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29 June 2013

Is Money Important as a goal?

I still remember my response to Rajumohan's question, like it is today. 

Why do I remember that respose? Because one comment that I innocuously made that day set my career back by a few years.

The year was 2000. We, me and Rajumohan, were driving down to Kanthal office in Hosur for a review of the ERP Implementation that I was implementing as a consultant.

Rajumohan, being my Project Manager, was on his way to review my work.

Kanthal Industries Limited was my first customer (or 'Client' as they say in IT Industry). I was implementiong Scala, an ERP Application, for this company. Hosur, where the company is located, is about 40 Kilometers from Bangalore, where I was staying. 

We were in Rajumohan's car, with him driving. We were chatting this and that and then Rajumohan asked, "What do you think? Is money important? Should you target money as a goal?"

I was like, kinda naive and kinda bombastic. I answered (feeling self-important), "I don't think money should be a goal. It is a result. Our goals should be achievements. The more we achieve, the more the money will follow."

The moment I said that statement, I started believing in that. I started believing that money was not a goal, it should be a result. With that belief, I blocked my mind to any further ideas, any further discussion, on this very important topic.

From then on, I started chasing 'Achievements'.

How do you do that? How do you add to your list of 'Achievements'? 

As per experts, the classic path is to identify your strengths, and keep doing what you are good at, and it will result in more and more achievements.

And hope the money will follow. 

I decided that my strength was ERP Consulting and I started trying to 'Achieve'. I went and did more and more implementations, for different customers, I filled my CV with successful ERP Implementations. I piled up an impressive list of ERP Achievements. I collected testimonials from customers. I got comments from customers like 'Ramaswamy knows about my company more than my people do'. 

I was happy. I was doing work that I liked and enjoyed. 


money did not come in proportion to my achievements. 

Money followed its own path. As I kept on doing ERP Implementations, money followed the path of 'Diminishing Marginal Utility'. The incremental money from my next achievement was lower than that from my previous achievement. Also, as I was becoming more expensive as a consultant, there was mismatch of expectations regarding my work between me and my employer. The employer was not ready to 'Play my game', he was not ready to allow me to continue my skill of ERP Implementation and pay me commensurately for my experience. As far as he was concerned, the net marginal benefit that I was bringing to the table due to my experience was significantly lower than the cost benefit that he will gain by getting the same work done by a consultant of lower experience. 

This went on for a few years. Me chasing 'Achievements' hoping that money will follow. In fact it went on for about 8 years. 

Suddenly, one day, I woke up and saw the light, as it were.

I realized that by putting money in terms of 'Goal' vs. 'Outcome', I was missing an important aspect of the role of money. Money can also act as a 'Criteria for measurement' of my achievements. By measuring my achievements in terms of 'Monetary Value', I was still focusing on Achievements, but using a different yardstick of 'Economic worth of my achievements' rather than the 'Quantity of my achievements' as my goal. 

This changed the way I looked at my work. The moment I started looking at economic worth, the gaps in my skill set became painfully apparent. By focusing on ERP Implementation, I was missing the structural changes that were happening around me. The world was no longer looking for an ERP Consultant, it was looking for a manager and a solution provider. Solutioning was where the money was. In my quest for achieving 'Numbers', I had forgotten to develop my team skills, my management skills and my 'Solutioning and Packaging' skills. 

And what about my employer? While my customers were expecting these skills, and were ready to pay more for management and solutioning skills, my employer(s) was ready to pay for my business development skills. For example, they expected me to own proposals and win businesses and I had not developed skills in that area. I still remember that in my 'Achievement' focussed days (with the narrow definition of 'Achievement'), I was asked to make a proposal and I had included all the anticipated and unanticipated risks in the proposal and inflated my prices by almost 50% more than our nearest competitor and lost that deal which was mine for the taking. 

In my new, 'Money as a measurement criteria' days, I started learning new skills. I got certified in Project management from PMI, I implemented a few projects as a PM, I worked for a global retail giant as a 'Solution Architect' and started working on preparing better proposals. I also started learning more skills.

The change in perspective to 'Money as a measurement criteria' made me to learn new skills and look for new opportunity whereby I can apply my knowledge.

The change in outlook from 'Money as a result' to 'Money as a measurement criteria' has brought in sea change in the way I look at life and its opportunities.

