Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reality and Imagination

As usual one morning, me and the little one were busy making stuff with Lego bricks. I churned out model after model. He was noticeably slower. He observed us and commented, "Appa, you know why you make models faster and I make them slower?"

"No" I said, not wanting to congratulate myself and readying myself for a pat on my back for my advanced skills in building stuff with building blocks and my ability to find bricks faster and...(you get the picture)

"That is because", he reasoned, "your models are real and mine are from my imagination."
"Alright", I asked, slightly amused and at the answer and the perspicacity of the observation, "What do you mean?"

"See, what you make are things which are already there. House, vehicles - they are all already there no?" I nodded. "But the things which I make, like the Dinodon (yes, its a cross between a dinosaur and a vehicle) or the Rhinodon (you got it, am sure) are not already there, so I have think and make it ..."

Suitably chastened, I went back to re-imagining my models...

"Thats why it takes me more time..." he added with a flourish.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Everything I do

Someone else doesn't...I like this new ad campaign titled (?) iDont (or is the title "Droid does") that takes potshots at the iPhone...Any guesses on who the competitor is? Who else, but Google. I doubt if anybody so far has had the nerve to take on Apples iPhone with a direct campaign like this.

Of course both the phone and the app store (by far, the iPhones strength) have to live up to the ads - but that's for another day...

(Sandisk had attempted a similar campaign couple of years ago...)

Building glaciers

What would you do if your glaciers melted and there was no water? You could still deny global warming for one...

For all those in the plains saying there is no global warming, heres a place that's been facing real issues and heres how one person has been trying to stop building glaciers, yes you read that right. (via Kottke)

The principles are the same as building rainwater ponds or checkdams, in case you ever decide to try it out...

But this is such a heartwarming (notwithstanding global warming) story and heres one for all those global warming sceptics...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Forest, Trees and Leaf

Apparently the Nissan Leaf will come to India in the near future. The report is a bit vague so I cant say if its more near or future. While I know Carlos Ghosn or Ratan Tata wont read this, whoever introduces a good electric car at a decent price will get some good market share in the cities.

But I could be wrong, couldn't I? The Reva has not made significant stries in the Indian market and the Leaf (or whichever electric car), whenever it is launched won't be cheap. And infrastructure will be a big big issue - what if your supercool-electric-car-that-needs-no-petrol stopped in a village with no electricity at all or, more likely, in a place which has a 12 hour load shedding? (Then, we get the bullocks out - ha, we have all the answers!)

Well, but that's because we are talking present. We are still away from any sort of tipping point for EVs. For all the work Reva has done in trying to create a market for EVs in India, it is still ploughing a lone furrow. But oil prices have only one way to go and that is up. And electric cars infrastructure have only one way to go, that is also in the direction of better...So, at some point this will happen...Question is who will be lucky?

And in the meantime, you will see small strides like the reported Swift petrol with plug in hybrid that aim to bridge the (big) gap between oil and electricity...But the overall direction is away from oil (this is as much hope as much belief...)

Turning around

This company had started off as yet another JRD Tata enterprise and started life off as Tata Airlines. Soon after independence, it became Indias national carrier. In 1962, it became the worlds first all jet airline - no mean achievement in those days. The Maharajah, its emblem is an icon in Indian marketing tomes. Probably one of the most recognized icons in India. Given the ubiquity of its mindshare, this airline should have been one of the (if not the only) preferred airlines for Indians. But clearly, something (or many things went wrong).

Today, the airline faces bad times with a loss of about 700 to 7000 crore rupees ( depending on whether you count the erstwhile Indian Airlines or not) and a debt of twice that amount. The airline is facing a government bail out (by the time this article makes it to print, it would have been predictably approved). And ask the man on the airport, if they think any of this will make a difference to the airline and whether they will travel on it given a chance, you will be surprised at how many people will say that they will.

The wiki entry on the airline lists out numerous awards that the airline has won but ask the casual traveler and most of them will tell you they won't fly the airline. People will cite a thousand examples (some of which I have experienced myself) on why they wont. Unclean airplanes, indifferent staff are just some of the examples. Culturally it is an even bigger mess.

