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27 July 2013

What women have...

The other day I was waiting in a doctor's office waiting for an appointment. I saw this beautiful scene.

Two ladies were sitting in front of me. It was obvious tat they were mother and daughter-in-law. Based on the patch on the old lady's eye, obviously she had come for the checkup. The other lady was in her early 30s, pretty and was smartly dressed in a simple, elegant salwar and kameez.

While we were all waiting for our appointment a guy entered the room. He was an ordinary bloke, short and dark with creases on his forehead. Seeing him enter, the younger lady gave him one of the most beautiful smile that I have seen a lady give her husband. Everything was in that smile, happiness, elation, excitement, trust, confidence...

That was the kind of smile a man deserves from his spouse, but seldom gets.

Many ladies do not understand the power they hold. They do not know their hidden capabilities. Every man desires to be trusted by his spouse and need to know that she trusts him to do the best always. Women have the power to make the man feel important and he will become important. Give him that smile and he will be able to move mountains for you. Make him feel that he is the greatest husband in the world, and you know what? he will be. 

With your help, your husband can become taller. Taller in his work, taller in the community, taller in the family...Every husband secretly longs for a partner that can make him taller. But they are too egoistical to tell you that. Mind you, they will continue to do well, to excel in their work without your support. What that smile can do for you is to make you the agent of his success. You will become the reason why he is successful. 

I am in no way asking you to play the weaker sex or compromise on your rights as a wife. That won't help because your smile will not be genuine. 

There are two reasons why many women are not able to become the catalyst of their husband's success. First one is that with the husbands and wives being equally qualified, the wife do not see any reason to be 'Different' from her husband. Both of us are equal, she thinks, so why should I make him feel important and special? I am equally important, she decides.

First of all, making your husband feel important will in no way diminish your importance. It is not that there is a constant stock of 'Importance' in the house and if husband is given more importance, the share of the wife will be depleted. Importance is not a zero sum game, it always multiplies when shared. 

Second of all, if you make your husband feel special, he will act special, will become special and so will you.

Second reason why a woman is not able to act the role of catalyst in her husband's success is more genetic in nature. Right from our 'caveman' days, we are conditioned to find faults and problems. All our senses are conditioned to recognized abnormal patterns. So a newly married woman can quickly identify the husband's weakness and can soon turn into a problem tracker. She will quickly identify a number of things that her husband is doing wrong..

Such as..

He is a mama's boy
He doesn't know how to drive
He gets scared of bullies
He doesn't help at home (I too agree. I don't like men who do not help at home)

The point is that if you identify so many of his faults, it is difficult to respect your husband.

So what should you do?

Rather than finding what is wrong, start identifying what is right. There should be many of them. This is the suggestion that I will give to anyone embarking on a new relationship. Try looking for what is right rather than what is wrong. Have you observed that he is very calm? Have you told him that he is a great dad and kids eyes light up when he enters the house? What about the fact that he supports your career? Does it matter to you that he is dependable and is there for you, or you think that that is his responsibility? Have you observed that he has a knack of getting stuff done? 

What women have is that brilliant, genuinely trustful smile that can make your man feel and act like a superman. Have you given him that great, trustful, confidence building smile yet? 

If you haven't, may I suggest that you start today?

I am a 'Madrasi'...

Overheard this conversation at Mumbai airport.

First person, a guy, was telling the other person that he has got posted in Bangalore. He will be heading the West and South Regions of this company.

"You will find South different. There they are serious and conservative. They are mostly self-driven. They dislike being directed", said his partner, a middle aged lady.

"I don't think that I will face any problems in south. Even though I am from Punjab, I don't drink and I am a vegetarian", responded the guy.

Being a south Indian myself, I couldn't help but smile at the stereotype of the South Indian described in the above conversation. Both the above statements taken together paints the picture of foliage chomping, aquaphile, serious, conservative, direction hating stupid, silly, South Indian... 

Just like a cow, we go around smelling and chewing leaves, just like a cow, we are serious (like have you seen a cow go ha ha ha... ever?) just like a cow, we don't take orders (try making the cow move out of the way by honking the horn...), we only drink water...

Just like a cow.

We are like a cow, that is why the temperament associated with South Indians is 'Bovine'.

That we have spicy Chettinadu cuisine is an aberration...
That we have the largest alcoholic beverage company in India is an aberration...
That we serve some of the best seafood in Kerala is an aberration...
That India's leading Cartoonist, Mr.R.K Laxman is a South Indian is an aberration to the stereotype that we are serious...
That Bangalore is defined as 'Pub City' is an aberration...
That we have a lot of Christians and Muslims who eat meat is an aberration...
That we have the largest number of Startups in the country is an aberration...
That most of the leading bureaucrats in India are from South India is an aberration...

Those are all aberrations. 

For you up there, we are the flora feasting, water drinking, funless 'Madrasis'.

Good for you...

My Best Managers...

In my 25 year career, I have had the good fortune to work with a few good (nay, great) managers and the misfortune to have worked with many bad managers with a few average ones in between. So I guess I am experienced enough to separate the Wheat from the Chaff as it were...

All the good managers whom I have worked with share most of the following characteristics.
  • They are highly intelligent
  • They respect your knowledge and intellect
  • They give you professional freedom
  • They trust you but keep a good oversight
  • They are able to see the big picture
  • They value you as a person
  • They are transparent. If they are unhappy, you know it
  • They are respected in the organization
  • They are good in at least one area, be it technical or people management
The best managers in my list cover spectrum of industries from Manufacturing through Academia to IT. All of them, except one, are men. Some of them are good at business, some good at technology, all good at people management. 

First manager in my list of great managers is Prof.TR Venkatesh, the then Dean at ICFAI Business School, Bangalore. Prof.Venkatesh was a Banker by profession, prior to joining ICFAI. When ICFAI set shop in India in the mid 90's, with their flagship program CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), Prof.Venkatesh was one of the earliest individuals to clear this tough examination. When ICFAI ventured into Management Education, Prof.Venkatesh joined as the Dean of the Institute in Bangalore, where I joined as a faculty in the late 90s. 

What separated Prof.Venkatesh from the rest is his clarity of thought and communication. He was very fair in his dealings - all the great managers in my list are - but tough and demanding. He was quick to correct you if you were wrong. He was also very patient with me. "Ram", he used to tell, " you have a bad habit of not taking a note book for the meeting. Always keep a notepad and pen with you". 