I am sure that with my changed perspective, I will still achieve stuff and also earn money. Hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later. 

Thats it. I am done. 

I know of many people who are still in the 'achievement' focussed phase and belittle 'Money' as goal. By taking such 'Yes / No' positions, they are blinding themselves to options that exist in between. 

And that is where most of the possibilities exist.

21 June 2013

'Wood for the trees' Syndrome...

In English Language, the phrase 'Missing Wood for the Trees' means to miss the important events that happen around as you live your life focusing on your immediate surroundings. For example, a person who follows a specific ritual as he goes about living his life to suddenly find that his kids have grown up is 'Missing the wood for the trees'.

So is a person who selfishly focuses on his troubles without understanding the impact that it has on his family and friends and who fails to observe that his friends are staying away from him is 'missing the wood for the trees'. 

I was thinking about this the other day. 

If you follow my other blog, you will know that I work in the area of ERP. Currently I work as the Head - IT in a leading manufacturing and exporting firm. 

As a Head - IT, I recently signed an order to procure some services from a Vendor.

I did not think much about it. It was one of those normal transactions that I was supposed perform in my role. The whole process was very normal. I prepared the order, I took a printout, I signed it and send it to the Vendor.

Then it hit me.

This was the first time that I was signing a purchase order in my life. Ever.

And I was not signing the PO as another Signatory. I was the sole Signatory. I was the procuror. 

In my 25 year career, I had never signed a purchase order till now. This was the first time. 

Slowly, the impact of this hit me. Someone has trusted me to procure stuff on their behalf. They trusted my ability, my knowledge and my experience. They trusted me to exert best judgment in making this Purchase...

This was a big deal in my life.

Getting up every morning, going  to office, coming back, sleeping, getting up every....

I was going through life as a ritual. 

During this process, I was missing the fact that I was professionally growing and personally evolving. I missed the fact that each and every day, I was changing, improving, learning new stuff, and becoming a different person.

Greek philosopher 'Heracletus' mentions that 'Sun is new every day'. What he means that even though Sun rises every day, the world receiving the Sun has changed and evolved and hence, for the world of today, Sun is new. 

Similarly, as we go through our life, every day we are different person. The person who gets up from the bed today is different from the person who got up from the bed yesterday. We have changed and the world around us have changed, the people around us have changed. 

If we do not perceive these changes, we will be guilty of 'missing wood for the trees'. 

We will end up waking up one day and realizing that 'Things are not the same any more'. 

They never were. 

16 June 2013

Father's day ensemble...

Today is the father's day.
On this occasion, I have collated some of the posts that I had made about my interactions with my son, Aditya.
Check it out...

The kidnapped Bachelor of Bihar...

I love this story. This was told to me by a Bihari friend of mine....

These are the kind of stories that make India, India. This is why India is so different from the rest of the world. 

For those of you, my dear readers, who are reading this from outside India (every time I told this story to a non-Indian friend of mine, this story has evoked emotions ranging from laughter to incredulity, like 'It is not possible', to dubiousness 'How can this happen' etc), Bihar is one of the States of India and the people of Bihar are called 'Biharis'. The state lies in the northern part of our country and over a period of time, has come to be known as one of our poorer states with a workforce with extra-ordinary capability to work (and that is the conundrum that is India, people have extra-ordinary capability to work, but the state is one of the poorest. That is us)

Kidnapping is (used to be, at least) a big business in Bihar. Rich people and their kids used to get kidnapped for ransom, people used to get kidnapped for revenge etc..

One key form of kidnapping that parts of Bihar specialized in was to kidnap young eligible male bachelors to get married to the daughters of the kidnappers. These kidnappers will kidnap these boys and get them to marry their daughters at gun point. It is expected that once married, the couple will live happily ever after !!!

And they do live happily ever after. That is the beauty of the system.

My friend told me the story of one  such kidnapping where a smart boy was kidnapped to be married to the daughter of the kidnapper.

In this specific case of kidnapping, the kidnapper himself was a rich person (normally the kidnappers are lower or equal in status to the family of the kidnappee  (I use my artistic privilege to create this new word). a kidnapper of higher social strata kidnapping a boy who belongs to lower social strata is unthinkable), with lots of land and cash and he had a daughter of marriageable age. This boy was tall, fair and was studying in the final year of Chemical Engineering in a local Engineering College. With good looks and good education, this boy was a prime catch.

