Sunday, December 27, 2009

The band-aid

Exams - done. 6 terms out of 8 - done. Away from the madding world of numbers, analytical models, studies and assignments. Part of the way covered, a rather long way to go.. still. And it is the end of the year. Perfect time for some thought and an a-ha moment! And here it is - I call it - the band-aid concept.

Almost all of us certainly have some aspect or piece of life, that is, well, for lack of a better word - unsavory. More often than not, it is a piece of the past - an event, or an experience, something that really didn't leave too good a taste. Well, in short, almost every one of us has felt some pain in some form or another. Although all of us wish never to feel any sort of pain, no one is born invulnerable! I feel that it is this pain we feel that makes us human. Pasts can be painful, but they are painful because they were associated with something that at one time brought immense joy and the absence of that joy or the reference to that joy in past tense is now unfathomably painful.

But no one enjoys being in pain. And fretting and agonizing over it, never leads anyone anywhere. But so full of ourselves are we, that we believe that we are invulnerable, omnipotent and we take a kind of morbid pleasure in masochistic tendencies. We feel it is rather 'cool' for lack of a better word, to subject ourselves to trauma while outwardly appearing strong and capable of 'handling it'. And my response to this is - drop the act, quit the mask. It hurts and we all know it. Smiling through the pain, laughing in the rain, is good for poems and songs. It's not wrong to hinge on to something else and try to heal and then move on. I allude to the band-aid. It comes in as a panacea on the wound, and helps you heal.

But for how long can you hold on to an external support to heal the pain within? Sooner or later the band-aid's got to come off! And here, pulling off the band-aid, hurts more than the wound itself. It is much less the actual pain, than it is the psychological apprehension that something could hurt. It is the fear of the unknown - once hurt, one gets used to the band-aid and is afraid now of a new way of life, after the pain and without the band-aid. If a certain thing of the past has been covered, with the object of letting it heal itself, it is better to let the band-aid come off on its own. Forcefully prying it off, trying to prove to the world that you are strong and can handle and face anything with courage and might, is probably counterproductive. Some shards of the old wound might still be rather green and these could end up hurting and perhaps even festering!

Yes, everybody hurts, and everybody is entitled to a bolster in order to heal. Arrogance and feigning superiority, never helped anyone. But so what if something hurt? That is life, and this pain is what primes you for better joys ahead. So, step into the new year, knowing that every past is a promise for a bright new future that results in a resplendent new present. So like someone said - the past is gone, the future is unknown, all we have is the gift of the moment, which is why it is called - the present... Happy new year every one!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The king is back - and this time for real :)

Not so long ago, there were talks that the king was coming back to race. Not so long ago, I was ecstatic about this fact and wrote this 'The king is back'. Not so long ago, I tried to hunt out ways of finding time to ensure 2 hours of bliss every alternate Sunday in the midst of a packed year. Not so long ago, I haggled with a friend on campus to ensure we got unabated access to Star Sports. Not so long ago, my hopes of seeing the king back on track were shattered. Yet not very long ago, came news that the king is indeed back. And this time, it is for real. So says his official site. And yet again, I am very happy about this turn of events.

I simply admire that person. Not just for the sportsman he is or for the magic he weaves on the track, but for the story he is. Many argue that he is ruthless and would do anything to win. I disagree. I think he is one sportsman who puts his 110% to achieve that success. Be it gruelling training sessions, or strategizing with the team. C'mon, he joined Ferrari when they were nothing more than a moneybag, and he was a reigning champion. He was hugely instrumental in turning them around. So for those critics who argued that Ferrari was twirled around Schumi's little finger, I say - deservedly so. Talent and results speak louder than words and these can drown any body's counter arguments.

Austria 2002, was perhaps an aberration, but then again, it was for the good of the team. At least Schumi and Ferrari did not blatantly defy the laws like Mr Hamilton! Never! And the adherence to talent, performance, hard work all iced with ethics, according to me, makes his list of followers long and never ending. It is very hard to come by a superstar who is not adulterated by his success. Schumi's humility in success and graciousness in defeat are legendary. He for one really never allowed success to get into his head. And that is where the piece of doing a task for the love of the task rather than for the love of the result comes in. I remember Tendulkar saying once that he played for the fun in the sport, not for the money and that money was just a temporal gain. I loved the ideology. And now again, take the case of Schumi. F1 is a risky sport. It requires tremendous levels of fitness, agility and mental acuity, not to mention the stamina to put up with the g-forces that throw one around in the cockpit. And Schumi is all of 41, with no one to prove a point to, with no one to answer to, with the marginal utility of money almost being 0! And so, when I wonder about why he wants to do it all again, I realize the sheer love and passion he has towards the sport and what he was doing as a member of the F1 family. I truly wish I could do something in my life that I would enjoy doing so much that no other lifestyle would appeal to me.

So, now I look forward to 2010 with renewed gusto. I can hardly wait for Baharain to begin. People who know me, would know the degree of respect I have for Herr Schumacher. Back in 2005, when he won the championship, I celebrated with pizza with a few close people, who had been on the receiving end of my fan following - the red dressing on Mondays post a Schumi victory or the irritation and better-stay-away-from-me-or-feel-sorry demeanor post a Schumi loss. And today after knowing that the king is soon coming back, I had to celebrate with a few friends, only this time, it was a post midnight caffeine session at our wonderful cafe here on campus. It is after all the emotion that counts right? So, best wishes to the king. Looking forward to the injection of life, ethics and thrill back into F1. I am sure Schumi's return would bring back eyeballs to the TV set. It sure as hell has brought back mine. Not to mention the return of Sporty Sundays on this blog starting next year :) Amen....

The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist. Someone who needs everything in the right place in the right way. Someone who will never rest until a job taken is well, PERFECT. I am sure almost all of us would have had a chance of meeting someone that suits that description. Some like such people, but a majority detest them. Reason, perfectionists can be exacting, very demanding just in order to achieve that perfect result. Some even use the terms 'perfectionist' and 'control freak' interchangeably. The perfectionist wants the perfect color in a painting, the perfect font in a presentation, the perfect report, the perfect everything. As long as THEY put in all the effort to achieve that, it's fine. But the minute they expect everyone else, who is really not interested in achieving that level of perfection, to go the extra 1000 miles, they get the epithet of being a control freak. And when that transformation happens, it is not a very nice place to be in!

But then I thought about this from the perspective of the perfectionist! I really wouldn't hold them to be really bad and mean. They are just driven by that deep desire to be the best. Which is not really wrong. And trust me, it is not easy being perfectionist. They end up shouldering responsibility for portions of a project that perhaps is wayyyyyy beyond their control. They end up pushing themselves over the limit to achieve that end. Now, the harmless variety of perfectionists who do not make life hell for everyone around is someone to be looked up to. Aamir Khan holds that title in the Indian film industry. And his is actually a case in point. Almost all of his movies are raging successes. And the effort he puts into each work of art is palpable in the end result. Be it the emotion, the narrative or even performing that intense workout for a role that is supposed to catch your attention for 3 hrs! It is tough.

Take for instance a perfectionist in a project. He/She not only works his/her part, but also goes through the whole to ensure the end result is up to expectations. Not only is this is a huge time commitment, that involves probable juggling of other key tasks and activities, but is also a huge center of stress, if the interim outcome is not satisfactory. They then push themselves to tie up the loose ends and bring the work up to mark. Imagine their plight, if for the failure of someone else, the whole work ends up bringing in sub-optimal results. They'd end up feeling cheated. But the chronic perfectionists never give up. They are psychologically bound to pushing for perfection. They somehow can never slack off. They feel inadequate if they are not perennially glossing over some aspect of the work at hand. And given that more often than not, they end up achieving their desired results, they don't mind the extra mile of effort. In fact, they are wary about losing the desired result, in case they don't put in that kind of effort.

So, is being a perfectionist a good thing? Well, I really don't know. But my guess is, as long as you don't kill someone else's happiness, while achieving super normal success, it is fine. What say?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Amazing snippet that I wish we could all follow...

A friend of mine just sent me this piece, supposedly written by Chetan Bhagat of 5 point someone fame. Now that book puts campus life in perspective and for the first time, shows the other non-glamorous side of IIT. And this piece is something I truly loved and I wish I could follow what he says here. So, Godspeed!

"Don’t just have career or academic goals. Set goals to give you a balanced, successful life. I use the word balanced before successful. Balanced means ensuring your health, relationships, mental peace are all in good order.
There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your breakup. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions.

"Life is one of those races in nursery school where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point coming first. Same is with life where health and relationships are the marble. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. Else, you may achieve the success, but this spark, this feeling of being excited and alive, will start to die. ……………….

One thing about nurturing the spark - don't take life seriously. Life is not meant to be taken seriously, as we are really temporary here. We are like a pre-paid card with limited validity. If we are lucky, we may last another 50 years. And 50 years is just 2,500 weekends. Do we really need to get so worked up? …………….

It's OK, bunk a few classes, scoring low in couple of papers, goof up a few interviews, take leave from work, fall in love, little fights with your spouse. We are people, not programmed devices........."

"Don't be serious, be sincere."!!

