Wading through my engineering subjects at college, the largest book that I handled was A Textbook Of Electrical Technology by Mr. B. L. Thareja. First published in 1959, it was so heavy that it never left my desk. In 1980s there was no Kindle. What stayed with me was a discussion on series and parallel electrical circuits. In series circuits, all segments had the same current, but their voltage was different. In parallel circuits, all segments had the same voltage, but their current was different. Current is the effect and voltage, the cause. Series circuits conserve effect, parallel circuits conserve cause. I remain intrigued by the idea that systems can be designed to conserve the output (series) or conserve the context of those it is designed to serve (parallel).
Is my society an ecosystem in series or parallel? If it were in series, will everyone achieve the same output? If it were in parallel, would everyone receive the same opportunity? The equality or equity debate. When I attend presentations by social entrepreneurs, I am haunted by similar questions. Is this a change program in series or in parallel? Is it designed to conserve processes or to retain context? Will this program conserve efficiency or embrace diversity? After three decades, I have no recollection of lessons in electrical engineering. However, Mr. Thareja implanted the series-parallel lens. He makes me think about what is being conserved, and why. Or why not?