Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Conspiracy it is

The recent media scam named #Barkhagate on twitter and trending for nearly a week now is a conspiracy for sure. Allow me to explain.

Who in the world would benefit by the leak of the tapes? Think about it. The only person who can benefit out of this is Narendra Modi - the famous journalists and Tv channels sworn enemy. According to this blog, Narendra Modi had tested Radia in his Vibrant Gujarat summit and she had possibly played a role in getting the Nano plant set up at Gujarat.

Awesome aint it? Narendra Modi is the one glue thats holds all conspiracies together.

Now think of it. Perhaps, Mr. Modi wanted to get back at the ethical journalists consortium of India who were working with the ethical newspapers, television association of India for ethically exposing his unethical minister who was arrested by the ethical CBI for completely non political purposes? Therefore, he used the lobbyist (who is a Gujarati, no less - those evil people) to get her to trap these ethical journalists into reading out long emails which was already sent to them by her. And then, in one fell swoop, as these tapes leaked by themselves (like those pesky water pipes), the credibility of the entire Indian media has gone for a toss as has the credibility of the Congress party and many others. All names are in the list except Mr. Modi. Therefore, it has to be him or those Gujjus.

I tell you, all of this is a conspiracy. But then why would the CBI and the home ministry tap these phone calls. When the details surface, you will find that nobody had ordered her phones to be tapped -it was engineered by someone who was paid, by you know who.

But jokes apart, most media has tried its best to blackout this news. The same media which has no qualms airing doctored "sting" operations or airing bedroom romps shot surreptitiously cannot air these tapes as Breaking news or even on the 3 am news. Think of it. So much for probity, the triumph of truth and what not. I leave it for you, the intelligent reader to guess if our media is truly independent or interdependent.

Anyway the entire media links of this can be found here...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Railroaded

I have mentioned the insidious quota system that the Indian Railways seems to operate. Internet booking passengers have the first look at the toilet ends of the train. There is nothing wrong with that - perhaps, as I mentioned earlier, internet booking travellers are more likely to suffer from incontinence - considering they don't have the ability to stand in one of the longish lines of the Indian Railways for booking. That's a rant, I admit.

But think of it. Those who book their tickets on the internet are doing Indian railways a great service - by not crowding at their counters, by reducing the load on their infrastructure and by contributing extra revenue (25 to 50 odd rupees extra on every ticket booked). They are, by and large people who can pay. So, why not make them pay? Let them chose their seats and pay a premium for that as well - instead of this insidious quota system. (Earlier, when internet bookings were made the seats always used to be in the middle of the bogie - but of late, it has always been towards the ends - something that cannot happen randomly - not when there are 700 odd seats available. For the record, a regular bogie seats about 72 passengers. So, for sure there is some sort of a "quota".)

Why would an organization have an army worth of people to help people book tickets? When there are others who can do it - or self service as well. Why would an organization keep on accumulating people to do work like this, when by eliminating all the ticket booking clerks (or
outsourcing it) you can save tons of money.

But that would be missing the point would it not. Indian railways is not an organization that exists to transport people and goods from one part of the country to another. It exists to satisfy the whims and fancies of the constituencies of whichever railways minister rules. So, it will keep adding more employees, never make them work hard. With The passengers and the goods are incidental. Which is why it operates out of gross inefficiencies with little or no regard to what the passengers want.

With the number of people Indian Railways has, it can get all the railways of the world to outsource all its work to Indian Railways. But no, thats not a priority, atleast not until the current railway minister realizes her ambition of becoming Chief Minister.

If you measured the growth difference between China and India in terms of improvements in railways, it would pretty much reflect the way the countries have grown too. We are still stuck at the steam loco stage while China has entered the future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shoulder Ache

My eyes open. It is early morning and it is a Sunday. I stretch and wake up, not reluctantly - since I am a morning person. Suddenly, I sense a pain in my shoulder. And the analysis begins. Physically, did I do anything wrong? Lifted something? Slept in an awkward position? Nothing seems to come to mind. Psychologically, I wonder, did I do something wrong? Am I stressed? (One of the theories states that many physical ailments like sprains are manifestations of stress.) Again, I cannot think of a reason. I just dont get why I should have this shoulder ache.