It is not just important what you have; it is more important what you do with what you have."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Livin it up... ISB style

Solstice is here, the annual Alumni meet here on the ISB campus. And today was yet another amazing evening. In fact we were looking forward to tonight, since we were supposed to experience a true musical extravaganza. And none of us left disappointed!
We began with the '09 band singing their trademark songs, followed by our very own Conjoint dishing out GNR, MJ and Metallica numbers. Some songs are absolute beauties, timeless wonders indeed - Beat it, Eye of the tiger, Sweet child 'o mine for instance. And then just as we began to think that the evening couldn't possibly get any better, well, it got better than the best! Raghu Dixit was in the house!! And mannnnnn Indian non-film music can be gooddddddd... They started off with Hey Bhagwaan and moved on to Mysore se aayi and a couple of Kannada folk songs. And then when they went on to 'I am in Mumbai, waiting for a miracle', almost all of us Bambaiyyas in the crowd went along holler lane! Vivid images of Maximum city played out in front of our eyes as we heard that song. And then we had the best song of the evening in 'Har saans mein, har dhadkan mein ho tum'. The crowds went completely ballistic. When the band announced the last song, the crowds yelled for more. The atmosphere was electric. There were lazer beams flashing around, true rock show style, but the psychedelic colors paled in front of the enthusiasm of the crowds. Chants of 'once more once more' went up, louder than ever. And the band complied. Not once, but time and time again. The crowds sang along, screamed along, danced, jumped, and completely LIVED IT UP! A show that was to go on from 9.30 to 12.30 went on all the way till 2 am! And the crowds never tired. The youthfulness was palpable, and almost everyone had shed off all veneers of maturity and gentility, almost going back to the carefree days of undergrad and school!

And it didn't end there. A bunch of us took off to the roof garden to take in the festivities from over a 100 meters above sea level! And I must say, the view from the top, is BEAUTIFUL. Humming and besura singing of the Raghu Dixit songs we had just heard was on with full gusto. Not only were we high up above the ground, we were also clearly high on life! And this is the way we live it up at ISB. We work hard and play harder. And we enjoy every minute of it. And these memories are what we'll take along as we move on. At the end of the day, we say to these moments - 'HAR SAANS MEIN, HAR DHADKAN MEIN HO TUM'.....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You're worth it and you don't know it!

When L'Oreal says, "because you're worth it", trust that statement! Honestly. The average consumer has no clue how much conglomerates spend to try to understand the cogitations transpiring in that tiny little head of his (or hers). Now, for the average consumer, going and purchasing clothes washing soap is a mundane task. Something that needs to be done, for fear of the maid not washing clothes! Or worse still, washing the clothes in plain water and walking away! But it is amazing to think of the amount a company would pay in terms of money and time, to simply understand whether the color blue or the color yellow appeals to you in a washing powder! Or better still, to understand whether shelf placement a few centimeters to the right matters more than say keeping it to the left! Some research has shown that companies pay more for placement to the right than to the left, since majority of consumers are right handed. I was stumped! Since what is 'left' to us is actually right, perhaps if we move a foot to the left, get it? No? Well, please remember this line next time you walk into a mall to pick up toothpaste and let this be your a-ha moment of the day!

Studies on purchase behaviors abound. Studies on repurchase behaviors are even more numerous. Studies show that people get tempted to pick up more than they need just because the product is on promotional sale, and that many-a-time, the product picked is actually sub-standard and such that they perhaps won't pick it up if the product were not on sale! There are studies showing which portions of the brain light up in response to certain forms of ad communications! I could go on and on about such topics, but what fascinates me the most is the deeper linkage of a mundane purchase activity with sub-conscious cognitive skills, that we perhaps never knew existed!

Take for instance the whole Tiger Woods episode. Now 'High Performance, Delivered', the tag line of Accenture just took on a corny new meaning! But the flip side of celebrity endorsements could not have been more stark. Both in terms of Accenture's image and in terms of the harsher side of celebrity. One of my earlier posts - titled the devil within us spoke about the flip side of celebrity. And Tiger Woods is exactly a case in point. When the going is good, marketers egg us to go and be a tiger. And at first signs of negative associations, they drop the poor (sorry filthily rich) guy like a hot potato! They wish to shun any association, unmindful of the eyeballs and revenues he had brought in just a few months ago. Some question the credibility of the brand, and ask how loyal would they be to their customers, if they bite the hand that feeds them! But then, there are some more who say that the brand can convert this whole crisis into something deeper, something that can result in greater advertizing equity! And all this really at times makes me wonder about the 'Truman Show' called our lives! And I am talking about not just the circus that has become of Tiger Woods' life, but the whole aspect of mind games when it comes to reaching the customer. Somewhere, politics seems to have permeated the world of 'customer-product relationships', where sympathy, shock tactics and blatant attention grabbing methods seem to be playing out.

Then again, can we hold marketers responsible? The competitive landscape is such these days with over 20 brands vying for that 100 rupees in your wallet. And Darwin's theory still very much holds - and to be fit in extraordinary times, you do need extraordinary measures. So, till you see your own face on a reality show, sit back and observe the fun!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thinking too much

I do that all the time. That's why my blog's called 'Thought Center'. I read between the lines. In fact I read only between the lines, allowing my wild and vivid imagination to think up things that perhaps are so convoluted that only a martian could conjure up such tactics! Nevertheless, what I've noticed with people is that this 'overthink' results in a certain idea or viewpoint. And this viewpoint then becomes a religion. A religion that has to be protected at all costs. Guarded and upheld with one's life. The viewpoint then becomes so deeply ingrained that one could perhaps go out with their swords and off with the opponent's head! The viewpoint becomes one with the viewpoint holder and an opposition to the viewpoint then becomes a direct affront to the individual. And this can be harsh!

I remember one of my favorite profs once mentioning - 'In marketing people would tell you to go where no one has ever gone before. But stop to think whether no one has gone there before because there is a strong enough reason to not go there ever!' Yet another one of my fave profs said, "stop thinking beyond what is necessary. If there is a question, it is a plain question, set with the intention of exacting a straight answer. Contrary to what you may think, I get no pleasure by playing trick or treat with you guys!" So overthinking clearly is treading where no one has ever gone before and no one has gone there before because the place (in this case scenario I am imagining) is just a figment of my imagination! And imagining improbable what-if scenarios is akin to trick-or-treating! Besides, the strong adherence to a viewpoint, also reinforces a form of confirmation trap. I have an idea that I believe in. You present a contrary viewpoint, but I reject it since I am looking to prove my point. Any disconfirming evidence is actually not paid attention to! I just want to pick and choose information that buttresses my viewpoint!

So moral of the story - it does not pay to think too much. No matter how much one tries to second guess another human being or try to comprehend what is happening inside that person's black box called brain, the margin of error in the prediction is still going to be 50%. Since at the end of the day, unpredictability thy name is mankind! So don't ever waste time thinking and overthinking something. Some things are best tackled by rules of thumb and Bayesian probability!!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bliss supreme - the evening after exams!!

Exams, exams, exams. I remember a time a couple of terms ago, when I sat melancholy on one of the 'kattas' of ISB and thought (as usual, a day before a deadly exam) - about the pathetic life I was leading. I left home and work and came here to study and ended up being examined every two weeks. Trust me, exams are worse than tooth exams or even the dreaded root canal! And I did some math. Given the number of subjects and given that almost every subject I took had a mid term and an end term, I would have on average given all of 64 EXAMS by the time I got out of here!!! And when I was thinking along those lines, I realized that I had only just crossed exam number 10!

And today, having finished 50% of term 6 at ISB, I do feel lighter, happier, that in the beam balance of exams, the pan of completed exams weighs more than the unfinished ones. Exams are tough. They are stressful. To the extent that many of my colleagues nowadays choose elective subjects that do not have exams at all! The email that used to come in a few terms ago stating that the Rec would be closed for exams used to send many of us into a 'dukhi tailspin'. And the thought used to be - 'Lo aa gaya aur ek torture'.

So much for the sad part of exams. There has to be a good side too, right? Well, if you expect me to speak about how exams nurture competition and help to separate the quality from the quantity and how exams are by and far the best things to happen to humanity since penicillin, WELL, YOU GOT ME WRONG! The best part about exams is the time when they end! Yes, the end of exams is the best part about exams. Just as we were walking home from exams today, a friend of mine mentioned the supreme bliss one experiences when an exam is over. I couldn't agree more with her. It almost is as though the pressure valve on a vessel were allowed to let out steam. The wind seems crisper, afternoons go from being sweltering to mellow and sunny. All of a sudden the chirping of birds is musical, even the crowing of an occasional crow! Task lists look prettier, with tasks like rent movie, order pizza, party, figuring multiple times on the list. Hours don't seem long any more, as you watch 3 movies back to back till the wee hours of the morning! And why? Well, we've worked hard - (or so we claim) and once the 2 hours of testing are done, the feeling is exhilarating.

