Saturday, December 31, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
BPOs in Bangalore showed more character when the next day of the rape, they came together with a plan for increased security for their employees. There was a real threat to their business though hadnt they done this. But the response from the Indian industry to the Manjunath incident has been disheartening for fresh MBAs. Its not that some companies are untouched by corruption that they need not respond to this incident.
What next ? There are opinions about whistle blowers act which feel its not needed and what is needed are administrative reforms, not legislative ones.
As for the companies, could there be a realisation that ethical practices are more profitable in the long run and should be given a chance ?
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The term came to a close today. Probably for the first time in my life I am feeling blue about a course ending ! Got #$@%ed today in a group presentation. Was left wondering about motivations and reward mechanisms in general after that. A perpetual feeling of being chased by time and an urgency of goals is plaguing me (another lifetime first btw).
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Next time you see an excited man shouting "Eureka!", it could be just a naked madman who has no idea what a fool he is making of himself.
Monday, October 24, 2005
The practice of grafting has developed into an Art form. One could find auto wallahs, hoteliers, guides, restaurants, antique sellers, gift shops taking turns in extracting money from foreign tourists in various ways. But it was a small dilemma whether to intervene or not. Arent even airlines in India charge differential rates for foreign nationals ?
The magnificient palace of the Jodhpur Maharajah impressed me for all the wrong reasons. While the plaques and exhibits in the museum sing praises about his drought relief measures for the poor in 1930's, His Highness's concern for the poor didnt come out very strongly in the middle of the Officer's parties, hunting trips and flying clubs. BTW, the Maharaja's method of drought relief was to build a 350-room palace in sandstone providing employment to peasants in the process. Now thats what I would call truly multipurpose.
Rajasthan has breathtaking beauty in its historical monuments. The sand dunes in Jaisalmer are a sight to see. A picture I took of my friends there.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Watched an unusual movie called the Motorcycle diaries(2004). Unusual because of the narration and its being one of the few non-Hollywood foreign movies I have watched. Its a story about a young Argentinian Doc who along with his friend sets out on a trip across South America in his old Norton 500 motorcycle. The movie ends with a note that this guy later went on to become the famous leftist revolutionary Che Guevara. Disclaimer: Despite what a friend of mine used to insinuate in college, I do not hold communist views. Fact is I dont know what exactly communism stands for.
One interesting thing is that Che is not a celebrated or popular cult figure in India. I remember seeing one picture of him in a roadside youth club in Coimbatore once. But he is absent from our political scene; he is not revered or mentioned by any of the leftist parties in their political rallies or speeches.
During the trip, young Che is disturbed by the fact that economic interests which drove colonialism destroyed most of indigenous culture in Latin America. For instance, in Peru, he is stuck by the fact that the magnificient Inca civilisation was demolished to make way for the modern day Lima, simply because one of the warring sides had gun powder. Noam Chomsky tells us that the fate of native Indians in North America was not less cruel. The understanding is that economic interests driven by businesses widen the gap between the rich and powerful few and the deprived masses.
Seed of War: "Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry? -- Former American President Woodrow Wilson
“[T]he prosperity that companies like Microsoft now enjoy could not occur without having the strong military that we have.” -- Defense Secretary William Cohen
This blog is not the usual left vs. right debate that every one comes to hear about now and then. I was struck by the complicity of business interests in American politics and the National Security Council's plans to maintain this sphere of influence to protect American business interests. In fact, Noam Chomsky alleges in his book "What Uncle Sam really wants?" that America went to war with developing countries to prevent them from setting a good model of development without aiding American business interests. He calls this the Threat of a Good Example. Che Guevara's dream to create "one, two, many Vietnams" is interesting in the view of American policy makers' fear of a good model of development which did not involve American businessmen. But in reality, despite America's failure in Vietnam, the only example that Vietnam can now stand for is one of liberalisation and successful opening up to external trade. There could be a lot of debate on the rationale of America's military involvement in a lot of countries (explicit or CIA-backed) post WWII. The fact is that most of the American populace including the war veterans still do not understand the rationale of the Vietnam War or the Iraq War. Was there just an ideological intent of preventing Communism or was it a plan to prevent any Government from succeeding in meeting the people's needs without American investment and trade?
Even if we agree that the communist plan is really decadent and unsuitable that China itself has thrown it away, isnt the US model of business-driven foreign policy dangerous for the Third World ?
