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… 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Inner Dimensions of Management

Ethical and moral tendencies are cultivated in individuals only when the ability to reflect inwardly in activated.  This ability to reflect inwardly is part of every human soul; God given.  Sound reasoning is a byproduct of balanced inward reflection. It is only achieved when our intellectual, emotional and physical psyche is balanced.  

The Quran, in numerous passages, invites its readers to reflect.  It is thought provoking reflection that connects us to our reflective tendencies.  The deeper the connection we have with our soul the more enriched we are with God-Consciousness.   The Quran describes three distinct states of the human soul and its effects on human behavior.

  • State of Heedlessness (Nafs al-Ammar): A soul that clings to materialistic low base desires. This is the stage where we are completely void of inner reflection.
  • State of Awareness (Nafs al-Lawwamah): A soul in the state of constant struggle against its material self, and
  • State of Contentment (Nafs al-Mutma’innah): A soul that reaches a state of peace due to constant God-consciousness.

The better we understand the human psyche as managers, the better we become at mastering the social science of management and at managing organizational affairs.

To understand the wisdom behind Islamic management principles, we must first understand the inner working of human psyche from a physical, emotional and intellectual perspective. One of the greatest Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic in Islamic history, Imam Al Ghazali, known as Algazel to the west, has written extensively about the inner working of the human psyche.  Al Ghazali identified three systems that encompass the human psyche; an Emotional system, a Behavioral system and a Cognitive system (Crook, 2008). 

All three systems are constantly in motion, similar to a pendulum depicted in the figure.  When Al Ghazali’s systems are integrated with the states of the human soul we begin to understand the various characteristics and personality traits within us that help define our inner reflective tendencies.

Heedlessness tends to push the pendulum away from its resting position disturbing the equilibrium state of our reasoning.  Awareness tends to pull the pendulum back to the resting position in an attempt to restore the equilibrium state of our reasoning.  Contentment tends to maintain the pendulum from wild swings in our reasoning thereby creating a sense of calmness within us.

The Emotional System
The Emotional system is where the desire for love and pleasure resides and is responsible for creating a range of inclinations for love and pleasure within us. A balanced and God-conscious Emotional system gives us temperance in the management of our affairs.  An imbalanced one gives us either gluttony on one extreme or lethargy on the other. The following table outlines the various effects of excessive, deficient or balanced psyche for the Emotional system.

Excessiveness within the Emotional system creates management systems that are driven by gluttony, where it is acceptable to make profits solely driven by greed.  The US sub-prime market crisis was a perfect example of this type of imbalance. Deficiency within the Emotional system creates management systems that are driven by lethargy where we continue to support bad decisions to maintain status quo. The US government bailout of financial institutes deemed too big to fail, in spite of evidence of gross negligence on their part, is a leading example of this type of imbalance.

The Behavioral System
The behavioral system is where our desire for anger and pain resides.  This system is responsible for creating a range of inclinations toward or away from anger and pain within us. A balanced, God-conscious, behavioral system gives us courage in the management of our affairs.  An imbalanced behavioral system gives us either reckless on one extreme or cowardice on the other. The following table outlines the various effects of excessive, deficient or balanced psyche for the Behavioral system.

Excessiveness within the Behavioral system creates management systems that are driven by recklessness, where negative consequences of behavior are completely ignored in order to meet shareholder expectations.  British Petroleum’s (BP) inability to heed the warning signs about safety and health issues at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig is a great example of this type of imbalance where innocent lives were lost, the livelihood of thousands was destroyed, and ecosystems and tens of thousands of miles of coastline were damaged.

Similarly, deficiency within the Behavioral system creates management systems that are driven by cowardice, where decisions are made to correct present deficiencies at the expense of the future.   The reckless benchmarking practiced employed by many state and local public retirement fund managers that have allowed   public entities to draw on retirement funds inappropriately to fill budget gaps over the last decade, is a perfect example of this type of imbalance.

The Cognitive System
The cognitive system is where our desire for knowledge and reason resides.  This system is responsible for facilitating the ability to reason within us. A balanced, God-conscious, cognitive system gives us wisdom in the management of our affairs. An imbalanced cognitive system gives us either deception on one extreme or foolishness on the other.  The following table outlines the various effects of excessive, deficient or balanced psyche for the Cognitive system.

