Policy Indications: Harvard Teacher Fellows provides new teachers, local impact  |  International Edu News: Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine offers a high level of protection  |  Leadership Instincts: Harvard University CFAR announces leadership change  |  Parent Interventions: Virtual holiday toy and joy drive  |  Leadership Instincts: New Zealand PM to receive 2020 Gleitsman International Activist Award  |  International Edu News: Science and Innovation Fellowship accepting applications  |  Policy Indications: National Coalition calls for new White House-led focus on children and youth  |  Education Information: Faculty alter new first-year requirement because of continuing Covid-19  |  Leadership Instincts: Phiala Shanahan receives Kenneth G. Wilson Award  |  Leadership Instincts: Erik Demaine wins 2020 MIT Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching  |  Education Information: Second annual MIT Science Bowl Invitational takes virtual format  |  International Edu News: Meghan Davis named 2022 Mitchell Scholar  |  National Edu News: Multilateral cooperation is the key to overcoming global challenges: Minister  |  National Edu News: Tenth edition of National Science Film Festival kicks offin a virtual mode  |  Technology Inceptions: ‘WalkON Suit 4’ Releases Paraplegics from Wheelchairs​  |  
January 06, 2018 Saturday 12:17:32 PM IST

Off-piste! Choose the Path of Most Resistance

Creative Living

Uttiṣṭhata jāgrata prāpya varānnibodhata,

Kśurasya dhārā niśitā duratyayā durga pathastatkavayo vadanti

—    Katha Upanishad, 1-III-14


“Rise, wake up, seek the wise and realise. The path is difficult to cross like the sharpened edge of the razor, so say the wise.”


Sri Shankara interprets the aboveverse from Upanishad thus: “Because the object to be known is very subtle, the path of knowledge leading to that is not easily attainable”.


This is true about the path to wisdom, enlightenment, and creativity. The path towards it, however,is not the path of least resistance.It is not a comfortable, secure, or efficient one. Rather, it requires the seeker to tread the path of most resistance, just like walking over the edge of a razor. One may not make it bare foot, without bruisingit.


In contrast, the path of least resistance is the beaten path and those who take it are many in number. They are consumers of knowledge and wisdom; not makers of the same. They swim along the current and not across it or against it. On the other hand, those who produce new knowledge face odds, which they overcome with grit or charm. They choose the hardest path and enjoy treading it just like a rockclimber takes on a steep rock face with aplomb.


[QUERY: Is the sentence text marked in yellow alone the explanation provided by Sri Shankara? The subsequent lines, until the end of the second para, are perhaps a further elucidation of it?Ans: Yes.]


The Bible also reiterates the same truth as it speaks of the path leading to life: “How narrow is the gate and how constricted is the road that leads to life, and there aren't many people who find it!” Matthew 7:14.



True. The path leading to life is identically the path of most resistance, the constricted road that evokes creative responses. It is a path along the razor’s edge! Such paths are often described as off-piste.


The French root word piste means many things, including ‘a track or trail left by an animal or person, a runway for aircraft, a track on a recording, a racecourse, a ring in a circus, the floor used for various activities, such as dancing, skating, fencing, or skiing’.


To go off-piste is to relinquish safety and security of the prepared turf, to go beyond the known zone of comfort, and to forsake the beaten path. The beaten path has been made and remade by people who have troddenitover centuries. It is ready-made and does not provide the thrill and excitement of exploration or discovery. At the same time, it isindeed the most comfortable, the most efficient, and the most optimum path, the path of least action!


Every act of creative thinking is, in this sense, path-breaking. It initiates a new path, a new idea, a new concept, a new product, a new service, a new worldview, and,most of all, unveils a new horizon. The creative mind that visualises it and spearheads it is the first, and often the only pilgrim treading that path. S/he creates a new path by walking itfirst themselves. S/he turns out to be a pioneer and a champion.


Those who have an eye to see it, an ear to hear it, and a heart to recognise it, identify it as a new path and follow the path, making it the path of least resistance, in fact, an efficient path to traverse. But once it becomes a beaten path, it loses its charm either to attract pilgrims or to give them the joy of seeking.