None of the service mentality that you would see in a Jet airways would be seen on an Air India. People run scared of booking themselves on an Air India flight.

It is well known that globally the airline industry is going through troubled times for a while now. First it was the low cost airlines, then it was fuel prices, then recession, then wars, security checks and what not. The government prepares to give the airline yet another chance by infusing a billion dollar assistance.

So, what will fix the problem? As a management student, this is an ideal case study.

From a management perspective, you will find many Air Indias around you. In the form of people, in the form of projects, in the form of products and services. And these are places where tough decisions have to be taken. You may find yourself saving an Air India in the hot seat or find yourself on a committee that evaluates it.

First of all, employees (stakeholders and members of the project) need to buy in and agree that they will do whatever is necessary to execute the turnaround. If they are not willing, you will need to how much you need their assistance or if there is a need to get fresh blood. Without committed employees, no turnaround can be executed. This is a common occurrence whenever a company takes over a new enterprise. There is
fear, uncertainity, doubt (FUD) factor, people worry about their jobs and their future. They need to be told about it one way or other, yet done so in a sensitive manner.

A cultural change is expected and required. Will your present leader deliver or would need to drive change from the top? The leader may or may not be inspirational, but he needs to have the ability to take people alongwith him. More than leaders, you would need the support of various stakeholders with various levels of influence and needs. How the leader influences th em and has his right of way is very important. Ever
so often, we see a clear strategy, that fails because the stakeholders have not bought into the strategy. A lot of the ERP implementations in companies have gone this way due to the reason of not taking people along.

Do you need to run the business at all? Don't caught fooled by the sunk cost fallacy ("we have already spent so much money on this") or emotional attachments ("it was started as our first business") or delusions of grandeur ("it is prestigious to own this business") The question that you are faced with is, "Is the business in the best interest of the company today and the future"? Either answer demands a separate set of things to be done. For a lot of old world companies getting rid of non-core activities; indeed defining what is core and non-core and getting to it has been no cakewalk.

Even once you decide that you need the business a similar decision would need to taken with the product/service lines. Ever so often you see companies persist with product lines that are not in tune with the market. To me, PAL and Hindustan Motors persisting with their models comes to mind. And on the contrary, a Toyota has adjusted itself very soon.

Executing a turnaround is a tough job. Most businesses can turn around - with a sharp focus on strategy, market and customers, an eagles eye on execution and of course, assuming that you have the right strategy and support from all the stakeholders. We have seen government run enterprises successfully being taken over by private firms, both in India and abroad. Mittals turnaround of loss making steel plants is a
case study in itself.

Coming back to the Air India question, how does the fund infusion help when most of the other factors are not changing. The union appears to be as uncooperative as ever, the culture refuses to change? The government uses Air-India for its junkets. Presumably only the government and some destinations like Gulf are still profitable segments for Air India. And if that is so, do we really need an airline envisaged as a show piece to be in this situation? And is that what is national "prestige"? Would the private carriers not set a better example of service? Many other nations have privatised their national carriers...

Many a time, a turnaround requires a fundamental change. Telco at one time was a manufacturer of trucks and heavy vehicles - by and large. It was a permanent icon of Indian roads alongwith Ambassador and PAL. Today, Telco is still around. It managed to bring on the first 'Indian' LCVs (they are a hit even today), created the first Indian car (Indica), the pathbreaking mini truck (Ace) and of course, broke new ground almost simultaneously in two ends of the market with the Jaguar and the Nano and invested in some advanced truck making capabilities...

What will work for you?

(An edited version of this piece was published in Advancedge this month)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is there a difference between NGOs and Corporates?

Except for the so called profit motive? And in my dictionary (which, really is borrowed from a few capitalists), profit is good - because profit oils the wheels and profit can be taxed and is ploughed back as investment...

In my books, if there are "rogue corporates", there are rogue NGOs and as far as my limited knowledge goes, companies are better regulated and hence have more accountability (and less evil agendas from their funders to paint with a broad brush).

So, if as per this report the NREGS is going to go to NGOs, it means we are wasting more money than is being wasted. Today it is probably pure corruption, tomorrow it will mean something more vicious. Well, give it to the CSR programmes of ITC or Infosys or Azim Premij foundation and you will get more bang for the buck - I mean if thats what you want...

Top of the mind response as of now, but I will put in coherent thoughts soon...

5 rupees for a cheque

If that sounds absurd, imagine you will pay 5 bucks for an e-transaction. Actually some time back the RBI allowed banks to charge 5 rupees for NEFT transactions.

Yes, the same e-transaction that allows banks to employ less people, build less branches and use less manpower and get technology to do all the work.

I don't recall who had blogged about it, but it is one amazing neanderthal move. So, if you want to save 5 rupees, go stand in a queue at the bank or put in a cheque which will then utilize the services of a million people and blow more money than that? Or will e-cheques cross subsidise the paper cheques? Well, many people like me wont, because I value my time too much to stand in a stupid queue, but there are others who will...

Indian railways, take a cue - reduce the quota online, get everybody standing in a queue for booking and cancelling tickets. Ditto theaters. Lets start pushing paper once again like the good old days...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Black tickets, anybody

When was the last time you bought a movie ticket in black? 6 years ago? 5? 4? And what happened between then and now?

Have the movies become so bad? Are less movies being released? Or people no longer watch movies@ theaters preferring instead the comfort of their homes? Or has the video-dvd-youtube-piracy combo killed movies? Or people fear visiting movies thanks to our terroristas who may be seeking revenge for a bad movie? (some of my friends suggest that a few recent movies would qualify).

Or has there been a proliferation of theatres that it is no longer necessary to sell in black? Or have all those multiplexes evolved their own pricing system to adjust to supply and demand? Or since we can all book tickets online or using mobile phones, it makes it that much simpler?

Now how about extending that to education? And doing away with reservations? If there are enough colleges with enough seats, would anybody really need reservation?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Germanys energy revolution

A special feature in Der Spiegel.

While it is about the smart grid and new technologies like giant solar power plants in the desert, wind farms, it is also about generation of power closer to the source. And that, for India is another leapfrog opportunity.

We leapfrogged our yawning communication gap (chasm?) between villages and cities thanks to cellphone technology. To a certain extent, organic farming thoughts helped stop us from getting into full industrial agriculture mode. A coming power revolution will enable our villages to be self sufficient in a way Gandhiji would have never imagined.

I like this. Imagine homes and factories and apartment blocks generating part of their own electricity needs and feeding it back to the grid. Imagine microscale wind and solar power plants and probably bio-gas as well and thats one non petroleum future I look forward to...

And on that a Happy Diwali...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Psychology of names

A very simple hypothesis of mine is that people are deeply influenced by film actors (largely - not sure if it applies so much for girl children and actresses) and other successful people like sports starts (mostly cricket) or politicians (some of them) when we name our children.

Therefore, over a few generations rare is the child named Ranjeet, Prem, Jeevan, Amrish but there is a profusion of Amit, Rajesh, even Indira, Priya (after you know who), Sachin, Rajeev, Rahul and others.

Not sure Virender would make it to the list soon, because it is a successful name, but "traditional".

In places where the local industry is dominant, you would see a similar naming pattern me thinks...

(need to do a longer post on this...)

Car Reviews

Been reading a few car reviews on zigwheels and I am not sure if it is only me who feels all the car reviews sound the same. The reviews are vaguely positive or mildly positive or fawningly positive.

It is only in the comparisons (where a few cars are tested simultaneously) that I able to get some differentiating factors.

It is entirely possible that I am an idiot who does not know much about cars and their engines and other parts or there is some trouble with my understanding of the reviews! Clearly all cars in the market are good!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Global food

A cursory glance at your supermarket shelves might show you that India has opened its doors to international cuisine. Ok, may not be all supermarkets, but most of the bigger grocery malls have.

A few weeks back, I was shocked to see Maggi noodles imported from Far East. I have seen imported Kellogs and other break fast cereal products often enough, but this one surprised me. Italian olive oil has also been around for a while now. And I spotted a pack of Thai curry mix, imported by some company in Gujarat and packaged as per Indian specs (with the green dot etc.) - which I duly picked up. And there are many such intrepid traders who source products from all over the world (right now, I see mostly Far East and Italian and European and predictable) but it wont be long before we see some Japanese items here or Korean.