'How the exam went' is an inconsequential question. We are only bothered about the fact that the exam is over. You may ask me about my motivation behind this post after terms and terms of painful exams. And my answer is - I really don't know. Perhaps bottled sentiments, after so long are getting an expression out here. There is another event tied to exams that demands mention. And that is the day before the last exam! I still remember my days at school where I'd plan more and study less on the day before the last exam. I'd plan where I'd go, what I'd do after getting home from the exam, what movie I'd watch, where I'd go out with a friend, etc etc, you get the picture. Poor old Geography exam - always the last, cared for the least. But one thing is for certain. I sure as hell will miss this supreme bliss and joy once I am out of academics, since the emotions before and after a last exam are practically unparalleled in every other walk of life!!!

So much for the blog, now back to some merrymaking!!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

My 7 Whys

There is a consulting funda of problem solving called 5-whys. Apparently by the time you ask the fifth why you are at the root cause of a problem. But I have gone a step further in asking my 7 whys! And I know that if I get an answer to at least one why, I will be a lot less wired!!! Seems to be the case with me all the time! Like I've said before, week of exams and submissions, please expect the random rambling post and here it is. So, I wonder
  1. Why I always have a dozen things to do and realize that the time I have would just accommodate two tasks?
  2. Why is it that I always chance upon a real good article just when I have course work reading running into volumes?
  3. Why am I always swamped with work, such that I feel that I am not doing justice to everything?
  4. I am here for this one year, to learn, but why do I feel like something is missing?
  5. Why do I have so many things happening at once and why do I always need to apply trade off theory?
  6. Why do I feel like reading, writing, studying, walking, playing and goodness knows what else, all at once?
  7. Why do I always apportion an hour to a task that ends up taking a whole day?

All this while I have been hunting for answers, but so far I've found none. So my quest continues!!!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

ISB's 8 - A thought to all those fests...

Yup. 2nd December was the actual 8th birthday of my present school - ISB. And today, we celebrated her birthday. Much like how it happens in the west, where irrespective of when your birthday or anniversary falls, you celebrate/party on that subsequent weekend! And celebrate we did indeed!

So, on Wednesday, the 2nd, we hoisted the ISB flag, and cut a cake! Well, in traditional ISB fashion, we should have had a dunking as well, but then we skipped arbit dunking for want of a dunkee!!! Besides, of late, on birthdays people feign colds and coughs - since it is frightfully cold in Hyderabad these days! And today, we had a cultural fest, with professors, staff and students putting up a gala show. Noteworthy was not just the quality of the show, but actually the enthusiasm shown by everyone. Now, all of us are hard pressed for time, caught up in a jungle of assignments and coursework. But today, all of that actually took a hike, as ISBians settled down to some serious fun.

While all this was fun, on my walk back home, I was reminded of my time in school and undergrad. Our annual days and college fests respectively were gala events for which people prepared for weeks. The enthusiasm would be huge! We used to bunk class under the pretext of practice. Well, of course we'd practise, but for 40% of the bunked time! In school it used to be all the more fun. All of us were kids and I vividly remember one girl in my class had the best dancing skills in the world! She single-handed choreographed all dance performances for our batch almost every year! And then in undergrad, during our inter-college fest, we used to have colleges visiting to participate. The mood would be nothing short of a Whyteleafe in a home lacrosse match mood. (Enid Blyton's Naughtiest Girl - for the uninitiated). The show stealer used to be the fashion show - where the best looking people of the college would take center stage. The clothes would be designed by us, the walk, the show would be choreographed by us, the props, lights and everything needed to pull off a visual extravaganza would be arranged! The fashion show would not just be a ramp walk, but a themed show. I remember the first one was themed 'attitude' and actually had our show stopper bite an apple and throw it into the crowds as a sign of 'attitude'! Coming of age? Well yeah I guess! And then of course - the college chant and the benign sledging when competition would come on stage - 'Ek Do Ek Do XYZ ko phenk do!' Man, the sound still reverberates in my head!

Good old days of college and school, and with today, I have yet another bookmark of a college event that I will cherish for life.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

25 years in pursuit of justice - Bhopal

'Aapka Khoon Khoon Aur Hamara Khoon Paani!' - This is an old Hindi proverb and it literally translates to 'your blood is blood and our blood is water'. In many ways, this aptly describes the likely thoughts of the survivors and sufferers of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. 25 years ago noxious methyl isocyante fumes from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal escaped the plant in the dead of the night, exposing over half a million people who were asleep unaware of the disaster. According to the MP government, a total of 3,787 people lost their lives. This was just the instantaneous death toll. Lingering effects of the poison in peoples' systems went on to kill many many more with some estimates even running close to 20-25 thousand fatalities. Innocent human lives - women and children notwithstanding, were lost. And 25 years since then, it seems like nobody cares.

Well, this one disaster was by and far the single largest chemical disaster India has faced. And this one disaster actually contains instances and examples of almost everything that can be wrong with the system, with everything wrong stemming from greed and a gross lack of respect for human lives. A complete, credible investigation never really happened, and even now theories and conspiracy theories abound on why the MIC escaped the plant. But some fundamentally wrong aspects do snap out at you. Like why use MIC, a known hazardous chemical in the first place? When almost all over the world, technology had improved incorporating the use of more inoccuous chemicals. I am sure the hazmat controls in OECD countries would surely not have allowed such potentially hazardous plants to set up shop on their soil. Secondly, the chase of the bottomline made the plant managers not pay attention towards the upkeep of the safety system. Yet again, I wonder whether Indian human life is indeed so inexpensive. Whether cost benefit analysis valued Indian human life at close to 0? I am tempted to wonder why human life is not uniformly valuable across countries?

25 years on, the survivors still grapple with acute health disorders. There are also some reports of abandoned chemicals seeping into ground water reserves - I don't know how credible these reports are, but if they are, then the nightmares for the afflicted seem to never end. More than the physical damage, the psychological damage is heavier. Having a city mercilessly wiped out by perpetrators of a crime is painful. Knowing the motives behind the crime - in this case greed - hurts even more. Knowing further that several who were indeed trusted were complicit in this crime - through their sheer oversight and lack of caution, hurts all the more. And finally after all these years, when the none of the perpetrators, in fact, not even one of the accused is prosecuted, one feels cheated and perhaps absolutely worthless. So it has been 25 years spent in the pursuit of justice and though the sufferers have suffered enough, they see no light at the end of the tunnel, much like the darkness that enveloped them 25 years ago!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When belief becomes an obsession

Today in a consumer behavior class, we studied the case of TiVo, the first entrant in smart television. The first player who brought in the concept of rewind, pause, record, fast forward live TV. The first player who wished to put control of what the consumer saw on TV into the customer's hands. The TATA SKYs of the west if you will? The first player who actually failed to capitalize on the first mover advantage, due to some strategic errors. The first player who failed to capture significant market share despite a brilliant idea.

One of the beauties of a class like consumer behavior is the fact that it ties in the psychology of a consumer into the science of marketing. Something as intangible as a consumer's thought process is deciphered and converted into something that can be used by firms to tactically reach the consumer. So we studied why TiVo went wrong. And the result lay in the fact that despite having a sterling idea, they looked at the idea as techies. They understood the idea and they expected the world to get it too! "D-uh!!", they said. They were overpriced, as was seen with newer players soon came out with products at half their rates, with a few lesser feature. But TiVo never took an effort to find out whether the features they were providing warranted such a premium over competition - or whether the consumer really cared for those features. It's more like giving me a pen that can sing and charging a bomb for it, without finding out whether I as a consumer want a singing pen! I perhaps just want a pen to write and care two hoots about the singing thing!

Again, why did they do that? Well, their belief that they had a phenomenal product turned into an obsession. They felt it was the best thing to happen to mankind after sliced bread, and so, were unwilling to look at a customer's viewpoint, and engage in activities that would draw the consumer. They simply made the consumer laugh - using humor in their ads and then very condescendingly said - go find out the rest on our website. All this for a product that cost a lot - a TV enhancer costing almost as much as a TV. All this when the customer has not yet understood the concept.

So, apart from a marketing lesson, I liked this story because it gave me another perspective. Belief and self-belief are good. They are brilliant when it comes to boosting one's confidence. But one should never let one's beliefs cloud good sense and judgement. I can't help but allude to Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar, where the protagonist - a once-upon-a-time-rich man spends his every last penny to put on a show of pomp and prosperity, till he finally collapses literally and metaphorically to his inability to sustain that image. So, every once in a while, one must really step back from the cheers and adulation, and see whether the praises and positive comments coming in are true and meaningful. Every once in a while, one must look at one's set of beliefs and cull out the ones based on senseless reasons. Change is what is permanent, and the more nimble we are, the more longer can we sustain.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

How much is too much?

They say that a sinking ship exposes the rats on board. Likewise, it takes a crisis to expose fraudsters and unethical entities who thrive on a system while it flourishes. So the Madoffs, Rajus, Kenneth Lays and Thains of the world come into the open only when the system is drained of all the water that had been providing refuge to their unethical activities for so long. Almost all of us know what ethics are all about. Soon after the financial crisis began, people raised a finger against B schools, saying that a code of ethics is missing amongst the current breed of profit-seeking, dollar-hungry set of B school products. And so, most big B schools embarked on a mission to rethink their offerings to prevent unethical entities from entering the system.

