Monday, December 11, 2006

The Push and Pull of Telemarketing

Whenever my mobile phone rings and flashes a number (as opposed to a name), I am fairly certain (about 0.8 probability) that it's an outbound sales call from a direct sales agency, typically plugging a financial services or telecom product. This is telephone spam, which has yet to be legally regulated or in any other manner controlled, in this part of the world. I guess we have bigger problems as a nation (such as someone's paintings or writings or movies or other creative expression offending someone else), so this one is something we'll have to live with for several years to come. Evidently, the number of people affected by telephone spam is not large enough to be called anything - not even a 'minority community'.

There are several levels of irritation such calls cause me and it is a constantly evolving thrust-and-parry battle of wits between the caller and me. My initial tactic was to stop them in their tracks with "Is this a sales call?" which worked most of the times in the early days. Thanks to other victims like me, the intruding sales force slowly started developing counter tactics. The dumber (and/or less sophisticated) ones ignored my question and bashed on with their script, while the smarter ones would skirt around it and say: no sir, its not a sales call; we'd like to educate you about our product. Yeah right! Tell me about it, buddy. I have a meeting going on but never mind the banal distractions that might draw my attention away from your call - I am here to make your work easier, and you are here to improve the quality of my life by educating me about your product, at a time that suits you. And so my counter to this counter gradually evolved to a few choice epithets and a rude disconnection of the call.

About a year ago, I was carpet-bombed with cold calls from several direct sales agents, all representing a certain large multinational bank. Apparently they were running an aggressive campaign to recruit new customers. There were times when I got about 3 or 4 calls a day. It got to a point when I used to hang up the moment I heard the bank's name. Finally, I lost my patience. I started calling the bank's head office - I wanted to get to the head honchos in consumer banking and give them a small piece of my broad mind, including lessons in brand management, CRM and basic telesales etiquette. Reaching the head of retail was an ordeal: everybody at HQ was trained to keep callers at bay (they'd ask who you are and what you want and then won't even give you the time of the day) so that their top brass could drool uninterruptedly at the next sports car they'd buy after this telesales campaign closed. Even getting his name seemed to be a bigger challenge than most other things I faced at work those days (finally found it on the web-site). I must have spent over 6 hours straight before I got his direct number, and it turned out he was on vacation (surprise surprise). Not to be discouraged, I waited till he returned another couple of weeks later, to speak to him. And that conversation is another story, which I shall keep for another blog post.

Things get a little tricky if you already happen to be a customer. You suspect they're calling about something concerning your existing account. And if you're like me, you'd suspect the worst. For example - we haven't received your payment for the last bill and your subscription will be disconnected, or - your balance has dropped below minimum and your cheque has bounced. Before you conclude that I'm either generously disorganised or parsimoniously tardy, let me tell you that I'm usually prompt with my financial commitments and in general a good customer. However, there could be errors and omissions along the way ... cheques mailed may not get delivered in time or may get stolen (next scam?) and payments effected through "e-channels" may get debited twice and take your closing balance below sea level (this has happened to me, and the bank made no attempt to provide any relief of any sort and took 2 months to rectify it without bothering to apologise, much less pay me the interest for those 2 months). Since I am acutely aware of the fragile and fragmented nature of 'best practice' business processes prevalent in the back-offices of most of my 'best-in-class' service providers, callers representing such organisations end up getting my attention right away. So my next question to them is "Is this about any of my existing accounts with you?" the answer to which (assuming it's a sales call and not routine operations) should be: no, sir, it isn't; we thank you for being our customer, but we'd like to offer you more products that could fulfill your other needs. Right? Wrong! I just get more of the scripted yadda yadda yadda. "Excuse me ... " you go again. This cycle is repeated 4 times on average (yes, I have statistics on this) before you get some traction. Switching to a local language helps - it may get the average down to 3 iterations. If the caller is from a 124 area code, an assertive "oi jee ... hallloh ... galle sunoh" is likely to get immediate attention.

Life is strange and its many twists and turns could spin this whole game around ... to your disadvantage, all over again. If due to some quirk of fate you happened to actually need one of these wretched products one day ... well, guess who has the last laugh. Last week, I spent several hours per day for a good 2 or 3 days, trying to get hold of someone who would sell me a new mobile connection (the same was being shoved down my throat several times in the last 6 months and I vehemently pushed back each time), with certain special services thrown in (there's a reason I'm vague about this - if I get more specific, the company's name will be known, and I don't want to to indulge in malicious blogging against a specific organisation). Each name and number I was given led to another name and number. Most of the contact information at the website didn't work. It took Paul Simon four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw, and me as long to get my connection, and a whole lot of negotiation over the documentation needed and who needs to go where to do what, so as to complete all formalities. At the time of writing this post, I am waiting for the connection to be activated, after which the special services will be activated. Hopefully by the end of this week, unless they're waiting for Christmas (next year's - this one is round the corner).

And now I'm thinking that maybe it is more prudent to let them badger you after all. Perhaps push works better than pull at times.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Miscellaneous observations on the last day at my old job

At this very moment there are an unspecified number of thoughts in my head that are competing to be articulated (I was going to say 'competing to be said' but then it would rhyme with 'thoughts in my head' and impart a touch of frivolity to this sentence, which was not my intention). I'm going to try and keep this short - I know I have a tendency to ramble! There's no specific sequence and I am just going to let passion determine the order of presentation of my competing thoughts, some of which may be inter-related.