Science suggests that nature itself loves the paths of least resistance. The paths of streams cascading down a mountain, the paths drivers make to avoid blocks and potholes, the path of a projectile, are all paths of least resistance. Arrangements of different products in a supermarket, or books in a library are optimised by considering the principle of least effort, namely, a client who looks for a product or piece of information will seek out the most convenient search option.


Nature’s design is based on a recursive algorithm, incorporating a fractal structure, evidenced by self-similar structures. The structures within a given structure, unfolding like an infinite series, reveal the mysteries of nature hidden within its costal lines, sea shells, spiralling galaxies, and even the structure of human lungs. It is simply the arithmetic of evolution!


Electrical currents seek overall reduction in resistance as it short circuits. For example, if electric current is provided with three paths of approximately equal resistance, it may not choose the one single path of least resistance. Rather, an equal quantum of electric current will pass through these alternate paths! This is because these parallel paths together reduce the total resistance to one third of that incurred by a single and less resistant path. It opts for a parallel bundle of paths, which,together, offer the least amount of collective resistance!



Amazingly efficient are the ways of nature. They are built upon the principle of reduction of energy requirement to a minimum, thus resulting in the highest energy efficiency possible.


It is actually the principle of ordinary evolution thatensures the survival of the fittest as the most efficient. To achieve this, nature implements a process of natural selection and engineering optimisation, which is akin to the process of Kaizen, the process of continuous improvement as laid down by Japanese business models.


However, a paradigm shift anticipates a quantum jump, a disruptive change called Kaikaku. It calls for a radical or revolutionary change in place of an evolutionary change. Kaikaku happened when triode tubes were replaced by transistors,which, in turn,were replaced by carbon nanotubes. This tube-transistor-tube shift is an example of disruptive change, a Kaikaku. It demands forsaking of old wine for new wine, forsaking of old ways for a new way.


In short, paths of least resistance generate evolutionary changes, the so-called kaizen,while paths of most resistance give birth to disruptive changes, the so-called kaikaku.


The choice one makes between kaizen and kaikakuis a matter of the level of passion, thrill, and excitement one looks for. Those who are satisfied with ordinary levels of joy opt for paths of least resistance and those who go after the delights of discovery opt for the path of most resistance!


A futuristic institution shall have both these orientations. On one hand, it should rationalise and optimise its existing practices, in the true spirit of kaizen. But on the other, it should groom disruptive changes in the true sense of kaikaku.


In other words, there will be room for both kings and prophets in an institution. The kings or administrators will attempt to maintain existing structures, continually optimising them,whilethe prophets, who look into the future, break open novel paths, steering the institution’s destiny. Institutions that integrate their kings and prophets will sustain themselves ably, having struck the right synergy between kaizen and kaikaku.



For an individual, these divergentpaths offer a choice based on the level of creativity and excitement s/he seeks. The path of least resistance provides more safety and security and the path of most resistance offers more fun and excitement.


In fact, to do the same thing again and again does not inspire creative minds; if not insanity, for sure it could lead to soul-killing boredom.


So, it is a matter of personal choice: Shall I take up any job that comes my way or hunt for a career that I love? Shall I take it easy by sitting idle or by engaging in some physical exercise? Shall I dream small and set small targets for my life, or shall I dream big and strive to realise it?


That said, one must bearin mind that opting for the path of most resistance is not ‘natural’. In the natural state of things, oneshould have opted for the path of least resistance. It calls formoral courage to go against the grain of nature. To swim along the currents is natural; but to swim against is a personal call!


It is also important to differentiate between the paths of least and most resistance in life. The path of least resistance includes: uncritically believing in speculation and gossip;surrendering to peer pressure;preferring the simpler task to the more difficult one; succumbing to unjustified demands made byothers on your time, resources, or generosity;procrastination;responding in anger;keeping a grudge for long;andrefusing to forgive and so on.


On the other hand, the path of most resistance includes: relaxing by way of engaging in sport or manual labour;forgiving the wrongdoings of others;admitting to one’smistakes;keeping healthy food habits; surpassing one’spetty tastes or urges;courage to say ‘no’ to unjustified demands made by others;dreaming high and so on.


It is New Year! An important pledge for the New Year could be to go off-piste and choose the path of most resistance, which leads us to more fun, more excitement, more enlightenment, and more life.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

Read more articles..