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.