Yes, schools do have a role to play in shaping individuals. That is why we had penalties in school for cheating on an exam. That is why we had harsh punishments for cheating in sport at school. But all humans are presumed rational, and we all know the distinction between right and wrong. A school can give us a code of ethics but internalizing it and making the distinction between what is acceptable and what is not, is a confluence of the ethics code and our own ethical appetite. We all wenr in arms when we heard about the fraud committed by Ramalinga Raju. We all watched with disgust as the crookedness of Bernie Madoff came into the open. We exclaimed how brazenly unethical their acts were as the swindled millions and millions of dollars. These were huge transgressions. But think of this. You break a traffic signal, and the cop stops you. How many times have you given a bribe just to get out of the situation fast? Why? Isn't bribery a form of corruption? And isn't corruption unethical? But then, this was a minor transgression, and a small bribe never killed or hurt anybody, right?

But who is to decide what is major and what is minor? And how difficult is it to make the move from good to bad, like the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader? Another point to ponder is that what am I to do if everyone around me is involved in an unethical practice, to book gains? By being ethical, I clearly end up losing. So, should I adopt the rational approach of maximizing my economic value or should I revert to the conscientious approach and believe in a cosmic justice and be satisfied with my being able to sleep peacefully at night, my losses notwithstanding?

I definitely do not have the right or wrong answers to these points. Because actually these are all decisions steeped in shades of gray. At the end of the day, it is a weighted average of your basket of priorities and only you are the judge of the weights to be accorded to each priority to come to a decision metric. The only argument I have is that quick gains are seldom ever sustainable and for me personally a spiky chart is worth much less than a steady level of success and satisfaction.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Life is in the details

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things...

This is one of my favorite songs, not just for the movie, or the music, but for the lyrics themselves. Put alone, one really wouldn't pay too much attention to raindrops on roses - you'd probably want to run home and escape the rain. Or for that matter brown paper packages - you'd rather rip the package open to see what's inside. But the things mentioned in the song, are small, everyday things that are... for the lack of a better word... sweet!

So some say that the devil is in the detail, I say that life is in the details. Managers tell us to focus on the big picture all the time. So in life, we look for the big house, the big car, the big career, everything! But somewhere down the road, when you have a minute of reflection time, you don't think of that BMW in your garage or your palatial villa in the French Riviera. You think of that rainy day when you sat drenched with a few friends in an Irani restaurant with a cutting chaai. You think of the classes in school where you convinced the prof to give time off so you can play dumb charades. You think of that one night where you sat with friends playing truth and dare all the way to the morning! Yes, life resides in the details.

The number of places where tea has lodged itself into my slot of unique memories is huge! The 12.30 random tea with a friend after a gruelling assignment. A 2.30 tapri chaai after a crappy movie. The piping hot cuppa after stepping into the house from sub zero temperatures. The insane desire to drink tea in the backyard after a first sighting of snow! The 4 am tea with a friend complaining about a painful project client. The memories are plenty. But the core anchor is not just the tea, but the company.

So, life is in the smaller things in life. It is not always a big picture story. A walk in a nippy weather, with a random conversation sitting atop a rock, talking about books, life, friends, people, is a memory that will be cherished forever. A movie with a bunch of friends within the confines of a campus, on a surprisingly, relatively free evening is divine. At the end of the day, its these things that I would want to look back on and smile at, and think back about a life well lived.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

26/11 one year on...

26/11 - One year ago, Maximum City was ripped apart by terrorists who took India's commercial capital hostage. Terrorists who hurt Mumbai's elite core. One year ago, a few people valiantly fought the terrorists, in spite of being ill-equipped. A few lost their lives trying to protect the rest of us. We watched terror TV sitting in our living rooms, getting angry at the way the city was being plundered. We watched as news channels left security and the efforts of the security forces to the wind in the rage to capture the 'juiciest' footage. We saw the smirking face of terror. We read horror stories of differential treatment meted out to the injured at the Taj versus the injured at CST (not sure how much of that was true and how much was journalistic justice) . We saw a visibly shaken and battered Ratan Tata at the Taj premises. We heard stories of brave Taj staff, who put duty ahead of themselves while saving the lives of their guests. We heard poignant stories of an orphaned 2 year old and his brave nanny. We watched in horror the terror attack on Mumbai that lasted for days that seemed like it lasted forever. What has happened since then?

One year on - the tears have dried up, the blood stains washed away, the cries for justice have been muted. The Taj opened on 21st December last year - a sign of true resilience. Trains plied from CST the very next day.The 2 year old orphan makes an appearance in some papers. The smiling assassin is still languishing in prison, though most Mumbaikars wanted him dead a year ago. The masterminds are still at large. Security has been beefed up. Terror bills have been passed.

What remains is hope. A Satyagraha of sorts is on against Pakistan, in the hope that Pakistan takes steps to rein in the reign of terror. (Although as we speak, Pakistan has graver issues of her own). Hoping for a proper culmination of the anti-terror efforts, the incumbent government has been elected at the center and the state. Hope, as usual, still exists. Hope of a safer tomorrow and more balanced justice. Hope that the lives lost have not been lost in vain...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Will I ever see a snake?

Well, today is Wednesday and so the post must ideally be 'what I saw on Wednesday'. But today's post is going to be on what I did not see on Wednesday or for that matter haven't seen at all. And that what I haven't seen on campus is a snake. Yes, I am fretting for I haven't yet seen a snake on campus. Almost all my batchmates have seen multiple snakes, even some of the exotic kind! But I have seen not even an earthworm! Exchange students who came here a month ago have seen snakes, while I, who have been walking with my eye glued to the ground, hunting, watching, waiting for the slithery creature haven't seen anything longer than a centipede!

Do I feel deprived? Like hell yes! I don't have a snake memory to take back. I run out each time it rains hoping to catch a glimpse at least of the tail of a snake as it slithers into the bushes. But for some reason, the snakes are playing hide and seek with me. Only that they prefer playing hide and don't seek instead!

The other day I heard a song on FM that went like 'Will I ever fall in love and blah blah blah' I don't remember the rest since I was too busy humming along with the tune singing ' Will I ever see a snake, and if I do will it not be a centipede' and by the time I got out of my reverie, the singer on air was singing 'Na na na aye o'. I guess I got my answer... Sigh!!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does the sledgehammer work all the time?

A good negotiator, a professor once said, is one who ensures that both parties leave the table satisfied with the deal reached. I couldn't agree more. His reasoning was that the world is much too small to make enemies, and that try as one might, one cannot avoid anyone forever. Paths just simply have to cross. Given that premise, how much of hardball can one actually play?

Ok, dealing in narcotics is wrong. Why am I stating the obvious? Well, because I recently came across a couple of articles that took on narcotics dealing and described how two separate law enforcement agencies have dealt with the issue and how the results as expected were antithetically different.

This was a case in a US state, which was dominated by African Americans, wherein the drug peddlers and addicts freely roamed the streets. Leaving children on the streets to walk to school, was totally out of the question, since there was no idea what the kids might come across. One option was to apprehend these criminals and put them behind bars. But this was not effective, since many more new criminals would come out into the open. Besides, some were hardened criminals and some were still softer offenders. The free male population started literally dwindling, as more and more men were being locked up! So the civic authorities realized that hardball tactics were falling flat on their faces! So they decided - 'if you can't cure them through force, try persuasion'. The age old grandma tactic of 'emotional appeals' were used. Pastors, elders of the area rounded up the petty offenders and coached them about their wrongdoing. The hardened criminals were locked up, and rightfully so, while those guilty of misdemeanors were given a chance to get back on the right track. Surprisingly, the method showed results, and crime rates there are significantly low.

So, is the model easily replicable?

Try the case of Brazil. Now, that a parallel economy exists in Latin America that flourishes on drugs and narcotics is a given. Well, no use fighting the fact, you might as well just accept it. So, these drug gangs, the article went on to say, operate parallel economies that provide electricity, and also go on to run a parallel justice system that punishes by the bullet. Meaning to keep these gangs in check, and at least not ostensibly violent, the police 'encouraged' the parallel justice system and the parallel civic services! But this complicity soon grew out of hand, and as recession struck, each gang's profit margins started shrinking, encroachment on another's sacrosanct territory increased and violence skyrocketed. So clearly, this model is not really replicable!

So what is the point of this discussion? Well, let's suffice it to say that every problem need not be solved by brute force alone. In some cases, the power of persuasion is a lot more than the efficacy of the stick or the bullet. So while Maoist violence in Eastern India is absolutely abhorrent, tackling them through brute force or counterattacks could only perhaps cure the symptom temporarily, and not nip the canker in the bud. Desperate times call for desperate measures. And more often than not, desperate measures lie outside the box. So we need to figure out a way for all of us to leave the table satisfied.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thierry Henry - Hand of God

Hand of God. Again. The debate on whether the ends justify the means has come up. Again. A smirking Thierry Henry has now made way for a remorseful Henry. But like Arsene Wenger has said - sport is actually full of examples of people who have committed some form or another of foul, just to get to that end goal (pun intended). (Pic courtesy Sky News). Now France has qualified for the World Cup, but how many would remember the team for the qualifier? If France were to proceed strongly in the World Cup, would people observe the sport or still talk about Henry's hand goal? Do the ends truly justify the means?