And of course, we don't know how they are selling. Olive oil will sell to gourmets for sure, as will a lot of Italian products since it is already established at the top of the heap. The rest, well, we will have to see. The Indian shopper today is a lot more globalized than she was and might experiment with all these new products.

The second thing being are these products sourced because demand elsewhere is falling or is it because there is true demand here? Or is it that there is race between hypermarkets to brand themselves are more exotic than the other - because otherwise, no shopper will be able to identify which grocer he is shopping from if someone does a "blind taste" experiment...

And while this is happening, there is sufficient ground for Indian products from all over India to be sold too. For instance, Kerala items are quite easily available in Bangalore, but not so Gujarat or Rajasthani (vice versa?). And while I did spot Kolhapuri Bhadang in more than one place, there is significant space there...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

1984 and 2009

Currently reading 1984 by George Orwell. As a fan of his Animal farm (available online), it is my humble conclusion that all movements in the world are exactly of the nature as depicted by Animal farm. (note to myself: Please attempt a longer post on it.)

All rules are like spider webs. The insects (us, common mango chaps) get caught while the sparrows fly through. And coincidentally, I found this yesterday - Road to Serfdom (dont miss it), in comic form.

And in this context comes our ministers comment on vulgar salaries...Aadisht does a neat job of dissecting it. To that I would like to add my twenty five paise. A few more can be targetted instead of the corporate sector.

Film stars are making too much money. Too much money is spent producing dud movies. Reality television and even television channels earn vulgar amounts (and often manage to make a profit). We spend vulgar amounts on national schemes that benefit no one.

Someone should remind him that the days of socialism in India are over. Or are they?

PPP in Education

Simply love this: PPP in education. (via)

Now I am sure the old raggedy politicians sitting the opposition will oppose it with a ton of verbiage etc etc...but this is a great beginning. Hopefully it will reach to its logical intent and meaning...

Finally the world has to be about equal opportunity and this I believe is a step in the right direction...

Food rules...

20 Food rules by Michael Pollan. Very nice!

And here are a few more of mine...(not that I follow each one of them, I try to though)

* Carry food with you at work - otherwise you will be tempted to junk
* Keep fruits in your home at a place where you can see it - not inside a referigerator - that way you will have to eat it before it gets spoilt - and keep you off junk
* Indulge once in a while - it stops you from craving
* Eat leaves twice a week
* Find our what your grandparents ate and try to get closer to it in a few meals atleast
* Anything that leaves colour on your finger, oil on your finger after eating is bad

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Kindl(e)y adjust...

Coming up very soon (Oct 19th) is an ideal Diwali gift for those bibliophiles…The Amazon Kindle. You may love it or hate it, but two things afai can see. One, digital reading is the future of books (Kindle or no Kindle). Second, in terms of convenience, it beats everything else hollow. You cannot lug your library (1500 books capacity) with you in any other way.

Now if that isnt something what is? And at 300 odd USD - that’s about 15k - which is what you would spend on books in a good 2 years (lesser for avid readers).

Now the downsides - The equipment price and book prices at dollar rates may seem costly for now. You also cannot share books that easily - unless you lend the whole damn machine - which come to think of it might be an upside in itself - no more lost books!

This is interesting…

Well, for choice the Sony reader is available too. The iphone and the android phones have their own readers (and google books too). And perhaps the much rumoured Apple tablet too, but all in all Kindle has fired the first salvo in India... May the book lovers win...

We get the infrastruture we deserve

Nice column on infrastructure by Tavleen Singh

And rings true. Have been struggling with the net the past few days and I still never know when it will give up once again. Ditto for mobile networks - not had a decent call without having to walk around "catching" the signal in ages. Yes, our infrastructure is bad, poor, pathetic - notwithstanding Volvo buses and our politicians are busy staying in dalit houses without electricity.

Imagine. 60 plus years so called indepedence, these guys don't have electricity and our media is celebrating the fact that our politicians are spending time in such houses instead of ticking them for the state that the people are in. (Yes, I am referring to the one shall not be asked an uncomfortable question). Or of course, they are independent of electricity too. Smart eh?