And he was kidnapped one fine afternoon, from in front of his hostel.

Usually once the kidnapping event is complete, the rest happens very quickly. The boy is taken to the Kidnapper's place, the family are all waiting and ready (This is all planned well in advance. You see, the marriage ceremony has to happen at an auspicious time on a specific day, so the planning of all activities, including kidnapping has to be perfect). And by evening the marriage ceremony is over.

So the boy was taken to the kidnapper's home. Having known the culture of kidnapping, he knew and was reconciled to the fact that he was going to be married that day. During the day, while he was in captivity, the boy had got an opportunity to interact with the whole Cabal. He had opportunity to see his would be bride and her cousin, the daughter of the younger brother of the kidnapper. He saw that the cousin of the same age as his would be bride,  was much more prettier. 

By evening the priest, the family and the whole gang was present and the boy was brought to the altar. There was the family of the proud Kidnapper - his wife, his daughter who was to be married that evening, his parents,  his gun totting henchmen, the kidnapper's younger brother and his wife, daughter, son, his gun-totting henchmen....

The ceremony was under way and the auspicious time had arrived. Now was the time to apply 'Sindhoor' on the 'Maang' of the bride...

The boy took the 'Sindhoor' in his hand...

In a flash of an eye, he jumped up, and applied the Sindhoor, not on the girl whom he was to marry, but on the forehead of the Cousin...

All happened in a flash. The cousin, having been applied 'Sindhoor' on the 'Maang' by the boy, had become his wife.

(As you know, we in India have what is known as 'arranged' marriage. The families of boys and girls will decide that the couple will get married, and they marry, thats it. Marriage is solemnized when the boy applies vermilion on the forehead of the girl at an auspicious time. It is called 'Maang (forehead) main Sindhoor (Vermillion) dalna (Apply)'.
You get the drift. The families decide who the boy and girl will marry, the boy applies vermillion on girl's forehead and boom....they are married.
'Maang main Sindoor dalna' is a big deal in India..)

As you can expect, commotion and chaos...

The guns were out. The enraged kidnapper, who had put in all the efforts in kidnapping the boy to get married to his daughter, took out his gun...

But, there were wheels within wheels...

By applying the Sindhoor on the Maang of his daughter, the boy has now become a key member of the family of the kidnapper's brother. So the henchmen of the brother took the guns against the henchmen of the kidnapper...

Things were getting ugly...

The seniors took over. They agreed that on an auspicious day and auspicious time, the boy had applied Sindhoor on the Maang of the cousin and by the definition of marriage that existed, she was the rightful wife of the boy. 

The dust settled, the ceremony went on with a sulking kidnapper and his family having to watch a hard fought  catch slipping out of their hands...

The boy was married to the girl...

And they lived happily ever after...

This is India.

08 June 2013

The three biases ...

