Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Decision Support System (DSS) Is Only As Good As the Principles it Rides On

One can argue that laws and regulations are enough to induce ethical and moral decision making. But just like having a police force doesn't alleviate crime. Having business regulations do not ensure that businesses will conduct their affairs ethically. Regulatory drivers alone are not sufficient to safeguard public interest from the ill affect of greed and unethical corporate behavior.  In the absence of a universal guiding mechanism for organizational ethical decision-making, corporations have no reservations about flooding the markets with contaminated food, tainted merchandise, or sub-prime mortgages.

Islamic traditional thought and philosophy has always been a proponent of financial profits with restrain on wasteful use of resources; of outward ambition with introspect and inner reflection; of economic growth with respect of laws of the land, and the laws of nature.

So can Islam offer a universal ethical Decision Support System?

The answer is, absolutely! 

Islam prescribes certain specific guidelines for the governance of business based on the legality of transactions, as per Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) of lawful (halal) and unlawful (haram) activities. It identifies ethically desirable forms of business, specifies the undesirable modes of transactions and enumerates the general moral and ethical rules of business conduct (Mohammed, 2007).   

The essence of such a system will be based not on the short term goal of serving the self interest of selected individuals but on the long term goal of service to humanity with the ability of the system to induce a God-Conscious mindset for upholding universal ethical principles.  God-consciousness therefore will play a central role in the calibration of strategic decision making processes.   

A Code of Ethics based on this Islamic Decision Support System (IDSS) would therefore need to have the following injunctions:

Engagements must be lawful:  The IDSS code of ethics must mandate lawfulness ahead of goodness.  It also forbids the restriction of consumption of the lawful without a valid reason.

Human life must be safeguarded: The IDSS code of ethics must prohibit the loss of life at any cost from all forms of destruction, providing the framework for managing all human relationships (labor, workforce, vendor, customers, community at large, etc.) 

Human intellect must be protected and nurtured: The IDSS code of ethics must prohibit exploitation and forced buyouts safeguarding intellectual capital (copyright, trademarks, patents, intellectual property, etc.)

Decisions must factor impact to future generations: The IDSS code of ethics must prohibit extraction/production/disposal that causes undue or excessive harm to resources. In situations where some harm is inevitable, a careful weighing of relative harms and benefits should be made. Furthermore, a party that may be harmed must be compensated, based on the cardinal rule in Islamic Law that harm must be removed or recompensed. (Badawi, date unknown)

Wealth must be protected and safeguarded: The IDSS code of ethics must prohibit excessive leveraging of assets. It encourages ethical competition and spending in moderation to encourage a free enterprise system and keep economic engines churning.   
When a corporate decision support system conforms to this type of code of ethics, the business outlook will transform from stakeholder-consciousness to God-Consciousness. The strategy no longer will be focused exclusively on financial profitability, but rather on equity and fairness.  As the organizational psyche, thoughts, and behaviors are aligned with a God-centric sense of purpose, the organizational decision-making will take on a more long-term holistic perspective.  With this type of purposeful thinking we start to look at the cause and affect of our intentions and actions from a holistic perspective.  This kind of adjustment allows its practitioners a higher form of wisdom; a form of wisdom where they take on the responsibility of exhibiting trusteeship, accountability and transparency while demonstrating commitment, equity and excellence. 

The concepts of trusteeship, accountability, transparency are universal principles and are used to describe a God-Conscious individual in the Quran in many places.  The Quran also mandates all God-Conscious individuals to uphold their commitments, treat all with equality and demonstrate excellence in all endeavors.  

So what would core attributes of an IDSS be?

IDSS Attributes
Trusteeship (Amanah): the understanding that resources are a trust from God and we bear responsibility in our utilization of them.
Efficient and effective deployment and utilization of organizational and natural resources to minimize wastefulness. 

Accountability (Hesab): the understanding that we are all accountable for our actions to God.

Adherence to laws, regulations, standards, and best practices pertaining to assigned duties and tasks.

Transparency (Gharar): the understanding that there are no actions or intensions, in private or in public, that are hidden from God.

Honest disclosure of information to public or private entities with respect to fiduciary and social responsibilities in a comprehensive, accessible, and timely manner.

