Saturday, December 12, 2009
The current 'best practice' approach on disaster management is broadly stratified into 4 'levels' that deal with strategic and tactical planning, and implementation of various types of measures and countermeasures. These levels are: Prevention, Containment, Mitigation and Recovery. To a rational mind, it is fairly logical and self-evident that you would first try to prevent a disaster from happening, and if you just can't prevent it you'd try to restrict any damage that might be done to as narrow an impact zone as possible, try to minimize the damage done even within that narrow impact zone, and try to recover the situation and restore normalcy to the extent possible, as quickly as possible. Attempts to tackle disasters at any of these 4 levels need careful planning and skilled execution, and cost money. While investments at all 4 levels have their own pay-offs, the best RoI comes from investments at the level of Prevention, as opposed to the other 3 levels. It is not difficult to see why, as the following example illustrates. For a marathon runner, a fractured leg (resulting from some accident, let's say) even when mended will never be the same again. In the case of this athlete, money spent on averting the accident that resulted in the broken bone will pay back far more than large sums of money spent on post-accident treatment (which, incidentally, may not even ensure a full return to pre-accident normalcy). The problem is that such wisdom usually occurs in hindsight, and for the most part the athlete is likely to believe that it won't happen, simply because believing that it might happen would mean investment in Prevention, which in turn would involve too much of a change in lifestyle as also an outflow of cash.
If planned and executed properly, preventive measures can be quite effective in averting disasters. In all likelihood most people would not even be aware that a disaster could have struck them but was successfully prevented. And that is precisely where the problem lies, in terms of justifying the investment. When successful, preventive measures don't even let you know that they have delivered results. Most people would barely see the ghost of the disaster looming over them, if at all they do, and then disappearing - it would barely be a blip on the smooth surface of their daily routine. Only a few would know anything about the magnitude of the disaster that was averted and how close they came to being hit - and these would be the people who are closest to the apparatus that monitors the leading indicators of the disaster and triggers / oversees the preventive measures that should kick-in. Other people would, over a period of time, when the public memory of the disaster that never struck has faded, sceptically ask as to why so much is being spent on prevention. The ones who confidently bet that it would not happen will continue to believe that it hasn't and that it never will, while the few in the know will try to point out that it almost did, on at least one occasion, and is likely to happen again in future - and would promptly be called alarmist. And the same debates would continue.
By very definition, investments in Prevention will not tell you that they are working for you. If indeed disaster does strike, in spite of preventive measures, then it points to the underestimation of the probability and/or the scope and impact of the disaster, or else the effectiveness of the preventive measures. In such cases a common mistake would be to consider the investment in Prevention to be a waste. ("What's the use of spending so much if it had to hit us anyway" would be the line that sceptics would take.) Quite to the contrary, investments in Prevention should be directly proportional to the cross product of probability and impact. If it did hit you finally, and hit you badly, it most likely means that you got the probability and/or the impact wrong. (Of course, other reasons could be failure of execution / technology, but again that would most likely be due to inadequate investments.) And now it is the turn of investments at those other 3 levels - Containment, Mitigation and Recovery to work for you and deliver returns on those investments. However, even if they do work out as planned, they will never take you back to the way things were just a moment before the disaster struck. There is no resetting to normal, once disaster strikes: there is only adapting to the 'new normal' - a term that comes into vogue in the aftermath of a disaster, as it has in the wake of the global economic crisis.
Prevention works at the fork in the path of reality unfolding around the disaster - at the point in the eternally streaming flow of cause and effect, where things could turn left and towards disaster, or turn right and away from it. If the preventive measures are effective, things will take the right turn (quite literally). To justify the investment beyond doubt, you have to go back in time to the fork, as it were, take the other route to the left, and witness the alternative reality. Unfortunately, the laws of physics, as known to mankind up until now don't permit time travel. And so you have to settle for conjecture and speculation as to what might have happened, and whether the investment was worth it - there would never be any solid proof that it was. In science fiction, concepts like the 'Butterfly Effect' and movies like the Terminator series explore the possibility of going back in time to specific moments, where the outcome of a single seemingly insignificant event changes the course of history. The need for investment in Prevention would be obviated only if and when such time travel becomes possible in our real world, and not before. As of now, there is no going back - the only hindsight allowed to us is foresight. Which is why we need to make sure that we get this sustainability thing right the first time around. There will be no second time, and no world to get it right in, if we don't.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
On the sports field of the same school, I kept hearing this one homily: "It's not about winning or losing, it's about playing the game to the best of your ability." As I grew older, I noticed that they typically said this to those who came second (or third) in the race. Winners are seldom told this; they are only congratulated and given a medal. I used to get quite confused by what appeared to be mixed messages, to my impressionable and naive mind, and I was too young to even identify the source of my confusion. All I could see was that it was the trophy, bright and shiny, that everyone coveted - be it for academic excellence or sports, and the system was set up to award medals and prizes to the one guy who topped the class, and to make everyone else want that, somehow, anyhow. While I could see why it had to be that way in some cases, I wondered why this seemed to apply to just about everything else in life.