Whatever...(and I will be back whenever my net is up. BSNL ought to give up all pretense of running a telecom firm)

Walking - a digression

Over the past few years, I have become a big fan of walking. I try to walk as much as I can - definitely around the place I live in and often combine public transport and walks to reach my destination. Apart from the obvious benefit of fitness, heres what I love about it.

As I walk in the morning, I can see the "morningers" do their job. The car wash guy with a few swings of his hand wipes the cars with the same urgency that the cars display on the road. Then there is the milkman dropping off milk, a liter here and half a liter there hoping he has not made a mistake. The paper wallah is busy sorting out his different papers for households. The ironing guy is coaxing his coals to light up. Dogs lie on the ground, asleep, but only just; alert enough to bark at the some intruder whose presence is triggered by smell on their sensitive nostrils. Small fires busily warm up their surroundings which is usually a huddle of men wrapped in wool kambals. The sun lazily wakes up, first peering through a few clouds before showing up in full resplendence.

  • Explore your surroundings - whether near your residence or at a tourist spot or anywhere else where you are. Nothing like a morning walk to explore places around you - both in terms of speed and in terms of nature.
  • You are your own company - unless you are walking with someone and if it is not conversation, it is a conversation with yourself, clearing your mind, freeing your mind and just being in the present. I love this particular aspect - company or no company.
  • Slow down - ultimately you will reach back only at the speed that you walk and if you walk a long distance one way and return (unlike going round and round in a park) - you cannot speed up. You have to get used to the pace of walking.
  • Walking with songs - I don't particularly enjoy it, but there are times when I like to listen to music - especially if I am walking in the park and I have to listen intently to a few songs.
  • Talking over the phone - this is something I quite like - it is almost as good as having the person near and with handsfree it does not spoil the experience one bit. It can be distracting though - as would listening to songs, so choose a spot with less traffic or where you don't disturb others.
  • Once you are used to walking, walking anywhere is an option. A radius of about 2 kms one way around your place of residence is an easy walk away. The max I have walked is perhaps about 10 odd kms one way (and then I took the bus back home)

What are you waiting for then? Put on those walking shoes and walk...

Customer service!!!

As long time readers of this blog will know, I am a fan of Megamart. Long before Megamart was spun off as a different brand in itself to become a umbrella brand...

Recently I paid a visit to their flagship store at the Forum Value Mall. Megamart remains true to its promise. Good deals, value for money pricing and in general most offers are in the lines of buy 2 get 1 free or buy 2 get 2 free...

With purchases like this, alterations to trousers has got to be at a fast clip. Most of the smaller Megamarts get your job done in about 20 minutes, but on this particular day the wait at Megamart was about, yes hold your breath, 3 and a half hours. (I have heard about movie theaters being prime draws in malls, but alteration...)

Now, it is one thing to say, as the person in charge of alterations said, that, there is a rush today etc. And to tell customers that if you come on weekdays I will give it soon. Well, big s**t. I dont care and neither do I have the time to spend hours in a store selecting trousers on weekdays...

It is another thing to recognize that weekends can be busy and get a couple of tailors working fast at the alterations desk on alterations. As far as I could see, there were one or two chaps in the alterations room and it was the most mismanaged place in the store.

Also, alterations, obviously, happens after billing - and that means, once you purchase you are screwed philosophy of many organizations.

This is not rocket science, it is simple customer service. Well, I will think twice about buying trousers from there now.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Those who missed the India bus

This is a phenomenal piece from ET (LT nikhilnarayanan). If you havent read it already, please do so right away.

The author here postulates, quite correctly, that the IT services dinosaurs - biggies hitherto who failed to see the India story in IT are badly hit. I must admit that I did not see it this way at all, so kudos for this piece.

If you are a follower (or hater) of Indian IT, it is important that you know this. The IT story in India is about a David upsurging a Goliath. It is about the creation of an industry that was pretty much on nobodys horizons. And that also means, sorry folks, that the Indian IT industry will stay for a while to come. Indeed as disruptive business models come, this is a story that has to be a must be on any business strategists reading list.

Of course there is still a lot for Indian companies to do to be the "real" biggies, but they will get there...