First, there's the issue of behaviour and conduct in general - be it business protocol or social niceties, some people (in fact quite a few people ... hang on, actually, most people) just don't get it. It has nothing to do with geography (which part of the galaxy / solar system / world / country / town you live in) or tax bracket (how much you're worth in any given currency) or even (surprisingly) which school you went to! It does have something to do with success, however: it is inversely proportional to how successful you've become over how short a time. Please note that I am talking about sudden success here; incremental success allows you to take it in slowly. What do I mean by success? Doesn't matter. What matters is what the individual in question means by success. Which leads me to the following observation: inside each of us is an obnoxious arsehole waiting to get out, and what lets that genie out of the bottle is sudden, immense success! A wise man (Abraham Lincoln, perhaps) once said something to the effect that the true character of an individual is brought out not when he is down and out but when he is hugely successful. Alas - it is so rare to find people with even a modicum of social graces, that the few one comes across, one treasures. Even if those people are otherwise not one's 'type' (in terms of common interests, etc.)

The second thought, which is probably, in some 'spaghettistical' way (another word of my coinage, to mean: 'similar in nature to an entangled mass of spaghetti strands') related to the first, is about Talent and Luck, and their role in success. And about Self-Actualisation. I would sum it up as follows, the metaphor being a card game: (1) You are not responsible for the cards you are dealt - this is obvious (2) You, and you alone, are responsible for your play - also, obvious (3) You are free to quit the game for any reason whatsoever, it is entirely your call (4) If you want to stay, you may want to learn to play well so you don't go through the trauma of failure unless you want to wallow in it (5) If you like the game, you may want to learn to play well in order to experience the joy in winning, or at the very least, indulge yourself in the art of fine card play.

So where's the connection with Talent, Luck and Self-Actualisation? Well, duh ... Luck - the cards you're dealt (you could get a series of lousy deals: sorry, bad luck). Talent - what you do with them (great players can win with a losing hand too). Self-Actualisation - reaching a state of being where in each deal, you are able to take the hand you're given, set yourself a goal or a target (which may be 'win' / 'lose' / 'pass' that round, based on that hand, your capability of which you are fully aware, and knowing what you want, of which also you are fully aware) and give it the best you've got. In this state, the word potential makes no sense. You ARE in the present, what in the past was considered as your 'hidden potential'. To me, that's success.

Lastly, on a different note, I was touched by the going-away gifts I got from my team: books, music, chocolate, a lamp and a large greeting card with everyone's messages on it. I'm a fairly private person at work, though I do choose to make friends as well, sometimes. Somehow they found out that the piano and the guitar are prominent instruments in my life, and that I like classical music. So they got me a Richard Clayderman CD and another one called 'Hawaii' featuring acoustic guitar by an unknown musician, with backing arrangements. Content: instrumental version of pop songs old and new - mostly romantic ballad -type stuff. I was so touched by the gesture and the effort that must have gone into buying these gifts. The book was something about the 'Present' by the guy who wrote who stole my cheese or whatever. I flipped through it and it had an uncanny resemblance to 'The Power of Now' which I reviewed (rather harshly, I may add) in an earlier blog post. Maybe it's me - maybe I attract these themes. Or maybe these topics echo the zeitgeist. But this book is in story form and held my interest from the word go. Maybe I will learn something from it! Thank you, team.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Paperback Gravitas

Birthdays are great fun and I really enjoy celebrating mine. For two reasons – first, I like celebrations in general (read parties) involving any or all of: good food / fine wine / nice music / interesting conversations with interesting people etc., and second, I like my life and so I like celebrating the day I was given it; I like who and what I am, I like what I have grown to become and am evolving towards. I am truly grateful that there are people out there who wish me well, come over to my home when I throw a party and bring me gifts on my birthday. I got some wonderful gifts this year, and one of them was this book called ‘The Power of Now’ written by a gentle and benign looking gentleman called Eckhart Tolle. And you may treat this blog post as a kind of a book review.

If your life is troubled you should read this book. Let me rephrase that (everybody's life is troubled, to some extent) – if there’s a lot of sturm und drang in your life, you should read this book. You will know if this book is working for you, if you are able to purge all negative thoughts and feelings about the past and the future that might be tormenting you. And post this cathartic deep-pore cleansing, you are able to live in the 'Now' – a state of joy (a.k.a. bliss) that transcends the duality and cyclicality of pleasure and pain that we experience through all the trappings of a worldly life. The Now is the only real thing … all else is just something in your Mind that your Mind has created because it needs to create those things to feed itself on. Badd Mind!

This book is ideal for the new age 'liberati' (a word I’ve just coined as a play on ‘literati’, to describe those who seek liberation by reading books). Maybe they should make a new category called spirit-lit and put this book there. Don’t get me wrong - there’s tons of useful stuff in here: sound advice to people who get all knotted up with regrets about their past and/or bent out of shape with worries about their future. It tells such people in such situations to take a deep breath and let go. To not let their mind get the better of them by running away with self-flagellation for misdeeds or with its own doomsday forecasts, but instead to focus on the moment and recognise the beauty in the present and the joy in just being. And I would fully agree with such advice. Kind of suggestive of the Latin expression 'Carpe Diem', but I didn't actually see that written in so many words anywhere in the book. But then I must confess I haven't actually read the whole book - only browsed through it and that too not sequentially. The Question/Answer format makes it easy to read at random, a few pages at a time. Plus there's a lot of repetition of ideas and themes (by the author's own admission), so if you missed something it will probably pop-up again later. And the language is simple and lucid so it can be speed read too. It may not have the lyrical lilt of a Khalil Gibran or the picturesque imagery of a Richard Bach, but P-of-N is prophetic all the same.

