The last few weeks have seen much action and excitement in the science arena.At home, there was news about the creation of a National Research Foundation (first announced some years ago).Globally, the detection of low frequency gravity waves – the hum of the universe – was cause for a louder buzz amongst scientists.Worldwide interest in India’s space programme was exemplified by an article on space startups in a prominent US newspaper, while the scientific community eagerly awaited the mid-July launch of Chandrayan-3 (expected on 14 July, at the time of writing).Each of these warrants a discussion: for what they mean, but also about their implications for business and industry.
This column discusses another significant event: the launch of the European Space Agency’s Euclid spacecraft on 1 July, carried aloft by the Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX.Euclid is, of course, familiar to us as the Greek mathematician, often considered the “father of geometry”.The eponymously named billion-dollar space mission is aimed at studying so-called dark matter and dark energy, which account for 95 per cent of the known universe.
To do this, the space telescope on the two-tonne spacecraft will look across one-third of the sky, with its power enabling such far-sightedness as to look back 10 billion years.
The James Webb Space Telescope, carried on-board a US spacecraft in December 2021, enables us to look back even further – 13 billion years – but with different objectives (this column covered it in the piece on “Time Travel” – BW Businessworld, 27 August 2022).
Euclid will chart, in 3D, a huge expanse of the observable universe with unprecedented precision, measuring the shapes and positions of galaxies over time.Minute changes in these reveal fine variations in cosmic acceleration, indirectly indicating the presence of dark energy.Faint distortions in the visible shapes of galaxies will indicate a warping of space and, thus, the presence of invisible (“dark”) matter.In its six-year lifetime, Euclid is expected to provide a treasure trove of data, which will reveal many of the secrets of the universe.
Dark matter and energy seem like ether (not the class of organic compounds, nor the crypto currency): the ephemeral ether of yore.Like ancient ether, it is invisible, but all pervasive, with visible matter making up only five per cent of the universe.Given its preponderance, it obviously has a great deal of influence and effect.In this, it is like the ingredients that constitute our organisations.Be it a community, company, or country, it is the unseen and invisible, which are the glue that makes them an entity.
Science enriches our knowledge, and the method of science (“scientific temper”) helps solve our problems: both are great teachers.
Organisations often have multiple identities or identifiers, of which their name is the visible and obvious one.However, what truly binds them is largely invisible.In the corporate world, great emphasis is placed today on “culture”: a combination of values, beliefs, work style, behaviour, habit, and much else.Like the dark matter and energy in space, this constitutes a bulk of (all that) matter/s in an organisation’s culture; it too is largely intangible, even invisible.
The similarities are, indeed, striking.
Minute variations in the culture of an organisation can be detected through other visible indicators (like the shape of galaxies do in space): for example, by changes in behaviour or interaction.Sensitive sensors are required to pick up the weak early signals.This is critical to curb any negative tendencies in an organisation’s culture before they take root and get embedded.An important job of a leader – and of the HR team – is to watch for such signals and act in good time.
“Culture”, it is important to note, does not mean some rigid framework of thinking.
Creativity and innovation require flexibility and contrary ideas, the very antithesis of group-think.Allowing for such out-of-box approaches can itself be a part of the culture.This writer propagated the philosophy of “divergent thinking, but convergent action” in the early days of ISRO and has subsequently sought to take it elsewhere too.Allowing and fostering divergence and dissent can be a part of an organisation’s culture.In fact, for those involved in R&D or working at the cutting edge, this is essential.In a competitive world where new products are quickly copied and commoditised, continuous innovation is necessary.Diversity, dissent, and divergence are, therefore, essential elements of organisational culture.
Philosophies like this or others – mutual respect, empathy, professional integrity – must be embedded in the organisation.Like dark energy, they may not be visible, but must permeate everywhere so as to create a deep impact.
When this becomes part of the very DNA of the organisation, it enables building of a reputation, succeeding, thriving for long, and being a magnet for talent.Without undermining the importance of structures and systems, it is often the unwritten and unstated (“dark energy”) elements of organisational culture that predominate and determine outcomes.
Startups and new enterprises, in particular, must take note of this.Culture tends to get set over time, and starting early facilitates early embedding.
This is vital in high-growth situations, where the employee base has a high proportion of recent recruits.
In the absence of well-set cultural values, new joiners may flounder or may bring in a different culture.The dangers of this have been manifested in a few companies where the (possibly unintended) message of “growth at any cost” led to sharp practices.
Most of these observations are true for all organisations: companies, academic institutions, civil society organisations.They are possibly of equal relevance to countries.In India, for example, amidst all our diversities, the glue that makes us one country is “Indianness”: a culture which, will acknowledging and celebrating diversity, brings people together in a composite, harmonious, and plural whole.
Organisations and the country too have much to learn from each other in this area.
The author loves to think in tongue-in-cheek ways, with no maliciousness or offence intended.At other times, he is a public policy analyst and author.His latest book is Decisive Decade: India 2030 Gazelle or Hippo (Rupa, 2021).
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house.
Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity.They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution..