The Philosophy of Cosmology, Physics, and Management – Some Thoughts

Prof. Rahul Gupta Choudhury

Specialization: Marketing, Strategy and General Management


Why is there nothing instead of something? The age-old question of Philosophy of Physics needs an answer – and there is none, at least for now. The origin of matter, time and space and the unidirectional movement of time also needs an explanation, as are the definitions of time and space themselves. It is not very difficult to imagine that like and unlike Physics, management also requires a philosophy. In fact, there are just too many philosophical principles of management being practiced around the world - depending on the style which produces results and are in consonance with the prevailing culture. Tagore in one of his conversations with Einstein made an interesting observation. For Tagore, just as matter is composed of protons and electrons with gaps between them, and yet matter may seem to be solid; similarly, humanity is composed of individuals who are interconnected through human relationship, which gives living unity to man’s world. Just like electrons and protons of the atomic world, the individual elements of humanity are in perpetual Brownian motion which is random and evidently chaotic. However, the overall orderliness of everyday life does not change in this world. So, we say there is some order amid the madness of disparate thoughts and actions in this world. The typical organization is also a microcosm of the functioning of the Universe. People and departments and the various functions of the organization pull it in different directions – each functioning in a way that, at first glance, does not seem to have any connection with the goals and objectives of the organization. Yet, good organizations keep improving and keep moving forward – achieving its short- and long- term goals and objectives all along the way. It is always excellent strategy and top management commitment to follow up with excellent implementation systems and processes that makes an organization shine in the short- and long- term. And excellent strategy requires in-depth knowledge and a formidable vision.
The creation of the Universe out of nothing then leads us to God. Einstein once asked Niels Bohr whether the Old Man is still playing with the Universe – to which Niels Bohr famously replied – don’t tell Him what to do. The concept of bubble universes with completely different rules and principles guiding them is intriguing. One is still not sure if the time for quantum theory of gravitation, which combines quantum mechanics with the general theory of relativity, has arrived. Once Hawking and Penrose proved their theory of singularities, it became clear that the Universe and Time was created simultaneously and that the extension of all light rays back in time to infinity is impossible especially at the time of the Big Bang. The other option is to postulate that time was created with the universe and space-time merged (vacuum) from which the Universe was formed. So, universe was formed in several steps and not necessarily with a big bang. Then, if nothing is not an option, what is? Many philosophers have opined that the universe is as it is, and it must be accepted as it is. This does not stop the questions about the origin of the universe or the future possibilities of communicating with other ‘objects’ in the sky. So, the definition of reality remains a perception. According to Einstein, the table in the office is still real and it exists even when the office is otherwise empty. Tagore, however, believes that the table exists through the collective consciousness of humanity – otherwise, it does not exist. So, we go back to the philosophers of antiquity – Aristotle particularly, who said – natural phenomena ‘cannot be other than they are’.    
What is seen here is the interplay of the principles and theories of physics and cosmology with that of philosophy. So, two things are happening here. One, they are trying to understand each other and coming closer in terms of the working relationships – trying to find the answers to age-old original questions together. Second, physics trying to answer questions from philosophy and vice versa will in the long-term benefit in ways physicists would never have thought of by themselves. So, as questions and answers become more robust, the world keeps moving forward in its quest for rigor in the explanations they provide. There may not be any final answers yet, and final answers are never possible in one go. The step-by-step incremental improvements, and sometimes one giant leap forward, will take humanity to its logical conclusions. Science has undoubtedly changed the way the world lives, but that has also taken a very long time indeed. Now, business and technology are at the centerstage trying to accelerate the path of development and the pace of change is constantly increasing leaving behind a world trying to play catch-up. Understanding the changes across all dimensions may not be possible by individual elements of humanity and that leaves most of us anxious about the future. Everyone is trying to figure out what the future will look like, in their own minds through the prism of their own perceptions and thought processes. The study of management and its practice is in effect very similar.
Management as an important subject came to be recognized as such only when Taylor started his movement of scientific management. Still, around the 1960s in USA, management studies were severely criticized by the Ford and Carnegie Foundations. The main criticism was that management was not scientific enough – primarily, the rigor of scientific enquiry in the adapted methodologies in management was not up to the mark. So, research journals and doctoral programmes were started in Harvard, Carnegie, Columbia and Chicago Universities with the help of the foundations. Since then, scientific management as envisaged by them has travelled long and far and, perhaps, the time has come to ask the reverse question: isn’t management becoming too scientific? Like the question about the origin of the universe, this also begs the question – is management a science at all? If the answer is yes, probably we are not doing enough. However, the likely answer being a resounding no, we must figure out the future of management in academics as well as in practice. Like Aristotle, humanity must believe and have confidence in their own capabilities. We all know that humanity has the capability to make choices from alternatives. When people choose, a great many things in the world can be other than they are. Science is not very good at predicting the future as it always works with past and present data. Science mostly solves problems through enquiry, investigation, and analysis of historical data and to that extent, it has given many solutions to management theory and practice. So, there is no question of writing off science and data management in cases pertaining to management decision making. Data is a great asset for managers in the decision-making process. It provides a direction and builds the foundation for sound decision-making and is a great help to organizations and their managers. For most organizations, decisions must be supported by data which is interpreted as facts. However, data is not very good at prediction for the simple reason that it mostly assumes a continuity which is conspicuous by its absence in the real world. However, it must always be kept in mind that data is the best bet to maintain the status quo. No; data is not a substitute for logic. No amount of data crunching would have given the world its railroad or the motor car, the electric bulb or the telephone. These products have gone on to change the world and has completely turned upside down the way people work and live. So, creativity and innovation supported by strategy will always drive management. They will always remain the vehicle not only for consumers but also for addressing the problems of the society like bringing down poverty levels or providing the basics like water and electricity to everyone in this world. The need is for strategies and products which are completely new-to-the-world. Incremental innovation based on past data is just not good enough for this world anymore. In times to come, business management will be asked to solve the problems facing the society they operate in. A day will come when business earns profits only and only if it is able to solve some or all the problems of society.
In this context a particular incident comes to mind. Akio Morita, the Founder-Chairman of Sony, was convinced that people would like to listen to music even when on the move. People would, given the option, like to listen to music while doing some other work like playing, travelling, studying etc. Those days, in order to listen to music, one had to be confined to a particular space. The marketers and engineers did not agree with the Chairman and thought that the idea was a whim and fancy of the Chairman, and a complete waste of time. Akio Morita however persisted with the idea, and this resulted in launching one of the most successful products of all time – the Walkman. The data, the reports, the research surveys done by the senior staff of Sony were all proved worthless. There are enough examples on the opposite side as well. Coca-Cola was losing market share to Pepsi in USA and then decided to go on for a major market research project. Data indicated that Coca-Cola was losing market share in the youth segment as its image was that of a fuddy-daddy, an old man. Pepsi in comparison was much younger and so attracted the youth. So, Coca-Cola went on a major rejig and modified everything – from the shape of the bottle to even its taste. Then it launched The New Coke. As we all know, the result was disastrous. The consumers could not believe that their favorite brand which was synonymous with what America stood for across the world can be tweaked and modified. Aghast and agitated Americans came down to the streets to protest and The New Coke was withdrawn immediately. So, marketing and business management is a world of imagination and creation, a world of dreams – the higher and the more audacious, the better. The vision and the dreams of one person can change the way people live and work, provided the person has the capacity to back it all up with a robust strategy executed in a flawless manner. It is very similar to what Henry Ford said when he was asked about why he did not listen to customers more – ‘If I were to listen to my customers more, I would still be making four-horse carriages’. So, automobiles would not have seen the light of the day if history had been the basis of decision making of Henry Ford. Ultimately, humanity prefers the status quo, the comfort zone inertia which will always be resistant to change. Great managers/entrepreneurs always go against the grain without giving too much weightage to the extant traditional thinking. They are always looking for opportunities which will make a big impact on the lives of humanity at large – and this requires them to often go against the trend and sometimes even act against extant evidence or wisdom. Explaining the world as it exists is one thing; imagining the world as it could be or should be is completely another thing altogether.