As an adult, I have come to recognize the boundaries of the simplistic models we sometimes use, in our naivety, to understand, describe and deal with the complex challenges of life. Life is not a mathematics test and nor is a 100 meter sprint. Both of these have a beginning and an end, simple rules and clear targets to achieve, and a finite number of possible outcomes. Yes, life does consist of situations that closely resemble either an exam or a game or both, but it also consists of other situations that really don't. It is essentially our need for cognitive fluency - our resistance to complexity that makes us force-fit all situations into a zero-sum model. Life, on the whole, is just not a zero-sum game, but we make it look like one because it makes it easier for us to handle. And that's where we make the mistake that Einstein cautioned us against with these words of advice: "Make things as simple as possible but not simpler". The zero-sum model is neat, simple and lays out clear rules for winning and losing, and so we go ahead and use that as the basis to model all human endeavour. In the sphere of education, all the systems we have set up for evaluating our children's performance are based on the zero-sum model. (Exceptions, though they exist, are too few to be statistically significant.) We have extended the ostensibly resounding success of this model into our adulthood as well. We wage war to resolve conflict, since war leads to decisive victory. We compete in free markets for market share and growth, edging out our rivals. All the systems we have created at work (performance measures, KRAs and KPIs, RoI, quarterly results) and at play (scoring goals, scoring runs, bettering the timing of the world's best athlete) are zero-sum models. Message: Achievement, not Effort, matters.
What we have not recognized is that this has resulted in creating a culture of over-achievers, as I have argued in a previous post. And a culture that silently encourages Jugaad, as I have argued in another previous post. If you can't win by staying within the confines of the rules of the game, then bend or break the rules so you can win. Because only the final answer counts. It is precisely this culture - of winning at any cost - that has led us, the human race, to the brink of collapse as evident in the 3 major global crises the world is still reeling under, as a glance at the global economy, the environment and socio-political landscape will testify. We are where we are, in each case, because a small number of over-achievers have been playing to win a zero-sum game, to meet their own narrow goals. Zero-sum is the reason why we use wars to work out conflicting needs between two groups of people, instead of trying to achieve congruence of different agendas through negotiation and diplomacy, in a spirit of partnership, tolerance and mutual respect. The bravado associated with winning wars, the drama, the romance, the glory ... all make us pooh-pooh earnest attempts at a peaceful positive-sum resolution, which the uber macho alpha prime male stereotype would mock at as the approach of wimps. On the contrary, it is war that is the refuge of the weak, as the strong will only look for peace.
Few events in recent world history have brought out the contrast in these two approaches (particularly in the area of global diplomacy / foreign policy) more starkly than the two Presidential campaigns in the United States last year. We saw the conservative business-as-usual approach, albeit with some modifications in a few areas, and the "other guy's" strategy that was radically different, since it was based on inclusiveness - an intent to actively engage with allies and a willingness to negotiate unconditionally with adversaries, even with those that were historically considered to be enemies. It is not as though the latter is unprecedented in the history of the United States (or of the world) but to a lot of minds, caught up as we were in the panic of the crises of our current time, and in part due to the outrage expressed by the incumbent Party, it seemed like a revolutionary approach. When Obama was elected President, I considered it a testimony to the American people's resolve to adopt a dramatically different position on the world stage and to actually lead other countries and communities to a world of peaceful co-existence. However, reactions from most people - Republicans as well as Democrats, Obama's supporters as well as detractors - when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, have led me to believe that Americans elected him President simply because they thought he was the only guy who could save them from the financial mess that his predecessors had left behind - essentially a domestic issue. It wasn't really a mandate to him to go implement his vision of world peace, as I realize now. Sadly, a significant proportion of the American population displays a "don't know / don't care" attitude towards the rest of the world, not realizing the long-term impact of that attitude. Several political analysts and commentators have been criticizing Obama in the last few months for having "apologized" to the world for America's hubris and imperiousness in the past, for trying to build bridges with the Muslim community, etc., claiming that such moves have diluted the leadership position of the United States. It's a pity that they do not realize that what he has been trying to do, in fact, is to restore the U.S. to its former position of glory, but in a way that is different from what their simple, zero-sum minds have been trained to think.
Leadership comes with privileges, no doubt, but it also comes with accountability. Americans must realize that if they expect their country to lead the world by the same democratic principles as they expect their President to lead their country, then they must acknowledge that their country is as accountable to the rest of the world as their President is to them. This includes responsibility for world peace, considering America's position as a military mega-power and its hegemony in most other areas 'that matter'. And this peace cannot come by taking an "us versus them" approach (where quite literally, "us" = "U.S."), which for several years has been the fundamental plank on which American foreign policy was built. Obama's most significant contribution towards world peace has been in initiating moves that are already shifting the "us versus them" paradigm, and this is not something he started working on only after he became President. When it comes to world peace, there is no exam, no top score, no super-bowl, no tape at the finish line to breast ahead of others and no final answer. Peace is characterized by the absence of conflict, which comes from the de-escalation of tension, which in turn comes from the birth of hope among affected parties - the hope of working out a win-win resolution. Positive-sum, not zero-sum, outcomes. And again, there is no finality to it, no single event or milestone, the accomplishment of which can qualify as having achieved world peace forever. War is different from peace, in this respect. Start World War III and you will get a final answer - the end of the world, and nothing can be more final than that. On the other hand global peace is like nirvana: you continuously work towards it but you may never attain it. But that doesn't mean you give up your effort. And so it all comes down to effort and attainment.
Meanwhile, Elinor Ostrom and Olive Williamson were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics. Since I did not know enough about them or their contributions, I decided to do some research. "Let's find out who these people are and what the heck they have DONE to deserve this award, considering that they haven't achieved anything by way of ending the global economic crisis", I said to myself sotto voce, parodying the same line of reasoning that critics took in challenging the Nobel Peace decision. Interestingly, I found an article by Ostrom titled "Governing The Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action", which addresses the classic Prisoner's Dilemma in game theory, and which also carries a paragraph that starts with:
"Changing the rules of the game to turn zero-sum games into non-zero-sum games may be one way to describe the arc of civilization for the past 8000 years"I smiled as I read that, since a lot of this is pretty much the kind of thinking underlying the core values and principles that my little fledgling business venture is based on. I even have a downloadable FAQ (right click to download) that talks about playing to win versus playing for win-win (on Page 4, in the answer to the last question on Page 3). My own solution to the Prisoner's Dilemma has always been to stay silent and take the least cost approach for both parties taken together, and I've always wondered as to why on earth anyone should want to exercise any other option. Most economists expect that the "rational" decision of an average human would be to betray the accomplice, which is an indication of how deeply steeped in zero-sum thinking we all are.
I shall end this rather long post (and thanks for staying with me till here) with my own paraphrasing of the Serenity Prayer - Dear Lord, grant us the capability to win zero-sum games, the skill to negotiate a win-win in positive-sum partnerships, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen to that!
Friday, August 28, 2009
Indian business and technology services companies needn’t stand by passively and watch their global market share decline. Innovation will be the key to maintaining and even expanding their market share. Business models that continue to focus on low labor costs won’t suffice.
My comment to the article (not visible at the site at the time of writing this post) is reproduced here below, and what follows subsequently is an elaboration of the rationale behind my argument and an elucidation of my point of view on the subject.