He has since moved on and up.

Rajumohan was my manager in Sonata Software, my first job in IT. Raj was highly intelligent and sharp and could easily grasp the root of my convoluted explanations and complex concepts. He was also very, very fair and balanced (aka Fox News !). Raj had a good sense of humour and was a brilliant conversationalist. He was technically very sound and commanded the respect of all of us in the team. Well grounded, he could make his displeasure known, without raising his voice one bit. He always backed up his statements with facts and examples. His technical expertise, and his readiness to share it with us, was a boon to most of the budding ERP Consultants working with him.

Raj has moved on. Currently he is working as the VP in a Technology Company in Bangalore.

Eileena came as my manager one year into my stint at my next employer, TCS. I had just completed an ERP Implementation for a leading manufacturing company in Tamil Nadu and the customer had given good reviews of my performance. Eileena respected my knowledge and gave me a lot of professional freedom. She also gave me regular, objective feedback. She had a way of getting the best out of me. One wanted to go the extra mile to support Eileena. She was also tough as nails and could easily and bluntly demolish any nonsense thrown at her. She was also well respected in the Organization for her technical and managerial skills. 

One of my personal regrets is that I did not spent more time working with Eileena. 

That leads me to my current boss and his boss. I club them together because together they share some of the best managerial talent that I have seen. I am fortunate be working under a great manager. He has it all. The business knowledge, go getting attitude, problem solving skills, great analytical capability, a rare ability to convey complex concepts in very simple language, ability to win the hearts and minds of people working with him..

One of the best learning that I am having from him is that one should always escalate issues as soon as they arise. That way it is very easy to minimize the damage before it blows up. 

I also have a few interactions with his boss. I have never seen anyone bringing the big picture and taking decisions from that perspective than him. He comes out with perspectives so obvious that you kick yourself as to 'Why I did not think of it, both of us are looking at the same data'. 

Great managers, all

Of course, there are the average managers. They are nice to work with, they tell good jokes, fun to be with, sticks to themselves, narrowly define their professional domain, and tend to follow one another. While you will enjoy working with them, there is not much of a knowledge that you gain out of that interaction, and you don't grow as a person working with them.

Then there is the chaff. Positively bad managers. These are people who play politics, judge too harshly and too quickly, themselves not very competent, do not add value to you, deplete your energy, waste your time...

With these managers, you do not know what is in store. One day they are good and other day very nasty.

Of course this article is not about them. It is about great managers, who are rare.

Lets raise a toast to the great managers.

25 July 2013

Book Review: Don't sprint the Marathon: Author: V Raghunathan

Take an idea. Expand on it liberally. Embellish it with selected set of examples and illustrations....

Bingo, you have a book !

This is what Mr.Raghunathan has done in his book 'Don't sprint the marathon'. The postulate is that life is more like a marathon - long term, contains uncertainties, the end goal is not clearly visible etc - than a sprint (Hence the title of the book). The author expounds that the approach of many parent to parenting is as if life is a sprint and that this approach will fail since the very nature of life is that of a marathon and the tools and techniques to handle marathon is different from those for sprint.

This is the only idea in this book. Believe me.

Having spent a chapter detailing the difference between sprint and marathon, the author gets into his core task - of admonishing, berating, cajoling and blaming the parents who, in his opinion, are treating life as if it is a sprint and transferring that paradigm to their children.

Having said 'Yes' to some of the questions that Mr.Nathan asked about my expectations from my son, I was made to feel guilty. The author ended up proving that I am not a well grounded parent...

That hurt.

Half way through the book, I got tired of the accusatory tone of this book and I almost wanted to give up reading the rest of the book. In a weird sort of way, that action (of me closing the book) would have reinforced my perception that I was a sprinter, and that was clearly not the place to be. Also I wanted to write this review. And to do that I have to read the book completely.

So I soldiered on...

I am glad that I did, because some of the stories and anecdotes in the second half of the book are delightful. By nature I am a very involved reader. I identify with the character of the book that I am reading. Reading about a 16 year old girl who got the portable rest room for the watchmen in her apartment complex, or about how Mr.GM Rao of GMR group overcame the trials and tribulations of his early years brought tears of happiness...

Talking about GMR, the author says that 'there is no awakening like self-awakening. So true.

One of the best chapters in this book is chapter 6,titled 'Can Ordinary Walkers Jog?'. The entire chapter is about ordinary people who did extra-ordinary stuff. Be it the story of...

---V Many who created SOCARE, an NGO taking care of children of life convicts in Bangalore, or,
---Subhash Bose who created Anubhav to help the runaway children found in the platform of Delihi railway station, or,
---Auto Raja who created 'New Arc Mission' to take care of people who are close to their death, or, 
---Kishore Rao, a successful corporate executive, who on his retirement created Karunashraya, a rest home facility for cancer patient, most of whom are in advanced stages with a life expectancy of less than a month, or,
---100% visually impaired Mahantesh G Kivadasannavar, who started the Samarthanam Trust for the disabled, who offer a range of educational and life-skill oriented programmes for children with disabilities, particularly from weaker socio-economic sections, or,
---Brilliant Ashish Goyal, who did his B Com from Mumbai, joined S P Jain Institute of Management for his MBA, worked in the treasury department of a Bank for 5 years, scored 760/800 in his GMAT (which placed him in the 99++ percentile, which meant that he scored better than 99.99% of the global population taking the test), got admission to Wharton and is working as an Investment Banker with one of the world's leading Investment Banking Firms

Wow !!

Ashish achieved all this while being 100% blind from the age of 21.

Wow ! Wow! again.

There is one chapter dedicated to the importance of reading (Chapter 9). The author discusses two questions that he faced on two separate occasions. The first question was for children of successful parents who did not have the reading habit. The question was 'If the parents were successful without reading habit, why should the children develop reading habits?'. The other question was ' How can the parents introduce reading habits among children?'. 

As an answer to the first question, the author goes on a discussion on the purpose of education. The author's answer to the second question is that parent should be role model. To put in simple terms the parents should be good readers !. Isn't hat like putting cart before the horse? If parents were 'Already' good readers, they would have probably figured out the answer to their question already !