But as instances throughout this year have shown, there really is no simple distinction between right and wrong in sport. This year alone has seen enough and more of such cases. Take F1. From the ignoble Lewis Hamilton scandal to the permanent expulsion of Flavio Briatore. The examples are plenty. People allude to the 2002 season, where Schumi passed Barrichello at Austria and then returned the favor at USA allowing Barri to win by 0.011 seconds! People say that such 'fixes' run contrary to the free spirit of sport. I argued then and I do even now that at least those moves were within a team and geared towards the greater good of the team. But in case of Henry, this is a clear violation of rules and I can draw a parallel with another rule in F1 where a driver is not allowed to make up positions by driving off a track around a bend. And if he does that he is penalized. Here, didn't Henry mould the decider goal by unfair means? Had that hand goal not happened, could we have seen a French victory? I doubt it very much.

And after the game, Henry very blatantly blamed the referee. Now whatever happened to integrity? Everyone extols Adam Gilchrist, for 'walking' in the 2003 World Cup in the semi final against Sri Lanka, after having hit just 22. Now, he could very well have stood his ground, since the umpire showed no reaction. But his action not only brought glory to him, but to the sport as well. All of a sudden meintions of cricket being the gentleman's sport started surfacing again. Scores of youngsters found a role model, again. So granted, there was a slip-up by the referee in the France-Ireland match, but the biggest referee of all, Henry himself knew that he was cheating. Shouldn't that have been grounds enough to admit to a fault and do something about it? Again, FIFA quotes the rule book saying an outcome cannot be changed. Now, what is the use of an archaic rule book if the rules do not allow fair outcomes? Isn't it time the rule book was amended then? By example?

All in all this is not just an unfair moment for Ireland. I guess it surely is a sad moment for France and a sadder one for World Cup Football. Roberto Baggio perhaps kicks himself still for that missed penalty. But Thierry Henry would be answerable to himself for the rest of his life if France goes on to win the World Cup. Given that repercussion, I guess the ends do not under any circumstance justify the means.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Marketing in your face!

I still vividly remember a chap who used to sell rat poisons. Not for any other reason, but the fact that his advertizing techniques looked absolutely awe striking back then. This chap used to walk around with a huge banner stuck to a stick, that had a small wheel on it. So this guy would wheel it around, and the banner had a clipart description of what the poison would do. I don't know whether anyone bought anything from him, but as far as advertizing goes - hats off to him indeed.

The other day, I saw another piece of advertizing that caught my attention. I forget the firm, but there was an ad for a financial service, along with a number you're supposed to call. And this data was printed on a sheet of paper that actually was the centerpiece of... hold your breath.... the headrest on an airplane seat!!! So imagine, this firm had actually captured one and a half hours of undivided eyeball attention. So much for in-flight entertainment. As though that were not enough, later, I saw another piece of advertizing by Vodafone, if I remember correctly, touting their pay-per-second plan on the back of a bus seat! They sure as hell have Mumbai traffic to thank for making me completely aware of the nitty-gritty details of their proposed plan. In your face adveritizing? Absolutely!!

This is the age of hoardings on top of skyscrapers, mobile advertizing vans parked at strategic locations, ads on lamp-posts, bridges, buses, whole local trains, and so on. I wonder what can be next. Perhaps we can extrapolate rat-poison-man to the next level and redefine a field sales person. Looking at the degree of in-your-face advertizing, the next time someone says that she or he is a field salesperson, do ensure you ask for the person's exact job description. Given our current status of advertizing, I wouldn't be surprised if the person walked the streets with a banner dangling from his/her neck, detailing the features of the newest electronic gadget to hit the street! And if a prospective consumer were to walk up to the salesperson and show sufficient interest, the consumer could even get to see a demo of the product! Sounds interesting? Well, let's wait a couple of years, this type of advertizing might just become the norm of the season...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The tin can

There's a story in the papers about how the number of airline passengers has increased in the tier 2 towns of India. The article goes on to describe that the number of flyers from metros has not increased as much as the number of flyers from smaller cities and towns like Patna and Bhopal . This is a good thing, actually. Airplane travel is still perceived by many as being aspirational more than anything else. Although I truly wonder what the aspiration actually is, given that (quoting Shashi Tharoor) - most of us still travel cattle class, packed like sardines on tiny air crafts. I now understand the motivation behind the depressed look a perennially-traveling colleague of mine would bear at the very mention of the word 'travel'. 'I hate the TIN CAN', he'd say. The woes of low cost air travel still continue - with delays, slow baggage handling, not very efficient in-flight crews, painful seats, the works!!

But still, news that tier 2 towns are slowly achieving their self-set goals of graduating to air travel is good news! We can view this as being a manifestation of probable all-inclusive growth. It is a good thing that tier 2 towns are being developed enough economically - through entrepreneurial motivations of some, or even through Governmental enterprises. It most definitely is a breather for most cities since most of India's metros are packed to capacity and literally bursting at their seams. So the economic growth of the satellite towns is a step in the right direction towards eliminating migration as the only possible means of self-development.

Another interpretation is to look at the model of the low cost carriers themselves. The oft-beaten-to-death-at-B-schools story of Southwest Airlines shows that the low cost carrier used operational efficiency and 'organizational culture' to position the airline as competition to road travel. In other words, air travel through Southwest was not as much a sign of having 'arrived', as it was a sign that people were finally realizing the opportunity cost of their time! So, I would perhaps say that the augmentation in air travel from the tier 2 towns is testimony to the fact that given the length and breadth of India, people perhaps are able to realize the true value of their time. Granted income levels may have grown, but strong competition in the sector has made all airlines offer services at affordable prices. So, while all-inclusive development is one part of the explanation, I feel that there has been a certain level of rise in the economic status of the normal Indian consumer, who now feels that the price she pays for that airline ticket is worth at least the opportunity cost of her time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Power, Politics, Success and Excess

Lord Acton said, 'Absolute Power corrupts absolutely'. I couldn't agree more. And I somehow see some correlation between power and success. Now which follows the other is purely subjective, since some argue that success corrupts a person by making her believe that she is invincible and her confidence alone makes her feel powerful and so wield power. Some others argue that when power is on your side, success verily follows since the power to tilt balances in your favor lies with you. Regardless of which explanation we choose, one must really watch out for the event when power in success moves over to power in excess.

Take China. Undoubtedly she is a superpower. And rightfully so. She has taken all the right decisions, made the right economic moves at the right times. At a time when the world is grappling with dwindling exports, she still registers positive GDP growth. This is power and success. But push the lever a bit further and China presently sits on 2.1 trillion dollars of foreign reserves. The world wants the Yuan to be revalued. The world wants a level playing field, where market forces dictate export competitiveness, not Governmental controls which choose arbitrary exchange rates. But given China's power in the T-bill market, no one dare push her too hard. Now that is power in excess.

Take China again. Post the second World War, when the UN came into being to prevent hostile take overs of other countries' territories, people felt that there would never be anything like the rise of the third Reich. But take India and China since 1962. The bloody Sino-Indian war, where India lost a portion of it North Eastern part of Kashmir. And now, with the Chinese Government going all out to claim ownership of Arunachal Pradesh, Chinese Troops entering Indian territory and painting rocks red, dam construction on the Brahmaputra (which the Chinese bluntly deny... well, I wonder how can someone fudge satellite images then???), it really feels like a push of power to the side of excess.

But then again, economic might can do many things to many people. It is up to an economic power to exercise restraint and be responsible, since those one bristles on the way up are sure to keep watching and waiting on one's way down.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sachin Tendulkar - My benchmark of genius

This was a forwarded message that came to me today. Just goes on to epitomise the greatness of India's Sachin Tendulkar. I am not a huge fan of cricket, but Sachin's latest 175, after all these years most certainly deserves a note. I also respect him a lot on account of something I read about him a few years back - wherein he had been quizzed about all the endorsement money he was making and so on. He had said that he was in the sport, not because of the money, but because he liked playing and that money was transient and that when you truly love what you do, money will come on its own. That thought has stuck on in my mind, since it is a very strong tool one can use while evaluating choices in life. Besides, reading these quotes by other greats of the field is really inspiring in that it makes you aspire to reach a greatness of that level. So read on, and I am sure you'll leave with a smile on your face.

"Nothing bad can happen to us if we're on a plane in India with Sachin Tendulkar on it." - Hashim Amla, the South African batsman, reassures himself as he boards a flight.

"Sometimes you get so engrossed in watching batsmen like Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar that you lose focus on your job." - Yaseer Hameed in pakistani newspaper.

"To Sachin, the man we all want to be" - Andrew Symonds wrote on an aussie t-shirt he autographed specially for Sachin.

"Beneath the helmet, under that unruly curly hair, inside the cranium, there is something we don't know, something beyond scientific measure. Something that allows him to soar, to roam a territory of sport that, forget us, even those who are gifted enough to play alongside him cannot even fathom. When he goes out to bat, people switch on their TV sets and switch off their lives." - BBC on Sachin

"Tuzhe pata hai tune kiska catch chhoda hai?" - Wasim Akram to Abdul Razzaq when the latter dropped Sachin's catch in 2003 WC.