Commitment (Aqd): the understanding that honoring of all obligations is a divine obligation.

Upholding and fulfilling all contractual agreements with all stakeholders; employees, unions, investors, suppliers, customers, partners etc.

Excellence (Ihsan): the understanding that God has ordained excellence in everything. (Badawi, date unknown)

Commitment to quality management frameworks with continuous improvement cycles effecting all aspects of the organization; health and safety, environmental protection, security, customer satisfaction, etc.

Equity (Adl): the understanding that our inner intentions and feelings should be consistent with our declared words and actions.

Fairness in maintaining a free enterprise system of trade and commerce without insider trading, political lobbying, revolving door hiring policies,  excessive executives compensation etc.  

Enabling IDSS philosophy is therefore a dynamic balancing act; aligning our thoughts and intentions with our deeds and actions in such a way that we retain God-Consciousness at all times in decision making. That maintenance of balance, in everything we do inwardly or outwardly, is not a mere recommendation but a divine order as the Quran states:
“And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance. That you not transgress within the balance. And establish weight in justice and do not make deficient the balance.” (Quran 55:7-9)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Philosophy of Change

In a healthy person, the blood that leaves the heart is fully oxygenated. Medical science tells us that oxygen is important for our brains; lack of it causes bad memory, imbalance and lack of concentration. If Islam is to our conscience what oxygen is to our brain, every Muslim ideally should posses a healthy state of mind (guided by an enlightened soul in a state of God consciousness).  That elevated state of mind, then should translate into an invigorated sense of purpose in life, positively affecting the human development project.

So the question then arises, how come the hearts and minds of Muslims are in such a depleted state of affairs? Where are Muslims who can reflect and understand? A quick cursory analysis of the Human Development Index (HDI) reveals that the majority of Muslim countries lag behind the rest of the world in socio-economic development.

Civilized Muslim societies, given the absence of honor, respect, dignity, social mercy and tolerance, are like the endangered species that are rapidly racing towards extinction.  We have contaminated our environmental ecosystem with waste and pollution. We have contaminated our social ecosystem with prejudice and injustice. We have contaminated our economic ecosystem with corruption and greed.  We have contaminated our spiritual ecosystem by submitting to our low base desires instead of submitting to God. Void of any accountability, we are insensitive to the consequences of our actions. Void of responsibility, we have lost our sense of purpose.  And void of self reflection, we have lost the ability to change. 

Clearly one cannot deny the emphasis Islam places on incremental continuous improvement to bring about positive change in the status quo.  Islam not just demands a change for the better when it comes to our hearts and minds, but it also mandates change in our behavior and in our attitudes.  Behavior equals thought plus action (behavior = thought + action). Any behavior void of thought is nothing but a mere habit.  Habit is normally defined as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior.   If actions are judged by intentions, as per the hadith of the holy Prophet (may peace be upon him), then our “thoughts” are the drivers for our behavior. Acting mindlessly without the use of intellect is not akin to emulating prophetic behavior. 

13:11 Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).

Every conscientious Muslim bears the responsibility to figure out what we have done to be in this depleted state of affairs.  This responsibility starts with redefining our purpose in life.  Purpose is often confused with a goal.  But purpose is not the goal.  It leads one to the goal. Not everyone’s purpose in life is the same (i.e. not everyone is motivated by the same things in life).  And for each individual purpose changes as their life progresses. Therefore our purpose needs to be as dynamic as everything around us.   Anything that is dynamic in nature is in a perpetual state of change.  

So how do we kick start our own change process? As Muslims our goal is to submit whole heartedly to our Creator so that we can attain His love.   Submission is an active choice that requires inward reflection. Ability to reflect and understand comes from keen sense of connectivity with your Creator.  Connectivity creates the motivation to do whatever it takes to get to our goal. That motivation gives rise to a sense of purpose within us. Purpose creates the urge for self reflection and self analysis.  Self analysis is necessary for measuring our performance, in attaining the love of our Creator. And once we know where we stand, we make the commitment to improve.  That commitment to improving our performance is the energy we need to kick start change from within.   It is that type of energy that leads to success. 

24:55 Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them…