Oh, the perils of circular reasoning !

Mr.Nathan brings out the perspectives of various leading luminaries to emphasise his points. He sites the example of Dr.Anji Reddy of Dr.Reddy's Lab, of Mr.Narayana Murti of Infosys, of the famous athlete Ashwini Nachappa (paradoxically a world class sprinter !), of Mr. G M Rao of GMR group etc. The interviews are excellent and bring out valuable perspectives.

Through 14 chapters, this book ends up making parents feel miserable for wanting the best for their children. The greatest paradox is that those parents who really need this book (the sprinters, the people who do not have the reading habits, the people who are so preoccupied in driving their kids) will have neither the inclination nor the time to read this book. Most of those who do read this book, won't be needing it.

Let me sign off with one of the vexing issues that I found in this book. Time after time the author makes statements followed by 'I don't have the facts' or 'In my opinion, though I have not verified it', or 'I think...' etc. For a book of non-fiction, written by a mathematically inclined Ex-IIM Professor, I thought a bit strange that assertions are being made without following up with facts or data. 

That is it. I am almost done. I had also read the book 'Games Indians Play' written by the same author. Being his first book, and it having been published around author's highly publicized shift from academia to corporate world, the book was well hyped up and was different in a way. Second books, especially of non-fiction, are different. Since you have probably disgorged all your ideas in the first book itself, to find good ideas to write on and to find good examples to embellish it with can be a problem for the author.

And for the reviewer, to review the second book as a 'Tabula Rasa', without being influenced by the contents of the first book is again a challenge.

Challenges, Challenges....

I will rate this book as 2/5. I will be a bit more circumspect in choosing the next book by the author.

24 July 2013

Book Review: The Secret of Leadership: Author: Prakash Iyer

Any 12 year old with a reading habit would have read most of the stories in this book. But it would take a lifetime and more to understand, identify with and internalize the lessons and insights that come out of each page of this excellent book.

Right there in the Page 1 is this quote 'Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use'. Being an avid cyclist (I have a cycle!!), who seldom use the higher set of gears, I found this quote very insightful. Mr.Iyer follows up with the story of Edmund Hillary, who was the first person to conquer Mount Everest. Mr.Iyer points out that the most important thing that Hillary needed to achieve this feat was the presence of mountain itself !. Without that goal, Hillary would not have embarked on his attempt to conquer it. Likewise all of us need goals in our lives to provide us with direction.

And we are only in Page 3 !. 

'The Secret of Leadership' (TSOL) is the second book on Leadership and Personal success written by Mr.Iyer. Having read, enjoyed and reviewed his first book 'The Habit of Winning' (review here), I promptly procured a copy of this new book and from the word go, the book did not disappoint me at all. 

TSOL is neatly divided into four sections. The first section 'The leader within' looks at how a leader is made. The focus is on the behavioural traits of a leader. Some of the lessons involve not to give up, get up quickly from drawbacks, run your own race and not compare yourself with other people's success etc. This section is followed by the 'Leader Mindset'. Here the focus is on the thoughts and belief systems that make a leader. The leader do not cry over split milk, she is always positive and optimistic, charts her own path etc. There is an excellent story here of a frog that climbs the TV Tower.

In section three 'The leader's way' author looks at what ordinary people do (and can do) to achieve extraordinary things and realize their potential. This section has some great stories and insights. Two insights that I liked were 'If you are not enjoying the ride, get out of the bus' and 'Hold the door open'. When talking about the first author says that even if the bus is very comfortable, if we are getting good benefits in our job, if you are not happy with your current job, it is time to get out of the bus (job) and start looking for something that will kindle your passion.

The fourth and the final section is on 'Leading Teams'. Here the author talks about providing your team with a strong reason to do what you want them to do. If you want them to resolve issues quickly, you have to paint the picture of how resolving the issues will help them to achieve their personal goals. A leader has to answer the question 'What is in it for my team?'. In the story of tappers and listeners, the author says that many a time when the leader give an instruction, that is done with a set of assumptions that she has in her mind. However, the assumptions under which subordinate works may be different and hence there will be difference in the perceived quality of output. There are three more stories in this section, which I explain below. 

Through the use of about 60 stories, Mr.Iyer covers the entire spectrum of personal and professional growth and development. Some of the stories are very powerful and some less so. Each of us who read this book will have our own favorite stories. Personally I found three stories fascinating. 

The first one talks about a boy who was suffering from anger. His father asks him to hit a nail on the wooden ledge every time he gets angry. Initially the task of hitting nails is easy and the boy continued being angry. However later he found that he had to walk farther and farther to hit the nail. He found that it was easier to control his anger than it was to walk longer distances to hit the nail. When his temper was under control, when he did not have any need to hit nails for a few days, his father asked him to remove the nails one by one.  When the boy had removed the last nail, the father showed him the mark left on the ledge by the nails. Just as the nails leave a mark even after they are removed, anger leaves scars that are not removed even when you apologize profusely.

Powerful message !

Another story with strong message was the one about the naughty elephant. Every morning the mahout led the elephant through the local market on the way to its stable. On the way, the elephant used to create havoc by plucking and eating flowers and fruits in the shops by the side of the road. No amount of beating and punishing could stop this habit.

Finally the mahout came up with a brilliant idea. Just before the elephant entered the market, the mahout kept a small stick on its trunk. Now when going through the market, elephant would longingly look at all the flowers and fruits hanging around but couldn't do anything naughty since it had to drop the stick (and displease the mahout) to pluck the flowers.

Mr.Iyer compares the small stick in the elephant's trunk to the goals that we decide for ourselves in our lives. Without clear goals to focus and ground ourselves, our mind wanders like the naughty elephant in the market.

Another great story with a powerful message !

Mr.Iyer being cricket fan, his books and teachings are filled with the stories from the world of cricket. To illustrate the habit of getting the best out of our inexperienced and junior team members, Mr.Iyer talks about the example of VVS Laxman. While being recognized as a great batsman, many people do not know that most of the centuries that VVS made was in partnership with tail-enders. As an example, Mr.Iyer talks about the Mohali test of 2010.  Needing 217 runs to win the test, India were struggling at 127/8 when young Ishant Sarma joined VVS. Rather than protecting Ishant like others might have done, VVS let Ishant handle the Aussie attack on his own terms. In 15 out of the 22 overs that this duo faced, Laxman took a single of the first ball of an over leaving Ishant to navigate remaining 5 balls in each of those overs. 

