I am so used to

I am so used to

  • checking at 4:30pm if the postman left mail in my letter box

  • going up to the post office to drop off my mail

  • waiting for the operator to call back saying my trunk dial request has gotten through

  • taking a day off every month to do my bank work and pay utility bills

  • queuing up to buy travel tickets

Actually the list is endless when stretched over the sands of time. That is why I get very nervous and worried when I see this phrase in communications used as a means to not try something new

What’s your favorite “I am so used to” phrase? How often do you encounter this phrase? If you ask me I’d say “I am so used to seeing this phrase” (oh, irony!)

Approach the net

The Championships - Wimbledon 2013: Day ThreeLast evening my wife and I watched a bit of Wimbledon after putting our ten month old to bed. It was Roger Federer playing a rank unknown (later identified at ranked 116) Ukrainian Sergei Stakhovsky. It was the first set that went to a tiebreaker. My wife observed, a bit soulfully, that players these days do not approach the net as often as their counterparts a decade earlier did. Tennis on grass was about serve-and-volley. By the time the final would be played, the center court would sport two prominent bald patches on the otherwise brilliant carpet of green. One patch would span horizontally at the baseline and the other at almost perpendicular along the center service line. The second patch represented the path of risk. It was that line players took to approach the net. At the net they would expose the entire court behind them – a total blindspot. And positioned there, the braveheart would expect to intercept the ball much before a bounce or air friction took the sting out of a return. It forced players to accept a reduced reaction time and a possibility that they might have to dive to reach the ball without having recourse to rising again to play the point. But players went up to the net and accepted all these risks – all for the possibility of meeting the challenge head on and catching their adversaries unawares

Last evening we noticed that Stakhovsky was approaching the net far often than Roger Federer was. He was losing most of the net points but that did not deter him to run up. That’s perhaps what a 116 does when facing a number 3. As sleep deprived parents we went to sleep just after Federer pocketed the first set, half assured that we’ll catch a longer viewing of the next match he played. But then we clearly undermined the rewards of risk taking

In life if you have the opportunity to approach the net, won’t you take it?

Opening is Overrated

Each morning I receive a email from the institution that does equity broking for me. The mail, without variation, foretells how the Indian equity markets would open on that day. There are three variations

  1. Indian markets are expected to open flat
  2. Indian markets are expected to open strong
  3. Indian markets are expected to open weak

In the last two instances the cause is ascribed to “global cues” while in the first case it is generally the “lack of global cues”. We shall refrain from discussing the inanity of a message such as this (or maybe park it for another day) but why this fixation about “opening”? What does opening get us? Other than a burst of bunched up activities pent up from a period of inactivity it signifies nothing much

Opening is overrated. As much in stock markets as in life

What is of consequence is closing – the point where the tape meets the chest (or it does not). Heard of any broker that predicts how markets will close? They don’t. Too complex, they say. So much happens during the day that makes the closing a fuzzy thing. It is different for human beings though – we most often know how the closing should be. But then we waste too much effort on the opening. An inauguration, a project kick-off meeting, an unveiling, cut the ribbon, a kick off dinner. Wasteful. Instead focus on the closing

It is how you end that matters. Opening is overrated. As much in stock markets as in life

How Does it Benefit You?

Coincidence it most likely is. Or it could be that I carry a visible only to others sign of “underemployed” on my person. Because twice during the course of the past week I was asked this question – “Why do you write? How does it benefit you?”. I mumbled some explanation to the posers of the question – different answers each time, making up in bravado what they lacked in logic – and made a mental note that I should make it a bit more public the motivations (?) that make me put pen to paper fingers to keyboard

Someone who has illusions of emancipation from the dire bottom of Abraham Maslow’s pyramid yet not having scaled the pinnacle of self actualization would try to make economic benefits from most acts. That’s understood and is quite normal. I have always been, continue to be and will surely maintain the trait of being bit of a buffoon in such matters. I do not have any intent of monetizing my writing. This blog does not run any digital ads, I have written for other publications and have never asked for money. So I guess that question “How does it benefit you?” is perfectly in order and the reasons have got to be outside of monetary gains

