Monday, October 2, 2017

Ship of Theseus: After-thoughts

Ship of Theseus is one of the finest films of our times. As an audience, it moved me like very few films have. I feel it would be unfair to break the film's greatness down by various components - acting, direction, story, etc. It's the interplay of all these components that makes for the superior cinematic experience. And for many viewers it may transcend beyond just cinematic experience.    

Like all great pieces of art, the film raises some pertinent questions and invites the viewer to come up with their own understanding of the question and their personal answers, if any. The film 'Ship of Theseus' explores its namesake paradox. Here's a version of the paradox the move starts with:

As the Plank of Theseus' ship needed repair, it was replaced part by part, up to a point where not a single part from the original ship remained in it. Is it, then, still the same ship? 
If all the discarded parts were used to build another ship, which of the two, if either, is the real Ship of Theseus?

I found this question very intriguing and could see the relevance of it. When members of a team quit, is it still the same team? When employees of a company change, for example companies like HP and Tata which are pretty old that none of the initial employees work in the company. Is it, then, still the same company? And this prompted me to ask this question - how do we define 'same'? And, to take this to a more relatable example from the film itself, over a period of a few years, all the cells of our body regenerate. Are we, then, the same person as before?

My quest was to find not 'the solution' to this question, but a working framework that can be applied when dealing with such questions. Let's start by exploring what is 'the same'? Let's consider HP as an example and ask what is 'same'. To a supplier who was supplying vacuum tubes to HP, HP changed when it moved towards silicon ICs whereas to another supplier who changed their business from producing vacuum tubes to silicon, not a lot seem to have changed. For a lay investor, who was used to seeing HP as an high ROI company, things have changed quite a lot in the last several decades. To a customer who thought HP to be a mini computer manufacturer a lot has changed whereas another customer looking at HP as making computing devices little has changed.

This brings us to the concept of 'relative identity'. What is the identify of HP to you? Is it a high performing stock? A printer company? Or a great employer? As long as that identify remains the same, the company hasn't really changed even though each individual parts may have changed.

Let's apply this concept to interpersonal relationships. Is your girlfriend the same as she is when you started dating her to now when she is your wife? Or has she changed? This needs awareness of what to you her identify was - say, 'a carrying person who shared your passion for sci-fi movies'.  And we all have developed a multi dimensional identity of things we perceive - our grocery store, our friends, our employer, or team. Now flip it the other way round, and one needs to determine her identify relative to the observer - and that identity may be different for different person. For her son, her identify may be different than what it is for her colleagues.

So, if you are highly successful in what you are doing to a particular stakeholder and would like to sustain the success, you would want to determine your relative identity to that stakeholder. For example, if you are a manager of a high performing team and want to determine how do you sustain (and perhaps excel) this high performance which so many things change - team members,  technology, scope. It's worthwhile to develop an awareness of what identity does this 'highly successful' team translate to your various stakeholders - to the leadership team, to your business partners, to the end customers, to your friends and families, to your competitors, etc. And then embrace any change (through attrition, change in technology, supplier, etc.) by focusing your energy to excel in these dimensions that determine your relative identity of success.

And to do this one needs 'awareness' - awareness about what value are the stakeholders really getting out of interacting with you/your team and how do they determine your identify. If it is an internal stakeholder, having a  conversation with them helps to determine what identity is relative to them and then try to improve upon it or sustain it.  The same approach can be applied in interpersonal relationship. Sometimes, it is awkward to have a conversation for example asking your daughter what value you add to her life.  In such cases, awareness needs to be developed from synthesizing the various interactions.

Once one has developed the awareness of relative identity, it is easier to answer the question - 'is it still the same'? So, in case of the 'Ship of Theseus', if the ship is transporting the cargo (assuming that's what it does) as efficiently and in the same condition then it's the same ship for its customer. If it is as easy to steer the ship and maintain it, then it's the same ship for the crew.

Hence, the 'Ship of Theseus' paradox implores us to explore ways to sustain (and improve upon!) success even when its various parts change.  'Relative identify' is a tool to take charge of the changing situation and to continue to provide superlative experience to your folks.

I believe a true 'zen' state can be achieved when all the relative identify of that entity are exactly the same... but that's a topic for a different day.


GST Courses November 1, 2017 at 5:20 PM  

Awesome work.Just wished to drop a comment and say i'm new your journal and adore what i'm reading.Thanks for the share

UI UX Design Training January 8, 2018 at 11:58 AM  

Nice post, things explained in details. Thank You.

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