As I sit there wondering what caused the shoulder ache, in comes the little one, "Appa, my shoulder is paining."

And then the mystery resolves itself. The previous night, the two of us were up playing some lusty shots on our new Wii with the result, the next morning, we are here, on the sofa, clutching our right shoulders.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Express Lane

Spotted a sign for the Express Lane ( a counter for customers with items less than 10 numbers) in a mall - that is frequented by PLUs - not really triple PhDs, but not those unwashed ignorant masses who crowd into reserved bogies on railways. But it was not operational, even at peak hour. And it might have crossed your mind that despite having a million malls, very few malls in India (I havent seen one across 4 cities) have an express counter.

You know why. It just wont work in India.

* First people will feign ignorance of the sign.
* Having feigned ignorance, they will say, since I walked up here, service me anyway.
* They will read the sign and disregard it anyway
* They will read the sign and argue with the biller
* They will read the sign and argue with the biller that they have just 22 items - which, really is a just around the corner from 10, is it not?
* They will shout and demand better service
* They will remind you whose father or son or mother or sister they are

And then it no longer makes sense to shop for small items at the mall if you have to be behind 32 people who have all shopped for 459 items while all you wanted is a packet of cheese.Yes, we are just that. Privately smart and publicty dumb - stupid or worse.

Can it be made to work. Yes. If there is a security guard who counts the items and directs the customers authoritatively to the other counters, it will. But otherwise, you can bet your ass that even triple PhDs wont follow the rules.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Here comes electric

The electric car is closer than we think it is!

GM - the much derided "Government" Motors in the US plans to bring an electric car to India. More power to them I say. And perhaps 2011/2012 could very well be an inflexion point in Indian and world automobile industry from this perspective. Today the companies are pulling out all the stops to sell their oil burners to Indians - because once the reliability of an electric engine is proved, oil burners will take a backseat very soon. This is a real cost conscious market. The more oil burners that can be sold in the next 1-2 years, the greater number of buyers that can be locked in for the next 2-5 years and that in turn can delay the potential inflexion point. Once there is a good market for electric cars, the overall cost of petrol could go down (and considering that oil prices are largely controlled by not so virtuous cartel) making it that much difficult for electric cars to make a dent - take my word for it.

But, fortunately, this time around, e-cars does seem like a big mass movement and technology advances are getting better by the day. The Nissan Leaf and GM Volt are closer to the market - they are there. And even in India, theres the Reva now powered by the Mahindras waiting in the wings to launch their next gen vehicle. There is the Nano with its super duper light platform waiting for its electric avatar - and one can be sure that the Tatas are working on it. And there are the likes of GM who could bring their own based on the experience from the Volt. Who will be first off the starting block here?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Escooters

I have spotted quite a few e-scooters on Bangalore roads over the past few months. I have also not seen them on dense traffic roads, but on bylanes where people seem to be using it for running errands. The customers, by the look of it, are people who would have ordinarily gone in for mopeds, but probably wanted something cheaper and cooler.

I am a little surprised, because I did think that electric scooters may not pick up steam all that soon because the impact it has on the pockets of people is quite less.I mean, a moped can run for almost 100 km with a liter of petrol - how much lower can it get? It looks like I am pleasantly wrong!

And while access to electricity in Bangalore is not too bad, it is not great either. So, the convenience aspect is questionable too. But perhaps for those whose movement is a few kms around the house with long periods of rest, perhaps it works.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Success Patterns

In one of my previous columns, we spoke about building a career like a Rahul Dravid or a Virender Sehwag. But, who identifies a potential Rahul Dravid from a Virender Sehwag. How does one figure out what one is? How does one ensure that a Dravid is not forced to become a Sehwag or vice versa?

There are two methods here. One is a coach method and one is a self analysis method.