 Excessiveness within the Cognitive system creates management systems that are driven by deception, where roles, responsibilities, and information are misrepresented.  The revolving door recruitment polices between the enforcement arms of government and regulated entities on Wall Street are prime examples of this imbalance.  Deficiency within the Cognitive system creates management systems that are driven by foolishness, where common sense is abandoned in the everyday decision making processes.      

When we apply Ghazali’s theory to the collapsing economies, financial bailouts, status downgrades, and political/social unrest, we clearly see the imbalance of our collective human psyche, reflected in our societies. The gluttony that exists in our corporate world, the disparity of income between the rich and the poor, the amount of debt we carry, the armed conflicts we have created, the rate at which we are depleting our natural resources, are all clear signs of a deficient collective psyche.    How can the social science of Management be mastered with a deficient psyche?  The Quran states:
“…Surely, God does not change the state of a people until they change the state of their own souls…” (Quran: 13:11)
The fundamental concept of ethics and morality is pre-wired in all human beings.  It allows us to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong, equality and injustice.  It all begins with the ability to reflect inward and continually manage the swinging of our psyche’s pendulum. Maintaining such inner balance requires a conscious and sustained effort.  This constant effort is considered the highest form of struggle (jihad) in Islam. It is this constant struggle that gives birth to God-consciousness.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Imbalanced Pursuit of Happiness!

Just like individuals band together to create families and families come together to create societies, our collective conscience creates the conscience of the society we live in. Since our societies depict realities that stem from our collective conscience, it is important that our perception of those realities is firmly rooted in a moral and just socio-economic system. The realities that stemmed from the collective conscience of the founding fathers of our nation were once beautifully summed up in what we now know as the Declaration of Independence.

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
-Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Today as I look at the state of affair of our union, I see a nation slowly drifting away from the foundational framework laid down by the founding fathers for the governance of our collective state of affairs. I see a free market enterprise system out of balance where statutory loopholes are frequently exploited to undermine fiduciary responsibilities. I see financial profitability playing a central role in guiding our decision-making processes. The unalienable right of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has now become a privilege no longer for the masses.

Our poverty rate is now the third worst among the developed nations according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to , our nation’s household participation in the food stamp program has increased 20.28% since 2009; while one out of every seven mortgages in the United States was either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010. In spite these alarming statistics of economic and social suffering of the masses, Wall Street paid a whopping $144 billion in compensation and benefits to its executives for 2010; a 4% increase from the $139 billion paid out in 2009. With homelessness growing at an alarming rate, healthcare costs skyrocketing and debt spiraling out of control, certainly we the masses are in pursuit of a very distorted reality of happiness.

If our individual consciousness is fueling our collective consciousness then it behooves us to closely examine our own selves to decipher the root cause of this socio-economic imbalance. A good point to start is a little bit of inward reflection. One of the greatest Sufi mystic poets from the region of Punjab in Pakistan, Bulleh Shah, talks about our struggles with this respect in many of his poems. I’ve tried translating a few lines from one of his poem: 

We're so occupied with attaining outward knowledge
That we never spent time knowing our souls
Our thoughts are shaped by externalities
Yet we never contemplate what the heart holds
We’ve reached the limitless skies
But we’ve failed to reach our heart’s inner folds
Inward reflection is the ability to self-monitor our own adherence to accountability, commitment and transparency with the filters of morality and ethical codes of conduct in our own lives. This type of self analysis is innate to the human souls who are mindful of the oath of conscience they took when they took on the responsibilities that came with the unalienable rights endowed to them by their Creator. Because with rights comes responsibilities. We have the right to make profit from our businesses, but we also have the responsibility to show restraint when it comes to wasteful use of our resources. We have the right to be ambitious and dream big, but we are also responsible for taking time for introspect and inner reflection. We have the right to grow and prosper, but we are also supposed to respect the laws of nature so that we don’t pillage and plunder. We have the right to improve our own material wellbeing, but we are also supposed to help the less fortunate and the needy.