And young Ishant responded with elan and aplomb. 

The message that comes out of this story is that as leaders we should show confidence in the ability of less experienced members of our team to deliver the results. 

(While writing this review, I was curious to know how I did review the first book by Mr.Iyer. The review of the book 'The Habit of Winning' was focused more on Mr.Iyer as a person, his career, his column in 'Career 360', his stint at Pepsico etc. In that review I had mentioned about the preponderance of examples related to Pepsico, Mr.Iyer's erstwhile employer.)

The reviewer of a book faces a delicate choice. On the one hand he has to convey the emotions that (s)he felt  while reading the book. The emotion could be excitement, involvement, insight (like I felt while reading this book), happiness, fun (while reading some others) and boredom and ennui (while reading countless others...) On the other (hand) (s)he also have to add value to the author by communicating some areas where the author could have worked a bit more..

So here goes

While it was enlightening to read of lot of examples from Pepsico in his first book, many examples from Pepsico and the elite world of IIMs will take the interest away for people who are less fortunate not to have trodden that golden path. They won't be able to identify with some of the characters in the stories. Suggestion is for Mr.Iyer to add more examples of people who have made it despite not having elite education. Stories of many Dalit entrepreneurs come to mind...

Secondly, I espied a confusion in the core message of this book. It oscillates between being a book on leadership and being a tome on personal success. As the 'Individual Contributor' career track in an IT organization shows, these two are different. You can be a personal success without being a leader (though reverse may not be true). The point I am making is that the tools and skills required for personal success are different from those required becoming a leader. This book is a bit hazy on this difference. 

Thirdly, one gets the impression that in some of the stories, Mr.Iyer has forced a message as an afterthought. There is a mismatch between the story and the message. To put it differently, some stories could have had better messaging . I am alluding specifically to the story of the Dead Sea. 

Since this sea is significantly below the mean sea level, water do not flow out of the sea. Due to this, the salt content increases significantly and this sea is inhospitable to growth of flora and fauna. The message in the book is that one should not just be a receiver, one should also be a liberal giver. I thought that a better message could have been that of 'Continuous learning and renewal', sort of  'Sharpening the Saw' as it were. 

(By the way, I had been to the Dead Sea. Due to its high saline content, the sea is supposed to have high medicinal properties, especially as a cure for skin infections. So one could look at the story of Dead Sea as negative effects of Stagnancy or as Significant expertise developed through a laser beam like focus in one's core area of interest. A cardiologist can strive to become a better cardiologist only by focusing on cardiology and not on Anaesthesiology, for example !!)

Finally, this book also require some tight editing. For example, the concept of 'Hold the door open' is alternately referred to as HDTO and HTDO. Elsewhere, the number 0.09 if mentioned as 0.9 thereby effectively negating the core message !

(I already sent a mail to Mr.Iyer pointing out the second mistake. He promptly informed me that this is being taken care in the reprint)

Last word: For a country of a billion people and a civilization spanning over 5000 years, we lack good books on ethical leadership and personal success. Books such as 'TSOL' attempt to fill that void by the use of simple stories and powerful insights. The icing on the cake is that these books try to teach these lessons through the art of Story Telling, an age old, proven method of teaching. 

Great Book. Do Read it . You will grow as a person.

PS: Did I tell you that the Forward for this book is written by Rahul Dravid? I must have forgotten.

23 July 2013

+1 ing the posts...

Guys, someone is +1 ing my posts. But I am not able  to see the name. You may want to check your +1 settings...

Power of an idea...

You have to watch this video. This is amazing for its simplicity, the ecological benefits and the positive branding for the company.

We need lots and lots more of such innovative thinking to make this world a better place.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Also, tell your friends to watch this video...

Of life without a goal....

The other day I was reading an article on writing regularly.

"Write regularly", the author exhorted, "it will structure your thought process ,it will improve your communication, increase your memory and will make you happy"

I want to write. But the problem is, what to write about. What is the topic to write on?

Should I write about my experiences in my past, sort of memoir?

Should I write about my present state, where I am, what I am doing now?

Should I write about my future aspirations and dreams?


Should I not write about me at all? Should I weave stories our of my observations and write about them?

I have this tremendous urge to write, but am stymied as to the topic that I will write on.

Suddenly I realized that this is exactly what a life without goals will look like.

A person without goals will have a lot of energy and enthusiasm to do something. 'Kucch kar dikhana hai' (I have to do something) he will tell himself. He is charged up and raring to go. He has the energy to do it and the will to do it. He desperately wants to 'just do it'.


He doesn't know what to do. Has no clear goals and no plan of action.

So what happens?

He starts by doing something. Since he is not clear of what he wants to do, he doesn't plan. Hence he fails.

Society observes this. It brands him a failure. He brands himself a failure.

He doesn't realize that he failed precisely because he did not have any goal or a plan.

What he should be doing is to learn lessons from failure and improvise. He should try to identify a clear goal and prepare a plan of action and move on. 

But because he doesn't have a goal or a plan of action, all that energy is wasted. He joins the next available job out there.

Just like you don't write because you don't know what to write about. You want to write but you don't know what to write about. So you end up writing junk or not writing at all. 

It is better to continue writing. It is better to continue trying.

22 July 2013

The Consultant...

Somewhere in the mid west Texas, a farmer is standing in his farm, smoking a cigar and serenely watching his sheep graze. Suddenly a swanky new Porsche stopped by the farm gate. A tall smart guy alights, professionally dressed in a black coat, a suit and wearing an expensive pair of Rayban Wayfarers. 

The guy approaches the farmer and says, " If I tell you how many sheep you have out there, will you give me one?"

Farmer agrees.

The guy flips out his Mac, connects it to the GPS, zooms in on the farm, measure its area, identifies the unoccupied area in the farm, calculates the area occupied by an average sheep, does some Math....


"You have 427 sheep grazing over there", he announced.

The farmer says, yes that is true.

"Can I have my sheep?" asks the guy.

A deal is a deal. Farmer asks him to pick any sheep. The guy picks the biggest one out there and begins walking aways.