Creating something out of nothing is the name of the game. However, just creation would not lead us anywhere. Communicating a narrative is a very important part of the creation process. Aristotle in his The Art of Rhetoric talks of three elements. They are:
1)      Ethos: the will and character to change the current situation. Effectiveness will emanate from credibility and authenticity.
2)      Logos: the logical structure of the argument. Transforming problems into possibilities, possibilities into ideas, and ideas into action.
3)      Pathos: the capacity to empathize. Inspire movement on a large scale and for that one needs to understand his audience.
It is imperative that we understand the assumptions we are making while launching the newly created product. Ultimately, it is about possibilities and the corresponding assumptions. Akio Morita knew, and his staff did not, that people would love to listen to music even when on the move. And that is what made all the difference. If his assumption, which he was so confident about, were proved wrong, the entire launch would have put the company in jeopardy. So, from the philosophical standpoint, Akio Morita’s realism turned out to be right. Although from the idealism point of view, it was made possible because the universal consciousness of the humanity was already aware of it. So, management is about the realm of possibilities and ideas, an approach that says everything and anything is possible. Just because we are unable to explain a phenomenon, sometimes, does not mean we have to rationalize and say that that is the way it is meant to be. From a world dominated by the perception of impossibilities, the leader of the management team leads the entire team to a world dominated by possibilities and new ideas. The good part of the world of possibilities is that it comes back to the leader and the team one after another like the waves in a seashore. Converting possibilities into reality is the job of the leader and the management team, an assumption proved right when the reality is absolute and not relative.
All of us know and realize that vision, creativity, innovation, strategy, and efficient and effective implementation are all easier said than done. Having it all is probably not going to happen anytime soon. On the surface, people either have them or they don’t. So, the question is whether a proper environment with corresponding systems and processes can enable members of the organization develop these qualities in their work life. It is difficult no doubt, but possible. The reason it is so difficult in India is our education system which encourages and pushes students towards rote learning and gathering marks in examinations. The ability to think independently is not encouraged in our school and college curriculum at all. In order to make up this shortfall, organizations need to encourage its members to handle projects independently early in their careers – and no punishment for failures. The system will throw up leaders who can take the organization to much greater heights in the future. Leadership qualities and the corresponding leadership roles, when pushed down the hierarchy of the organization will create mini leaders and champions of new ideas. It is much easier then for the top leadership of the organization to provide true leadership – generation and dissemination of new ideas not only becomes easier but gets executed across the organization in a much more effective manner. While organizing this method may all be easier said than done, it is an imperative for progressive organizations, especially if it is aiming to achieve sustainable leadership position in the market.
There is just too much of literature on leadership and there is no need to elaborate much here. However, the top leaders must remember that organizations and markets are ultimately composed of people and people need to feel they are contributing and are important in the whole scheme of things. The ideal way is to have a superordinate goal. This is something like a big picture in which every member is a part of. When some company says that it wants its customers to save and have a better life, or it wants its products to be available in every household of this world – the organization and its members get energized. This is where the world of impossibilities merge with the world of possibilities which ends up in a so-called bright future for the organization and its members. At the end of the day, people do not want to know the percentage of growth in revenues or profits. People are happy knowing that their company is financially viable and sustainable - it does not matter how much. But people would like their leaders to tell them where they are going and what it will be like when they get there. They would like to be reassured that the work they are doing is important to the organization and that the organization values them. Organizations must remember what Tagore said – the interconnection through human relationships is what this universe is all about. What is real is the truth and this can only be realized through the collective human consciousness. The superordinate goal of the company drives people and forces them to think and act – against the inertia of no change. Management is becoming a critical resource in many types of organizations with different world views. These organizations need manager/leader who can inspire the members to go beyond their call of duty and together then they will win big. The path should mostly be shown by the top leaders – it is their responsibility.