Clients based in North America and Western Europe (the predominant 'buyer' markets) have been tapping into India as a destination for well over a decade, and by now have a good understanding of the issues and opportunities that India represents. They know where the trade-offs are: while on the plus side, as I have argued, India offers a wider range of skills, better scale and better process quality, the down-side comes primarily in the form of higher attrition, greater geographical distances and time-zone differences, cultural incompatibility and to some extent lack of infrastructural robustness. Attrition can be a major problem for clients who have invested time, cost and energy in transferring knowledge. Secondly, while it is true that India enjoys the advantage of a large educated and English-speaking resource base, one must also remember that cultural compatibility is not just about being able to speak in a common language (which itself is debatable in the first place, since a lot of the knowledge workers who originate from smaller towns in India cannot really boast of fluency in English, not to mention American colloquialism). Thirdly, while time-zone differences of up to 12 hours do offer the advantage of having someone, somewhere, working on a project 24x7, they do not solve the problem of logistics (when professionals on either shore need to travel great distances to the other shore) and the problem of disrupted daily routine (when professionals on either shore need to be on conference calls at odd hours in their working day).India's competitive advantage (beyond wage arbitrage) has always been scale and process maturity. Other destinations simply cannot match the ability of Indian companies to offer large pools of talent to dip into (in terms of breadth as well as depth), or to ramp-up their teams quickly. Besides, a lot of non-Indian companies are still struggling with the challenges of managing process quality in very large projects. However this is not a sustainable competitive advantage. China has the potential to match and surpass India's strengths in terms of both scale as well as process maturity, given the size of their literate population and their culture of rigour and discipline (which is being applied even now, for example, to learning English as well as learning large scale process management). But other than China, there aren't too many countries that represent a real threat to India. Innovation is a buzz word, in my opinion, and though this may sound counter-intuitive, it is a fairly commoditizable and replicable attribute. It does not represent a sustainable competitive advantage. Talent pools from the countries / cultures that presently constitute off-shore destinations (or aspire to join the club) are equally good or bad at learning, practising and delivering on the promise of innovation. There is nothing unique about Indian ingenuity that makes Indian talent intrinsically and significantly more innovative than the average knowledge worker in, say, China or Egypt or Eastern Europe or even Latin America!
Comparatively, Central and South American destinations are closer, by way of both time-zone compatibility (in terms of virtual meetings / conferences) as well as geographical proximity (in terms of travel), for North American clients. The same goes for Eastern Europe in the case of European clients. Also, clients find better cultural compatibility in dealing with teams in those destinations, and business communication between client and provider teams is relatively easier and smoother. Language barriers are not significantly higher than when dealing with India, and in some cases may even be lower. Also, attrition is comparatively much lower in most of these destinations. The only disadvantage these destinations have is in terms of skill mix, scalability (especially in terms of ramp-up time) and process maturity. And that is where India has been scoring. Of all competing destinations, China is the only one that has the capability (not to mention the will!) of outstripping India on these fronts. Through concerted efforts in strengthening infrastructure (power, telecoms, etc.), in fighting attrition, in broadening and deepening the pool of trained and qualified professionals, and in imparting cross-cultural and soft-skills training to its resources (a la finishing schools), India can hope to keep the No. 2 slot if / when China overtakes India (may just be a matter of time). Perhaps this is a more pragmatic goal for India as an off-shoring destination.
That said, the opportunity for Indian companies to maintain their leadership position lies not in trying to fight the up-hill battle of keeping India as the most preferred destination. In fact, it lies in not confining themselves to India as a destination. Again, this is not an epiphany - in fact it is not even news. Most of the top-tier India-based service providers (including those founded by Persons of Indian Origin) have already started the process of building (or in some cases, consolidating) 'near-shore' hubs in Central and South America, Eastern Europe and other regions. A few have done this through organic growth, but most have done so through acquisitions of stake in local players, to whom Indian companies offer stability, scale, leadership in process maturity and access to other markets, in return for a better presence in the local / regional market, a ready local client base, and the ability to provide a multi-locational offering to their global clients. Leading Indian companies have already figured out that globalization is no longer about staying in India and offering ITO / BPO type of services to the world, as clients have increasingly started demanding lower attrition rates and flexibility in terms of location and time-zones, over and above range of skills, scalability and process maturity.
India as a destination will lose its leadership position in a few years - at the very least, the gap between India and other destinations will start closing rapidly (it already is) as they ramp-up and start competing. Innovativeness is not a special gift that is unique to India-based talent pools and believing that it is so can at best be termed as misplaced patriotism (at worst, it is a kind of jingoistic denial of reality) on the part of Indians. Innovation is a great value proposition and I am not suggesting that it should be abandoned altogether (especially because others will start offering it too!) The smart thing to do, for service providers of Indian origin, is to focus on developing a global delivery footprint (not just sales offices) and the ability to provide the right mix of capability, capacity (i.e., scale), team stability and cultural compatibility, and process excellence, at locations preferred by the client - on-site / off-site / near-shore / off-shore. And as the adoption of globalization shifts to the mid-tier client base, focus on forging strong partnerships with clients to achieve the distinction of becoming an extended team. Cultural compatibility and responsiveness to changing client needs are key. Innovation will just be a hygiene factor.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Friday, August 07, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Good post! Thanks for sharing some very interesting insights on Indian ingenuity, which, arguably, is unparalleled across global industrial and business cultures. However, I have a couple of concerns about Jugaad, which I shall attempt to crystallize around two focal points:
1. 'Jugaad' could easily become another word for 'adjust' - an English word that is used in a totally different sense in
. While it means different things to different people in different contexts, the common thread running through all of those is the ability to 'make do' with the situation and 'somehow manage' to meet your goals. It can be a positive thing sometimes (for instance, when we learn to accommodate and tolerate some inconvenience, with a larger good in view) but quite often, it becomes synonymous with either compromise or poor quality or unfair means - or any combination thereof. We must be cautious, in according official sanction to this approach, to not sweep all of these overtones into the same box. Frugal engineering is a good, healthy, positive spin to put on Jugaad, but only if we mine the 'ore' of the broad concept, get rid of the unwanted and toxic sludge, and refine the valuable part (i.e. the part dealing with value addition through innovation out of constraints) of the core concept. If we are successful in doing that, India could actually create her own unique methodology aimed at gaining competitive advantage in the global economic value chain across all industry. India
2. Notwithstanding the above, and from a different point of view, where are environmental considerations in all this? Are Jugaad strategies green? Does Jugaad provide an opportunity for sustainable competitive advantage? Unfortunately, the path of socially responsible ecological economics is not easy, in that there are no short-cuts. Instead, there are some really tough trade-offs to be considered and hard decisions to be made. Jugaad sometimes also becomes synonymous with short-cuts, as explained above. But if Jugaad strategies also result in sustainable wealth creation, then they are more than welcome. If not, even if they are ethically sound practices, we must first check if they are also 'clean and green' before we deploy them.
To summarize, my mixed feelings about Jugaad centre around the potential for breach of ethics and the absence of environmental / ecological and social considerations. While I am excited by the potential of Jugaad - to become our next national slogan, if you like - I am equally concerned that official endorsement of it may become a license to unscrupulous businessmen to continue indulging in malpractices with even more gusto. Let's remember that the myopic tactics followed by some sections of the global financial services industry, which eventually led to the global economic crisis, were also a form of Jugaad. Such tactics were innovative, perhaps, but they were also toxic, as time has shown. And non-sustainable.
Thanks for your patience with my rather lengthy comment!
Saturday, May 09, 2009
So here goes …. (a summary is posted at my mini-blog)
Note: The principles, as appear in the heading of each paragraph below in the format "(x) over (y)", are to be read as "Value and prioritize (x) over (y)" and "Let (x) govern (y)". It does not mean that per se (y) is bad and undesirable, but that there is a higher good over (y) and that is (x), and that (y) should not be pursued at the cost of (x). Business schools today are mostly focused on encouraging (y) and seldom, if at all, even mention (x) as a priority. And never as a governing principle over (y).
Assimilation over Growth - We are always looking for growth, and that's a good thing. We want to grow, and fast. Very soon, we find ourselves chasing 'Big Hairy Audacious Growth', and at that point, we have already started to go downhill, from a long term perspective, though we may not realize it immediately. We need to pause a bit, and assimilate the growth that we have already undergone, just as while eating our favourite food, we learn to eat moderately sized morsels, chew on them, and pause every once in a while. Gorging recklessly on food can only cause indigestion. A wise friend of my father-in-law (and a famous film personality) once told him (in Hindi, which I am translating here): "Eat less, eat more. Eat more, eat less". When asked, he explained this as follows - if you eat less, you can live longer and thus eat more. But if you eat more, you will fall sick and die a premature death and therefore you would have eaten less. Let us spend adequate time to assimilate the fruits of growth, as we grow towards a better world.
Pace over Expediency - Speed is good, and I love it. But speed can kill, as we realize soon. We tend to glamourize speed and impatience. There's a commercial on TV these days for a telecom carrier, that glorifies the 'impatient generation', which is constantly hankering for more speed and better response time. While better response time is a good thing in telecom and technology, the general glorification of speed and impatience sends the wrong message to an already misguided mind-set. There is a certain pace which works best for moving things along. Go any faster and you're already sowing the seeds of failure and destruction. We must learn to find the 'right' pace at which to do things. Einstein, when he was repeatedly called upon to explain his complex theories in plain English, said he could only try to "make things as simple as possible, but not simpler". If he simplified it beyond a point, then it wouldn't be the same thing. Oversimplification runs the risk of distorting the meaning of a truth till it becomes a falsehood. Let's apply the same principle to speed, albeit with some paraphrasing - do things at the 'right' pace, not faster. As to the question of what is the 'right' pace, there is no single answer, and life is too complex for us to create a heuristic that is universally applicable for all activities and all initiatives. Here's where we need to embrace the principle in spirit rather than letter. I can only suggest a broad guideline and that is - the right pace is the slowest speed at which something can get done. Any slower than that will not meet your goals. So, do things as slowly as possible but not slower. This is the polar opposite of what we tend to do - we look for the fastest speed at which we can get things done as per the dictum 'don't put off for tomorrow what you can do today and don't put off for later what you can do now'. I disagree. Do not clutter up your 'now' with things that can wait for later. There is already too much happening in the 'now'. Let 'right pacing' govern speed, for a better world. The 'slow' movement is a good initiative in this regard and I support it wholeheartedly.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Over the years, we have created a culture of over-achievement in business and that has extended to everything else (including sports which is now big business). And we're proud of it: we worship over-achievers in every sphere and every walk of life. Over-achievement by definition means going beyond current benchmarks of achievement, beyond even 'stretch targets', to attain the impossible. Every era has a myth that drives leaders and star performers of that era, and in this era it is the myth of over-achievement. A close corollary (though not an intrinsic pre-condition) which is subtly understated (if at all) but well understood is that you can over-achieve at any cost if you're smart enough to get away with it. You then become a hero, who everyone will idolize. (Even athletes cheat, these days - if not for financial gain then to break records.)
If we think over-achievement is a good thing then so be it - there's no need for reform, in B-schools or elsewhere, and let's agree to live in a world where crises like these will happen repeatedly over time like all other cyclical phenomena. If on the other hand we think this is not a good thing, then let management thinkers and B-schools take the lead in determining how to change it. Clearly, I would throw my mite with the latter. I propose two key words to focus on: ethics (obviously) and sustainability (which is not necessarily derived from an ethical perspective). Ethics and morality tend to be deontological in nature i.e. they preach the doctrine of 'be good, do good' as an end in itself. This works best side-by-side with an accompanying culture of self-regulation, and if that is a successful dynamic then there is no need for hard external regulation. Sustainability is a bit different in the sense that it does not directly deal with 'goodness' in itself or by itself. Sustainability as a value or principle is teleological in nature i.e. it focuses on outcomes and advocates aiming at the larger and longer term desirable scenario. In extreme situations, sustainability may even require a temporary suspension of the ethical, when one is challenged to transcend the smaller / short-term definition of 'good' in deference to a larger / long-term 'good'. It is precisely because these ideas and concepts are soft and nebulous, if not vague, that such subjects need to be taught to students, and not just in B-schools.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
2. I am still trying to understand the meaning of the complex number “i” (the square root of minus one). Frankly, I’m still trying to understand the meaning of “meaning”.
3. Five things I can’t live without – love, music, work (not to be confused with 'job' or 'career'), good food & fine wine, conversation.
4. I started blogging so that I could hone my writing skills but with every post, I become increasingly disappointed with the way it turns out. I have a long way to go, it seems, before I learn the art of crafting extraordinary poetry from ordinary words. Prose lends itself to the proclivity to be bombastic (I could have said tendency but I said proclivity – see what I mean?), and while I try to desist, I find it hard to resist.
5. I grapple with my ability to tolerate intolerance … and rarely succeed.
6. As a kid, I used to make model airplanes, ships etc. Some of my airplanes actually flew. My favourites were the gliders I made out of thermocole sheets – I enjoyed launching them from a height and watching them glide gracefully. Few things give you more joy than seeing something that you have created, actually work the way it was supposed to.
