A Novice on Expertise

In the course of an academic seminar I chanced upon a few chapters from the book The Cambridge Handbook on Experts and Expertise. The object of our study, as you should be able to conclude was expertise. Now at first glance the pursuit of such a topic may seem odd or even trivial. After all we all posses a basic understanding of expertise, indeed some of us may have the privilege of being considered experts in certain domains. But there is much to be said in behavioral science about the meta theory of what it takes to be an expert and whether experts should be more valued than average knowledge holders. I shall try to structure my thoughts according to the texts read but again meandering is something that I enjoy enough to risk indulging in.

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Net Neutrality : Towards a Co-regulatory solution

Net neutrality for most of us is like a significant advance in particle physics. We know that it shall affect us in the time to come but our understanding of it is very limited. So is often the motivation to further this understanding.

The title of this post is that of a book by Christopher Marsden  published in 2010. When choosing to learn more about anything to do with the internet it is of course best to read about it on the, internet. However the pitfalls of boundary less reading online being well known a good book often comes in handy. From my point of view it made little sense to read this book given a general disinterest in regulation, but then in the spirit of learning something new I indulged.

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7 Billion : National Geographic

The human population on the Earth as of 2012 was about 7 Billion. It’s probably considerably more now. Round numbers always excite us so it is no wonder that as we were hurtling towards the big 7 in 2011, National Geographic among others decided to cash in.

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Big Data @ Work

Any data too voluminous for you to process is big. I would classify all the names of the people I meet in a day as big data. But then my hardware is only cerebral.

It is very difficult to choose one book to read on a topic which continues to captivate some of the brightest minds today. One could head off into the deep abyss of technical texts and revel in the joy of their denseness. Or one could read about the potential applications of this newly named phenomenon which smells of something which has been around much longer. A balance between the two is difficult for that would involve reading a book written by more than one author. That as we know and appreciate is, without the help of the content, difficult.

Big Data @ Work is essentially the starter pack for that techno functional middle rung manager who might want to back his desire to bring big data to his organization with actual needs. With abundant examples from varying industries this book outlines the needs and benefits of and strategies for implementing Big Data solutions for an IT or IT enabled organization. This is not a work which would greatly benefit anyone on the far ends of the technical managerial spectrum in an organization. The CTO, CIO or your average developer shall find little solace in the general lack of depth in this text. While the examples and instances of companies deriving benefits from business intelligence and analytics are abundant seeing such opportunities in one’s own organization; is not amply explored. This book suffers from the efforts to remain relevant in a subject that changes with the frequency oh fashionable haircuts.

The major hurdle for the technologically challenged organization (what else will you call a large enterprise which has not yet invested in Big Data?) is perhaps calculating the ROI for all that they spend on talent and infrastructure for modern data systems. Also while technologists remain adept at mining data they may be lacking in figuring out what to mine and to what end. The book works in this direction to clarify as to what technologists can do individually and what technocrats can get them to do collectively. It speaks of what kind of people to hire and what kind of a culture to cultivate in an organization wanting to harvest information and draw conclusions from it. Big Data @ Work is perhaps best suited for that middle tier manager who wishes to inject new zest and drive into his firm by tapping one of the most visible information industry trends. It offers the promise of leadership of those below him and showing enterprise to those above, in an organizational hierarchy. It should be looked as a light of inspiration to embrace large sets of data and the desire to conquer them rather than a guide book on how to do so.

Beyond Good & Evil : Two

Nietzsche is perhaps more readable than other philosophers due to his refrain from mentioning too many influences. Yet he does manage to sneak in Spinoza now and again. The mere frequency of mention, whether the context be in agreement or not, somehow underlines the influence the published thoughts of said Dutch thinker have on our good German friend. If you begin to read up on this Spinoza character you will find a reference of Descartes and thus the chain goes on. It doesn’t seem too forward to assume that all these meta physicists flog each others work perhaps in the hope that their posthumous treatment would be similar.  I for one find the act of associating one self with some already published author too cumbersome. With too many intellectuals about perhaps this compartmentalization using terms like Spinozist  or Marxist are mandated for the ease of conversation and debate. But this crude generalization on the basis of one identifying oneself with a few lines written by a now dead European seems too limiting.

There are strong vibes of distinction and segregation in this book. The wit and generally humorous nature of the text is getting clearer as I read on, so the distinction between sarcasm and sincere statements is becoming more difficult. A talk of baser men and their inability to comprehend much of life(their life) and its complexity speaks with a degree of realism and perhaps arrogance which it’s hard to see any publisher of today digesting. He(N) speaks of the norm and the exception and how for the latter it is better(more interesting) to study the former than itself. Here he doesn’t speak of it as a matter of utility by application of the study to a majority. The idea is certainly acceptable and to any egotist appealing in the sense that it recognizes his/her exceptional nature while suggesting a decent path of scholarship. But Nietzsche is not subtle in his intellectual bigotry(can’t think of a better word but bigotry is generally irrational : the idea here is segregation on the basis of intellectual capacity and propensity).

You should not go to church if you want to breathe clean air.

 The statement above is neither from his church hating paras nor implying anything about being in the company of sinners. It is something more basic, a general accusation of distastefulness in the common man and how the observation of such should hold greater promise than the adoration of things that are refined. Perhaps what to me was defining in this entire discourse circling the intellectual distinctions between men was the following statement:

Cynicism is the only form in which base souls touch upon that thing which is genuine honesty.

A glum but appealing view, but then as the author says that the unpleasantness of a truth can’t change its validity and our embrace of the free spirits shouldn’t lead to an expectation of constant pleasantness. Here we also come upon his views on the translation of philosophical works and the loss of meaning by the change in language. This is something which seems more than apparent in this work too where the excessive exclamations in the English version seem too uncharacteristic for a man who could write such content. (Or perhaps sarcasm has lost its potency in the translation process)

Now things begin to get murky again as he insists on an independence, its needs and benefits and nature. On how to subscribe to this new age of philosophy one must be independent of others, of matter and of language. Thoughts must not be confined by the limitations of grammar nor by their reception by one’s immediate audience. Here the degree of conviction is almost fanatic prompting the reader to ask aloud : “Have you, oh mustachioed one, considered the possibility of you being completely wrong?” Luckily this inexplicable journey for a disassociating independence ends as abruptly as it began. We come now to a common ground, religion.

       Generally I shy away from religious philosophy, it’s after all rather headstrong and to quote Nietzsche, dogmatic. Over certainty in things non -provable has always been an issue with me. So while men and women of heightened religiosity may have had some wonderful and insightful thoughts over their mortal spans, their inclination to introduce doctrines in simple conversation is irritating. So like me many an admirer of Modern philosophy finds solace in those authors who bash religion for its simplistic exploitation of simpletons. That is to say to a mind like mine perhaps the only form in which the heterogeneous mixture of religion and philosophy is acceptable is that of the two in conflict. The author of this book is not unabashed or even bridled in his theological views. He lashes out against the church, especially the Catholic church in vehemence. He explains that the foundations of monotheistic religions lay in the liberation of the oppressed. But so used were these souls to repression that they enjoyed a new form of deprivation and slavery which the church demanded of them. He speaks of the joy of repentance after sinning and so on. The idea seems to be more than plausible and applicable to religions beyond the cross. The rationalization of a human demand for subjugation immediately makes one think of a misanthropic Bond villain. Such a rationale pales certainly when compared to the scientific explanations to pious deprivation which seem to constitute social media posts. But the idea is not one to be lightly brushed aside.

Another observation is the idleness of the religious. While they may be ritualistic, a general resignation to fate and the ridicule of the industrious is addressed. If you look at even the Hindu cycle of life there is an obvious reverence to meditation and resignation from worldly duties after a certain age. This socially acceptable form of idleness irritates Nietzsche. To whom the purposes of religion are to be limited to the deliverance of philosophy to the masses who can’t appreciate wisdom in its purest form. He goes on to argue that dealing out hardcore texts of metaphysical thought to the common base man may do more evil than good. After denouncing the Bible he puts rather bluntly the after effects of religion as :

Until a stunted almost ridiculous type, a herd animal well meaning, sickly and mediocre has finally been bred; the European of today.

Like all Western philosophers Nietzsche’s focus is on the Church and Europe but he recognizes texts and thinkers from the East and West. The orient is mentioned and the Brahmins lauded for being king makers and not kings. For using religion to achieve a better society than to propound a constant fear of the almighty. An understanding which holds no water today but still.