Why then, do I sound disdainful? Well, for one there’s this kind of Nirvana-in-ten-easy-steps feel about this whole thing. Einstein once said “Make things as simple as possible but not simpler”. To people who live in Euclidean space on a Newtonian planet, it's easy to explain gravity using falling apples. It is far more difficult to explain space-time warps caused by intense gravitational forces around super-dense matter, using apples or oranges. This does not discourage laudable efforts by people of science to use simple models involving rubber sheets bending around a heavy marble to illustrate space-time curving around strong gravitational fields or blowing balloons to illustrate the expanding nature of the universe after the Big Bang and such, but unfortunately such explanations spawn more questions than answer existing ones. And what is true about gravity is true for gravitas too. First, spiritual experience (any part of it - from awakening through attainment) cannot be mass distributed. When it does, it turns into either a cult or a religion or an institution or ... a business! Second, there's gotta be room for questioning. You can't shut the reader up by saying sorry, no questions, no thinking, do not apply your mind to what you're reading.

Which brings me to the other thing. This book stops you from questioning (maybe doesn't actually say that in so many words, but the discouragement to question is implicit everywhere). The message is that these thoughts you’re thinking and the questions you are asking are all the work of your feeble brain trying to understand the phenomena of Life using Reason, something that is beyond the grasp of the Mind. Here's where I have a problem agreeing. I saw phrases like "thinking is a disease" which could easily persuade troubled readers (remember our target audience?) to stop thinking about their lives altogether. And to forget the past and the future, as the book suggests. And to immerse themselves fully in the Now. My problem is that this could potentially remove any sense of responsibility the reader might have. Dropping the past and the future directly causes you to drop responsibility for what you did and what you are about to do. OK, maybe some people take on more responsibility than they should, and that screws them up. Agreed. In such cases, the solution lies in their rationalising their portfolio of responsibilities. In fact, more thought - better thought, is to be applied towards doing that, and not lack of it. The key lies in the ability to balance freedom with responsibility. 'Stop thinking' is a slogan for escapists, to my mind. In contrast, 'Stop brooding and get on with life' is good solid practical advice to most anybody, because we all need it at some time or other. So what's the big fuss about, if this is all there is to it?

Last criticism: Nowhere in the entire book (which, again I should remind you, I have not actually read word-by-word sequentially from start to finish), did I find that one most vital element - humour! Benign and gentle looking as he may be, he never smiles in his pictures. In fact his eyes look sad. At no point in my reading (OK, browsing) of the book did I come anywhere close to even chuckling at anything that I read.

So, all in all, this is a strange and rather paradoxical combination of a book - too much gravitas in form and delivery, but not enough weight in the content, which is kept light so that it can go around and reach more people, but is not fun. There are probably more oxymorons in my last sentence than I care to count, but you get my drift. Speaking for myself, I have no place for things (light or heavy) that don't make me smile or chuckle or better still ... laugh! Certainly not for spiritualists who take themselves and their (pre)occupation too seriously!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Zen and the Art of Management By Doing Nothing

It's been over a week now, that I've been waiting for some people at work to get back to me on something. (Sorry to be so vague, but I really can't reveal much more about this, than that, at this stage.) It is important to me that this gets done soon, because it impacts my future. Which is why I keep looking for a sign that somebody somewhere has decided something and we can now move to the next step. Frankly, I don't care what they decide - I just want them to do it within a reasonable time frame. I am ready with action plans for each possible outcome for all the conceivable outcomes I could think of (including 'nothing'), given my intrinsically worrisome nature (which, according to someone I know who has a penchant for hyperbole, sometimes borders on paranoia) compounded by many years of dealing with bullshit artists of all kinds (ranging from the wildly exotic spiritual tripper to your plain old garden variety overambitious and highly political overachiever) that have taught me to expect the unexpected, and further exacerbated by a fairly vivid imagination that can conjure up the bizarre from scratch - right 'out of the box'. And by now I am equally detached, emotionally speaking, from all of them (well, ok, almost). So it really doesn't matter to me which way the cookie crumbles. I write this, then, not out of pain but out of ... something akin to amusement, actually, if you ignore my slightly disparaging tone.

Some people just can't make a decision. Or take one. So they do nothing. Some others can't act on decisions already arrived at, so they do nothing too. Quite often it turns out, in let's say 3 out of 5 cases, problems go away (or so it seems) even when nothing is done. So the wise among the foolish say "See? It went away without us having to do anything". Years of practice leading to mastery of this approach towards dealing with problems, gave birth to the wonderful art of Management By Doing Nothing (MBDN) - a proven methodology that saves time energy and money spent on thinking (valuable benefit for those are intellectually challenged), especially thinking about complex things that really matter (valuable benefit for those who don't know what those things are and are scared by complexity), then arriving at decisions (valuable benefit for those who are accountable for decisions but shudder at the very thought of making them) and then acting upon those decisions (valuable benefit for those who don't feel empowered to implement any decision unless it has been agreed to by all members of the Security Council and ratified by majority vote in the General Assembly) and still .... a methodology that delivers ... (drum roll) .... at least 60% of the time!

Strangely and paradoxically, what the ancient Chinese (Taoists) called 'wei wu wei' (which literally means 'action without action' or 'effortless doing') is indeed a profound philosophy, also involving a very different way of conducting one's life. (More on this at if you’re interested.) When I used to practice T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan, I understood this as the minimal action required to bring about desired results. In a lot of cases that involved doing nothing. This is not like the MBDN methodology at all. This 'doing nothing' has a conscious decisiveness underlying it ... and an action involving non-action. A decision to act by not acting. To act by letting happen. To intervene when necessary and that too only to the extent required. This involves a profound understanding of, and deep insights into, situations. And a fine appreciation of the concept of causality and its manifestations in the sometimes deterministic, often probabilistic (if not stochastic) and usually chaotic world in which those situations occur. Apparently these ancient folks understood chaos theory far better than most of us do today.

For those familiar with the 'butterfly effect' ... sometimes all you have to do to save a whole world is to not trample on a butterfly. For those not familiar with the butterfly effect - go figure!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The 'Why' Chromosome

With some reluctance, and after several requests over the last few weeks, I let my 5 year old son watch me shave this morning. I'm sure this experience is different for every father and son, as unique as our individual DNA imprint. However, all such experiences of all fathers and sons (especially fathers who were curious sons once) will most likely have one element in common -this is that one bonding moment between father and son that has always been, and will always be, very very special, something that only another who has been through can understand. It's that feeling of being a man (not celebrated as much these days - certainly not the way women celebrate the feeling of being a woman), and more so, a man with a son who wants to be like him (in at least one department - shaving!) or, seen from the son's side, a wannabe man with a father he wants to be like (in at least one department - shaving!)

He was full of questions about shaving today, as he always is, about everything. Why gel was different from foam. Why I had both. Why I picked the gel today. Why I don't wear a mustache or beard. Why I didn't shave against the grain (of course, he didn't quite articulate this question as it appears here). Why my razor had two blades. Why it didn't hurt. Why I used after-shave. And of course, the big question - Why boys got facial hair as they grew older and girls didn't.

His continuous barrage of questions (some really tough ones which have me groping around for suitable responses) can be quite trying at times, but I have discovered I have learnt much from him. Every time he asks me a question and I turn around and look at his face, I am struck by his sense of wonder. By his ability to ask questions freely and uninhibitedly. The combination of curiosity, awe and innocence in his eyes. The anticipation and excitement of future experience. And the impatience to get there. Those are my moments of truth. Moments when I realise that questions have stopped popping up in my mind, and even those that do, I have stopped asking. Just as I've stopped looking to the future with excited eyes.

Thanks, son, for helping me re-learn the ability to question, and to feel excited about what is yet to come.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bloggers' Block

Just realised that the month of October is at its end and that I haven't written in a while. Not for want of things to say - in fact, quite the contrary. There was so much last month that I wanted to write about, and on such diverse topics (in fact have been thinking of starting another blog where I could post "other" stuff). But nothing came out of any of this.

There was this bit about how it took an Artist, a Manager and an Entrepreneur to make any venture successful. A business-related theme, essentially, dealing with what I believe are the 3 key dimensions of people who populate an organisation - core skill, organisation and administration capabilities, and the spirit of enterprise.

Then there was something about Freedom and Responsibility and the need to balance the two, some thoughts on Faith, Doubt and Reason and how they could co-exist (and indeed, why it was important that they did) - a lot of these arising out of recent controversies at a global as well as local level (but not dealing directly with them). Such as the one about the veil.

Also ... wanted to go back to my entry on the 4 Ps and add two more - Passion and Pace. These were left out because I was thinking of only 4 of them, to match E. Jerome McCarthy's seminal contribution to management studies in the area of marketing. If you're curious to know where I rank these two, this may sound like a teaser but you'll have to wait for my post on this subject (which this one is not).

In short - October was full of topics, topics everywhere and not a word blogged. Hopefully, November will be better.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ode to Contemplation

As a hollow vacant vessel I echo every whisper, every rustle
As a clear still pond I reflect every hue, bob with every ripple

Clear, still, empty
Full of the vast nothing, in plenty
My mind opens to sound and sight

The darkness of the night
Brings out the faintest light

Realization doesn’t need much
By way of understanding as such
Just an instantaneous impression
Leads to spontaneous comprehension

The wondering, the wandering
Oh! the joys of pondering!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What part of NO don't you understand?

Everybody has their own ways of classifying and typifying people. In my case, my taxonomy would depend mostly on the subject at hand and somewhat on my mood. When it comes to responding to a given question or proposition or point of view, I find that people generally fit into two broad stereotypes (or a third narrow one) - those who have difficulty in clearly and openly agreeing (let's call them the natural nay-sayers), and those who have difficulty in clearly and openly disagreeing (the natural yea-sayers). The third category consists of those mature, evolved, unflinching individuals who agree with what they agree with and disagree with what they disagree with, and stay that way. (Sometimes I wish I could put myself in this class.) But since this is a very thin slice of humanity, and in any case a bunch of folks who don't seem to be plagued with issues such as doubt, uncertainty, paradox, etc., and who don't feel the heat of social or economic or political pressure, we would do well to leave them alone.

Natural nay-sayers tend to start their responses with a No, even when they agree with the given proposition. Quite often you'd find them shaking their heads in dissent even before you've finished saying your piece. And quite often, you'd find that in the final analysis, they're in agreement with you. I am constantly amused by the typical "No, I agree with you" response - the hallmark of this type. Some natural nay-sayers however are not honest enough to admit that they agree. They start with a No, which happens to be the typical nay-sayer's favourite word, and proceed to give you their opinion which, it turns out, is more or less the same; but they will not accept that it is essentially similar to (or at least somewhat aligned with) what you just said (or at least some parts of it). In some cases, it may be the overwhelming persuasiveness of your argument that renders them unable to articulate that one vital thought that could establish their position of difference. So they know they disagree but can't cleary say where or why. But in most cases, I suspect, it is more likely to be a reluctance to accept something as given - even if they agree with parts of it - unless it is regurgitated and cast in their own unique style of expression (by which time it has become a different proposition). An extreme reaction of this sub-type is to say exactly what you said, completely ignoring the fact that you said it first, and pretend that you never did or they never heard it. So it's their idea now and they own the IPR on it. On the whole, the good thing about people of this type is that they leave you with little ambiguity - you more or less know what to expect: they've already voiced their disagreement and as your dialogue with them progresses, things can only get better.

Natural yea-sayers are, by far, more complex creatures, and in dealing with them things may not turn out the way you'd expect, going by their intial reaction. Their first response is to agree (usually they are nodding their heads in assent right through, while you talk) regardless of what they really feel or think. There could be numerous reasons (and, accordingly, sub-types) behind such immediate affirmation. There's of course the typical Sycophant. And the typical Diplomat. There's also the typical Eternal Optimist who'd agree with anyone and anything purely out of a feeling of bonhomie and good cheer towards all of mankind. Then there're those who secretly disagree but generally tend to shy away from confrontation, those who get easily swayed by forceful rhetoric and/or the loudest voice and/or the most powerful presence around, and those who don't have a mind of their own to begin with.

There are several ways of saying No, including the one that starts with a Yes. Some years ago I had a T shirt that said "What part of NO don't you understand?" and I used to think about that sometimes. I guess I have my answer now ... it's the part that is actually a YES. Someone needs to spell it out, if it has to be understood. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the best way is to look for areas of agreement first - start with an up-front Yes (if you like, qualify it with relevant conditions and provisions), before opening out the areas of difference. And even there, in that, seek resolution by way of a win for both sides. Peaceful dialogue, focus on real issues and common goals is by far the best way forward. Some people call this looking for the silver lining. We need this now, very badly.

Friday, September 01, 2006

4 P's - my 2 bits

When it comes to the business of life and equally, the life of businesses, here're my 4 P's - Purpose, Profit, Principles and Pride. Over the last couple of decades I've come across a wide variety of organisations (and people), who would most likely rank these 4 P's differently from the next guy. For the more numerically inclined, there're 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24 ways in which one could rank them. Of course, there could be some organisations (or people) who'd want to drop one or more of those P's completely, resulting in a much larger set of possibilities. I am not, at this point, going to get into the academics of permutations and combinations, because that's not what this is about. (However, math enthusiasts and other geeks should feel free to do so and knock themselves out.)

Purpose, according to me, is fundamental to everything. An enlightened soul once said "Find Purpose - the means will follow". The discovery (or, in some cases, invention) of Purpose clarifies our raison d'ĂȘtre. It would be an interesting experiment to randomly poll people (or organisations) to find out if they are clear about their purpose. I expect that most responses would be in the affirmative, though I suspect that most of those claims would be shallow. Few have Purpose, and of the ones who purport to have Purpose, even fewer demonstrate purposefulness in what they do. While several might actually put Profit before Purpose, few would honestly admit to it - the vast majority spends considerable time effort and money to get a glossy cover that talks about all the right things: vision, mission, blah blah ... words on a web-site or corporate brochure or presentation, cleverly crafted by a PR / ad agency or perhaps internal creative talent. Then there are those who would assert that their Purpose, indeed, is Profit!

Profit is not a bad thing, though some idealists might tend to think so. It is what keeps us alive. If Purpose gives us a reason to exist, Profit enables us to stay alive. And healthy. Without Profit (OK, excess of income over expenditure - not-for-profit organisations should be happy with that), you cannot continue to serve your Purpose. Selflessness requires at least this much of selfishness - sustenance of the health and well-being of the selfless. But Profit without Principles? Not a good idea. Principles without Purpose? I don't see the sense in that. Principles guide where the Profit motive may lead astray. Sometimes, Principles guide where even Purpose may lead astray. I would venture to say that Principles form the foundation for a civilised society. This could however be taken to an extreme - the "I will break but not bend" type of adherence to Principles. I haven't come across as many ultra-highly principled organisations as I have people. Somehow most such individuals end up being very bitter, while putting up a brave front and even taking Pride in their uncomprising position. And, in my scheme of ranking, Pride is the last P. There's arrogance, there's ego, there's pride and there's hubris. Frankly, I think it's a good thing to take Pride in who you are, what you do, how you do it and why. But there's no place in business (or social) life for ego and arrogance. And certainly none for hubris.

Which brings me to the background to this blog entry. I have been encountering so much ego these days - at work and also at play, that it is frustrating. Ego is not good for business! Somehow, several people don't get it. Ego threatens Purpose, Profit as well as Principle. I'm OK with Pride - in a larger, more abstract and more mature sense. In fact I believe it's a good thing for business. But not ego. A supercilious or a patronising attitude drives away customers as well as suppliers, and erodes goodwill with all other publics an enterprise deals with. It is amazing how every little interaction provides a potential window for any of this to manifest itself. And how the more successful ones fall prey to ego, which they mistake to be Pride. Perhaps this sounds paradoxical, but I'm an advocate for Pride without ego - a Pride based on humility. And proud of it!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Choice vs. Chance II - The Return of Choice

When I wrote my last blog entry on Monday (with several references to TV channels and choices), little did I know that later, the same evening, we would be left with just 2 channels to watch. What were the chances of such a thing happening?