Sachin is a genius. I'm a mere mortal. - Brian Charles Lara

"We did not lose to a team called India...we lost to a man called Sachin." - Mark Taylor, during the test match in Chennai (1997)

"The more I see of him the more confused I'm getting to which is his best knock." - M. L. Jaisimha

"The joy he brings to the millions of his countrymen, the grace with which he handles all the adulation and the expectations and his innate humility - all make for a one-in-a-billion individual," - Glen McGrath

"I can be hundred per cent sure that Sachin will not play for a minute longer when he is not enjoying himself. He is still so eager to go out there and play. He will play as long as he feels he can play," - Anjali Tendulkar

Question: Who do you think as most important celebrity ? Shah Rukh Khan: There was a big party where stars from bollywood and cricket were invited. Suddenly, there was a big noise, all wanted to see approaching Amitabh Bachhan. Then Sachin entered the hall and Amitabh was leading the queue to get a grab of the GENIUS!! - Shah Rukh Khan in an interview.

"India me aap PrimeMinister ko ek Baar Katghare me khada kar sakte hain..Par Sachin Tendulkar par Ungli nahi utha Sakte.. " - Navjot Singh Sidhu on TV

He can play that leg glance with a walking stick also. - Waqar Younis

'I Will See God When I Die But Till Then I Will See Sachin' - A banner in Sharjah

Sachin Tendulkar has often reminded me of a veteran army colonel who has many medals on his chest to show how he has conquered bowlers all over the world. I was bowling to Sachin and he hit me for two fours in a row. One from point and the other in between point and gully. That was the last two balls of the over and the over after that we (SA) took a wicket and during the group meeting I told Jonty (Rhodes) to be alert and i know a way to pin Sachin. And i delivered the first ball of my next over and it was a fuller length delevery outside offstump. And i shouted catch. To my astonishment the ball was hit to the cover boundary. Such was the brilliance of Sachin. His reflex time is the best i have ever seen. Its like 1/20th of a sec. To get his wicket better not prepare. Atleast u wont regret if he hits you for boundaries. - Allan Donald

On a train from Shimla to Delhi, there was a halt in one of the stations. The train stopped by for few minutes as usual. Sachin was nearing century, batting on 98. The passengers, railway officials, everyone on the train waited for Sachin to complete the century. This Genius can stop time in India!! - Peter Rebouck - Aussie journalist

"Sachin cannot cheat. He is to cricket what (Mahatma) Gandhiji was to politics. It's clear discrimination. " - NKP Salve, former Union Minister when Sachin was accused of ball tempering

There are 2 kind of batsmen in the world. One Sachin Tendulkar. Two all the others. - Andy Flower

"I have seen god, he bats at no.4 for India" - Mathew Hayden

"Commit all your sins when Sachin is batting. They will go unnoticed coz even the GOD is watching" - A hoarding in England


"Even my father's name is Sachin Tendulkar." - Tendulkar's daughter, Sara, tells her class her father's name after the teacher informs them of a restaurant of the same name in Mumbai.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A fun way to learn stuff

I had the chance to play for my class today. Simple stuff. No rocket science. And just as how any tiny event gets me thinking, well... you guessed it, I got thinking! There are so many aspects associated with sport, especially team sports, that the learning one can get out of it is really immense. Here are my a-ha points on sport.
  • Any sport - especially when you're playing for a team, or a region or a country, loads one with a high degree of responsibility. Imagine how so many people collectively are looking to you to deliver and provide them with their moment of glory. I can't begin to imagine the pressure Tendulkar feels when he on the pitch. 900 million Indians wanting him to convert a delivery into a six. 900 million Indians wanting a few runs more from him to win a match. Even better, think Michael Schumacher - he crosses nationalities, as scores of F1 enthusiasts want the Westmeister to tame the rain and win a race.
  • While playing in a team, the individual really slinks away into the background. Ask Schumi and he says that winning the constructor's championship means more than winning an individual title. Why? Because the team achievement is a collective effort and winning a title for the team is an actual reward for this team effort. Team effort is not just individual sparks of genius, but it is rather the perfect harmonization of each one's talent coupled with strong synergies.
  • There is a story that when Michelle Obama took Barack home to meet her family, her brother took Barack to play a game of basketball. His logic was - observing Barack's manner of dealing with the ball, in terms of the quantum of time he held on to the ball versus the amount of time he spent passing it along fluidly through the game, would display his degree of selfishness!
  • In any team sport, one needs to strategize on the field. The coach can discuss a thousand different formations, strategies, expected behavior and so on. But when the ball is passed to you on the field, it is up to you to decide whether to kick it all the way to the goal post or whether to pass it to your colleague standing 10 yards away. And this decision is to be taken in light of the fact that your opponent is sprinting towards you really fast with that goal post in view. And you must also bear in mind the fact that if you pass the ball to your colleague, an unexpected opponent could materialize out of nowhere rendering your strategy worthless. At that time, you need to switch effortlessly to plan B within seconds and keep moving on.
  • Putting up with destructive criticism. In cricket, it's called 'sledging', where an opponent plays mind games on a player, by trying to unnerve her. Either through insults or snide comments, or any other way of irritating the player, the opponent attempts to disrupt her cool and thus tilt the psychological balance against the player. How does one then deal with such destructive criticism? Certainly not in the way Zinedine Zidane dealt with it in 2006!

Each of these qualities - responsibility, selflessness, thinking on your feet, team work and dealing with criticism are key elements to be mastered in the world of business. What would you rather do? Learn these skills in a class or while fighting fire in a boardroom? Or would you rather learn it over an invigorating game of soccer or basketball?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Power and Responsibility

Power comes in two forms - one power by association or pedigree and two, power through internal efforts. No matter where the power comes from, the way the power is to be used is the same.

Take for instance many successful people. Many come with an enviable pedigree. Most head honchos of big firms come in from the Harvards, the Whartons, the Kelloggs of the world. Back home the breeding ground almost always is an IIT and an IIM. Take prolific professors - almost all of them have the same pedigree! They learn at the IITs and IIMs, proceed to a PhD and then get tenured at one of the best schools in America. So, it almost looks as if success is a given for a strong pedigree. So, one can perhaps interpret this as -Rule 1 : have stellar education from a fundoo institution, will be successful in all walks of life! If not successful in something, strongly believe rule number 1 and proceed with life! Such is the power of a powerful background! So, build a regression of successful people and degrees from IIT and/or IIM and you might end up seeing a very strong correlation. Very high R squared - for all those who love vitalstatistix (no the sky won't fall on your head!). Most people are typically awestruck by the mere mention of the names of these institutions. Plus, they have seen a zillion success stories thus far, and so, correlation ends up becoming causation of sorts! But that is still beside the point. A number of success stories of the creme de la creme of brains adds on to the legend of the success factory!

Then that brings us to the second point - Power of absolute power. Take China. She is powerful. Mighty. No doubt. The Renminbi is undervalued. China has 2 trillions of foreign reserves. They keep their currency fixed in order to keep their exports competitive. The world is perhaps suffering because of this. The world wants free markets to prevail. But the world can only request China to pleeeeeeeeeeease do something. A satellite spots dam construction work on the arterial Brahmaputra river on the Chinese side. This dam could cripple irrigation and the water table in the North Eastern states of India, or so agriculturists and geologists claim. But when asked, China flatly denies the existence of any construction work. Then what are those satellite images? Can someone be so powerful as to render false, hard and strong evidence? Wouldn't this amount to some sort of pressure tactics, capitalizing on a position of power?

Well, on one hand, a past legacy of a string of successful 'products' from an institution provides anyone and everyone associated with it with a stamp of sorts that brands them successful by default. That is power. On the other hand, a power that has come into being on account of relentless internal efforts harbors a gross disregard towards others who perhaps are not as mighty as they are. With extreme power, comes extreme responsibility. This adage should ideally apply to both wielders of power. Class A, which has been bestowed a position of power on account of association is responsible for not tarnishing the legacy and Class B which has become powerful is responsible for using her power responsibly. Do both classes adhere to these requirements and how can adherence be enforced? Well, the best enforcer, I guess, has to only be the cosmic power of justice!!!!!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Quirky human nature

Almost every self help book tells you to live in the present moment. The Art of Living teaches us that, Vedanta teaches us that, good sense teaches us that. But yet, there is a deep tendency for the human psyche to hing on to the past. We call this nostalgia and many a time, we revel in it!

It's time for the Marketing Conclave here at ISB and as a promotion strategy for the event, the club guys are playing age old ads to show how brands have evolved. So some names are - Gold Spot - the ad with the typical 70s look people on roller blades, motor bikes and singing - Gooold Spot, the zing thing... Gold Spot! And then we have the Lehar Pepsi ad - with Remo Fernandes (who was a huge rage back then), singing - 'Are you ready for the magic?' Then we have the Nirma Ad - which hasn't changed its tune in all these years - the Hema, Rekha, Jaya aur Sushma continue, their faces have changed, but they still remain. All these triggered a wave of thought in my head. I went back down memory lane to the ads of those days. Think - Lalitaji. Then there was the 'O ho Deepikaji' for the 'Nirma Super Neeli Detergent Tikiya!' And then we had the quintessential Cadbury ads, with 'Kya Swaad hai Zindagi mein'. Oh and how can I forget 'Vicco Turmeric, nahin Cosmetic' or 'Vajradanti, Vajradanti Vicco Vajradanti'. We had ads that were downright tacky to absolutely fantastic!

