A Smaller Infinity

Watched the movie “The Fault in Our Stars” a few days ago. A mushy love story, reminiscent of a Hindi film of yesteryears (ankhiyon ke jharokhon se), the film had several interesting moments.

One which caught my fancy was about infinity. As explained in the movie “Between 0 and 1, there are an infinity of numbers, say 0.1, 0.11, 0.111 and so on. Between 0 and 2 are also an infinity of numbers. One can say that the infinity between 0 and 1 is smaller than the infinity between 0 and 2. When ones life is short, the only thing that changes is that they have a smaller infinity – but they too love, if only for a smaller infinity. That does not mean that their love is not deep enough, or that the impact is smaller…”

Powerful! 

Made me ask myself, if in my infinity, am I creating (for myself at the very least) those powerful & impactful moments?

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The gravity of contempt

Early last year I was discussing with a colleague – no, not discussing, bitching really – about how mutual respect had declined to near zero at work. I observed how bright young toppers from highly rated B-schools became jaded in less than two-odd years. And how, the very seniors who spent time & money to sift through the hundred of applicants to make the offer to the select few had a very different and contemptuous opinion of these very people.

My colleague made an interesting observation: “in most relationships contempt increases and peaks at about three years or so”. He said he had seen it in many companies and advises that people look out for a change after about three years in one job.

The first half of Gartner Hype Cycle, which describes the market expectation from a new technology, comes close to what he said:

Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg

 

Today, my wife’s mentor, Guru Dr. Maya Rao, a legend in Bangalore in the field of Classic Choreography, died. She cried inconsolably for a long time, something that surprised me – as she had shed not a tear when her own mother passed away some years ago. We tried analysing this – and concluded that over the last decade, her respect for Dr. Maya Rao had grown day by day, that the gravity of contempt had not worked its black magic in this relationship.

I wonder why? Is there a learning here that we could apply to other relationships? From what I could gather, Dr. Maya Rao gave selflessly and truly celebrated the successes of her mentees. She gently prodded, corrected, suggested, advised and admonished – never once thinking about what it is it for her – it was always about the “art”.

If only managers crafted their reportees in the same spirit of focus on the organisation over their own insecurities and ego trips. For then the mutual admiration club will move them all to the “plateau of productivity”.

For when the water rises, all boats will also rise. Else it’s only downhill

Competition and the Rat Race

ImageSadhguru: Suppose you and I are walking and you’re in competition with me. You will either get to walk slightly faster than me or probably less than me and feel depressed about it. But if you’re not in direct competition with me, you would explore the possibilities of what you could do and maybe, we don’t know… you could fly! I can walk fast, maybe you could fly. 

All you want to do is take few steps more than me. So, the very human potential is distorted because people are in competition. Right now, people believe that you will not propel yourself to your fullest if you are not in competition. We have cultivated that in societies that you believe you will not reach your full potential unless you’re in competition, not at all true. For when he’s in competition, when he’s in fear of failure, he will only do little better than somebody else.

(the video is here – the full text is here).

Made me get up and think… how much of my life today is about comparing myself, in terms of qualifications, income, assets. How less (almost zero) is it about just myself – what I could do, what happiness I could pursue, what contributions I could make – without a care of “how different is it”, “what is its USP”, “how is this better, faster, cheaper…” – for all the above are ‘competitive’ and essentially seek external approvals. And I wonder, what great things I have missed out over the last few years – while being heads down in the rat race of a “professional career”!

 

The Zahir

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200px-Stylised_Lithium_AtomDo you read Paulo Coelho? I do. Each book leaves you disturbed in a very subtle manner – as if he had somehow nudged you out of a comfortable slumber. You cannot find fault in what he says and yet you cannot but get angry at the intrusion into your paradigm of what life means to you.

The Zahir” was one such book. The book is based on another story by the same name, by poet Jorge Luis Borges. I like the Wiki entry for this better, where it is stated: Zahir is a person or an object that has the power to create an obsession in everyone who sees it, so that the affected person perceives less and less of reality and more and more of the Zahir, at first only while asleep, then at all times.

Today, I am seeing friends around me being sacked from their employment in circumstances that could be more humanely managed. Now, these are by themselves circumstances that are as random as anything that life throws at us. And, like all such circumstances, I would expect that people move on.

Unfortunately what I see is that, in the case of this specific organisation, that the opposite happens: the sacked (or separated) employees continue to hang around like jilted lovers, mourning, grumbling and seeking some kind of approval. So some become sales partners, some ‘consultants’ and some service providers to that very same organisation. And they continue to stay ‘connected’.

Over time they get consumed by their own unrequited love and becomes shadows of themselves. Without conscious acceptance, they have created their own Zahir.

I, sadly, have not extracted myself from this state of affairs – for why else do I Blog on this topic? Why do I frequently discuss what “that man” said and mourn the promises and assurances, all of which turned out to be no more than the hallucinations of a fertile imagination? Like someone addicted to an abusive spouse, why do my thoughts go back so often and sigh “if only I could have done that, or he did that, or…”.

Why cannot I take these words, from the same book, seriously?

Zahir

The Smooth Highway

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downhillToday I had in interesting conversation with a former colleague (I had parted with that company, he had not).

The pain, frustration and unhappiness was loud and clear. Ah!, but the “money is great, and I see no reason why I should not coast along till the going is good”.

I pointed out to Thomas Merton’s words: “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” and likened his current journey to a dead-end. I got nowhere. For “The money…”

I just came back from a walk and coffee at Coffee Day on M G Road. I watched cars smoothly and effortlessly roll down a slope – and realized that this was a better analogy than Merton – for he spoke of climbing, which is associated with positive intentions, while drifting downhill with the pull of the gravity of money is closer to the reality my colleague is going through.

So, no, we often don’t climb wrong ladders, we slide down well greased roads to a hell of our own making.

The Speed of Trust

CowI distinctly remember meeting a modern-day priest at ISCON, Bangalore, about a year ago. While having an animated discussion on the state of affairs and the present Yuga (period), called the Kalyaga (or Kali Yuga) he explained the analogy of the four Yugas such (taken from the same Wiki entry): 

Hindus believe that human civilization degenerates spiritually during the Kali Yuga, which is referred to as the Dark Age because in it people are as far away as possible from God. Hinduism often symbolically represents morality (dharma) as a bull. In Satya Yuga, the first stage of development, the bull has four legs, but in each age morality is reduced by one quarter. By the age of Kali, morality is reduced to only a quarter of that of the golden age, so that the bull of Dharma has only one leg.

What took me by surprise is his concluding statement that the last leg is “trust” – that this is the only thread that remains before Man degenerates, when the God’s will need to Ctrl-Alt-Del the World as we know it.

Over the last few weeks I have been puzzling about how the mighty fall – and fall rapidly – and that word, “trust”, has been knocking at the door, so to speak. On Trust, Stephen Covey’s book “The Speed of Trust” is one of my must-read recommendations, and is all about it’s impact on efficiency.

The way I see it, ‘trust’ is about ‘expectations’. If you expect to be cheated by ‘A’, and that is what he does, one can say that you “trusted him to do that”. ‘Trust’ is also about ‘Integrity’ – since Integrity means “doing what one says he will do”.

In organisations, culture is largely about trust, expectations and the integrity that keep the ‘holy cow’ of the organisation on its feet. None of these need to be positive; they just need to be things that people believe in and which tend to come true. For example, it could be an ‘expectation’ that well-endowed female employees get promoted irrespective of their innate abilities to deliver, and if this is what happens in reality, I would say that the culture is ‘working’, and while people may not like it, they will not be surprised, for this is the ‘culture’ of the organisation.

The issue is when long set expectations are suddenly overturned, because someone now sees the World with new lenses. Previous assurances are re-interpreted and thrown at ’employees’ with the impunity of arrogant paymasters, with a clear ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.

Well, what happens when the last leg is cut off (or damaged)? It is a rare relationship or organisation that survives and grows after such shocks – the World is littered with carcasses of once-mighty companies who betrayed the culture that they themselves created.

Henna

Got a couple of free passes to a Pankaj Udhas event today. It’s been ages since I went out for an evening of pure entertainment, and Pankaj did not disappoint.

