On the subject of X marks the spot

February 20, 2017

Q: It’s very interesting that you brought up Dr Carl Jung’s work on synchronicity and how it can be juxtaposed to create serendipitious moments that can even motivate someone to go into business.

Tell me do you consider serendipty and synchronicity as one of the same thing?

A: You know when Jung first published with works on synchronicity – it was at first dismissed by the high brow intellectuals of the Vienna circle as mysticism or mumbo jumbo.

And ever since then synchronicity has always had to live under the cloud of pseudoscience.

To me what serendipity or synchronicity may mean is not as important as the question of how does one go about connecting the many dots that one comes across in the journey of life to make sense of how it relates to ourselves and others.

As I mentioned previously people are complicated – they don’t just walk over the knoll without historicism or emotional baggage.

I guess if you’re already familiar with Maslow’s theory of what motivates man – then the whole idea of serenpidity and how it actually connects with businesses and enterprises may well be something closer to reiki power derived from colourful crystals or Feng Shui.

But I think what Jung was trying to communicate is the anti thesis that all outcomes bad or great may not actually be connected by the strict laws of linearity – rather there is always a certain element of randomness that all adds up to produce the final outcome that can even be very meaningful.

I guess what Jung would have found immensely stimulating would be questions like would the Second World War even have occured – if only the Academy of fine arts had taken in Adolf Hitler as a student?

Q: I don’t quite see the connection. Or for that matter seem to be able to figure out how your answer relates to my question.

A: That’s exactly my point – because we are discussing mysticism to some degree whenever we choose to ask the question how much does serenpiditous moments or snychronicity have to do with enterpreneurialship.

At one level of understanding it’s not so different from the philosophy of Feng Shui – Feng Shui if you notice doesn’t tell you why. But just because a philosophy doesn’t supply the why’s doesn’t exactly make it automatically pseudoscience or necessarily mumbo jumbo. As what Feng Shui attempts to do is to inform you how certain things should be orientated with the specific goal of creating harmony with the laws of nature and the broader universe – that’s why when modern day civil engineers look at ancient constructions like the Great Wall. Even they are astounded by the wealth of building technology of the ancient Chinese builders.

Synchronicity is exactly like that. It too like Feng Shui can supply you with knowledge like how certain set pieces when they are clustered together can produce a vibrant and conducive environment where meaningful things usually happen, like for instance the number of café’s is a good indicator of the level of business verve and élan in a neighborhood.

But while Feng Shui omits the why’s – that synchronicity is prepared to stick it’s neck out slightly to even say – the number of café’s in Silicon Valley is proportionally inverse to the number of patents registered as coffee stimulates the brain to think at a higher level.

Q: So let me understand this clearly – I have too. As this is a very deep conversation that even touches on metaphysics. You’re saying it’s not always important to know why people become entrepreneurs. It’s only important to know what conditions should come together or cluster and combine to create that sort of environment?

A: Yes. And No. No, because I am not trying to say for one moment the URA should suddenly go crazy and turn Singapore into a city where in between every sixth or eight lamp post there is a café – simply because there seems to be a strong correlation between coffee drinkers and profound and compelling thinking.

Yes on the otherhand – simply because café’s whether they are in Silicon Valley, the fifth arrondissement in Paris or just along Bugis do seem to resemble crèche’s where like minded people can congregate and do their thing and even find enough common ground to collaborate – I can tell you scary stories about café’s. I once plotted out the nexus between café’s and revolutions and it seemed to me even though I didn’t quite manage to reduce it all into the elegance of a mathematical equation to submit as a refereed article in a journal – my conclusion was there was definitely a strong correlation between coffee and thinking. Whether it’s good thinking or not. I am not so sure. But there was definitely thinking as opposed to just killing time moments of candy crunch or just playing angry birds. Then again, there were aberrations in my studies as well – like why did beer houses in the Austrian Hungarian belt manage to do the same thing? Were Bavarians secretly drinking coffee in beer houses in their leatherhosen’s?

What I am trying to say here is this Kompf – there is a lot of room for improvisation as to how the dots connect to create the picture.

But this connection is really a function of how the individual sees himself in relation to society and broader world and even something infinitely large like the greater universe – let me give you an example. You’re walking happily one morning in botanical gardens. Suddenly your left eye twitches. In a little while you decide to take a seat on the nearest park bench to dig out eye drops from your bag. Then ahead of you a big tree slams right down. A tree that would have certainly killed you dead – you say to yourself, Heng man! Followed by maybe I should put a number down at the lottery koisk.