"Wait", says the farmer, "If I tell you your occupation, will you give my animal back?"

The guy agrees.

"You are a consultant with a big five firm", says the farmer

The guy is surprised. Yes, I am a consultant with a big five firm, but how did you know?

"Simple", says the farmer, " First, you come here uninvited. Second, you tell me something that I already know and finally, you have no idea of my business. The animal that you hold in your hand is not a sheep. It is my Sheep dog"


Khaso ya Hanso...?

This is a naughty story. Supposedly actually happened. Please see the humour in this story...

We were all lined up in front of the OPD in Bhilai Hospital, waiting for our pre-confirmation medical examination to the post of Management Trainees in the 1987 batch of Steel Authority of India (SAIL). The examination consisted of the usual, blood, urine, stool, cardiac...the works. One of the tests was to check for Hernia. The doctor will gently hold your tessticles and ask you to cough. From this action, the doctors are supposed to make out if the candidate is suffering from Hernia.

I followed my friend Saibal Datta (an imaginary fellow) into the OPD. The doctor turned out to be a lady, a pretty young thing at that. Saibal was all aflutter at his balls being held by a pretty young lady. Nervous, was my friend Saibal, as he stood in front of the doc and undressed first his trousers and then the underwear.

The doctor held Saibal's balls and said 'Khanso' which is the hindi word for 'Cough'. 

Poor Saibal. In all his nervousness, heard the PYD (Pretty Young Doc) say 'Hanso', which means 'Laugh'.

With his testicles safely ensconced in the doc's hand, Saibal went like 'Ha Ha Ha Ha...'. 

The doc quickly dropped the balls like they were lump of coal or hand grenade or something. That she was startled will be an understatement.

"What are you doing?" asked the perplexed doc.

"I am doing what you asked me to do", replied the nervous fellow, "you asked me to laugh".

Saibal got it right in the next attempt. 

Math Paranoia and life lessons...

"Sir, you have to appreciate that we are not as good at Math as the Engineers", said Abhinandan

Back in the late 1990s, I used to teach Operations and Quantitative analysis in a Business Management School in Bangalore. The student profile in the class comprised of few Engineers and quite a number of Non-engineers.

As things have it, both the above subjects are heavy on Math. I used to take my role as a faculty very seriously and was quite demanding on the students when it comes to the unit tests and class exams. The engineers, by virtue of their training, used to complete the sums quicker than most of the non-engineering students. 

Once I was asking the students to complete sums quickly, and Abhinandan, one of the sharper students in my class, responded thus.

"Sir, you have to appreciate that we are not as good at Math as Engineers". 

I could not understand this logic. What is the relationship between being Engineer and doing Math quickly/? Granted that engineers have had to do more Math during their graduate classes, but that is just the nature of the beast. I used to feel that the problem in this case was in the mind than anything else. 

"You are confusing cause and effect," I remember telling the students, "what happens is this. Unfortunately in India engineering is given too much of importance. For most of us, there is only one window of opportunity to get into Engineering and that is by doing well in Class 12."

"If we don't study well in class 12, we don't get into engineering, and that is where the problem starts.", I said.

"If, after class 12, you do not get into engineering, the society will give you a lot of negative feedback in the form of comments and sympathetic expressions and even expressions of dismay and horror (What happened to you? Why you got poor marks? What are you going to do now? !!). At that young and impressionable age, especially when you are emotionally vulnerable, you tend to internalize these comments and decide that you are not good. Since it hurts you to admit that you are not good, you tend to rationalize it by saying that you are not good at Math and you strive to make sure that that is the case. You run away from Math." I paused.

"If you analyse the sequence of activities, you will find that the first link in the chain is that you did not study well in class 12. So how are you going to handle it?" I asked

"You have two options." I continued without waiting for an answer. "One, you can continue running away from Math. That will be a terrible choice since you will become a better manager if you know your math. The other option is to cut out all the clutter and realize that the root cause was that you did not study will in class 12. Once you study well not, you will start doing well.", I waited for some reaction to see if I was getting through. 

The students were listening with rapt attention. I thought I was making progress.

"No one is born disliking math, the dislike is a assumption. If can be assumed, it can be changed by changing your assumptions" I said.

"Likewise, there are many assumptions that we carry from childhood, which can hold back our performance. These are instilled in you by the verbal and non-verbal communications of the adults around you, like your parents, your teachers etc. You are careless, you are naughty, you are dumb, you are not worth anything...Since these are all comments from the 'All knowing' adults, you assumed that their comments are true, and you strived to prove them correct. Now that you are an adult, you need to validate if these stereotypes about you are correct. If they are correct, you must take action to change them. If they are not (correct), you must simply ignore them"

"That is called 'Growing Up' ", I concluded.

14 July 2013

My First Shave...

The other day my son was asking me to help him shave for the first time in his life..

When I heard this, I remembered the first time I shaved.

Well, I don't remember the first time I shaved per se. But I remember the incidents leading up to and after my first shaving. 

I was in class 8 at that time. Normally, kids do not start shaving in class 8, they wait till they are in class 9 or Class 10, may be even in plus One to start shaving. You could say I matured early when it came to my first shaving.

There was this kid named John in my class 8. My aspiration to shave started when John suddenly announced one day that he has started shaving. 

I looked longingly and adoringly at the trimmed mustache of John. He was my hero. If he can start shaving in Class 8, so can I. 

I used to stand in front of the mirror, affectionately caressing my almost invisible beard and mustache. I dreamed of my heroic looks after my first shave. 

I spent considerable amount of time planning for my first shave. How do I get my shaving razor and shaving gel? Buying them was out of question. My parents will never give me money to buy my shaving kit. Only option was to use my father's shaving material. My father will never allow me to use his shaving kit. 

So what do I do? WHAT DO I DO?

I got the opportunity when my parents were out on one sunday. I surreptitiously sneaked into the bathroom, closed the door and....

I applied lather. I took the razor. I started shaving. I shaved. I cut myself. Badly.

When my parents came, I tried to play cool. "Appa, Amma, how was the function?", I asked casually. Situation all normal, you know. There is an 'unshaven' kid in front of you.

"What is on your cheek? Did you cut yourself? How? Were you trying to shave?", the questions came in torrents. 