7. Some time ago I propounded my own version of the Uncertainty Principle – “It is impossible to simultaneously and precisely eat your cake and have it too, but you can come pretty darn close to doing so, if you’re lucky”.
8. I don’t drive. But strangely, I have implicit faith in the person sitting behind the wheel (though quite often, they are complete strangers), as I do in the nameless pilots who fly the aircrafts I travel in. This is perhaps the only real manifestation of faith that I have. When my son jumps down into my arms from a tree, he has the same faith in me. This is awesome!
9. I am always looking for opportunities to do absolutely nothing. This is not as easy as it sounds. Try it some time!
10. I learn a lot from everyone, especially from the ones I teach. Quite often, my most intense learning comes from trying to teach something I believe I know, to someone who doesn’t seem to understand. Some of my most momentous moments of epiphany have been in such situations.
11. One of my favourite quotes is from Tunda Kababwalla (a famous kabab chef in Lucknow). In a TV interview, he was asked why he had not started a franchise to expand his business. His reply: “Munafa utna hi ho jitna khane mein namak”. I understood that as: “Target only as much return (in business), as you would have salt in your food”. (I hope my Urdu is accurate!) To me, this was a lesson in moderation.
12. I am fascinated by the universe and everything in it. Especially women. (Kidding! Just thought I’d add that last part to make it funny in a Woody Allen-esque way)
13. Though I do not purport to be a believer, I pray often, because it teaches me humility.
14. My paradoxes don’t bother me as much as they used to: I’d rather be complete than consistent. Then again, I’m not a fan of inconsistency either.
15. Speaking of which, I’d rather be consistent and reliable than inconsistent and unpredictable. It is only those who are truly and intrinsically boring that are afraid of being predictable.
16. My paradoxes don’t bother me as much as my convictions do. But, over time, they turn into paradoxes, and then I am a bit more comfortable with them.
17. Some day I hope to be able to form a band that will play my favourite music and let me play along too!
18. Anyone with strong and deep-rooted beliefs (even if it is belief in the doctrine of faithlessness), scares me. However, I must admit that the zealously devout scare me more than staunch atheists do. It is only with the uncertain sceptics that I am comfortable, though I doubt I am one of them. (A wise wag once said – Always trust a seeker, but only till he finds the Truth.)
19. I have great respect for a few people – some for their vision, some for their character, some for their talent (as manifested in their work) and others for various combinations of these three great qualities. I am not so impressed with personality or charisma as an attribute by itself – if it comes along with vision or skill or character, then so be it, but stand-alone, it represents insignificant value to me.
20. Unlike John Stuart Mill, I’d rather be a contented pig than a dissatisfied Socrates. While Socrates is among the few people I have the greatest respect for, I’d rather not be him, if I have a choice. Ah to be a contented pig!!
21. I would love to travel the world (not on business, like I’ve been doing all these years, but as a carefree nomad). Places, people, cuisines, cultures, music, dance, art, architecture, tools, technologies, history … a vast ocean of enchantment.
22. I’ve always considered Invention to be easier than Discovery; Innovation easier than Insight; Building easier than Understanding. Which is probably why scientists are more intelligent than engineers!
23. My learning from relationships – Give more, expect less. But don’t give more than what you have and don’t expect less than what you deserve. (Works at the personal level as well as in business.) The toughest part is learning to deal with expectations – your own as well as your counterparty’s. Master that and your relationships will be successful.
24. I enjoy getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city to the open and wide country. I can actually hear the absence of the ‘white noise’ in the background of all urban spaces, and it is the most beautiful sound. It feels like a load has been lifted off of you, and you are light and alive. (To those who don’t know what I am talking about – I can only liken this to the fragrance of the first rain on dry earth, which I am sure you can relate to.) Now ... if only those places had broadband!
25. I’ve always empathized more with Hector than with Achilles, and more with Karn than with Arjun. It is easy to be brave when you have been blessed with the protection of gods, which makes you almost invincible. Be a mere mortal and fight your battles yourself! Here’s a quote on bravery from the movie “Kate and Leopold” (yup, the chick flick with Meg Ryan et al.): “The brave are simply those with the clearest vision of what is before them – glory and danger alike, and notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
26. (Bonus) I didn’t realize I had 25 ... correction 26 ... things to say about myself till I started with this list.