Intrinsic to long term sustenance of our Declaration of Independence is the adherence to a balanced governance framework; a framework that is built on the pillars of accountability, commitment and transparency. Balance has to be the core component for universal governance of our affairs. It is this balance that in turn induces equitable and sustained prosperity. And this balance cannot be achieved unless we learn to reflect inwardly.

“Surely, God does not change the state of a people until they change the state of their own souls” (Qur’an 13:11).

Friday, January 28, 2011

This is About Internal Agitation

So in your face, obvious
That no one seems to care
Hollow molds of emptiness
No more hope left to share
Resurrecting from within
Rekindling the flare
Rise up O down trodden
Change the state of affair
Your revolution is waiting
There are responsibilities to bear
Let's take them on, one more time
With unison we declare
We'll fight for human dignity
To eradicate despair…

The agitation that started in Tunisia is now spreading to other parts of the Muslim world. This is no emotional outburst of uneducated masses caused by any external stimuli. This is not about demonizing the west. There is no US flag burning. There is no religiously motivated rhetoric behind the outrage. This is not even about demanding rights; I’m afraid that time is long gone! This is about hopelessness! This is about despair; despair that reaches deep down into the human psyche imploding the soul. People in the Muslim world have being oppressed for too long. The primary mode of oppression has almost always been this sleazy style of statesmanship; driven by greed; intoxicated with power; void of any conscience; hollow from within; self absorbed!

Of the world’s poorest nations, more than half are Muslim. Moreover, about 75% of refugees in the world today are Muslims, externally and internally displaced, due to wars, famine, and/or severe economic conditions. There is no sign of just governance of public affairs in many Muslim countries. There is no end to social inequities. Justice is for the wealthy. Punishment is for the weak. Such unhealthy conditions of social and economic imbalance, not only creates desperation but eventually fuels social destabilization and unrest ripping apart the very fabric that binds a society.

It is true that physical agitation is a manifestation of lack of basic civic necessities. But what we see today is not a result of physical agitation that can be controlled by force. Although many leaders in the Muslim world will resort to brutal force to suppress this uprising; a cowardly act indeed. In actuality this agitation is the agitation of the soul, especially Muslim youth, one that is fueled by the deprivation of human dignity. For it is true that these so called Muslim leaders, the whole lot of them, have done nothing but to deprive their people of basic human dignity.

It only starts as a whisper
That ignites a burning desire
They may fight the uprising
But they can’t put out the fire

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Synaptic Impulses

All human beings are endowed with certain capabilities that are God given innate to our souls. What we do with these capabilities in this life is up to us. We will be held accountable for them one day! Once we can understand that accountability in our everyday living, we go through a spiritual awakening.

This short book of poems is about my inward journey; my attempt to decipher the meaning of my life. My hope is that whoever reads it reflects upon their inner journey inculcating a desire to change for the better, rather than just cluttering their minds with yet another set of readings.

Get your copy today and start your own process of inner reflection!

May we all continue to read and learn new things in life that are beneficial to us and others around us and may we from the wisdom that we are given continue to uplift others in their thoughts and in their actions. Amen!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Organizational Governance

In a free market system corporate governance is generally a lagging influencer, meaning that we introduce rules and regulations after a negative event has already occurred. Our knee jerk reactions to unforeseen performance results almost always give rise to efforts for greater transparencies. Although greater transparencies may create short term performance correction, they seldom create accountabilities to the right entities. The concept of a balanced governance model is one which is built on the foundation of accountability not transparency. Because where accountabilities start transparencies begin.

Intrinsic to long term economic sustenance of any organization is the adherence to a balanced governance framework; a framework that is built on the pillars of accountability, commitment and transparency. Balance is core to universal governance laws. It is this balance that in turn induces sustained prosperity.

A balanced governance model is one where accountability, commitment and transparency are the foundation on which public trust responsibilities are shouldered. Responsibilities only to special interest groups leave other governance components either under utilized or over leveraged. Organizations often put financial performance ahead of all other performance parameters, creating imbalance in governance. In such one-dimensionally run organizations when the financial element weakens or buckles, the entire organization collapses instantly. Wonderment and unbelief follows as leaders and analyst are left dazed and confused only to blame their failure on external market economic forces.