All the people and Organizations (After all, companies are made of people) go through three biases. They are 'Status Quo Bias', which can also be called as Inertia Bias, Action Bias and Closure Bias.
What are these?
Inertia Bias or Status Quo Bias is the tendency to stick to the Current situation, however bad it may be. Despite knowing that Inertia bias always hurts (without exceptions), people are content to maintain Status Quo. A smoker, who knows he has to quit, but continue to smoke, is a victim of Status Quo Bias. So is a person who hates the job that he is doing, but is doing nothing to change the environment, a victim of Status Quo Bias. 
A company, which knows that the current processes are hurting, but is not doing anything to change is a victim of Status Quo Bias. For example is company which, after having implemented technology solutions, still continues with the paper based approval systems. 
There are many other examples.
People who suffer from Status Quo bias is living life like a dream. In a dream, you see and feel things that need to change, but you don't (or Can't) change anything. Or it may be that you are a superman doing exceptional things in a dream, and wake up and realize that nothing has changed and nothing was done. Similarly people with Status Quo bias might continue to go on as if they are doing stuff. They go through life as if it is a ritual. They get up in the morning, go to office, come back, watch TV, eat dinner, go to sleep, get up in the morning and so on. Just like in a dream, they are taking action but nothing has changed. They have not become better individuals, they have not learned anything new, they have not quit a bad habit, nothing. The whole thing was a dream. That is why, when people who suddenly realize the impact of Status Quo Bias tell you that they 'Woke Up'..
Status Quo Bias is illustrated by the famous story of Rip Van Winkle. He slept for 20 years when all around him the American Revolution was going on. When he woke up,, he found the the world has moved on while he was in his sleep. 
Some people realize that they are in a status quo bias and need to take action. So they move to the next bias, the action bias.
The action bias, is a tendency to take action and continue taking action without a focus on closure. A software engineer who keeps modifying his code adding bells and whistles to the code is a victim of action bias. People who are victims of action bias think that taking action is all that they have to do. So just like Forrest Gump, who kept running without any aim or objective, these people are always busy, always working. Still nothing seems to happen.
They will provide temporary solutions to the problems without going for a long term solution. They will not spend the time in doing the 'Root Cause Analysis'. They will not spend time in training and education. They are like 'Problem Magnets'. All the problems come to them. They are flooded with problems. They are always busy solving multiple problems at the same time.
There is no time to step back and reflect on what is happening. Why are all these problems coming up? How do I resolve them permanently?
That thought process leads me to the third bias, the 'Closure Bias'. 
This is where you should be. One can only grow if one develops 'Closure Bias'. One should be able to identify problems, identify why they are happening and take action to close the problems completely. People tend to confuse 'Action Bias' with 'Closure Bias'. "I regularly go to Gym", they will say, "But my weight is remaining the same". It is possible that while they go to Gym and do exercises regularly, they are not scientifically following a weight reduction regimen. Probably they do not control their diet. Probably they only do one kind of exercise and the body has got adjusted to the regimen. People with Closure Bias will clinically analyse the issue, seek help if necessary and take a structured approach to close the issue.
So there we are. What type of biases do you have?
If you have a status quo bias, at least move on to the action bias. And then strive to move to Closure Bias. That is how you grow.

06 June 2013

The Success Paradigms...

Friends, life is funny. 

In some cases, it continuously changes the environment and expect you to be nimble and flexible. It expect you to look out for the changes in environment, keep yourself updated to the needs of the changing environment and then take quick and sometimes tough decisions...

Life expects you to take action if you want to succeed.

In the other case, life takes action, as it were.

The environment changes itself to accommodate your experience and expertise. You continue doing what you do best and environment will keep changing so that your knowledge and expertise will have new avenues to explore and succeed.

Take the case of one of my friends Saji.

Saji, a.k.a Saji Mathew was my colleague in Engineering College. He graduated in Production Engineering.

In college days one rarely heard anything special about Saji. Nothing special. Just some of the goofy stuff that he did sometimes.

Normal Goofy Stuff, without doing which they don't give you an engineering degree. Nothing exceptional.

After our graduation, we went out into the wide world looking for jobs. Graduating in those were not like what it is today, where, while you are in your final semester you have an Infy offer in your left hand and a TCS offer in your right hand, with an HCL offer on its way to you. Those days jobs were scarce, economy was growing at Hindu rate of growth, no IT, no Private sector employer, especially, for those engineers who come out of engineering colleges in Kerala.

Saji got a job as an engineer with Alind, a Electrical Tower EPC company in Kerala, at a paltry sum of Rs.1200.00 (Approximately USD 25) per month. This company was into the business of erecting and commissioning Transmission towers for State Electricity Boards. Those days, the only new towers that got erected were in the Jungles of Bihar, Jharkhand (of course it was part of Bihar then), Chattisgarh, Andhra, MP and North East.

Saji's first project was to erect a tower in a god forsaken village in the Jungles of Bihar. The nearest civilization was about 60 Kilometers away.

"It was tough", Saji told me over a beer, "We, a group of 4 engineers, stayed in the town and every morning we will take this morning train to the work site which was about 60 odd Kilometers away. There is a small tea stall  in the railway station and we used to eat Puri and Rasagolla in the morning and used to pack it and eat the same thing for lunch. On our way back, we had our evening tea and snacks in the same railway station, and come home and prepare something and eat"

"It was tough", reiterated Saji thoughtfully.

"Didn't you have other opportunities?", after all some of our classmates had joined very reputed private sector companies by then. Didn't Saji try that?

That was a silly question. In those days of job scarcity, one tried everything. Only that one did not get everything.

Or anything for that matter.