Now let’s say you go back to your life – let’s even say, you’ve started to marinate yourself in work, play and more work to such a point where you’ve forgotten about that incident so completely that it’s just a distant memory. Then suddenly one day while lunching with your colleagues your left eye begins to twitch and again you reach for your eye drops only to be told by someone else that your boss wants to see you in his office asap. You walk in. His face is grave. But he tells you, you’ve been promoted.

At the risk of coming across as really a cheesy version of Murakami – how will these two separate incidences exert an influence over the rest of your life?

We don’t really know. Or to be specific that’s something that can really only be answered by the person who experiences all these coincidences. As that was the part that Jung himself didn’t really answer – what he did however mention was only – this much. It all comes right down to how you yourself see these two seemingly coincidental events. If you see your eyes twitching as just an anatomical reality of dust getting your eyes and irritating it – then it’s just probably a big nothing. You may just say it’s just good luck like it’s other kin bad luck.

But if you see it all as an interplay in the larger scheme of things and even believe nothing ever happens without rhyme or reason. Everything that occurs is purposeful, it directs you somewhere specific either physically, mentally or spiritually – and there’s always a reason behind it irrespective of whether they’re good, bad or just an uneventful – then according to Jung, that event becomes symbolic. Then it has power to influence and even modulate your decision thru out your life.

Q: But all this comes across like pseudoscience. This whole idea of synchronicity and how it relates to business – may well just be luck. After all what’s the point of even bothering to understand synchronicity if one can’t seem to be able to put it into anything concrete to produce more concrete.

A: As a subject synchronicity is very misrepresented these days. I do admit to some degree even when I speak about it – even I can’t help but see myself as some Deepak Choprak wannabe. But even you have to admit – your frustration with the whole idea of serendipity and synchronicity stems in part from the quest to find definitive answers so that you can leverage on it like some business tool. But my point is exactly the direct opposite.

As I believe luck or coincidence whether it is good or bad does certainly plays a preponderant role in shaping not only the direction where firms and workers may go and end up doing eight hours a day five days a week. But it may also happen to be the biggest determinant for success or failure.

Of course the Harvard Business review will disagree with me – but that’s only because they don’t nearly have the intellectual latitude to ever agree simply because they have a vested interest to continue believing everything can be meticulously planned to succeed and failure is simply a bi product of poor planning or execution.

Having said that. I don’t believe for one moment just because one is unlucky necessarily means you’re toast – Singapore may not be blessed with a great expanse of hinterland like Malaysia. But that unfortunate coincidence doesn’t necessarily translate into weakness or a disadvantage as circa Adam Smith.

Both Tokyo and Osaka are new built on the bedrock of old cities. The streets are so narrow in some places. You can even put your hands on two buildings and where you stand is actually the common street. I am not kidding – but these coincidental disadvantages also supply the motivation why Japanese air conditioners are all so whisper quiet. They have to be. As people live so close to each other. The Americans don’t have this problem or coincidence – that’s probably explains why when you switch on a carrier aircon it sounds as if you’re in a bus interchange.

Same goes for China. China doesn’t have bauxite. It has plutonium. It even has kesserite and perhaps potash, magnesium, phosphates et al. But no bauxite – that’s why things that should be constructed in aluminium in China are always invariably made out of cast iron – when it comes to cast iron technology. China is the best in the world. Even Steinway & Sons and Yamaha are made in China today. Because the Chinese are the only ones who seem to be able to make cast iron plentifully without too much fuss – and if you know anything about heavy industries. You will find that sand moulding is more of an art than science – there is a heavy qualitative element involved. So the Chinese are very smart. They use this core competence to transition into casting alloy engine blocks using sand moulds – not easy. Not even Germany can do this. Because we are talking about old school craftsmanship here.

What a coincidence you say – but I say it goes right back to having no bauxite reserves in China.

Again this is an illustration of how disadvantages or bad luck as you call it can be translated into competitive advantage.

Q: So what you’re saying is good or bad luck is really quite chimeric. What’s important is how one responds and most importantly connect the dots to produce something meaningful. Yes?

A: Yes. Kompf during our conversation. There was an electrical storm – now you don’t realize this. But we are now on auxiliary power. That’s to say batteries. But not to worry, we have thirty days of water reserves. I can switch from electricity to gas to continue cooking. Life support systems are all OK.

Most people in my position will panic. But not me. You see I’ve been thru this – lived even without running water or electricity for months on end. So this to me is just a nothing. An non event – my point is so much of how we choose to see adversity is really a function of how we choose to see a situation.

Yes. There will be some discomfort Kompf. We would have to take cold showers from now I am afraid. Be diligent in saving electricity. But at least we can dine in candlelight.

You see. It’s not all bad is it? Not even when it seems to appear just all bad.

That’s really my point.

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