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.

Navy                                                 Dettol


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?

Gokulakrishnan S


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.

Gokulakrishnan S

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...

Gokulakrishnan S


P.S. The time below is IST.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Privatisation: Good or Bad ? The generic, plain vanilla topic one inevitably comes across in atleast one GD during CAT prep. How distant and lifeless the entire thing seemed then.

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?

Till privatisation occurs, all these Government organisations will be just overfed and overweight companies which wallow in public funds. Severe headache. Over and out.

Gokulakrishnan S

Monday, July 11, 2005

Systems or People ?

We have heard about people with internal and external locus. (funda:
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.

Gokulakrishnan S

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Role of a CEO

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: