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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Book Review : Tue Blue by David Baldacci

I am really sad about David Baldacci. With "Absolute Power", the kind of expectations he raised make you feel why you wasted time reading this thrash.

"Everybody loves a good drought" - stories from India's poorest districts by P.Sainath

Book Review:   Everybody loves a good drought - stories from India's poorest districts by P.Sainath

Everybody Loves A Good Drought - P Sainath

I  have heard about this book quite some time back - but had the chance to read it only now.

What a read!

It just hits you hard. What kind of life that we are leading vs what kind of life is doled out to so very many people out there.

Poverty by design. Poverty by birth. Poverty by every single means possible. And, the Government machinery not being able to do anything about it.

"What is in a name? Ask the Dhuruas" takes the cake. One person is ST. But, his own brother is not deemed so. How can this be? It is. And there seems to be no solution...

The stories of quacks and why quacks thrive.

The status of education in these poorest of the districts...where the solitary goat is the only occupant in the "school" ..

And, how the so called "Developmental Projects" have done nothing to the people who inherited and lived in those places...

How the money lenders destroy families, make those who borrowed their slaves...

It is full of stories you don't want to read curling up in the night. I did that mistake and I could not sleep. I can still see these people in my mind...

The note in the appendix on "Poverty line" and what it looks at or rather what it completely misses to look at is really hard hitting.

The book made me think about what I am going to do about the whole thing now that I have read it. There is so much that each of us can do...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When Icons Fall & Role models fail

When Icons fall, what do we do?

There have been strong allegations on Lance Armstrong for quite some time now.

7 times "Tour de France" champion. Fighter of Cancer. Role model for youngsters.

Not anymore.

I am wondering of the impact of this on all of us.

All of us need role models. At different ages, different stages, all of us need role models to emulate. But, when those models fall, get disgraced, what is the impact of that on us? How do we react? How do we cope?

There have been a number of these fallen models these times. Lance Armstrong now. But, before him, there have been many. In sports. In Business. In other areas.

People whom we thought to be good, honest, exemplifying the fighting spirit and great skills get exposed as nothing but charlatans who would have been nothing if not for the hoodwinking that they brought about.

Sports :

Sports is full of these fallen stars.

1. Lance Armstrong :

The latest star to fall. But, because of the height he had gone to, the fall is, to my mind, the hardest to accept and let go by those who idolized him. He represented the very fighting spirit - not only in sports but outside it - by fighting the cancer. Also, the organization he founded is seemingly doing good work. His books, "Its not about the bike : My journey back to life" has inspired many to fight cancer. His cycling victories brought cycling to the forefront of the USA's imagination. But, when you learn that your idol was lower than the lowest of the thugs in cheating, what do you do? Where do you go? Where do you draw inspiration from?

2. Marion Jones: 

What a star and what a fall! She inspired millions of women to take up athletics. She stood for performance and courage and winning spirit. And, all that went into thin air...

3. Ben Johnson :

I still remember that Olympics and the timing of 9.79 seconds. I remember the raised hand of Ben Johnson. I remember the stunned look on Carl Lewis' face as he was beaten by Ben.

Ben was the toast of Canada.

And 2 days later, all hell broke loose as he was found out.

4. Tiger Woods: 

Enough has been written about the Tiger woods scandal. Though not from a doping angle, the scandal illustrated the fact that the sports icons are expected to be role models as well. They cannot afford to slip up on integrity and honesty in other aspects of their life even if it is their personal life.

5. Hansi Cronje

He was the God of south african cricket. He could do no wrong. He was the perfect allrounder. Great batsman, shrewd bowler, fantastic fielder, astute captain. A symbol of how the resurgent south african cricket is going to take the world by storm. It was said that if he stood in election for presidency, he would have won unopposed.

And, yet, the star fell to earth, or probably much below earth so to speak.

He brought out what lied beneath cricket's surface. He made the term "match fixing" a real force to reckon with. He could have had whatever he wanted in his life. But, yet, he chose wrongly...

6. Mohammed Azaruddin: 

Another star which fell beneath. A simple boy. The one who showed the beauty of batsmanship to many. The one who showed what fielding is all about and how much of a difference can it make. A meteoric rise in the first 3 tests with back to back centuries during the debut matches. A fantastic record as a batsman of class and as a captain. The role model. How a muslim boy went onto captain the sport in India which is religion in itself.

And yet, he fell...

There is a detailed list of doping cases in Sports from wikipedia. The list is sickening, to say the least.

Business :

7. Ramalinga Raju:

It is not only sports persons who are icons. There are icons in every area of life and in business the icons are even more revered. The ability to start and run a company, make money in a honest way is respected all over the world. People like Narayana Moorthy of Infosys have captured the imagination of youngsters across India.

And, Ramalinga Raju was one such revered person till one day when he accepted "riding the tiger by the tail and not knowing how to get off without being eaten"

The empire was still there. The company was still there and there was apparently no reason to falisify the records. However, the team, lead by Raju, did just that and the most heart wrenching scandal in business india came about.

8. Rajat Gupta:

The jury and the verdict is still out on this one. And yet, the writing seems to be clear on the wall. Rajat Gupta, the great person who symbolised the raise of Indian businessmen in the world canvass is going to go down. There are representations being made to lighten the sentence that he is awaiting.

The former Mckinsey head, who is extremely well known for his intellect as well as his philanthropic work has fallen down the ladder. Insider trading has claimed its most famous victim.


Godmen lead the list in terms of fallen heroes. There have been many Godmen across countries who have fallen from grace, leaving the followers fuming and their faith shattered.

India has had its share.

9. Nithyananda:

This Godman had huge following. People whom I personally know followed him. He wrote a series of inspiring articles in a popular magazine in Tamil. All that went out the window when a video came out which showed him in close quarters with a yesteryear actress.

Though both the Godman and the actress denied any wrongdoing, the video made rounds on the net and the followers' faith lay shattered.

10. Premananda :

The Godman whose case made rounds years back. Who seemed to have committed every single crime possible out there. And yet, he also commanded huge following.

When icons fall, when your role model falls, when your faith lays shattered, what do you do? How do you rebuild your faith? Your conviction ? Your belief in yourself?

When such things happen routinely, does it send a message that it is ok to be dishonest? That it is fine to be untruthful as long as one wins? Will this shatter the moral fabric of the society at large? Will it make us suspect the real heroes? Wonder when 'this one is going to fall'?

It would be a shame if it comes to that...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Books I read : The Rozabal Line

First and foremost, the flow of the book disrupts you. It moves across ages. It moves across continents. But, except for that, it makes up with a lot of facts and mythology and stories.

The simple story is that Hinduism and Christianity and Islam are all the same religions and are the different facets of the same fundamental belief system. Christ had not died on the cross - he had married, he came to india and probably died in India.

Add to the story the possiblities of past life regression and voila, you have a powerful and gripping story.

Decent read. I will give this 3 stars out of 5 stars.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Vanishing Professions:

Today's Hindu carries an article on the vanishing profession of "Post Man". That is right. One does not get to see the venerable post men anymore these days. I remember my college days at TNAU Coimbatore, in the period 1988 - 92. I used to get at least a couple of letters everyday, from my family and friends. I used to wait eagerly to go through all of them. I used to spend at least half an hour every day drafting replies to those letters.

Now, I think I write even more, but those are typically one liners. On the computer. Mailed and they reach instantly the other party. Somehow, the old charm of letters are lost.

The onward march of technology! How many professions have gone under it!

I remember seeing a number of horse driven carriages in the stretch of Pazhavanthaangal railway station to Madippakkam. I used to come to chennai for my annual holidays to visit my uncle, who used to live in madippakkam - who still lives there. One did not have so many busses. And, for a child, the horse rides from the station to home were absolutely thrilling.