My father flipped out. "What does the boy think of himself? Does he think he has become an adult? By the time he is in Class 10, he is going to look grown up. He will spend all his time shaving. He shouldn't be shaving now. This is not the age. What is his problem? Why can't he wait like other normal kids?"

My father has a very colourful vocabulary when he is angry. On that day, VIBGYOR was literally in our house. He was alternating between red, green, blue, yellow and colours in between. As his anger grew, his language also attained a sort of vitality. The window's in our neighbour's house opened unobtrusively. Crows and birds flew to distant locations to escape my father's wrath.

You know, my father flipped out.

I did not have the courage to tell him of John. I fled.

Later on, I was telling my friend about my shaving experience. In a weird sort of way, I had become his hero, because I had shaved, something which he wanted to do but was scared of. I told him that if John can shave, what is the problem if I do too? After all both of us are in Class 8, aren't we? 

"Don't you know?" informed my friend, "John has already repeated his Class 5 and Class 7. Ideally he should be in Class 10 by now."

10 July 2013

The Ultimate Compliment...

"We have a major problem in XYZ" informed my project manager.
It was in the year 2001
In the early 2000's, I was working as an ERP Consultant implementing a ERP product called SCALA. This was a Swedish Product and my employer was the only SCALA Partner in India. This product was widely sought after by European companies who had set up shop in India
My company did a lot of SCALA Business.
I had joined my employer in December 2000 and after about a month of training, was assigned to implement SCALA in XYZ India Limited, a manufacturing company based out of Hosur in Tamil Nadu.
I implemented SCALA in XYZ from January 2001 thorough November 2001. The implementation was a success and company was very happy with the implementation. I still  have the testimonials and the leather bag that the company gave as a memento after the successful implementation.
In the early 2002, I was assigned to implement SCALA for ABC Pumps Limited, a leading pump manufacturer based out of Chennai. Every weekend I used to travel to my home town of Bangalore. 
During one such visit to Bangalore, I went to my base office and met my PM. 
"We  have a major problem in XYZ", said my PM
Being my first ERP implementation, XYZ was always close to my heart. I was concerned about issues in what I thought was a very good and stable implementation. 
I waited for my PM to continue.
"As you might know", continued my PM, "XYZ was bought over by World's leading manufacturing company. The new company has KPMG as the auditors. When KPMG auditors audited the books, they found that the Inventory is not tallying with General Ledger (GL, the accounting book of the company). When they analyzed deeper, they found that the fluctuation was random and they are not able to detect a pattern. Due to the seriousness of the issue, they have recommended that XYZ move out of SCALA and migrate to SAP immediately. The MD of XYZ, Mr.Mukherjee, is furious because he just implemented SCALA at a considerable cost and has informed us that Inventory issue is related to SCALA and has asked us to prove that SCALA works correctly, else, he  has threatened to sue us" informed my worried PM.
"What has been our stance?" I asked
"We have told him that SCALA work fine in many organizations and the product is stable. But MD is not convinced. We are handicapped because we are not able to find the root cause of the issue" answered my PM. 
The issue was serious enough. In any company, Inventory, also called Stock in India, is the most difficult to control and most prone to misuse. A decrease in inventory could mean anything from lack of tracking all the way up to theft. An ERP Application like SCALA brings in tighter control and integration within the organization by providing strict process control in the way the organization processes and consumes the inventory. In this case, it appeared that this control had been violated.
"Does it happen in case of all the items?" I asked. The objective was to see if any pattern existed.
"No, not for all items. It appears that this issue is happening only in cases where there is at least one purchase in a period", replied my PM.
That was a clue. Either the system was failing during the purchase process or there was some other explanation. It was for me to find out.
"How did they find out that there was an issue?" I queried
"This was identified when the audit team was comparing the value of Inventory in GL (General Ledger, the account book of a company) Trial Balance with Stock Valuation Report. This report was developed for the customer by our consultant HPC." replied my PM wearily. 
HPC was another colleague of mine. He was known to be very competent and thorough in his work and was trusted by all in the team. 
I had one final question.
"What have we done so far?"
"We have made multiple visits to XYZ. I have gone and analysed the issue myself. I also sent HPC twice to check. Everything seems to be in order and system is working fine as far as we can see", answered my PM.
Any yet, we have a major issue in our hands, I thought to myself as I took leave of my PM.
Almost immediately I called Dennis, the Finance Manager of XYZ, and fixed up an appointment with him for the the next day morning. The poor chap was under such a tremendous pressure from both the auditors and his CFO that he seemed very happy to hear my voice.
On my way home, I reviewed the issue in my mind. The issue, as I understood, was that the inventory value in GL Trial Balance was different from the Inventory value as shown in the Inventory Valuation Report. This issue, usually called 'reconciliation issue' is one that normally keeps many a consultant awake for months. There could be many reasons for this to happen, but I felt that in this case there were mainly three possibilities.
1. Someone has created a direct entry in General Ledger without reflecting this transaction in the Stock Ledger (Inventory Valuation)
2. Some transactions entered in Stock Ledger are not transferred to General Ledger
3. Some other indeterminate issue.
I somehow felt that the root cause of the issue was lying in point 2 or 3 above.
Upon reaching my home, I started my analysis. The first step was to define the problem correctly. I knew that the problem definition was as follows.
1. User checks the Inventory value in the GL
2. User checks the Inventory value from the 'Inventory valuation report' developed by HPC
3. User finds a difference between these values
One external element in the above process was the custom report. To run the custom report, you need the reporting tool. Since I did not have the tool, I created another report to get the Inventory Valuation.
I started analysing the problem methodically. First I checked if all the stock transactions were accounted correctly.
They were.
Then I checked if all the accounting entries were transferred to General Ledger.
They were.
If everything is OK, then stock value from my report and the Trial Balance should tally. I noted the inventory value from the Trial balance. Then I ran the Inventory Valuation Report (developed by me) and noted the value. 
Both values were matching exactly !!!
I couldn't believe what I saw. I seemed to have resolved the issue in my first attempt itself. To ensure that there was no mistake, I tried it multiple times, always with the same result. The values were matching in all the cases.
Armed with this information, I went to XYZ the next day. Before meeting Dennis, I had a meeting with Mr.Mukherjee, CEO of XYZ. He was also very worried and was under a lot of pressure. He wanted to have my explanation.
"These kind of mismatches cannot happen in SCALA", I told him, "this is an accounting application and only thing that we do here is comparing two views of the same information. The values have to match"
He had already heard this spiel from my PM. He was skeptical.
"What if they don't match, as it appears in this case?" he asked me.
"In that case, I  have to say that there is some problem with SCALA", I replied
This is what he wanted to hear from us. If I do not resolve this problem, then I just committed to him that the problem was with SCALA. And being the SCALA partner in India, my company will have to take the responsibility for all the damages that XYZ has incurred, and will incur, due to this issue.
I was not even sure if I was authorized to make this commitment.
Anyways, I took leave of Mr.Mukherjee and sat down with Dennis in his office. I quickly explained the process to him and got his buy in. Having done that I demonstrated him the two reports. 
They showed a difference of Rupees 125. It seems that Dennis had created a transaction the previous day. He quickly reversed the above transaction and the values matched exactly. 
The problem was solved. It was almost too easy.
Fifteen minutes after we left him, we were back in Mr.Mukherjee's office. I told him that the issue was resolved. He couldn't believe his ears. He asked Dennis for confirmation.
Dennis confirmed.
I explained to him that the issue was related to the Inventory Valuation Report developed by HPC. It appeared that this report, instead of picking a single aspect of the purchase transaction, was picking two aspects of the same transaction and effectively doubling the purchase value. Since the items being purchased and the value of the purchases were different in different months, the Inventory value was behaving randomly and haphazardly. 
I did not face this issue since I did not use the above report. Instead I had developed a separate report of my own where this mismatch was not reflected.
I left XYZ office after some time and went back to my office. I went to meet my PM. He was ecstatic.
"I looks as if you have resolved the issue?" asked my PM
I confirmed that that was the case.
"Mr.Mukherjee was on the phone just now. He paid you the ultimate compliment." informed my PM.
"What did he say?", I was curious.
"He told me that 'Ramaswamy knows my business better than my people'"
That my friends, is the ultimate compliment that an ERP consultant can get from a customer.