I write to clear my mind. Ever since I started writing – in whatever form – I noticed that the act of stringing my thoughts together forced me to clear my mind of clutter and helped me focus. This starts from the time a writing idea germinates. And on the other side of the coin, the alternate hypothesis reinforces this feeling. I am able to  easily correlate my writer’s blocks with periods where my mind wanders too much around. Distraction is a bane to thinking. So writing helps me think clearly (thinking clearly is a good thing, I hope you will agree) and sweep out cobwebs of my mind. Hence I write

I write to inform. The pompous idiot that I am I almost wrote the earlier line as “I write to teach”. Bunkum. What do I know that I will teach? Wisdom has eluded me as judiciously as economic development has in the hinterlands of India’s North East. I have however in my quest to learn accumulated information – information from different fields – which sometimes I feel compelled to interpret in the context of a particular line of thinking. That is what I put down on paper – my interpretation of information. I put it up on a public platform so people could come and tell me what they think (like recently a commentator, calling himself Verbal Clint, called me Kobiyashi. Ha Ha – actually no, that happened in the movie Usual Suspects. Verbal on this blog was kinder. He read my piece and pronounced me a “sad idiot”)

I write to leave a legacy. There was a time some ten years back when I lost someone with who I had shared a room in my college hostel. Losing a close contemporary makes one aware of mortality. And the thought of mortality lead to thinking of legacy – how will the world remember me when I am no more? Again, who am I to tell people to judge me in a particular way? All I can do is dip my fingers in paint and leave my fingerprints on a wide canvas. These prints are my writing. Hopefully they will survive the ravages of time and people will find it worthwhile to read them long after I am gone (hey Google, just don’t indexing these pages, ok?)

That’s it. These are the only three reasons why I write

Incidentally, not all authors write for identical reasons. For example, here is the brilliantly honest George Orwell telling you why he writes

 “I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery

But then, if I were George Orwell I would have written Animal Farm, no?

6ix Deadly E-Mail Diseases

A couple of years back I had written this as a note on Facebook. As is the nature with diseases, they have mutated into more virulent forms and have struck havoc with many personalities (like Lalit Modi & N Srinivasan for example). What I mean is this list might be old but most certainly not outdated

CCitis

The malaise that makes the sender of an e-mail add on more people to the CC list as a chain grows. Very soon recipients are unsure why they are receiving the mails (especially the new entrants who behave like someone who got the men’s and women’s rooms mixed up). Most people read the thread top-down, resulting in what is popularly called the “Memento Effect” – following a sequence of events in reverse chronological direction.

BCCia

The patient suffers from a virulent version of identity crisis. This is a typical psycho malaise in which the patient is reticent to disclose his friends to other friends. Is very prevalent in forwarding jokes and other irrelevant stuff. The disease spreads by multiplication where a BCC recipient might further fwd the same message using BCC and often to the people who were in the first BCC list. Added Complexity: Some patients – in more advanced stages of the disease – alter the content of a mail while forwarding to blind lists. The original perpetrator of the chain often gets back the same mail – in BCC, of course – and spends a lot of time in creating “diff-reports”

Attachmenesia

People who are getting closer to embracing Alzheimer’s display this property. The sender usually writes a long verbose e-mail body describing the contents of an alleged attachment. Excellent stuff, until it is found that the mail sent out did not contain the attachment. Typically followed by every recipient replying to all that the attachment was missing. They very soon form a very happy – but not necessarily small – family. Medical advancement: A few software developers have published utilities that detect missing attachments. The software essentially snoops your e-mail and fails miserably when you write “Ms. Jayalalitha did a poetic dance presentation when she was attached with the Karunanidhi foundation of Family Charity”. The software expects you to attach one Ms. Jayalalitha.

Send Anxiety

A mainly psycho-somatic affliction where the composer of an email hovers endlessly over the send button. Generally caused by the freezing of the right index finger over the left mouse button when the mouse pointer is poised over the Send button of any email application. Mathematically, the intensity of anxiety (A) is equal to the square of the sum of absolute cumulative difference of levels of all recipients (reference point = sender) about to receive the mail.