But, now, one does not see those horse driven carriages anymore.

What else will go down under?

1) Teachers : With the technology of the net coming in, with 3G and 4G etc, it becomes possible to learn at one's own pace. There are lessons available, which can be paced at the speed to suit the child's requirements. Also, the pay that the teachers - at any level - get is peanuts. So, slowly, slowly, one may see this most wonderful of the professions, going down under. It will get replaced by instructors - who introduce the computer based lessons and do nothing more than that. And, even they as a breed would vanish over a period of time.

2) Electricity consumption level readers : One sees these people at home. Every month or every other month, they come home, check the meter, write down on that piece of paper where the meter measurements are written and go to the next home. Now, with technology, the meters would start becoming more and more inteligent. One need not 'write down' the meter reading. It would record the month end level reading on a pre defined date and time all by itself.

3) Umpires in cricket : It has all started with the UDRS - Umpire Decision Review System. Even with India opposing it, even with a couple of decisions not going well, I think the technology is here to stay. The only area of dispute is going to be the LBW decision. But, I think we will find a way out of that too. Then, slowly, the umpires will become coat stands for the bolwers, they will become people who ensure the conduct of the match rather than giving out decisions for and against the batsmen.

4) Housewife : I think the terminology will vanish in the next 20 years. With almost all the people wanting to get educated, wanting to work rather than stay home and cook, one may not have housewives any more.

There could be other professions as well which might vanish. Please do let me know, in your opinion, which of the professions which we see today, may not be around in the next decade or two!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dose of inspiration : Randy Pausch Last Lecture

I am sure you have heard of this one. The famous last lecture. That of Randy Pausch. The man who knew that he had a mere 6 months or so to live.

I watched and watched and re-watched the lecture. What a lecture it is!

He talks about "How to Realise Your Childhood Dreams". He talks about being specific while dreaming. He talks about having big dreams. Dreams which you are really passionate about. He talks about keeping that childlike wonder in you. That curiosity in you. Going with the flow and doing what you love to do.

And, all of this from a man who knew that he had very little time to live. He did not talk philosophy. He did not talk about his great achievements. He talked about his childhood dreams. Of defying gravity and living in zero gravity. Of being captain kirk. Of becoming an imagineer with Disney. And, how he went onto do all of these in his life.

He talked about living his life while he had a lot of it and planning to live it now that he has very little left of it.

Check here for his complete life story and to know who this man is :

Well. I was wondering for a brief while what my last lecture would have been.

First of all, let me be frank : it is difficult for me to imagine giving a last lecture. It immediately implies that I may not be around too long in the future post giving it. The very thought of it is somewhat unsettling. But, once I get used to that strange thought, what would I have talked about?

I think I would have done a quick review of my life. It is not an extraordinary life by any means. On the contrary, it has been quite ordinary and absolutely normal. But, I guess there have been those relative high points that I am happy about.

I think I would have reviewed today's situation, especially today's India. There are lots of things which are wrong. Yes. There is corruption of unimaginable magnitude. I cannot even begin to count the number of zeros in that number that CAG came up with on the spectrum scandal.

I cannot even begin to understand how a person with the stature of Ratan Tata came to be besmirched in this whole thing.

I don't understand how the onions and other vegetables can command such a high price and yet how come the farmers still don't have an improved lifestyle.

But I guess, there are those which are the right things. India, with all these things, is still shining. Inflation or not, it is still growing. Raising onion prices or not, we are one of the best young population that is available for the whole world. There is the moral outcry that is reverberating around the country.

The supreme court is acting as the conscience keeper and asks the government very uncomfortable questions. The corporates are waking up to the moral issues.

I see young people, very young people going on their own and becoming entrepreneurs. I have the pleasure of meeting them, talking to them and listening to them in the course of some of the work that I do.

On the whole, I think I will lean on to the positive side and say with conviction that we are indeed poised for much much better things to come.

