Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Before & After


Anyone who has been watching/reading the news the past few weeks would have gathered the essence of year 2010 for India- Scams. Every news hour invariably has at least three fourths of its telecast dedicated to the number of scams which have been unearthed this year. Rather than analyzing already dissected data on what this means for various political parties, this article intends to delve into a broader and deeper question instead.

Every democracy goes through phases. In India, for example - the phase of debating on the basic foundations on which our country was built in 1947, the phase of the demand for the freedom of the press during the emergency in the 1970s, the often quoted phase of liberalization in 1991 etc. are some of the prominent incidents which altered the course of the country’s social and economic structure. It is this evolution of democracy that is the underlying basis of development. The results of each of these phases have such profound impact on our lives even today. So, the broader question to think about is whether this chapter of scams is just a political hungama that is to fade away with an election? Or does it mark another phase in the history of Indian democracy, the outcome of which will cause changes that affect generations going forward?

Majority of Indians today have lost faith. Faith in the political parties/bureaucracy (2G scam, the Adarsh Housing Society scam), the corporate sector (corruption statistics, land acquisition), the media ( the Radia Tapes), the regulatory agencies ( the independence of the CBI, the integrity of the CVC) and judiciary ( the uncle judge syndrome at the Allahabad high court). The common man does not need the media to know the extent of corruption in our society today. The common man's life involves enough instances that make him more than aware of its prevalence. But this can neither sustain the belief system of basic right and wrong on which our country was born, nor the fabulous Indian growth story that we talk about everyday. There has to be a point where the county will have to take a step forward. What could this step be?

One may believe that this year’s incidents would result in the political parties having no option but to ensure structural changes regarding tackling corruption as the only possible propaganda to contest for governance. This would mean that these scams could result in effective independent investigation agencies and controls, a structural change essential for our country’s continued prosperity. One may believe this would result in a media which not only treads carefully interacting with persons of influence, but also does not shy away from being critical of the objectivity of its own peers. This would mean a renewed belief in the fourth estate, a belief that could make the media a champion of public opinion rather that a medium for political campaign. One may believe that this year would result in a reformed and strengthened judicial system, a catalyst to transparency in the society. One may even believe that this will result in a system that allows a common man to view business as a result of entrepreneurship, hard work and unique ideas rather than the clout, influence and corrupt practices. Time only will tell the role of this year in shaping out democracy's growth.

It is often said that the common mans thoughts can change the nation. It is something which is not really believed to be true in our country, given the diversity in religion, economic well being and opinion. But today, there is a resounding unity in the common mans thoughts. It no longer revolves around the growth of the Indian economy, and neither does it revolve around religion and the freedom of expression. The common man of India today desires fairness, accountability and systems to support the same.
India needs to respond to that desire of the common man. Can it?

Indian Express
Dated Dec 30th, 2010


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Choosing the right pill

“Hey, is the presentation ready?”

Maysh looked up to see his boss staring at him questioningly. The presentation was ready, but that wasn't what he was thinking about so deeply . He had been acting like this for the past couple of months, silent, introspective. His boss had taken him to the side the other week and asked him everything was alright. Was it? Of course it wasn’t, that wasn’t the question. The question was whether he could do something about it.

A year back, Maysh was just another smart college kid who managed to score a job at Abode- the home for high iq intelligentsia. He was excited about joining. Truth be told, he did go a little over board acting like a smartass in front of his not so lucky batchmates. But it was worth it, or so he thought.

Don’t get the wrong impression, work was fun. It was challenging – requiring intellect, charisma and the stuff. Moreover, getting the recognition and the money was like a kick he had never felt before. It wasn’t like he felt he was wasting his life, and he got to meet a really interesting people too. After the initial honeymoon period too, nothing changed. That was the problem.

Wait! How was it a problem? He couldn’t explain it. He just didn’t want to do the same thing anymore. He first tried what anyone would. Party harder after work! Didn’t help. He then tried ignoring it. Then tried increasing his workload. Nope.

Something was just wrong! The thought of going back to that cubicle answering your boss’s question “Is the presentation ready?”, seemed to make him want to just leave the place. Not that his boss wasn’t a kickass fellow (The story of the night of 24th October will come in a later post).

So he started looking around. What was he good at? Software,Math of course!Hmm…talking, I guess…? Cracking jokes? What could he do differently? Along with work he took a course to learn MCing, one on the stock market, another in marketing.

It felt good. It felt like he was heading somewhere (and boy! Did the Mc thing pay off! Talk about wild nights!! Hmm…more about that in the post of 24th October). Slowly, things started making sense. He sometimes felt like he was trying to do a wannabe Neo in real life (the blue pill or the red ?).