But do we look down upon the ads of those days? The answer is a resounding NO! They remind me of the innocence of the time back then, where a brand was never really endorsed by celebrity powerhouses! Cadbury's had everyday people dancing on cricket fields celebrating a century. Raymond's and Digjam had nattily dressed men - well, not being 'complete men' or playing soccer with kids and then heading off to board meetings, but rather just being nattily dressed men. A Pepsi ad just had a catchy jingle, no allusion to the uber cool urban man fighting another for 'MyCan'. At least for me, they are my link to the past, my link to the guileless days. They take me back to innocent childhood. They remind me of the days spent playing in the space around our apartment blocks (back then, we used to call them just building) and then coming home to see some random thing on TV, while concentrating on these advertisement interludes. They remind me of Ad competitions in school, where we'd enact these ads on stage in a highly looked-forward-to session on Friday evenings called SCA (Social and Cultural Activities).

As archaic as they may seem, these simple, quasi rustic ads actually bring a smile on to our faces. We have evolved as a civilization, we have travelled, seen the world outside. We have liberalized, internalized the ways of the western world. But at the core, our desigiri still stands out and at some point of time, we really feel happy thinking back about our comfort zone. So, some may say that living in the past is wrong, dwelling in the past is insane. But for me, the hues of memory lane are inviting and soothing and are my refuge from the throes of the madding world.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Every success needs a failure

A while ago I wrote a piece on 'Bittersweet Success' - talking about the sweet taste of success and the even sweeter taste of courage needed to face failure. Numerous works have been dedicated to the beauty of the former, while stories of failure are almost always relegated to the dusty back corners of the world. After all, no one really wants to hear stories of people who set ideals and ended up losing the boat somewhere.

But I feel that failure perhaps is almost as important as success. Not just for one to be able to realize how beautiful success is, but also to realize how important some other attributes are in order to be truly successful. Success cannot be measured only by a metric of 'got what I set out to get'. Success is an all - round feeling. One that begins with an accomplished task list and ends with a count of the number of people left smiling in a room after you leave. Unfortunately, many a time, those who achieve the first part of the definition of success, end up devastating part 2. Arrogance, pride and a degree of 'I am superior' take over and in the eyes of others, these attributes overshadow the accomplishments one may boast of. People's backs are very poor stepping stones. A position reached by treading on the heads and necks of others almost always rests on a very shaky foundation. But in the heady feeling that goes with steamrolling success, people almost never seem to care.

It is here that a small failure can help. It can teach people what it feels like to be on the receiving side of arrogance, pride and the 'I am superior' attitude. And just like how success is addictive and habitual success is a trait that one wishes to hold on to forever, a taste of being on the receiving end stays with people forever, and it manages to temper down spiky success and mould really successful people.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Of valuing friends and everlasting friendship

A lovely weather- a slight nip in the air, a crisp evergreen smell in every breath you take - is by and far the next best thing to piping hot coffee on a rainy day. And a walk taken in such weather elicits sufficient thoughts, if the mind is allowed to think. So today, during such a walk, my thoughts centered around the virtue called friendship.

Friendships, people say are important because they are one's own making. No one can force us to be friends with someone, nor can anyone force us to not be friends with someone. Who we choose, how we choose, why we choose is entirely of our own making and volition. So in a way, it is a big deal, since we almost pool in life's experiences and our value systems when we pick our friends. Doesn't seem like we put in so much of thought before extending that hand of friendship.

Which then brought me to my line of thought today. Why are friends valued differently by different people? If it is such a big deal, whereby one's value systems and learning of life are literally being tried out, why do some people make the folly of choosing the wrong friends? Why do some set sky high expectations from friendship, only to return disappointed when the relationship gets built on a shaky foundation of one-sided trust and belief? Do chronic loners honestly never feel the need of a friend? Are they at peace with their aloofness? Tough to believe, for after all man is supposed to be a social animal! So, why do some value friends so much, while some are willing to treat friends like a spanner - use and throw? Then again, why does one person in a friendship value the friendship more, which can be seen by the angst he experiences when it doesn't go right, while others perhaps don't seem to care as much? Don't memories of past good times ever come back? And don't those memories urge one to get together with those one left behind?

The criteria used while making friends is certainly a mirror of one's own characteristics. But I also feel that valuing a relationship is an even deeper part of the value system. Every return - tangible or intangible needs a sufficient investment of effort. And the motivation towards that end comes from one's value system again whereby one wants to make a success out of every endeavor. Unfortunately, friendship is not an entrepreneurial venture. It takes 2 to make it work, and the fights and squabbles are the true tests of friendship. If the effort to resolve a dispute doesn't come through, one needs to realize that that acquaintance was perhaps never meant to translate into a friendship!

Which then brought me to another thought - one of barriers to friendship! Sounds weird, but I had written a piece before on Girls as Best Friends. Thinking a little more along those lines, I have realized that this is something that is psychologically impossible. Unless, one has forged those friendships ages ago, when life still revolved around school uniforms, lunch breaks, blackboards and pencils. I thought about it. William Kane had a Matthew Lester, The Count of Monte Cristo had a Jacabo, Jay had a Veeru. But Kate Blackwell... ummm had David Blackwell - her husband! Lara Cameron - ummm... no one. Laurie Montgomerie had Jack - again not another woman! So are we supposed to take a hint here and give up on the expectation of women remaining thick friends for life? I guess yes...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Times of Tumultuous Turbulent Turmoil

It's been a while since I wrote on 'My time at ISB'. Oh! The title is not descriptive of all the time I spend here, but yes there are times I wish I could run far away into the Himalayas - far from the madding crowd. Why hills of the Himalayas? Because Placebo is actually singing 'Running up that hill' as I write this. I wouldn't even mind throwing myself into an ocean as long as I can escape the times of tumultuous turbulent turmoil that raise their heads every once in a while here at ISB!

One such time, that warrants a mention is the time of elective bidding. When a friend of mine at IIM had a gtalk tagline saying 'elective bidding $%&*$% up!' I thought, bidding for courses cannot be that bad. SRK has said in Om Shanti Om - 'Agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho toh poori kaayanaat tumhein usse milaane mein lag jaati hai'. Optimistic, idealistic fool that I am, I believed that dictum and believed in a cosmic force that almost always brings demand to supply! And with a spring in my step and a cheer on my countenance, I bid for my electives. And all hell broke loose.I came in with an idea of bidding for subjects I really wanted. What I didn't realize was that elective bidding was by and far the first place where we would perhaps apply all the concepts that we learn here at B school.

It begins with game theory. We thought that people would not bid for an 8 am class, since majority of the members of the class of 'homo sapiens' typically do not prefer waking up too early in the morning. At least that was what many of us gauged during the 4 core terms, listening to groans and cribs about morning classes. What we didn't realize was that almost all of us were thinking the same thing! If prediction markets were at play, many of us would have been able to pocket a small fortune in this guessing game - perhaps pay down our tuition!!

Second, risk taking. Managers are supposed to take risks - entering new markets like say Burkina Faso, the Gabon or maybe even Guatemala or Burundi. One may not know where to locate these exotic places on a map, but might need to formulate entry strategies for their respective firms, not to mention market growth strategies with targets like a year on year growth of 17.2%. So, risk taking should be second nature. And again, while bidding for electives - I know that taking a combination of 2 specific subjects, would perhaps fry my brain with numbers. But I still bid for them, since I rather strongly feel that I may not get one of them, or even if I do, I could maybe drop them. Going forward, I try to game the system. I try to get rid of all my subjects, in the hope of bagging that elusive forbidden fruit of a subject, hoping that even if I don't get it, the system will force me to take up some other subjects, and that time, I can pick up where I left off. Well, what if I end up getting those hot oil, number-heavy, brain-frying subjects? Risk, my dear Watson, is what rings in my head!!!

And finally, the biggest application, that I perhaps learnt too late was the funda of first mover advantage. People in strategy may say that first mover advantages are not applicable to every industry. Some places need you to bide your time, wait and watch from the shadows and pounce when the time is right. THE ANSWER HERE IS NO! If I were a first mover, I could have been sleeping today, whiling away my time, rather than fretting over subjects and points and trying to enter the minds of all my classmates, in an attempt to figure out what they're thinking!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The changing face of Rural India - Education

When we used to deal with the topic of India's population, and the issue of child labor, as young, adolescent students, we almost always imagined the errant parents as being vultures, out to make a quick buck by sending their kids off to some God-forsaken workplace and making them work their lives off. We felt that the parents perhaps always look upon their offspring as just another pair of hands - one mouth more to feed, but two hands more to work. No doubt some cases of such inconsiderate parents might exist, but what I realized, over a short rural jaunt, was that that cannot be a generalization.

