we want to read some books again and again?More specifically , why I  feel drawn to read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand again , and yet again?Ayn Rand wrote this masterpiece in 1943 , and it still has the power to hold me in 2013,  70 years  after ,since she wrote it.It has the same freshness, vigour and capacity to uplift ,as it had when I read it for the first time in 1980.The only difference in the last 30 years is that I appreciate it more clearly and admire it more.Where does its captivating power lie ?It has had and will continue to have that staying power which only the classics have.
                                   Ayn Rand wrote this work in 1943 when she was 38 years  .She wrote Introduction to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition in 1968 when she was 63 years  .In this , she asks:"Are there any substantial changes I would want to make  in The Fountainhead?".And answers:"No-and therefore I have left its text unchanged."In the same introduction she says that one of the cardinal reasons of The Fountainhead's lasting appeal is that it is a confirmation of the spirit of youth, proclaiming man's glory, showing how much is possible.
                                        The Fountainhead  has successfully created an ideal man in Howard Roark.He has a code of ethics and a reverence for himself and his values.He does not give up before the usual process of corruption, the way most people get corrupted in this world.He retains his values, his mind , his self-esteem, and does not abandon his values despite great hardships.He does not lose his fire.He holds on and moves on , knowing that the fire is not to be betrayed, learning to give it purpose , shape and reality He does not know what and where his future is,he marches on to realize man's glory and life's potential.He truly demonstrates the power of a  man.This sounds egoistic  but that is precisely the crux:The theme of The Fountainhead is that man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress.
                      I especially like the last para of the Introduction:"It does not matter that only a few in each generation will grasp and achieve the full reality of man's proper stature-and that the rest will betray it.It is those few that move the world and give life its meaning-and it is those few that I have always sought to address.The rest are no concern of mine :it is not me  or The Fountainhead  that they will betray :it is their own souls."
                     This power to inspire, motivate and ignite  for having and following complete loyalty to a code of ethics and having  an unflinching faith in the power of an individual, described in an interesting , romantic backdrop , makes us  read  The Fountainhead , again and again .

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Control in an age of empowerment by Robert Simons

This classic article was originally published in Harvard Business Review in 1995, but is relevant even today .While it is a fashion to talk about empowering the employees in an organization , the top management often chooses to exercise more and more control on the decision making .The two- control and empowerment- - are thus opposed to each other.In India,in public sector and government , there is a tendency towards ever increasing control, thereby resulting in less and less empowerment of the employees at different levels.This often suits the employees as well .In the era of hyperactive Auditors and Courts (through Public Interest Litigation),employees too,of late, prefer less and less powers of decision-making , so that the accountability for decisions and actions lies at the senior levels.This results in control-oriented ,dis-empowering system of management and governance .The ultimate sufferer is an ordinary member of public , who has to wait in-ordinately long, with little accessibility to actual decision makers.It certainly results in poor, corrupt and inefficient  governance.
                                    What is the solution?Does it mean that the employees are given more powers, with very little control at the top.Robert Simons answers this question very precisely and with great clarity.He takes a position that we need to harness every employee's creativity by empowering him or her .But it should be done carefully  with four levers of control, given below.
1.Diagnostic control systems  which define and monitor critical performance variables, with preset goals.
2.Clearly articulated belief and value systems.
3.Boundary systems  defining code of conduct and minimum ethical standards.(The rules of the game)
4.Interactive control systems by organizational dialogue to encourage learning.
                                 The balancing of empowerment and control is clearly the responsibility of the top management .In the government ,both at the centre and in the states , this responsibility lies with the senior civil servants and the ministers .How far they want to do it , and if they want to do it , how far they succeed in achieving this balance , defines , to some extent , the quality of governance .India, alas , is far away from the ideal level of balance.

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Story of a Nobody by Anton Chekhov

This novel of 122 pages by Chekhov is very interesting and powerful.This Nobody, who is also the narrator of the story(Stepan) , belongs to a terrorist group and manages to get the job of a servant in the household of a  government official's son(Orlov, also called Georgy Ivanych) , with a view to spy on the father.But the experience of staying in that house  changes the mission of this young Nobody .Suddenly , he realizes the purposelessness of life and becomes disillusioned with his mission .He gives up his mission.
                            Orlov is fond of reading new books.He falls in love with a married woman  , Zinaida Fyodorovna.She leaves her husband and moves into the house of Orlov.It is then that Orlov begins to avoid her , and goes on  for long periods to stay with one of his male friends , just to escape her.Finally , Zinaida discovers the truth , and Stepan helps her to escape from St. Petersberg  to Venice.
                           Zinaida becomes a cynic and  tells Stepan that there is no difference between Stepan and Orlov.Both had deceived her and abandoned her in their own ways.Stepan does bring her to Paris but she sees no future for her.Stepan first thinks that  it is due to her cynicism and despair , but later  realizes that  what she says has truth in it.
   Zinaida gives birth to a baby of Orlov(Sonya) , and dies during child birth (perhaps by consuming poison.).Stepan returns with Sonya to St. Petersberg. Stepan  realizes that he is not well , is old and is nearing his death .He goes to Orlov to discuss the future of Sonya.Orlov tells him to send Sonya to a boarding house , and also tells him to discuss things with the ex-husband of Zinaida.
                             Stepan realizes  observes and experiences  deceit, hypocrisy , illness and  old age , and it  changes his faith and his convictions in his mission .He realizes that very learned  persons  like Orlov could be mistaken in their beliefs, apparently  honest persons like himself  could actually be cheating others , resulting in  his cynicism and purposelessness .There is only  a sudden flash  about one possible purpose of life:  selfless love for another.