Delivery Anxiety

The patient suffers from extreme discomfort after sending email; this discomfort can only be relieved by actually talking to the recipient of the email and asking “did you get my email?” If the answer is in the negative, the patient feels compelled to spell out the contents of the email in detail thus combining the disadvantages of both synchronous and asynchronous communication

H0B2S Flu (a/k/a Have Zero Brains To Show)

The e-mail is about a specific person or persons and the sender (patient hereafter) wants to know more about them. Instead of consulting the corporate intranet, the patient includes them in the “To” or “CC” list and double clicks to check properties (MS Outlook workflow). Glowing in an aura of self congratulation, the patient forgets to remove these people from the recipient list when hitting the “send” button. Many people, about to be terminated, have actually benefited from this disease and with this as weapon have often got the patients terminated instead (close contender for Corporate Darwin Award for Gene Pool Consciousness – having cleaned up a gene pool by taking oneself out of it)

Post Script

A friend on Facebook had suggested two diseases I must consider for inclusion – Delivery Receiptitis Syndrome (DRS) and Message Recallus Anxiety (MRA). Please put comment if you have encountered others that we should be writing about

Bloggers’ Block & P2H

I have not posted a single article in September. My readership has not fallen off the cliff but it is clear that I have been living off endowments.

I have been inflicted with Bloggers’ Block – an inability to feed a editorial content centric medium with thoughts that matter, conversations that advance a line of thinking. It is easy for me to sit back and attribute this apathy to several reasons but none of them would hold up against my dad’s principle – “If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well”. And this blog is worth doing.

Thus is born P2H – shorthand for Project Two Hundred. In the next one year, I set myself a target of 200 posts, without bunching them up and gaming the system. The objective behind this is two fold. First (and most obvious) is to ensure my readers get the content they expect from this medium. Secondly (and more important for me), I expect this will force me to find an hour of thinking time every day

To keep myself honest I shall post the standard Board Room “Target v Actual” graphs every month (if you want special animation in those or super-vivid colors, please write to me)

There is something that I would like you to do too. If you see some (or none) of what I have set as goals happening you will post an acerbic comment on this post. I shall not delete it. It will serve as a permanent footprint on cyberspace of not doing well something that was worth that effort

PS: As always, there is a bit of Seth Godin in all this

The End and its Means

I apologize to my readers who come to this blog mostly for Product Management, technology and capital markets fare. I hope you will pardon my digression to a matter that has occupied the collective intellect of most good-minded citizens of India over the past fifteen days
The worst time to speak about peace is during war. Positions are drawn, feelings run high, and rhetoric is generally a preferred option over rationality. Populist polarization fueled by a zealotry sense of attachment to a stand mostly ruins any chance of a civil debate, leave alone meaningful negotiations. Over the past twelve days India has witnessed precise enactment of this script. The fast of a septuagenarian symbol of crusader against the greatest malaise of modern day India – graft – both united the country in rising a voice of protest in unison as well as sharply dividing opinion on both the means and the efficacy of the suggested end. The media – both social and news-centric – exploded into action and it was impossible to cut through the hardened feelings and have a constructive debate. Binary positions evolved on either side and articulation of a position immediately attracted attacks from the other end of the spectrum. Logic took a holiday, much like how law-making had from our executive institutions. Now that the dust has settled it perhaps merits a closer look at what transpired, with an eye that casts a look back at history and sneaks a peek in at what the future might hold. But first a look at the protagonists, the colorful cast that was necessary to act out this even more colorful drama

It is a curse to be on the treasury benches of the Parliament especially at a time when a mixture of complacency and hubris concocted to bring the ruling party to a state where it seemed to be on a path of self-destruction. The Grand Old Party of India, the Indian National Congress lead coalition, the UPA, found itself precisely in that uneviable position. The Congress party has ruled India for most of its sixty four years of independence – sixty four years that until 1992 saw a deeply socialist rule. Given this model where the state controlled most resources and the extensive longevity of successive governments, it is not surprising that members of this party, past, present and those harboring ambitions, are well adept at both creating and exploiting leakages in the system to their benefit. Yes, there were periods on unrest, especially in the 1970s, which was dealt with brute force by the ruling Congress party, which also created a precedence framework of dealing with dissent, especially if the dissent threatened to rattle the seat of power. This is exactly how the government, the current UPA government, dealt with godman Ramdev when it first negotiated and then negated with brute force what was otherwise a relatively inconsequential protest against corruption. Peel the layers back on Ramdev and you will discover that he lacked one vital ingredient that sways public opinion. Credibility. And in that vacuum stepped in Kisan Baburao Hazare, reverentially called Anna

Anna Hazare once contemplated suicide, possibly from depression after serving the Indian army in the 1965 war against Pakistan (he was a truck driver and his co-passenger was riddled with bullets in front of his eyes). He pulled himself up and in 1975, chose to reform a small hamlet  called Ralegan Siddhi, fifty miles from Pune. Studies show that this village today stands head and shoulders above comparable hamlets in economic development (per capita income has risen eight-fold since Anna Hazare came into the scene at Ralegan Siddi). How did it happen? Hazare had quickly identified the root cause of what plagues the village – total lack of productivity and went about solving that in an authoritarian way. He banned alcohol and personally tied up offenders to a pole and flogged them with his army belt. He introduced family planning and refused to give a seat on the village panchayat anyone who had more than two children. Hazare banned non-vegetarian food in the village claiming it increases craving for alcohol. For a man who would later use the electronic media to dance like a puppet to his tune, Anna Hazare banned cable TV in his village – a ban that was lifted only during the time when he went on a fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar earlier this year. Hazare tasted success in his social experiment at Ralegan Siddhi and spurred by this heady tonic, he marched straight towards the issue that most captures the imagination of the common man in India. Corruption. And in doing that he merely copy-pasted his previous coercive tactics and a naive belief that what worked spectacularly for a small village will be as successful in a complexly interfaced national governance structure

What happened subsequently in the confrontation is well documented, if not extremely well followed on social, electronic and print media and does not merit repetition but it was important to evaluate the happenings in the light of the past positions of the protagonists that participated. The twelve days were pregnant in possibilities of case studies around game-theory, media handling, low cunning and marketing amongst others but let us devote a quick look at iconism.

It was godsend that Hazare was diminutive, dark and frail. That visual mixed with equal parts of support to similar causes and moderately identical battle-strategies had every Indian associate Kisan Baburao Hazare with Mohandas Gandhi. Very soon Anna Hazare’s tactics started borrowing traits from Gandhi’s struggle for self-rule (astute was the choice of 16th August as the start date of the campaign and the huge visual of Gandhiji behind the stage from where the little old man fought his crusade). A team of technocrats gathered around Hazare and kept the public enthralled, blood boiling, aspirations soaring and rhetoric going all while the icon of the movement was a non-violent, small man who made India dream of a land where a magic wand had obliterated corruption from public life. Great communication depends of building strong visual affinity to the cause and Team Anna (a term cleverly coined to align with the ICC Cricket World Cup winning Team India) did that to perfection

Unfortunately it were members of Team Anna that robbed the movement of its credibility. Enraged minds are easily impressionable. This is what members of Hazare’s team played with. Binary positions much like George W Bush in his mindless war against Iraq emerged – if you are against Anna Hazare in any form you are supporting corruption in all forms – and citizens got lead to the slippery slope of a notion that the democratic state has failed and to build  a better structure it was necessary to raze to ground the existing institutions. Democracy was lethargic to present change opportunities once every five years, so it was perfectly fine to deliver a heat-and-eat governance through popular revolt – it was professed. The bath water had gotten dirty and needed to be thrown out and the public was asked to please not shed tears if the baby also went out with it. Thankfully, better sense prevailed at the end, but a whiff of doubt lingers – what lessons did this movement teach us?

One key cornerstone of popular corruption in India is that the end is what matters – the means are secondary (talk to anyone and watch out for the unconditional praise on the term Jugaad, a get-done-by-any-means approach of success). Scarily enough, this movement against corruption was in a large part that. One can rightly be dismissive of Rahul Gandhi who does not have a cogent stance on anything of political or social significance but it is foolhardy to brush off his argument that a coercive method like what we witnessed could easily be carried out for causes that are vicious, divisive, improper or all of the above. As we have discovered through this movement, whipping up sentiments through popular channels of communication is not a difficult art and perhaps there will emerge guns-on-hire tomorrow to serve ulterior causes at appropriate price. The celebration that has swept the country today is not that of eradication of corruption, nor is it about a successful implementation of a framework – or even a roadmap – of what will lead to it but a mere submission of a bumbling government to agree to start a legislative process. It is an important milestone, yes it is. However as the intoxication of victory settles us down in sobriety, spare a hard look at the method. History often takes an unforgiving stance towards baneful precedences