RAISE THE BAR HIGHER BUT — — — — — — — — !

Human beings at all stages in their development, right from the prehistoric stone age to the modern day industrialized, inter-connected and net-worked world have successively tried to attain newer, higher, audacious and sometimes even insane, levels of achievement/excellence. While a large part of this has been motivated by a desire to lead a better, comfortable, more congenial life, at times the competitive fire, the spirit of adventure or even experimentation have motivated human beings to challenge their physical and mental faculties and attain greater heights — the motivation being to “Raise the Bar Higher” in all conceivable fields of human endeavour.

It took mankind several eons to break the four-minute mile barrier until Sir Roger Bannister first accomplished the feat in 1954. However, in just sixty five years since more than 1400 athletes have broken the four minutes barrier — an indication of the electric effect it had not only to carry on but also accelerate the process of achieving higher goals by challenging physical capabilities and testing human endurance to achieve higher goals. To put things in fuller perspective, Eluid Kipchoge, the Kenyan Long-distance runner recently became the first person ever to run a full marathon in under 2 hours- a feat which just a couple of years ago seemed beyond human capacity.

To take another example from Cricket, which is scarcely anything but a religion in India, it took several decades after the game caught popular imagination for a batsman to score more than 10,000 runs in test cricket till Sunil Gavaskar first accomplished the feat in 1987 — however in the three decades since then no fewer than twelve more players have accomplished this task- mind you in an era when cricketers are not only playing almost throughout the year, but also playing in multiple formats, performing various roles and putting their bodies through much more strenuous physical strain and stress — another evidence of human beings challenging their spirits to “Raise the Bar Higher”.

Such examples abound in other sports also. Until the turn of the Century, “Rocket” Rod Laver’s exploits and multiple Calendar Grand Slams, and Bjorn Borg’s five successive Wimbledon’s, were an inescapable part of tennis folklore (not to mention John Mcenroe’s fiery temper and Arthur Ashe’s eternal grace). However, ever since the early part of the 21st century, the Fab Four (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and to some extent Murray) have taken tennis accomplishments to a new level with their sheer dominance and accomplishments wherein winning 25 Grand Slams seems within the realism of realistic possibility.

Even in the fields of science, the quest for excellence is nowhere better exemplified to a lay person that in the fields of Medicine and Information Technology. In the field of medicine, diseases which were earlier considered inscrutably incurable are now within the realms of treatment, if not cure — of course new disease and viruses keep being discovered — but the challenge to take them headlong, improve the quality of living and increase life expectancy is what makes the Scientists unconquerable thirst to “Raise the Bar Higher”, challenging, exciting and of course, appreciable.

In the field of Information Technology, developments have long outpaced Moore’s law with computing capabilities multiplying rapidly and physical sizes of computing devices becoming smaller, sleeker and more manageable. From the days of the complicated Hollerith Cards and monstrous mainframes to magnetic tapes, the ubiquitous floppy to compact disks to pen drives having humongous capabilities (pardon me I may have missed some developments in between — this is not meant to be a thesis and honestly I cannot claim to be really technological updated) to a stage where cloud computing/big data and analytics might lead to a situation where physical storage might disappear at some point of time in future — the effort to enhancing computing capabilities, duly making available more but filtered information, contumacies — the disuse to constantly “Raise the Bar Higher” is nowhere more evident than in the field of information technology.

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These achievements representing a tiny fraction of human capabilities and spanning multiple fields of human endeavour personify the capability and constant urge in mankind to constantly endeavour to raise the bar higher, to endure all the hardships that the process might entail and the road blocks that one may face in the entire process. Leo Burnett, the celebrated Advertising Executive and Founder of the global advertising agency Leo Burnett Worldwide very aptly exemplified the thrust to “Raise the Bar Higher” in the following words: -

“When you reach for the stars,

you might not get one,

but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either”

The efforts to surmount higher, seemingly unapproachable goals, typify the desire of mankind to make efforts for constant improvement towards better, more sustainable (?) and improved standards of living fuelled by an intense competitive spirit. While all such efforts are wholesome and desirable, one needs to guard against such attempts leading to debilitating efforts in our mental health — remember the intense and the constant, bordering on an insane, desire to excel/improve can and does lead to mental strains and stresses, which some of us are scarcely able to handle, leading to a rapidly declining mental health index.

The other thing to watch out in this intensely competitive environment is the threat of it denigrating into a mere race for achieving milestones for their sake ignoring the costs involved and the broader ramification of such an exercise and to put the entire exercise through a cost benefit and sustainability analysis. The space race is one such example, where the intense competition among the nations having the requisite capabilities has the potential to denigrate the Earth’s atmosphere and to clutter it with satellites, some in use and many beyond their expiry date, whose debris has the potential to cause significant collateral damage.

Even in the field of sport, the desire to achieve greater glory and higher goals has while, leading to shorter active lifespans (considering the extra pressure that the body is put through) also prompted many athletes to adopt questionable means to attain higher goals (use of banned performance enhancing substances is an example). While the Olympic motto — “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, Higher and Stronger) continues to exhort athletes, the sanctity of the entire process is coming under greater and increasing threat.

The debilitating side effect of these advancements on our immediate physical environment and the burgeoning threat to sustainable living in our planet is also evidently manifest. Many of these advancements, if proliferated and operationalized unchecked, have the potential to have greater negative effects on our environment, the effects of which are visible in many areas including climatic change, deteriorating air-quality, declining water table, rapidly melting glaciers- to name a few.

While not in any manner trying to belittle the redoubtable efforts of people expending their time, energy and efforts in this task, the effort should be to, on a more concentrated basis to evaluate deeply, intensely and analytically, using all the tools at our command, the cause and effect relationship of such efforts thereby concentrating our efforts and energy on those areas where the potential for sustainability is higher. This exercise is all the more relevant and typical in a contemporary scenario, where the denigration of our environment and accompanying prophecies of a doomsday scenario have increasingly dominated public discourse.

Let us continue our quest to “RAISE THE BAR HIGHER” but not at the cost of mental balance, equanimity and of course after carrying out a sustainability and cost-benefit analysis.