That was also the day the shehnai maestro Bismallah Khan passed away, and both channels were broadcasting content on him, around the time I hit the box. I had a choice, of course, which was one of the two channels or no TV at all. As a tribute to the great musician, I watched the documentary on his life, being aired on one of them. And I couldn't help thinking about the fact that I was watching an NFDC documentary. On DD. And my choice was no TV at all. Gosh this was like going back to the future!

Then yesterday on one of the two channels there was this heated debate on the Cable TV censorship issue, and I was a mute witness to the emergence of the moral police that is one day going to control all entertainment and related content created, distributed and consumed in this country. Their approach is simple - instead of regulating consumption of so-called adult content at the user end (which is what is done in the more mature markets), they want to regulate its dissemination. And maybe even its creation. They seem to take the view that content which, to their minds, is of a lascivious and prurient nature, should not exist at all. That way, it can neither be distributed nor consumed. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. The evil here, of course, is sex. I am not going to devote this blog entry to the issue of "Licensing the Licentious". I could rave, rant and vent on this subject but I don't even know where to start. I'm quite sure other, more ardent bloggers are at it while I write this. But I have given up, till further notice. I just hope that the focus of public interest litigation shifts to some REAL issues which have some REAL impact on the economy and the quality of life. Such as Corruption. Such as Crime. Such as Education. Such as Healthcare.

A small side-bar comment - the good people who were participating in this debate were doing so in at least 3 different languages. There were times when I heard them use English words that sounded like composites of two or three other words, such as conversion and convergence (in the context of technology, media and communications coming together), conscious(-ness) and conscience (in the context of "our" morality, "our" culture and "our" sense of social propriety), liberalisation and liberalism and liberation (in the context of governance and regulation). This last one was a gem and got me thinking about the etymology of these words. Of course, most of it is attributed to wrong pronunciation by folks who are more articulate in some other language. But I found it interesting to consider the possibility that some new concepts could be spawned by the serendipitious fusion of like-sounding and similar-yet-different-meaning words.

Anyway, it was nice to wake up this morning and learn that Cable was back! Apparently it was back last night, and my kids were able to catch a few snatches of their cartoon shows before they went back to bed. Hurray! Choices at last!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Monday Morning Musings: Choice vs. Chance

One of the key characteristics of an individualistic, consumerist society (which is now, since the decline of communism and other alternative models, accepted as the established world order), is freedom of choice. Whether it is the shampoo you use, the telecom provider you select to keep you connected, or your career, you have a choice. And the fact that you have a choice is a big thing. It is an intrinsic property of individualism, celebrated throughout the world and zealously guarded by the keepers of capitalistic faith. The TV remote is the ultimate weapon, and channel surfing the most popular pre-occupation among viewers. Sometimes I spend more time doing that than actually watching any specific channel. I guess I could say - to surf hopefully is a better thing than to watch, to paraphrase an old adage.

For a guy like me who grew up in a time of scarcity (when ration cards were actually used for the purpose they were created) in a world where you had precisely one TV channel, the abundance of options available today is mind boggling and almost scary. It has enriched my life, yes. But it has also made my life far more complex. The anxiety of making a choice, which obviously never existed when you had none to make, is sometimes heightened to a new kind of neurosis - the fear of missing out on a better life. What am I giving up when I commit to a choice I am making? Was there a chance for a better life, in some of those other options I rejected?

In my life, I have spent several hours, days even, pondering the what-if's behind each important decision I took. And that has applied to past decisions as much as decisions on hand at present. When the agonising over the what-ifs reaches delirious heights, I slip into an imaginary world ... where I am immortal, can go back in time, and can therefore traverse the multitudes of paths my life would have taken for each choice I could make. This flight of fantasy can get more complex if one were to consider the fact that each of those choices changes the chooser, and in order to return to the point when the choice was first exercised, you have to un-live the segment of your life that corresponded with the choice you made and unbecome what you became over that time frame.

Some people are lucky - they don't need to get into a sci-fi world; they can actually 'see' life as it evolves further downstream, for each choice waiting to be made. As a strategy consultant (a hat I sometimes wore), I used to do something called scenario envisioning for my clients, dealing with multiple possible scenarios of which one may be picked as a desirable end-state - but these are consciously and rationally constructed models, carefully built with mathematical precision based on reliable information and a dash of creative imagination about the future. Forced insights leading to an intellectually predicated forecast. Some people do this intuitively, and surf through those scenarios as though they were TV channels.

But the world we live in is chaotic. How accurately can one predict the future? Regardless of whether you take an analytical approach to project the future based on mathematical models crunched by a supercomputer, or a mystical one to divine what is foretold by the stars or the lines on your palm, there's always the possibility that it may not happen. That something else, altogether different, and unforseeen, might instead. That's where chance plays its mysterious role. Surprised or shocked, you are reminded yet again, that things need not turn out the way you thought they would. Or should. In fact what eventually happens may not even be in the same ball-park as what you had imagined or gambled on. The future is increasingly getting to be more and more different from the past, but at the same time, the more things change the more they remain the same. And that's the paradox of choice and chance.