This could be a trend in AP alone, but almost every rural inhabitant we spoke to, sent their kids to school - male and female kids, both! I must say, that fact was truly refreshing to note. They sent their kids to elementary school, and if the government school was not as good, they took the pains of sending their kids all the way to the next big town to study at a private school. Some even sent kids to a residential school. If a large factory was located in the village, the powers-that-be of the factory ensured that a good school like a DAV (which is a rather prestigious school in south India) could come up in the vicinity. And the rural population, was more that willing, if not happy to send their kids there. Some even ensured they sent their kids only to the big school in the town. Why? Like one farmer said, "If they studied here, they would come home in the recess and not go back. But if they went to the town, they can come home only when the bus would come at the end of the school day." Some farmers had actually sent their children to study abroad - farmers who perhaps were illiterate, had kids returning with masters degrees from places like US and UK. And they took immense pride while describing their successful children who had become doctors or engineers, and they all thanked the Indian IT industry for allowing their children to go where no one of their own generation had ever gone before. When asked what they would do with any extra money they could get through their efforts, they all, almost unanimously averred that they would spend on their kids' education.

(Pic courtesy Sai Pondalur, at Irkigoodam near Miriyalguda, AP)

Clearly, the people are cognizant of the importance of education . Now the only question is whether a supply can be arranged to meet the demand!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A rural jaunt : some reflections

They say 'Opposites Attract'. I agree. Two entities in stark opposition to one another attract me to observe them. Take for instance rural and urban life. Urban life is so very different from rural life, that it almost appears to be a microcosm of species and behaviors that are unique in themselves. And living an unadulterated urban life, makes one forget some of the finer aspects that are almost second nature to those who live in pristine rural areas. And if we happen to take a break from our urban rat race and try to take a sneak peek into a bucolic life, we notice so many beautiful aspects that almost get us all reflective! A few of my observations after a recent taste of rural flavors! (This is an actual picture I took at Chillapur near Miriyalaguda, in Andhra Pradesh)
  • It is possible for the total number of people around you at a market place, to be equal to the total population of the village.
  • It is possible for the only sound I hear to be the sound of my own voice.
  • It is perfectly normal to have electricity for just half a day - evenings and nights alone and still be happy in the sweltering heat
  • It is possible for the lives of all people known to me to revolve around farmlands and rainfall
  • It is normal for kids to come home from school and not toss their bags on the bed and demand something to eat, but rather to pick up a pitcher and trudge along to a river bank to get water for the household - all the time bearing a smile on their faces.
  • Every human being is treated with immense respect, no matter who they may be. An offering of water and tea to random visitors is almost taken for granted. In fact you ought to be surprised if such an offering were not to come through to you.
  • Every 'position holder' is treated with awe. For an outside observer, the position may not have much bearing in the greater scheme of things, but for the people around, such 'position holders' are BIG PEOPLE!

But one similarity between the urban and rural people is the stress on personal satisfaction before looking to the welfare of others. The basic nature of using personal power if any to appropriate available resources to oneself, while being aware that such appropriation is completely against the so-called 'equitable distribution' of resources seems to be a trend that exists across people, irrespective of their station in life! Call it human nature or call it a habit that emanates from the lack of sufficient resources - I'd prefer to call it the latter, because then at least we have some hope to perhaps improve, and given that Hope wins Nobel Prizes (case in point - Mr Barack Obama), who knows, one day we can have a society where everyone is equally happy!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

One line thought provokers - reloaded

  1. Why does the past look rosy always?
  2. Why does one never enjoy the present but a year later glosses over the past and wonders why she cannot get those days back?
  3. Why do vacations get over so fast, while work days seem to last forever?
  4. Why does the novelty of something you desperately wanted wane away faster than the time for which you put in effort to gain it?
  5. Why does one's mind go into a state of turmoil when things do not go as per plan?
  6. Why can't everyone of consequence be everywhere at once?
  7. Why can't we bridge the invisible gap between people in spite of technology having brought people closer?
  8. Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, yet no one seems to care?
  9. Why do people perceive violence to be the panacea for all pains?
  10. Why does one love the status quo and abhor change of any sort?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Confucius and Climate Change

The weather is beautiful. The skies are cloudy, the winds are cool. The atmosphere is absolutely intoxicating. The fresh smell of rain-soaked mud, the pitter-patter sound of raindrops, everything 'perfect' in the eyes of a romantic.

Would have been perfect, if only such a weather had existed in July, rather than October in Mumbai.

2009, was declared a drought year. Cut to June- July 2009. Crops failing for want of rain, pictures in newspapers of farmers looking skywards, expectantly, all portrayed an image of the India of the 1950s. It looked rather sad, since those vivid images were a stark contrast to the image of emerging India that we generally perceive.

Cut to October 2009. A deluge in South India. A catastrophe that has not been encountered for over 100 years. Villages submerged, people dead, crops devastated, the rice bowl of India affected adversely. Before I was to leave Hyderabad, I was not too kicked about leaving behind a perfectly cool climate, to come to Mumbai, which I knew would be in her 'midsummer blues'. But I was also relieved to finally be able to travel at a time when there would be no flight delays thanks to bad weather in Mumbai. And surprise surprise, all such expectations were killed, when we were told that BAD WEATHER in Mumbai had delayed the incoming flight. All of us were stumped, since it is rather uncharacteristic for 'bad weather' to prevail in clear skies October! But then again, this whole confused weather pattern is unprecedented. Right from the frigid winter of 2007, in Mumbai, to the current rain patterns, it is bizarre! As though the Earth were screaming for help, by sending these incomprehensible signals.

And as though on cue, we have this whole impasse on the climate change dialogue. Confucius once said, " He who does not economise will need to agonize" Seems apt in the light of our current climate issues. I'd put in a post earlier (of outcomes and interests) on how expecting the emerging world to co-shoulder the climate change burden in a 50:50 manner along with the Americas and Europes of the world was almost certain to lead to a deadlock, with no amicable solution emanating thereof. And now, the UN General Assembly meeting has achieved just that, with everyone playing the penguin game - one where everyone waits for another to take the lead. In a classic case of what psychologists call 'mistaken attribution', the focus was more on WHO was responsible and WHO was not doing what was to be done, than on a clear idea on WHAT needs to be done to tackle the challenge as a global community. Here are some statistics in the map to prove why such circumlocutory behaviors are circumspect! The logic / rationale behind the developed world blaming their laggard approach on the lack of 'co-operation' from the emerging world is absolutely not justified.

The fact remains that the world is screaming for action. We need to act before it is too late. Mumbai, on the west coast of India is served by the South-west monsoon winds from June to September. Geography lessons in the lower classes had taught us that India has 3 main seasons - summer, winter and monsoon. And we also had specific months when these seasons would prevail. But imagine a classroom conversation of the future, if we don't take the cries of nature seriously -

"Teacher when do we have summer in India?"
"I can't say with certainty".
"Teacher how do crops grow?"
"Only with the blessings of God, since rains are never dependable"

What can we as the next generation do? Well, the usual stuff that we already know of, cut auto emissions, since that is the one portion of the emission story that is clearly in our hands. And on another level, we must use climate change idealogies as a guiding factor while choosing our elected leaders.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Maoist Massacre

The scene was straight out of the Sippy flick - Sholay. Families massacred. Little kids targeted. The first reports called it a Maoist attack in Bihar. Later we realized that it was a fight - a casteist fight that resulted in such picked-out killings. And almost in immediate succession, just we heaved a sigh of relief, that Maoist rebels were not really wreaking havoc on civilized society, came news about the ruthless beheading of a Jharkhand cop by Maoists. For someone sitting in another part of this country, it felt revolting. What on earth is Maoism? And does it really promulgate violence targeted at children? Well, elsewhere in the world, such acts would be termed 'dastardly acts of terrorism', but ask the perpetrators here and they may as well say that this was their cry against the 'establishment'.

Studying developmental figures for the erstwhile 'BiMaRu' states, the plight is understandable. With a Gini coefficient at 0.318, the inequality in Bihar is stark. Reminds one of the situation during the French Revolution where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The state keeps screaming for all-inclusive, pro-poor growth. But when the law and order system is crippled, and the number of convoluted, inter-twined problems is humongous, the system takes some time to unlearn and relearn and implement. Granted, unemployment is high. Granted the poor are poor. Granted, the inequality is high as well. But the truth is, that efforts are being taken, and the results will show, sooner rather than later. That said, if the issue is with the Government, why not try to sort things out amicably? Killing children will almost certainly not endear the perpetrators with others who are suffering similar plights. If not anything, just like how the killings of innocent people by terrorists dilutes the so called 'cause' in the eyes of the common man, making the distinction between villainy and martyrdom even more stark, even if the Maoists, as per the original Mao Zedong doctrine are fighting for the rights of the poor peasant, they will be viewed with disgust and perceived to be another bunch of inhuman, insane, indoctrinated, inglorious, murderers and villains.

Whatever the cause may have been nothing justifies ruthless killing - be it the killing of children or of a law-abiding officer. More so, on or after Gandhi Jayanti, where the world celebrates the winner who never won, of the Nobel Peace Prize, a man who famously declared that 'an eye for an eye makes the world go blind'. A man who abandoned a rather successful non-cooperation movement after a retaliatory attack at Chaurichaura, just because the retaliation violated his principles of non-violence. If the Maoists were trying to send a message, I guess all of young India, (and I take the liberty of speaking on behalf of all other young like minded people like myself), feel that a message has been conveyed, of course, but a message that is horribly wrong, and completely contrary to the kind of picture the perpetrators wish to project.