I think I would also have told people things which are very similar to what Randy said. I would have advised people to enjoy their work. Or, find what they enjoy doing and just keep on doing it for the rest of their life. I would have told them to have a habit of meeting children on a regular basis. For me, my kids and my kids' friends are a constant source of inspiration. The stories that they come up with, the sheer curiosity that they have, rubs off on me and keeps me off the pressures that I have in my day to day life. I would have told them to look at things in a light hearted fashion. I would have advised them to watch a lot of comedy even if the comedy was sometimes downright silly. It is still worth it if it can make you laugh!

In all, I guess I would have left a message of living in this moment. For, the next moment is not guranteed. For any of us. It is only this particular one single moment that I have. I have already last the past. I have no idea whether the future would even arrive for me. I have only the present.

As I have read somewhere, that is probably why it is called as "the present".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to Become a Consultant : A crash course (In a lighter vein!)

Becoming a consultant is actually easier than you think it to be. I have watched many consultants over a period of time and watched them very closely. Now, I think I have all the tools of the trade clearly fleshed out. I will share those secrets with you.

 1. Shut up and listen (or at least pretend to - but please keep mum through out..)

We are all trained to offer an opinion as soon as we see something. If we see an ad, we tell whether it is good or bad in our opinion. If we listen to a strategy presentation, we would jump before even 3 lines are completed in the presentationas to whether the strategy is good or bad. But, the key to winning as a consultant is to keep your mouth shut and listen. Let everyone speak up. You just take notes. You don't even have to know the subject really. But, by the end of meeting everyone in the room and everyone who matters in the company, you would probably end up knowing a lot more than all of them individually know. There are two questions here : one : why would they all speak to you  and two : how can one be so sure that you will end up knowing a lot more than all of them individually?

This is where the reality of organisation as a species comes in. Any organisation is typically ineffective. Just look at countries. All the individuals know a lot. Collectively, they know a hell of a lot. But, the problem is that they don't know that they know a lot. That is the problem. Most organizations are not very different from this. Each individual may know a lot. But, most organizations lack systems and processes to synthesise those learnings. So, in effect, the organizational learning is not very much. This is where you, as a consultant come and play a role. If you start putting together all the knowledge that you can gleam from the indiviaul meetings with people, you end up learning a lot and suddenly, you know a lot more than the organization does! And, why woudl they spend time with you? The reasons are simple. One, any consultant, coming from outside, evokes respect and fear. If that person comes with a top management mandate, all the more so. And, in most organizations, people love to gossip. It is actually sad to see. But, the fact is, most people feel that they are not listent to by others. That means, whoever comes in specifically to listen gets all the juicy details.

So, let me repeat the lesson number one : shut up and listen.

2. Ask all the simple and stupid questions that you have always wanted to ask!

This step is in fact easier than remaining silent but not many people practise it. This is how it works. Let us say the marketing manager of the company that you have been hired to consult is telling you in glorious terms about his new product to hit the market. Practise the 1st step - listen patiently. Don't interrupt. Note down all the points. Even when the manager is expecting you to stop him and add your point, resist the temptation and just smile encouragingly. After you are doubly sure that the manager has run his course, ask questions. I have even a question list which can help you:

Q1. So...???

This is so very powerful. Simply stating this word, "so" seems to catch most people unaware. They initially look at you as if you are a moron. But, then they start getting self doubts. If, after all this explanation, you , the consultant, who is supposed to be bright and brilliant and all that has not understood the importance of this new product or the impact of this strategy, how will the poor consumer, who is supposedly not as bright as you, is expected to understand this? Then they start adding lots of defences about their idea. Then they start talking openly about their fears about this idea. This is when you really start understanding the idea.

Q2. So what? 

This is a modified version of the Q1 but even more powerful than the first one. The results are typically even better here.

Q3. Will you buy this product / service / new idea with your money? 

This brings the best of the creatrive juices in the person. Shut up and listen. Ask the Q1 and then Q2. With a smile.