When Launchcast first launched many years ago (it's now a yahoo music service) I was struck by the peculiar blend of chance and choice this product represented. What they offered was what I'd like to call 'programmed serendipity'. Spell out your choices (by picking and rating genres, bands / artists, albums, songs ...) and it will play them to you by chance. No, this is not the same as the shuffle option on your CD changer. This is more like a radio station. Launchcast could even bring you tracks you haven't heard, but might like. Because the track has features that you approve of (e.g., fav. artists). Or because others who have similar taste as you, have liked it. So you can enjoy the unpredictability of what will play next (you don't get that pleasure when you play your own music, even with random play), but be reasonably sure that it will be suited to your taste.

Which leads me to the uncanny thing that happened this morning, that inspired me to write this blog entry. I was listening to a CD and then switched to FM ... only to hear the same track again! Here's my take-away from this - there's a chance that the choice you make may turn out to be no different from what would have been had you left it to chance. But does that mean that you don't make choices? Not a chance!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Universal Truths

Last month I ordered some music CDs from a web-site. Nothing unusual or high-tech about that - these days one can do those things as a part of regular life, without being astonished at where we've reached in the pursuit of development and happiness as the 'civilised world' understands it. But there was something quite amazing about this particular instance, when I reflected a bit about it this morning.

The web-site I ordered from ( is an e-commerce extension of a music shop based in Prague in the Czech republic, and boasts a fine collection of Czech and Moravian folk music, among other genres. One of the CDs I got, is called "Ensemble Ambrosius - The Zappa Album", recorded by a Finnish band in Helsinki as a tribute to Frank Zappa. The instruments used are from the Baroque period (e.g., harpsichord, archlute, dulcimer, etc., some of which might be nearing extinction, in this techno age) and the content is all original Zappa compositions.

And this is what I was struck by while listening to it in my car this morning...

Here's a music aficionado from Mumbai, India who ordered from a Czech web-site, a recording of music originally composed by an irreverent, rebellious, genre-defying Californian, arranged for and played on archaic instruments by a bunch of young Finnish fans of his from Helsinki. Frankly, I was zapped, when I thought about it that way.

For those of my friends who are not familiar with Frank Zappa ... he's the sort of chap who'd define a composer as "... a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians." May his soul rest in peace.

Some truths are truly universal. Music is one of them.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Portrait of an Organization as an Organism

About a year ago I was approached by a journalist representing a leading newspaper, working on a theme for their 'Appointments' section. She sounded brisk and business like on the phone and, in a very no-nonsense tone, urged me to respond, urgently, to a few questions she would mail me later. I did all that, dutifully, but sadly never saw any of it published in any section of any newspaper, and never heard from her again, to this day. (What is it with some people? Do they really think they are so important that they can be as ill-mannered as they like and it won't matter?) Anyway, now that I have my own blog, and haven't written in a while, I thought I'd reproduce that brief exchange from my records, dust it a bit, let it breathe and be read.

So here it is ...

Q.1 Listening / Sensing / Seeing (how important are these values to your organisation?)

Context: We are looking for new and novel ways to think about these topics. We need new language, new examples, fresh approaches to communicating these ideas.

Q.2 Where do you go to listen and sense new ideas / trends / innovations in their embryonic stage?

Q.3 In your organization, is this done individually or collectively as well?

Q.4 What personal practices, non-work related, have you found enhance your ability to sense new and fresh thinking?

A.1 A tight, well-knit organization operates like a multi-cellular organism. If its internal nervous system is good, it is able to perceive, process and paraphrase its environment far more effectively than an organism whose senses are duller and/or whose nervous system is impaired (in the case of an organization, read that as: not cohesive, not unified in the pursuit of a common goal, not deeply networked internally to pass messages clearly and without distortion). Listening, sensing, seeing ... is the beginning. In a dazzlingly bright and noisy world, teeming with life and bursting with energy, it is important to develop faculties that can process inputs as fast as they arrive; important to develop a taxonomy that is broad enough and deep enough to allow categorization of even the most bizarre and unusual perceptions and sensory stimuli; and important to retain balance in the wake of the tsunami of change. Organizations that do not have a sense about their environment are likely to be ‘engulfed and devoured’ (just as organisms that do not adapt to their environment are bound to fall prey to predators and become extinct).

A.2 We don’t need to go anywhere specific. There is no secret place where change emanates from or disruptions originate from. It is all around us. Electronic media in the new world - in Marshall MacLuhan's global village - surround us and engage our attention (in some cases intrusively so). It is difficult to tear oneself apart from the new media, to isolate oneself in a cocoon of seclusion (how far can you go, to get away from email, mobile connectivity, SMS and instant messaging?). You can run but you can't hide - not for long. On the other hand, it is easy to get distracted by trivia, fads and shiny baubles of ‘information’ ... tales told by idiots signifying nothing. Focus helps where senses distract. Deep within the organization's sanctum sanctorum, there must be an unwavering sense of direction underlying its vision of the future and its own role in it.

A.3 In the portrait of the 'together' organization as a multi-cellular organism, this is done by the cells whose raison d'ĂȘtre it is do to it (e.g., R&D, Marketing, Corporate Planning), as also by other cells that come into contact with the external environment, for whom this may not be a day job. In an organized structure this is institutionalized and works like a clock-work system – messages are quickly transmitted to wherever there is a need to know. In an evolving enterprise, this could be the happenstance whose serendipity sparks a move towards purposeful and planned recurrence. In a chaotic company, this could be done individually and/or collectively but may serve limited purpose. Ours is an evolving organization and is moving towards implementing mechanisms that observe, analyze and synthesize relevant environmental change information.

A.4 Networking with industry professionals, accessing current research from some of the best knowledge / research providers in the world, being on the subscription list of key trend spotting services and news updates. Also, working on expanding and refining my world-view i.e. improving my taxonomy for classifying and understanding the universe (this is best done by pondering – a habit that it gradually losing traction among most people in today’s temporally challenged era). Simultaneously learning to distance myself sufficiently from all preconceived notions, ideas, thoughts and feelings, so that every new input is seen with as few filters as possible, so as to understand its true import.

Over the years, I have been studying, with interest and care, the interface between percept and precept, and have been trying to keep that interplay area clean. My goal is to reach a stage where the observed is taken a priori and assimilated into the system of thought and belief without the observer altering the observed, or distorting the observation to suit existing beliefs. Quite often, taking in observations a priori leads to intense questioning – sometimes radically so. The fear that some of these questions may challenge the foundations of one’s understanding of the world, is what prevents true assimilation, and the search for truth is once again thwarted. True seekers are not afraid of the truth. Their mind is without fear, and head held high. They will not accept compromises nor will they allow their minds, no matter how clever, to fool themselves.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Ontology of Quality

For some time now, I've been pondering the notion of Quality in the light of the fact that Indian providers of IT / Enabled Services have achieved more in the area of assessment and certification, compared to their competitors from the Western world.

From a historical perspective, in order to compete in the Western markets and make a credible claim to be ‘world-class’, there was (obviously) a need for non-Western hemisphere based aspirants to prove that they were, at the very least, on par with the established incumbents in those markets. Clearly, the stamp of approval from a first-world certification authority provided the basis to qualify as a competitive bidder in international RFPs. In comparison, first-world service providers had been around for several decades (some even over a century old), with a sound track record and a classy reputation carefully and painstakingly built over time. Their CXOs were part of the same ‘old boy’ networks as their customers’ CXOs. This was the club that players from emerging markets wanted admittance into, and quality certification was their ticket.

What may not be so obvious is the subtle but important difference in the understanding of Quality in what has traditionally been a market-driven economy (where the Customer is, and has always been, king) and the understanding of Quality in what has traditionally been a controlled economy and has only recently begun to enjoy the fruits of liberalisation (where customer-centric strategies are seen as revolutionary new ideas). In materialistic America, for example, where existence has always preceded essence, the concept of Quality is superseded by (and defined by) the concept of Customer Satisfaction, and subsumed within it. If you have someone buying from you and paying you, it means you're doing a good job with whatever it is that you’re selling. Obviously, they had a choice - you always have a competitor, even if it is nobody. And they chose you. Ergo you are good. Methodology frameworks and the need for established processes, standards, testing, measurement, benchmarking etc. are seen as academic pursuits of the more intellectually-minded geeks in the engineering / production / delivery functions, by a seemingly benevolent and indulgent business-minded leadership, for whom the ultimate test is out there in the market, where a valiant sales force battles tough bids and wins. More business, more repeat business (especially by beating competition) and not necessarily certification, is proof of good quality.

In spiritual India, on the contrary, where essence has always preceded existence, Quality (like nirvana) tends to be an ideal, to be pursued as an end in itself. Practitioners and managers in this environment may ignore or even oppose customer requests, citing the need to comply with ‘our own internal’ standards. I've always found it ironical that we understand servility and servitude, but not service. It is more important for us to be warm and friendly to our customers than to provide efficient service (as opposed to the Western world, where people are generally cold and business-like but strive to provide good service). To be fair, such markets are fighting hard to overcome legacy issues such as state-owned monopolies, government control through a draconian regulatory framework (especially when it comes to foreign trade), a socialistic mind-set where profit is sometimes a bad word, a culture of collusion among players who ought to have been competitors, and, to top it all, a business mind-set shaped by the economics of scarcity – where the Supplier ruled, and customers queued up only to be put on a waiting list. Even today, the attitude of a dominant player in these parts, towards a local customer, would be: “I am big. I am certified to kingdom come. I cater to a global clientele and get paid in dollars. If you are not happy with me, it’s your problem”.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it is all about balancing Customer Satisfaction with Quality, where the two are not necessarily coincidental. If demands of mature customers and pressure from competition do not drive evolution and growth, then the internal pursuit of excellence should. Whatever it is, the bar needs to be raised. Constantly.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Apropos allowing truth to prevail ...

I continue to be amazed by the blatant double-speak that people indulge in, and in a strange way, the world encourages. Whatever happened to the search for truth? I guess people don't want to go there any more - it's not exciting enough! It is one thing to learn to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty and paradox. But I missed that part when they taught us to live a lie. Taught us secretly, of course: no one ever used those words. But the world quietly allows such people to succeed, and actively encourages it or at the very least looks the other way. Which in fact proves the point: say "say what you do; do what you say" but do "say what you need to say; do what you need to do". Yup I got it, boss. Too late to change the twists and turns in my double helix, but will try and inject some of this into the kids.

Sadly, these days it is being seen as prudish to embrace virtue (in the form of integrity, for example) and condemn lack of character. In fact these very phrases seem to have developed an archaic ring, in a time when we worship gloss. And if this sounds like a lament for old school values that are dead and gone, think again. These are some of the principles that have kept the world spinning. But then who cares? Whose lie is it anyway ...

Monday, January 02, 2006


Welcome all ye fellow travellers who pass through this space at this time! Come leave your unique imprint chez moi. Share your experiences and your insights. Start conversations about important stuff (e.g., what is important and what isn't?) or about strange magical things. Nothing is too trivial or inane, else the world wouldn't have been.