He wanted to do something on his own. Of his own. He wanted to create something, something of value. Of course, he also wanted to make money, but that wasn’t the point. The point was he was ready to sacrifice the money he had into something that might not see the light of day. What a rush!

“Is the presentation ready, Maysh?”. His boss looked concerned.

“Sorry Ren. Yeah, its ready. Listen, Ren, there is something I need to talk to you about…”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid

While there has been much discussion about the Lat Prof. C.K.Prahlad's fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, my post has nothing to do with it. The fortune Im talking about is not from the perspective of the business opportunity that lies within the lower middle class, its about the employment opportunity that lies with everybody today.

Last year, when my college placements were going on, there were quite a few moments when we would all go “whoa!” over a huge package offered by a company. This trend seems to only get better and better as the years pass on. But once I started working, I observed few other things as well which were as surprising. Unlike our parents generation, the kind of remuneration offered by companies today is not really dependent on how many people work under you or how big a team you lead. In some firms, there are employees who earn more than the top man/woman, even though they are in a department of the same organization.

It goes without saying that I was quite intrigued. So I tried to find out a little more. A friend of mine, who works in a techie organization with world renowned practices shed some light on it. She told me that in her company, people were assigned grades according to how they perform. But going up a grade does not have anything to do with whether you get into a managerial role, or shift departments to get more exposure. For example, if there is a person who is a very good engineer and wants to be involved in coding work only, it doesn’t mean her growth prospects are low. She could move up grades being a software engineer. This means that there could be a software engineer who is a grade 10 working in a team under a project manager who is a grade 9.

To me, this is the ultimate form of a free organisation, where people do what they love and in turn enhance the productivity of the organization as a whole. I remember the famous Peters Princple which basically says - “One always gets promoted to the level where he becomes incompetent”. This system is the perfect solution to the principle. What it also means is that today, an employee can actually take a decision on what she wants to do and how long she wants to work. With the introduction of flexible working hours and telecommuting, she can even decide when she wants to work. Talk about choosing your own work-life balance. It also means that today, she could decide to work in the same position she is in for the rest of my life and earn her fortune, even if it’s her first job right out of college – right at the bottom of the corporate pyramid.

With the lean organization becoming more and more popular, and outsourcing becoming a phenomenon, it makes a lot more sense to pay more for executives from day 1. The idea that Lean organisations need fat people is becoming a popular one, primarily because its expensive to replace them and also because they could eventually specialize in that job year after year and become an invaluable asset at that level. So I think more “whoa!” jobs are definitely for the taking in the coming years.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Work in Progress

It has been just some time since I have started work. Hardly a few months back I was a graduate fresh out of college, ready to take on the world with my brainstorms. If you would look around, none of them seem to have reached any of you yet :-)

Things haven’t really been as fast paced and exhilarating as I expected yet. But today, when I think about it, slowly and steadily a number of things have changed. The most important thing work has brought in my life is the same as any major incident does – perspective.

I came to work with a number of aspirations. Noting really concrete, except the cliche overdose of ambition. The first lesson I learnt at work was that enthusiasm cannot be faked. It is something I am still learning. The only way to do something really well is being interested,genuinely interested, and that crucial factor really does change the way you work. So it seems that the only solution to that is to always do what excites you.

But the second lesson I learnt was that work is not fun. It seems like a contradiction with the first lesson. No matter how glamorous a profile sounds, the bottom line is that when one has to go day in and day out doing it, the charm wanes off. But the beauty of it is that the only solution is to accept from the very beginning that work isn’t fun. That it isn’t fun for anybody, no matter what they say. So, when you expect nothing, you enjoy every good thing that comes your way. With that outlook, you only keep looking for interesting things you can possibly do within the things available to you.

There is so much to learn out there, its simply overwhelming. Another thing I learnt is that there always will be quite a large number of people smarter than you. But over the long run, does it matter so much? After going through a zillion profiles of distinguished people on the net (yep, I do get distracted easily at work!), the one thing I can say with reasonable certainty is that there are just too many successful people out there. Which, I think, means that if you can stick in there, stay interested and put in the effort, sooner or later you are going to start getting things right. There just cannot be so many brilliant people in the planet. Therefore, most must be going through the old fashioned way of putting in the effort and doing things that interest them.

Here, at least in our generation, we are a market that rewards specialists rather than generalists. Having a well rounded personality is not really such a big necessity to succeed. If you are good with people, there is a job cut out for you. The same applies to those who are good with numbers but hate people. Of course, there are careers which require both qualities. But the point is that there are careers which don't. The problem only arises when you seek to be someone whose qualities you neither have and neither want to develop. Then, there will always be a mismatch. Figuring that out, that is, my own limitations vis a vis what I aspire to be, is something I am far from figuring out...

Seems like I have my work cut out for me (for now) after all :-)