What the US is NOT doing:
1) Interfering in other countries to support the spread of democratic ideology.
The US supporting the Shah of Iran in a coup to overthrow the democratic government of Mossadeq.
2) Using its military power to prevent human rights violations across the world.
A list of US war crimes post WWII themselves qualify as human rights violations.
What is the US actually doing?
If we dont consider the business angle, the whole of US foreign policy will appear to be a series of mistakes and goof ups since 1945. But considering the benefits they have brought to the US business community, all of the US operations make tremendous sense. Be it the control of oil resources in the Persian Gulf or the liberalisation of African countries to act as sources of raw materials and markets for US corporations.
Where does India fit into all this?
Since we downplayed the socialist angle in our economics, probably we dint attract much of US attention. Though there are stories making rounds in the newspapers about Congress receiving support from the CIA in Kerala and West Bengal to keep the Communists in check.
Since 1991, the IMF-forced-liberalisation and reforms have opened up the Indian economy to foreign investment. The quality of services to the urban populace have definitely gone up. But have the really needy people, the "poorest of the poor" really benefited from economic reforms ? Or has the gap between the classes just gotten wider ? Through GATT and WTO, India is being forced to support IPR and product patents in pharmaceuticals. The current situation is that the Indian poor can afford a lot of medicines unlike our neighbour Pakistan because India has developed its own pharma industry where some companies have discovered cheaper ways of making drugs than their foreign counterparts. If in the future, the product patents come into practice, in the worst case, the cost of these drugs will go up and the Indian poor will die unable to afford costly drugs. This is barely the free trade that one is taught with ferverent zeal in Economics courses.
Is this an example of US arm-twisting a country into opening up avenues for its industry to set foot at the cost of real development for the poor and the defenceless? This is a very naive logic that has been discussed lots of times by economists everywhere but surprisingly I havent heard of a good counter logic in favour of the GATT reforms in pharma.
What about Indian politics ? The business lobby here is getting a stronger say in Government policies. The American model of lobbying and using the Government to push business interests might well be underway here too. The nexus between Politics, foreign policy and Business is gaining hold in India also. It cannot do much harm to other countries though considering the relatively weak position of India vis-a-vis the other economic powers. But with growth, the tendencies to exploit and make profits at the cost of weaker peoples/countries will turn into a very real threat to Indian policy makers.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
This is a blog I started writing some time back. Was waiting for some ideas to complete this and now I realise that is not going to happen soon.
Groups and Identity
Watched two Aamir Khan starrers recently. 1947- The Earth and Mangal Pandey. Don’t know why I suddenly wanted to watch two films linked to the Freedom struggle.
In the first one, young Mangal Pandey faces a dilemma about his identity, his religious one in a society where people could be excommunicated for using greased cartridges and another of an honorable soldier in the Company’s service. Then later the story goes into how the entire matter shifted from being about grease and rifles to something about honor and self respect.
In the second, a ice candy man suddenly sides with a mob of his religion to take revenge on a girl who refused to take him.
“Any trait, biological or cultural, can become an emblem of collective identity. Biological, linguistic, religious and political traits often are identified by the believers as denoting their distinctiveness.” - Caste, Nationalism and Ethnicity: Jacob Pandian.
1) Groups are very scared about losing their distinctiveness and hence try to preserve the group’s symbols fanatically.
2) Group members restrict entry to their group for the same reason.
There are so many powerful symbols of groups around us that it is no point trying to attack the groups. What it does to men’s behavior is of interest. Humanity’s greatest crimes happened when men formed groups which set out doing things against humanity (Cleansing a country of Jews, Seeking religious freedom through a new country etc).
What binds men together?
The fact that they both were born in the same geography?
Or because an official put down their names together in the same list when they joined any organisation?
Because the other spoke the same tongue as he did?
Why do men boo, ridicule and refuse to cooperate with each other?
The fact that both were born in different geographies?
The fact an official put down their names in different lists when they joined the organisation?
Because the other cannot speak his tongue?
"Mr. Pickwick and company found themselves in Eatanswill amidst a crowd which was either decidedly Blue or unquestionably Buff. After hurrahing along with the mob for Mr. Slumkey, Mr. Pickwick, in a low tone said, 'Hush. Don't ask any questions. It's always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.'
'But suppose there are two mobs?' suggested Mr. Snodgrass.
'Shout with the largest,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
Volumes could not have said more."
There is no saying what a mob will not do. Mobs are made up of people who identify themselves with a particular identity. I for instance can identify with a dozen things. I am a man, an Indian, speak Tamil, an engineer, student, Anna University alumnus, a blogger, from Section D, belonging to Dorm 21, LEMmer etc. Others I am sure can come up with a dozen more including identities of their place of work, residence etc.
Are there any non negotiable values that rise above all identities and loyalties a man is burdened with? My friend once told me there are no non negotiables in life. “Even sell one’s wife if need be” were his exact words. I don’t share his skepticism. Then how does this apple cart of society carry on without toppling? Maybe because of the fact that every group is faced with a counter group which ensures peace. When faced with a mob with a common feeling of revenge and intent of vandalism, there arise counter groups like the Army which have values such as courage and honor to keep in check another group from realizing objectives.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
What’s in a name?
Saw a movie on Sardar Patel. Excellent portrayal of the character by Paresh Rawal was easily the highlight of the movie. The story takes one through the entire political career of Sardar. His legendary mental acuity in dealing with problems during tumultuous times of Partition and Independence was portrayed beautifully.
At one point, he signs an agreement with Lord Mountbatten for the autonomy of Hyderabad banking on the Nizam’s vazirs to refuse it. He was true. The spirit of invincibility around him made him the Iron Man. He had the foresight to look beyond Nehru’s misgivings (so says the film) in handling integration issues to the Indian Union and India’s foreign policy, especially with regard to the UN and Kashmir. But most impressive of all was the way the Government machinery worked wonders during Partition handling a million refugees in a week under two visionary leaders, Nehru and Patel (who to compound matters, had such serious differences of opinion on the question of muslim settlements that Gandhi had to interfere and make peace).
I believe that the Government is a missionary organization with the charter to server the Constitution. One finds systems which were meant to work fine in independent India fumbling today. Police, the Government, BSNL, Govt. cooperatives...
The drive to labor and strive was meant not to be motivated merely by money. That drive requires a figurehead, a living symbol of the organisation's values (like Dr. Kurien in Amul and Richard Branson in Virgin) When that figurehead dies, the organisation starts stumbling and people are no longer driven by non-mercenary values; soon the entire organisation is in shambles. The role of the top man in such organisations is vital. Some organizations realize the power of the top man in inspiring the entire workforce so much that they gave titles and accessories. This helps to transfer the imageries associated with the leadership across different types of leaders and their tenures. (An Admiral in full uniform, the Pope)
When Dettol wants to use its brand value of health and security to introduce soaps, it names it Dettol again. An Admiral who is sweared in today inspires the same confidence and security as did the earlier one. The “Admiral” brand transfers these attributes from the incumbent to the incomer.
Admiral Agrani ASM Dettol Antiseptic
Admiral Manvendra PVSM Dettol Soaps
Are these concepts of branding more pervasive in our lives than we think? What’s in a name anyway?
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Promotion and Politics
A famous US tobacco company wanted its brand to be used by women. Scared by a possible public backlash to tobacco ads targeted at women, it started showing women in its ads standing beside smoking men. The next series of ads carried a subtle message: the woman saying "Blow some my way..." to the male smoker. Only after none complained about this ad did the company release its next series of ads featuring women holding cigarettes.
Though the method might be interesting, one cannot but recoil at the disregard of the company to public health in its bid to increase sales. The point is that promotions, when effectively carried out can give anyone an enormous sphere of influence. Sometimes even enough to make the public do things they would revolt if told normally. Think this is outrageous? Read on.
Yesterday, was watching a documentary by one Rajiv Patel on the Gujarat Riots. The file name was marked 'very disturbing'. It traces the events that happened in areas in and around Ahmedabad from February 2002. Graphic accounts and interviews of riot victims follow. It was boring after a while. The stories are the same: arsonists with cellphones and swords. After all the terrorist attacks and riots that are shown on TV, one does get detached about such events.
All of a sudden, there is Dr. Praveen Togadia on the screen addressing a rally in Ahmedabad during the riots. I had never seen his photo and was curious. He is referring to the Godhra incident and drawing analogies from the Mahabharata to a visibly enchanted audience. When he speaks of the destruction they would wreck on 'them' the public cheer and applaud. As he tells how each locality would pay for Godhra, the crowd cheers after him.
Another scene opens with teenagers waving flags in village awaiting the Chief Minister during his Gaurav Yatra (Pilgrimage for Honor). They shout into the camera: Praise God and **** the muslims. On arrival, the CM talks about how Gujarat is maligned and Gujarati people are considered as vandals by the world. 'Hence the need for this pilgrimage of honor!' he says.
If a person were thought of as a brand, actually what was happening over there may be likened to a campaign aimed at boosting brand image. Like a P&G or Colgate giving a special offer during the lean season. Stung by national criticism over the riots, Modi takes out a campaign across Gujarat to fight for Gujarati pride. Any possibility of any sound ideological rooting for such actions is laughable considering the sheer scale of damage caused. Boy, if one were hoping for some good to come out of this ideology, it would have to be a miracle like bringing heavens onto the earth.
Was it all a massive promotion campaign calculated to give personal returns ?
If the left parties are worried about large private corporations indulging in anti-people measures, they should be having stomach ulcers about these politicians who work with the entire state machinery behind them to do their marketing.
The documentary ends with a kid in school talking to the camera about his accomplishments with the alphabet. What would he become ? A soldier... definitely.
And then ? Will go shoot all muslims.
Why ? Because they use bad language.
I am a muslim, will you spare me?
There was no reply.
God save us all.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
What is this creature called blog doing to people's lives ? Have seen people using blogs for various purposes. Sidin uses it as a vent for his literary pieces. Some chaps use blogs to publish their poetry. One guy in IIMA actually records classroom events verbatim. Some use it as a very frank record of private feelings. Some have picture blogs.
What bloggers are doing is leave a psychographic trail behind them everytime they blog. I daresay there would be parsers in the future which would gobble people's blogs and give ratings on psychological indices. These blogs should contain much more data to psychological testing than what one speaks in the 30 mins one spends in the counselling room.
Why voice feelings ? Had a big discussion (euphemism for argument/fight) with a friend about why people should express their opinions. Was stumped for a while in search of reasons why people's opinions matter in public domain. But am convinced it does. For one, its the basis of democracy everywhere. In corporations, the problems of Abilene paradox and groupthink can be avoided if ANY ONE chap speaks out about his reservations. Because all problems are not programmed decisions, there is a scope for gut feel and instinct to aid decisions.
Then the issue of credibility of the source crops up. It may sound like a harsh truth that any information is taken to be only as reliable as its source is perceived to be. Fair enough.
If cellphones and email are evening out information asymmetry, blogs are removing barriers between feelings across cultures. I know exactly how my software-engineer-friend in Chennai felt about Mallika Sherawat yesterday night and how an artist in France felt about Alizee today. Exactly like how you are reading what a lazy-blogger-on-a-weekend feels about blogging right now. yaaaawn...
Friday, July 15, 2005
But now I just had a reality check:
One has to put major fight to get a train reservation during summer along important routes like the Konkan railway, you know why ? - Because the railways runs a SINGLE train to Mumbai per day through that route. And it is proud that its the largest employer in the world and a thousand other facts.
Cannot call anyone on my cellphone after 9 pm because 'Network busy' on BSNL.
We get lousy water supply, often undrinkable in our Metro cities.
Dont feel like writing about The-Corporation-a-devil-by-Noam-Choamsky argument anymore. But I do know that privatisation of Railways in Britain and municipal water supply in Argentina have been working fine. Am plain sick of Government organisations which do not do what they set out to do: Serve the people.
Or has it ceased to be a question of governing philosophy and become a plain change in operating environment ? These organisations when envisaged after independence attracted the best talent in the industry and worked fine. And probably the debate about capitalism-vs- socialism has no relevance right now. Its just a matter of who is better equipped to serve the people?
Monday, July 11, 2005
Another set of loci I found was system locus and people locus (Naming mine). It keeps popping up everywhere I go.
We are discussing road infrastructure and poor safety standards in India and a senior Govt. employee-cum-student in class bellows, "You cannot blame the traffic policemen saar... the roads are like that. We have so many villages that people keep crossing highways... " It was okay for India to have too many road fatalities because you know, we have illiterate junta on the roads who deserve to die! Road planning ? Why does a third world country require such sophistications ?
Another was when I was fighting with an IBM salesman who had got our order for laptops- when I mentioned that his competitor was giving a better turnaround time, he stopped me with a mortally-wounded glance, "Dont call HP my competition, sir. Their laptop will break down and is not comparable to IBM R52... " How the heck do I care what you think, you bugger, HP gives a damn good deal for me and I do compare it with IBM ! What caught his attention was a customer who WOULDN'T listen and understand; the inefficiency of his supply chain was lost on him. This incident actually stunned me because I kind of had a respect for salesmen for being sharp and tuned in to customer needs.
Another instance happened when we people bidded for our courses next term on a software and people kind of screwed up due to last minute pressure. I was arguing that the system was flawed since eligible junta missed out on courses because of tension and pressure. I actually saw people squarely blaming the losers for losing their cool ! And no, it was not important that ability to keep one's cool was not a criteria for course selection. And of course the blamers had got all their courses. In fact they were proud to have won their courses and scarcely realised that they were seconds away from losing themselves.
Any system administrator (read manager, politician, General, Admiral, Policeman) has two options when something goes wrong:
1) Blame the junta who does something wrong. 'Nothing will ever work as long as there are ppl like this !'
2) Factor in the outliers and plan the system to work accordingly. This is naturally a trade off between optimality and flexibility of the system.
I see a lot of people around me doing the former. This kind of locus needs to be evaluated for people who enter top posts, the IAS for example... so that people get into jobs where they dont pain others. Its high time we designed systems to accomodate people and not bug people to fit into inefficient systems which we dont want to give up.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Mr. Narender Murkumbe, CEO, Shree Renuka Sugars gave a speech yesterday. An entrepreneur, Mr. Murkumbe made a point about how CEO's should look outside the company: 'scanning the environment' was his phrase. His story of gritty entrepreneurship deserves a biography not a blog.
In organisations of great scale, I found it difficult to imagine the chief commandant sparing time for conventions, trade fairs and confederations. But at the end of the speech, I realised that it is what successful CEOs do.
The role of a CEO in a company is not too different from that of a Captain in a ship. Huge as the task of running of a ship is, the Captain rarely looks at the day-to-day activities. While the loyal lieutenant runs everything in the ship from the engine room to the canteen, the Captain locks himself in his cabin and charts a course for navigation. The fate of the entire organisation depends upon the CEO's foresight and strategy. And in many cases, it is usually the difference between the success and failure of a company. Now I realise why the top guy in any company is paid obscene amounts. He is responsible for global stuff like 'organisational culture', 'mission' and 'vision' of the company that makes the difference between the also rans and the truly great companies.
Would carry the analogy further and liken competition to storms and stuff but that would be too corny. :)
BTW, Mr. Narender is an electronics engineer, IIMA grad and started a sugar factory in Belgaum and made it big. url: http://www.renukasugars.com/index.html
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
After the last post, I came across a quote by someone. I forgot the source. Its about a village in Scotland where a company had made plans to diversify. To show what it wanted to mean to its employees' lives, a company official pointed to the village church and said, "That church is just a building which nobody generally visits on weekdays; people gather only on Sundays to sing songs and go away... But that church defines the relationship between every man and wife and every father and son in this village." Whether the company achieved such an effect among the community is a different question. But it underlined the fact that certain symbols have surprising power in society and in people's minds.
Monday, June 20, 2005
The very fact that a man and wife turn up together at a wedding seems a statement of their connubial bliss. Compounded by the statement of their affluence in the jewels of the wife. Add to it the size of the gift or amount of money they have brought to the bride. The very fact that it is an arranged marriage indicating the honor and well kept customs of the family. The number of dishes and sweets indicating how well the father has cared for his daughter. I have heard of family feuds starting in a marriage feast where the coffee had a little less sugar or the idly a bit over cooked. When one attacks the coffee, it's not seen by the father as a question of merely the drink alone but as a question of how well he has treated his daughter.
20th June 2005
Why haven't I blogged till now ?
1) To start of blogging seems to imply a commitment to page viewers; a deadline to be met and I didnt want to be caught in such a trap. Nevertheless the virtues of putting your thoughts to paper (or HTML) arent lost on me. Hence I would write only when I felt like putting my thoughts on paper or something realllllllly exciting happens (e.g. I win the lottery)
2) Some great man said, "To start writing, one should have something to be said and a good enough reason to say it".My reasons are a) To give a structure to my thoughts over time b) To develop my writing skills.
So here I go. A few days ago on a TV channel, a literary critic was blaming the TV and cinema for looting literature oftop quality writers. When I read some of my friends blogs, I say TV serials and films aren't the only ones to blame.