The 1st post in this series can be found here

Beyond Good & Evil : One

With Nietzsche, one of the first fears is spelling his name wrong but that should be the least of one’s worries. (always a bad sign when I refer to myself as one). Well this text [Beyond Good and Evil] is proving difficult and not for the conventional reasons of confusion and density. No, its more to do with the way it’s written and what that says about the man who wrote it. You can make allowances for the losses in translation but not so much as to alter everything entirely.

So what’s bothering me? The general tone of the text to begin with. Its rather accusatory and although he uses that all to familiar method of ‘us’ (the author and his audience) against the World, it doesn’t really stick. Much too often you find yourself sympathizing with one or the other faction against which this German rants. Then there is that very common aroma of dead certainty which makes me uncomfortable. Most of the famed philosophers of past and even of today seem to fling at you with a heightened degree of surety, whatever is that they believe in. Nietzsche himself begins this text with a mention of truth and it being what it is, by the definition of those who seem to be seeking it. While doing this he himself seems too sure of what he thinks, leaving too little scope for doubt. Perhaps for the initial pedaling of any metaphysical idea one must portray an undying and unwavering belief in it? If the search then indeed is for something which is objective then can the concepts of belief and such surety even creep in? Should not these claims be surrounded by reasonable assumptions and possible flaws? There again we have an issue, for if an idea whether it be in morality or in ethics or any other form of the metaphysical were to be taken as true then it must be so under all circumstances and for all beings be true. If not then we have case specific philosophy which is perhaps easiest to digest but not so easy to sell.

    After all philosophy like any other cure for a malady must be generic enough to apply to multiple wounds of multiple souls but specialized enough for it to appear esoteric to the commoner. Then only can a man or a woman who makes this his or her trade hope to earn a living or name, whatever is more dearer. The act of delegating societal thinking about non material processes has been long prevalent. Most of us are too occupied with keeping our affairs in order to delve into that mysterious realm in which sages and nearly-mad men wander. Thus those with an inheritance and thus relieved of the burdens of bread and butter procurement often end up with the task of experimenting with the human psyche and so on. Even to such materially comfortable souls the allure of appreciation, adulation and if nothing else, acceptance; must be strong. To be able to propound something popular is thus an attractive proposition. One which is capable of swaying these otherwise stellar individuals from the true nature of things. Such an understanding is apparent in the reading of Nietzsche. He says that the pursuit of knowledge although a noble enough goal for the purposes of statement, is in fact mostly hollow. Underlying quests for a better life, family, money and fame are what drive scholars to scholarly works instead of just wanting to know.

Such a theory is of course palatable especially with the knowledge that one now has about those who pursue scholarship professionally. There is also the question of what is knowing? Here the author is unclear but points us in the direction of morality. As I should have anticipated from the title itself, Nietzsche reduces the meaning of everything to the distinction between good and bad (to begin with). One obviously anticipates the cold and calculated dissolution of this proposition soon but for now the them seems to be that the pursuit of morality is what most philosophers have been busy in. One can’t be as harsh as the author in the judgement of his predecessors. Primarily because of the insights which we now have. The early to ancient philosophers got patronage from powers that were instead of merely academic institutes thus the pursuit of good vs evil and setting the self serving norms of such distinctions is perhaps understandable.

Finally by the second part(which is as far as I have gotten to) there is the diminishing of the concept of free will. This according to the author is just a tool which has been too overused by prior philosophers to explain much of human activity. How free is this will actually and is willing something enough? Can we suppose that willing to do something very strongly is as good as doing it? After all if a person wills something and we can control external circumstances then he or she must go ahead and do it, after all this idea of it needing doing was one of his own conception. As I write this statement I am reminded of a strong disapproval which this author expresses of language defining philosophy. The way we envision and imagine things has become too dependent on our form of verbal expression. Hence when we talk or write about thinking we see it as a discrete activity. We define the metaphysical as processes, using verbs to describe something which we know to have no form. While the convenience of all of this obvious so must be the downfall in trying to give dimension to something which has none.

Overall till now although the text has been perplexing due to the over abundance of exclamations, accusations and emotions, it is still enjoyable. It doesn’t seem as old it is and it not hard to relate to this man who certainly drove himself if not others insane. Perhaps that is what is so frightening about it?