"I had one or two offers for Marriage from Nurses in US and Gulf", Saji said

That is not exactly the kind of opportunities I was asking about, if you see what I mean. It was almost like I was asking him about 'Rain' and he was talking to me about 'Pain' ( Or Main. Or Gain. Or whatever. Not the point)

The point is this. If you are an engineer from Kerala, you will get many offers of marriage from the families of Girls who work as Nurses (that is one job that Kerala exports abundantly). They are looking for educated grooms from their own state. The offer is usually very attractive. You will get wife, and a Visa to go to the new country, which is usually US or Gulf. Once you are there, you can make it.

Wife and Visa. What more can you ask for?

This is an easy option for many boys and many take it.

Unless someone is bullheaded.

Like Saji

"Why you did not take up the offer?" I asked him. I already knew the answer. Because he was bullheaded.

"I was bullheaded" said Saji, as if on cue, "I had this romantic notion that if I go anywhere or do something, it will be on my own efforts and not by coat tailing on my wife. So I rejected the offers"

"And continued to struggle", I murmured inaudibly.

"And continued to struggle", continued Saji reading my mind, "Once I finished Bihar, I was assigned to Madhya Pradesh and then to AP. "

"I kept moving on from one Jungle to another, erecting and commissioning HT towers."

"I did this for nine years", said Saji thoughtfully

"Life of an engineer erecting a HT tower for a State Electricity Board is very tough. You have to travel in Sultry weather, in the hot sun, in rainy days, in the bus, in the rikshaws, in the sleeper class and general class in trains, get bitten by mosquitoes..."

"Life was tough" said Saji.

But he soldiered on.

"But I soldiered on for about 9 years like this."

"Then in 1996, I was offered a job with Motorola." informed Saji.

"How did you land a job with the hottest MNC around?, that too while working in the Jungles" I was curious

"Motorola was big way into its project called Irridium, where they had this idea of connecting the whole world with Satellite Phones. They had their own satellites in the GSO, and they erected these tall towers to transmit signals to the satellite and also to receive signals from Satellite. They had big plans in India and they wanted to erect many towers and they were looking for Tower professionals. Fortunately I saw the ad and applied for the job and got it."

See, I told you. The environment was slowly changing to accommodate Saji's expertise.

"I was posted in Kolkata and my brief was to erect towers in the east and the northeast", reminisced Saji

"Life in Motorola was the exact opposite of what I had experienced in Alind. I had high expense budgets. I used to fly to various states, stay in five star accommodation, take taxis for local travel, had good bata (Daily allowance). While in Motorola,  I spent some years in Kolkata and some years in Bangalore."

"Didn't the Irridium project of Motorola fail?" I asked, showing off my General Awareness.

"Yes, it did", replied Saji, "but by that time, the telecom revolution in India had begun and MNC telecom companies started setting shop in India and they needed Telecom Towers. So there was a lot of demand for Engineers with expertise in erection of Telecom Towers. And I was one of the few with that expertise"

I told you. Environment is working overtime to accommodate Saji's expertise. First it was Motarola, now it was Telecom revolution. Everyone needed Towers to be erected and Saji was there erecting 'em.

It was not as if Saji was not taking tough calls. While in Bangalore, he got an offer from Ericcson for their offices in Chandigarh. Saji relocated to Chandigarh.

He spent about two years in Chandigarh. Then he again moved, this time to Mumbai as some top honcho with Tata Teleservices Limited, in their Tower division.

The rest is an ongoing story as I write. Saji is still with TTSL. He is still in Mumbai. He has purchased an awesome 19th floor apartment overlooking Vashi Creek. (I went there once. The view is amazing and the beauty is that in front of his house is a Mangrove forest [Protected] and beyond that is the water. Nothing is going to come between his house and the creek.) "Purchased at 95 Lakhs", Saji told me, "now it should be about 3.5 Crores".

He has grown through the ranks and is currently working as Vice President at TTSL.

All the while the environment is continuing to change. 2G is gone and now 3G is coming and then 4G. Big companies like Reliance are majorly entering into Telecom. So many things are happening in the Telecom Industry.

In tune with that, the Tower Industry is changing and consolidating. New players are entering the fray. They will continue to grow and will continue to demand top talent.

All this while, while the industry is changing, the environment is in chaos, Saji will continue to erect towers. And the environment will continue to adjust and accommodate to his expertise.

I anticipate that Saji will be the second CEO of our batch. I look forward to his speech at Kerala Engineers Association Meeting in Bangalore some time.