Without a Ramakant Achrekar, it is tough to say whether a Tendulkar would have been spotted so early. And without those Ramakant Achrekars, it is tough to say how many Tendulkars we lost. Coaches, mentors are difficult people to get. Good coaches and mentors, are even more difficult to come by. Especially when your career is just starting off.

Here is a second option. The self analysis method. There is a Marcus Buckingham book available in the market, Now Discover your Strengths (and an upgraded version as well). Buy it and attempt the test that the book has - this will give you a small idea of your strengths. Keep it aside.

Now look back at your life and define what are the successful moments in your life as defined by you. So, if you helped organize a volunteer effort and felt happy about it - count it. If you were the president of the college cultural academy count it. If you ran a small business and worked on something that made you feel good, count it. Do not define success by money or fame or any one thing - unless you are entirely sure that is all there to success.

Define success by your own means - it in general could mean that you were willing to explore some aspect of your capability. The end result could very well mean that you fall flat while trying, but even this counts. It means you did not try hard enough or it means simply that you are not cut out to doing that kind of work.

Write down all your successes and failures. Write down what you did well there and what you did not. Write down what in that success and failure made you feel good. What would you change about them? What would you not?

For example, if you were the cultural secretary of your college - what was the achievement you are proud of? Proud of getting your team to work? Proud of getting your team to deliver? Or were you part of the team that a great job? Each of these three things tells you that you were a good leader, a person with good execution capability or that you were a good team player.

Do this for every single one of your achievements. You will find what I call as a success pattern. These are things “that you like to do”. In many cases this will also be “what you are good at”. It is important to look beyond the obvious here. Organizing a college festival may or may not mean you want to organize college fests or other fests for the rest of your life. It could shine light on your organizational capabilities. Or it could throw light on your ability to network. Or it could tell you that you are not a good team player. There will be environmental variables in this - especially in the way that you get returns on your successes - be sure to take them with a pinch of salt. Focus on your individual characters and traits and what you enjoyed doing.

When you are finally done, it will give you some sort of insight into what I call as “Success patterns”. And perhaps, even “Failure patterns”. When you do this a few years into your career, it will tell you exactly what you are good at and what you tend to succeed at. This does not mean you should not try new things - but sometimes, it helps avoid situations where you might find yourself being set up for failure. If you are a team player, there is no point trying to create a career for yourself as an individual contributor - or vice versa. If you are a technical person and love the technical challenges, your best bet is to leave the marketing to others. If your best bet is to be a cog in the wheel dont burn yourself trying to become an entrepreneur. And so on.

How to make your success patterns work? Sometimes, you can mould a challenge in a way that it is closer to you are good at. Lets say, you have an extremely challenging project to handle. But you love the technical bits and do not enjoy the finance bit. Then, perhaps you might want to handle the technical bit yourself while you leave the number crunching to someone else in your team or recruit somebody into your team with the requisite skill. If you are building a specialized skill, you can offer yourself as the go-to person for all things technical and assist somebody while they are working on a project.

Couple of caveats. This is not as easy as it sounds. There is a strong element of confirmation bias here. It does mean you do not try anything new - if that is the case, you are setting yourself up for failure right away. It also does mean just because you succeeded in a few things with a certain environment variable (say in one firm) you will repeat the success in another firm. For instance, corporate cultures may be different. And then again, hindsight is always 20-20. Also, this will help once you are a few years into your career - it will have limited impact for a fresher just out of college.

There are important lessons to be learnt from Failure patterns as well, but thats for another day.

(A slightly edited version of this made was printed in Advancedge Nov 2010)

How to tackle Malaria

There are a few options on how to tackle malaria - neutralize every single of the mosquitoes that can potentially carry the parasite so that they don't carry the parasite, but thats a stupid idea. Or neutralize the parasite itself. Or vaccinate (btw, Malaria does not have a vaccine) everybody who can possibly be affected by it. Perhaps the best solution is to go the swamps where the mosquitoes breed and clear them out.

Which one would you use to tackle malaria?

And if it is terrorism, how about cleaning the swamps?