Reimagining India: Reimagining

India happens to be a rich country inhabited by very poor people
– Manmohan Singh

Seldom does a book merit an article, let alone the promise of a series. But certain topics when are said to be addressed by men and women who command immense respect, their addresal too must be assessed. India to Indians is not an enigma, not an inexplicable oriental carnival of chaos. But those who seek its portrayal in literature often find little else. So when a multinational company taps the brains of many Indian as well as foreign persons for the reinterpretation of the world’s 7th largest nation, the results demand reading.

Indiabook_hero7Reimagining India is a collection of essays by people of economic, political and social prominence, on the nation and the change it is or should be heading for (published in 2012). Compiled and edited by McKinsey and Co. this promises to “Unlock the potential of Asia’s next super power”. Unlike tedious reports and recommendations one may come to expect of the company that published it, this book caters to a wider audience. The business school aspirant, entrant or passout shall find this the perfect travel companion. Its ability to bestow upon the bearer an aura of presumed intelligence with a blend of fleeting patriotism is another plus. I stay away from such books but I am glad I didn’t with this.

The entire book is divided into 6 chapters with a dozen or so essays in each. The first, reimagining tries to build the landscape into which the reader is to be later led. When you pick this book up you assume that even though the opinions it offers may not the most informed ones, they shall be influential. In all the articles the following are painfully, obviously common:

  • Reverence to the Freedom struggle and the nation’s founders
  • Pre 1991 economic woes of the license permission raj.
  • The opening up of the economy
  • Direct competition with China
  • India’s diversity

All the authors mostly seem to base their contributions around these central themes. However given the natural diversity of human thought there are differences, some rather pleasant ones. The first articles underlines the importance of India’s middle class and how the shaping of this nation shall be by the people and not a leader. Its a pleasant revisiting of Indian policy making and history by Fareed Zakaria. The second piece is by an interesting author Ruchir Sharma whose book Breakout Nations is another one for the MBA, economics or polity students must read to appear informed, list. He cuts down the optimist to size arguing that India’s growth has been not remarkable when compared to other nations adjusting for scale and population. He outlines the idea that basic sustenance provision is no longer a ballot winner in India. His notion of state level development to build the nation is echoed in the article by the chairman of the Mahindra group. Anand Mahindra‘s vision for India’s growth is a model of competition among states for investment. To any mind used to capitalism this seems like the perfect cure for the lethargy of state governments and the center’s indifference to them. He also speaks of learning from China’s urbanization mistakes and being prepared with smaller economic urban areas to take the financial load off our current handful metro cities. Gurcharan Das the author of India grows at Night echoes perhaps the laments of every Indian businessman even today. Growth despite policies and not because of them seems to be the mantra to begin with. He speaks for a strong state which can lead to the dissolution of crony capitalism and becoming pro-business. Here one comes across the ease to invest in India and the numbers are shaming yet not wholly surprising.

Ease of Investment Index as computed by the World Bank.
Ease of Investment Index as computed by the World Bank.

Anand Girdharadas goes in the search of the Indian dream in his article. The idea that our collective dream is a million acts of private daring, is gripping as well as relatable. The concept of the shackles of societal thinking and a resignation to fate which is often applied to nations in the orient is now put into the Indian context. While to the unthinking patriot the word sanskar might offer some if shallow defense, the rising healthy wave of individualism is encouraged in this work. Mukesh Ambani‘s piece is to be acknowledged for the what the author represents rather than the content presented. There is little said that is new but perhaps the once richest man in the world and the CEO of a huge company isn’t the right choice to contribute an article out of an already full life? Or perhaps he is, as Bill Gates proves in the last article of the chapter. The man whose genius runs the systems on which most of the other authors wrote their works offers a unique insight into India’s fight with polio. He proposes that Indians and the world don’t recognize the resolve and the strength of the large economically depressed fraction of the nation’s population. He sees hope in the promise of enterprise where even Indian’s refuse to see it.

As is to be expected from any collection of non fiction articles the overall experience shall be a mixed bag. Some of these works might be partially or full ghost written or heavily edited. Perhaps many were included for the name of the author and not the content. They might not even make any impact on the way the world perceives this nation of ours. But to the thinking mind there is a plethora of ideas and explanations along with further sources of reading that this book offers. The first chapter was educational and thought invoking, what more can one ask for?

A panel discussion with a few contributors to the book.