08 July 2013

The Shreesant Saga...

I am very disturbed by Shreesant 'Spot Fixing' episode.

You know the one that I am talking about, don't you? During the recent IPL T20 Matches, in one of the matches involving his team, Shreesant bowled an over that cost him 15 runs. It later turned out that he was paid approximately 60 Lakhs to bowl that one bad over. Unfortunately for him, the entire communication was caught on tape and Shree, as he is called, was arrested by Delhi Police. He is currently out on bail. 

Mind you, I am not a fan of Cricket. I think that it is a very silly game, a game in which two teams play for entire five days with the result being a draw !!. How can one like this game?

Despite my antipathy to cricket, I am totally affected by Shreesant episode, that it is almost weird. I don't know Shreesant, I don't care much for Cricket and I don't care for Spot Fixing. But I have been eerily fascinated by l'affair Shreesant. 


My wife says that I am feeling bad because Shreesant is from Kerala, my home state. As a malayali, I am affected by what is happening to another of my ilk, according to her.

I don't think so. 

I think I am affected because I see a talent getting wasted. Anyone who has seen Shreesant bowling in South Africa will attest to the talent. That Seam Bowling !!. That Swing Bowling !!. Awesome...It is terrible to watch this exceptional talent being wasted.

You have my reason #1 right there.

But I don't think that is the main reason.

Do you watch channels like NatGeo, Discovery, Animal Planet etc? If you do, you know that one of the most common scenes in these channels are those of big cats praying on unsuspecting pray. The pray like deer, gazelle etc Will be playing around, prancing around like nobody's business, generally enjoying themselves, oblivious to the cold, calculating, steely eyes of the hunters, unaware that at any moment, they are going to become the food for the big cats. 

These hunters has the ability to spot the weakest animal out of hordes of animals. Their expert eyes can spot the weak, the young and the lame among thousands of wilder beast. 

This is what I was thinking of res 'Shresant Saga'. Remember the 'Slap Gate' where Shreesant got slapped by Harbhajan Singh? I think Shree had got 'Bajji' out or something (remember, I don't like or follow cricket) and was prancing around and 'Bajji Slapped him.

At that moment, the wicked eyes of the betting mafia had fallen on Shreesant. They espied his weak spot. 

From then on he was marked.

Lions, when they catch a young pray, allow them to try to escape. They fully well know that the pray can't escape. Like a puppeteer who plays puppets on a string, the big cat hunter plays with the pray till it feels hungry. 

Having marked Shreesant, this is what the betting mafia did. They allowed Shreesant to 'Play around'. They allowed him to let himself go, to enjoy himself, to dance is parties, to sing and freak out, play a bit of cricket sometime....

They allowed Shreesant to prance around, knowing that he is always under their control. The mafia was building him up, increasing his value, preparing him for the slaughter, as it were, which they did during the recent IPL.

That is why I am feeling sad. I am feeling for Shreesant, the same sadness that I feel for the young deer about to be hunted down by the king of the jungle. 

That is reason # 2.

I also feel bad for Shreesant's parents. If reports are to be believed, he was an irresponsible child, dotted by his parents and elder sister. Probably the parents failed to instill the required values in him during his childhood. 

I am sure that they are regretting now. Putting myself in their shoes, I feel bad for them. 

That is the third reason I am feeling bad and sad about the whole unsavory episode.

07 July 2013

'Hole in the Wall' Redux

In one of his articles, Mr.Shekhar Kapur, noted film director, talks about his experience of finding a 'Hole in the Wall', in the by-lanes of Juhu in Mumbai, which specialized in repairing high-end mobile phones including Blackberries and iPhone.

He sites this as an example of the thriving grassroots enterprise in India. You can read the article here.

In the article, Mr.Kapur mentioned about how his blackberry had conked off and how he was searching around for a Blackberry Dealer to either repair his phone and  if the repair was not possible, to purchase a new phone at a cost of about 40000 rupees. While roaming around in the bylanes of Juhu market in Mumbai, he came across a small shop named 'Cellphoon reapars' where a boy, who seemed all of 10 years, informed Mr.Kapur that he, the boy, can repair his Blackberry Phone.