Q4. Will you put your own personal money in this idea? 

This makes the jaw drop. Most of the people wouldn't and they know it even before you ask them. Asking them just makes them uncomfortable. They would not tell you the answer straight because they cannot. If the idea is so very powerful, they would resign and probably start all by themselves with some seed money. The very fact that they are not doing so speaks volumes about the ideas.

Now, the above are slanted towards new ideas and marketing but the questions work across the functions and also with the top management.

3. Summarise and rephrase the learnings back to them. 

This means that you basically list down all the points and summarise - to each individual - what you have listened so far. It works better if you rephrase the whole thing instead of using the individual's own words. This makes them feel much better. They go away thinking that you have heard them out and now they have taught you all you have to know to do your job.

4. Connect the dots and put together the group learnings together. 

Usually, the solutions to the problems that the group is facing lies within the group. It is just that usually nobody bothers to bring it out. By talking to all the key people and summarising and rephrasing, you would have brought out all the solutions the group has.

5. Bring out your best powerpoint skills!

This is important. Very important. The slides should look great. Use a good, simple template. Use the basic presentation techniques : don't put too many words into a slide; don't put too much of emphazise on the facts and figures - they are boring and nobody bothers about them anyway. Use interesting sayings and jokes in between to pep up the ppt. End the presentation with a take away and action point chart which will give roles and responsibilities to each of the departments and people in the organization. They all feel good about seeing such a slide. Such a slide also means that they can do something about all the things that they talked to you and that also means that all the time spent talking to you is not going to go waste.

There are several fantastic things about this whole exercise : 

1) The beauty is that you don't have to do any of those implementation steps yourself. The organization will do it. And, what more, they will thank you for setting up such a wonderful set of action points
2) You don't have to be an expert in anything. In fact, the less you know about the industry, the better because then you have the freedom to ask all the 'silly' questions that normally nobody asks!
3) All you have to do is to keep mum; keep your silence; let the others fill the void with their ideas and words.

But, remember, it is not easy to be a good consultant because it is difficult to be a listener. Even more than that, it is very very difficult not to offer any opinion upfront. As long as you are ready to work on that skill and hone it, you are on your way to become a top notch consultant!

Well - I know and interact with really top notch consultants - and so please take the blog post in a lighter vein only!!!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Dose of Inspiration : 

Giving food; taking care

We get inspired by something or by someone. Usually, we get inspired by somebody who is worse off than us, doing things which we had not even tried doing! Though there are other ways and means of getting inspiration, this is one way of really and surely, getting inspired.

I have added a few doses of inspiration - found from Facebook and other sites here.

1. N.Krishnan (Madurai): 

He gives food to destitutes. This Catering graduate, who was working with the Taj group, gave up his cushy job to feed the really poor and destitute people. He goes out in search of them right in the morning. He starts his day at 4.00 in his kitchen. Food is prepared and he is doing it himself. He goes out and finds the mentally retarded, poor, destitute people who are out there in the streets of Madurai. He feeds them. He does nothing else. He is running a trust called "Akshaya Trust".  He is the CNN top 10 heroes of the year. There is a lot already written about him so I am not eloborating in this post. But, to me, he is my top hero. He is my top inspiration for the day.

Check out the stories here:

This is a stunning example of how one can care. Yes - this sounds very extreme. But, I believe that only because such individuals are out there, the life still goes on as normal for everybody else.

What an inspiration he is for everyone!

The tamil poet Bharati sang :

" வயிற்றிற்கு சோறிட வேண்டும், இங்கு
  வாழும் உயிர்களுக்கெல்லாம்.."   (We have to give food to all the living beings here...)

This person is an apt example for that. Let us not turn away beggars. We also beg God for so many things. I am not talking about encouraging people to beg - but not turning them down...let us give food. Let us do that one basic act that people are expected to do : feeding whenever we take food. Let us feed others. Let us feed to the extent we can. This is so very important in the times that we live : especially in the context of raising food prices...