While a curious and amused Mr.Kapur was talking to this small boy (without handing over his precious phone to the boy, of course), an older boy appeared. The older boy, claiming to be 19 years old (and looked to be about 16 years old) identified himself as the elder brother of the other boy and claimed that  he can repair the phone.

Before Mr.Kapur could say anything, this elder boy, took the phone from Mr.Kapur, gave it an expert look and announced that the 'Rollerball'  has jammed and it needed repair.

'Can you do it?' Mr.Kapur wanted to know.

'Yes, I can. Shall I go ahead?' asked the boy.

By now Mr.Kapur was beholden by curiosity. He wanted to know where this will end. He gave a go ahead.

In all of 6 minutes or so, this boy dismantled the phone, replaced the ball and fitted the phone again and handed it back to Mr.Kapur. It was impressive.

'What should I do to ensure that this works fine?', asked Mr.Kapur

'Keep your hands clean', came the answer.

*                 *                *                     *                 *                  *                 *                         *

Mr.Kapur wraps up his article by praising the 'Indian Innovation' where many similar 'Holes in the Wall' exist and that we should try and tap this huge potential of innovation and entrepreneurship that exist in the lanes and by-lanes that crisscross the vast country that is India.

*               *                  *                       *                *                 *                  *                         *

I was telling this story to my cousin who works in Mumbai.

My cousin works as an Electrical Engineer in a Public Sector Company in Mumbai. One of his many responsibilities is to ensure the smooth running of the many air conditioners, refrigerators and freezers in his company.

Once in a while some machine or the other conks off. Any time a machine conks off, he calls Rajen.

Rajen owns one of those 'holes in the wall' kind of shop that dots the lanes of India. His shop is in one of those lanes in Dadar, in Mumbai. He services Air Conditioners, Refrigerators, Washing Machines and other kinds of electro-mechanical equipments used for both industrial and domestic purposes.

Any time a machine needed repair, my cousin will call Rajen. Rajen will come to his office, dismantle the machine and will transport the same to his workshop.

Once the machine is repaired, Rajen will personally transport the same to my cousin's office, install it, get it tested and hand it over to my cousin.

Normal time taken in this whole exercise was 3 days. Rajen used to charge only for his labour. No charges for the technician's visit, no charges for dismantling and analysing the problem and no transportation charges for transporting the machine from my cousin's office to his workshop and back.

Only the repairing charges were charged.

Over a period of time, Rajen became familiar with each and every equipment in my Cousin's office.

Things changed at my cousin's office. He had a new boss.

One day a Blue Star Air conditioner in the office conked off. As usual, my cousin was about to call Rajen, but his boss had other ideas.

"Since the machine belongs to Blue Star, it is better to call the company technician for repairing the machine. The quality of work done by these company technicians will be much better. These 'holes in the wall' kind of guys are unreliable", the boss opined.

Blue Star technician was called. He came, he saw, he charged...

Rupees 250 technician visiting charges
Rupees 500 machine dismantling and inspection charges
Rupees 500 transportation charges to take the machine to the work shop. (Another 500 to transfer it back to the office)

The mechanic took away the machine. The company technician informed that it will take about 10 days to repair the machine (will try to do it faster, sir. Definitely. But you know how these repairing mechanics are.  No work ethics...)

After about three days of Blue Star Technician taking away the machine, my cousin got a call from Rajen.

"Sir, did you give your Air Conditioner to Blue Star Technician for repair?" queried Rajen

"Yes. Why? How did you know?", my cousin asked.

"Blue Star guys have handed it over to me for repair." came the response.

01 July 2013

Simply Complex....

Those were the days when chappals were chappals and shoes were shoes...

Life was simple those days. My father would get an annual allowance for buying footwear and we, the whole family, will troop to the neighbourhood Carona or Bata and then...

'What do you want?' my father will ask

'One chappal and one school shoes', we will parrot.

Chappals covered the sole and part of the feet. Shoes covered the whole feet. You have to wear them with socks.

You either wear shoes, or chappal or walk barefoot.

Life was simple.

Then came Slippers.

These were like chappals, only more hip. Still only the sole was covered, but it was done more flamboyantly.

I could live with slippers, though I still stuck to my chappals and shoes.

Then came 'Hawai' Chappals. They were neither chappals, nor they were from 'Hawai'. More likely they got the name from 'Hawa' which is the hindi word for Air. Because they were airy, they got the name 'Hawai'.(Air + y = Airy, Hawa + i = Hawai, we could have added 'Y' and made it 'Haway', with none the wiser. I think the guy who coined Hawai wanted to mess around with Americans, if you know your Geography...)

Then there was a lull for a few years.

The other day, I went to the neighbourhood shoe shop for buying a pair of Chappals.

'What do you want?' asks he

What a stupid question, think I. Do I look like I am here in a shoe shop to buy a refrigerator or something?

'What do you have?', I ask. I want to mess around with this omniscient shoe seller. I already know the answer to the Q.

'We have Chappals, slippers...',says he

I smile an internal smile. We are on familiar territory. I am waiting for him to add 'Shoes' and stop sheepishly. Fancy stupid he will look, when after asking me what I want, he can only respond with Chappals, Slippers and Shoes.

Not even 'Hawai' slippers? I mean what...

A silly smart alec shoe vendor. All talk and no footwear, I mean.

It is like Amitab Bacchan can't come up with 4 options for a question that he asked in KBC.

I mean...

"'....Hawai' slippers, Sneakers, Keds, Moccasins, Floaters, Loafers, Blackies, Brownies, Baby Shoes, Baby Chappals...', he paused for breath..

'What do you want?', asks he

I have no idea what I want. I have heard, in one minute, more types of Shoes than I have ever known in my life.

And I have seen my Class 12 and Engineering and MBA and Durgapur and Kolkata and what not.

I wanted to buy one of those foot wear which cover my sole. I did not have the confidence to ask the name. I was scared of his coming out with another set of jargons.

I did the next best thing.

'Can you show me these?', I asked, kind of confidently, you know. I don't want him to know that I am a novice and am still living in the 'Chappals and Shoes' era.

He has got a grip on me by now, I think.

"There is mocasins, Over there you have floaters, and there you have loafers', he points to an area teeming with a few (how can a place 'Teem' with a 'Few' people?) oddball guys as he mentioned 'loafers'

That is the kind of shoe that I can relate to...