He sang his & our favorite ghazals – and like always, ghazals got me into a reflective mood. One couplet from “La Pila De Saqia Paimana” got my attention today:

  • Surkhruu hota hai insa thokre khane ke baad
  • Rang lati hai hina pathar pe pis jane ke baad

Translated:

  • A man becomes successful after facing many obstacles
  • Henna gives its color after being ground between stones

Several of my ex-colleagues are going through tough times – these include lay-offs and associated pressures. It’s easy to understand these frustrations, fears and hard times – and the anger that gets directed to ‘heartless’ bosses.

I’ve had my share of tough times and tough situations. I’ve come to realize that whatever be the truth and the motivations behind the acts of others – what is true is that these are events that must be embraced, even welcomed. Wasting emotional energy and spewing vitriol is telling God – “your decisions about me are wrong, I know better”. We forget, as I do sometimes, that God nudges us on a path that is best for us through his agents – other people.

 

 

Micro Actionable Learning

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banana A few days ago I attended a technology forum for the SMB (Small & Medium Business) segment. This was hosted by a leading magazine and sponsored by a telecom company.

The guest speaker spoke 20 minutes rapid-fire, touching everything under the sun that needs to be fixed. The next speaker spoke for 30 minutes on the 10 things an SMB must do to grow. All great stuff, all ‘cutting edge’, all things even ‘right’. The audience was shell-shocked into silence.

A couple of ‘sponsor’ sessions later, the bar opened and most people promptly forgot everything that they had heard.

Why does it happen, more often than not, that the money and effort that everyone puts into such ‘events’ result in only a hangover? I remember an interesting cartoon of a congress leader speaking into a banana repeatedly saying “humko desh banana hai…” (translated – we need to build the nation)…

Today I attended a meeting of the IPMA. Many suggestions came in on the things that IPMA could, should & must do. After listening to them all, one gentleman made an extremely sane suggestion – that all meetings, gatherings, seminars MUST result in actionable learning – what he coined (as I later learnt, on the spot) Micro-actionable learning. If, he said, that the audience cannot go back and immediately implement at least one thing in their work, then such gatherings become intellectual discourses – full of boardroom statements.

He likened this idea to micro-finance – someone hungry for a dollar approaches a lender and gets that dollar as a loan. That is all he needs to get his business rolling..

When people take time off (even pay) to attend such events they are often looking for some solutions, or doable pointers, to issues that are bothering them. Leave them with global ideas and you have lost them, often forever.

The next time we speak to an audience, even if the topic is as big as Global hunger, can we provide several action items that can be immediately adopted – like the dollar that gets put to use immediately, instead of asking poor men to take up an MBA course?

Bringing up a Product Company

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BUF Our team is entrusted with the building of a robust & vibrant developer Eco-system around our Tally technology platform. Principally we work to identify, on-board & support software developers and companies to build careers and businesses on or around our platform.

Often, while working with the smaller companies (one to five man businesses) I am reminded of an old comic series called ‘Bringing up Father’. That’s a pretty odd title – fathers bring up children and not the other way round… in a similar vein, I would assume that business-men and entrepreneurs would drive us (employees) and not the other way round – and hence my reflection on the title of that comic series.

So, here we have a brilliant engineer, who develops an add-on that will cater to hundreds of establishments. It’s built, installed and working well at a few locations. We come into the picture and show him the potential of TallyShop and the reach it provides Worldwide. He decides to come on-board.

And hits a wall.

Documentation, he asks, what is that? A well articulated one paragraph note about the business benefits of the add-on? Yes, we tell him, since you will need to sell without face-to-face meetings, the sell strategy is different. The developer sees the World differently. He now needs to write in a new language – English! He needs to learn things like fonts, footers, TOC, editing, inserting and formatting images and more. Not really his cup of tea. In some cases we help out with the final edit, in many others we refuse to build the complete documentation – in which case both the developer and the World loses out.

The situation with complete products, say for a hospital, is not any better. The expectation is to additionally have a brochure, web pages, EDMs and more. Also needed is someone to professionally manage e-mails and phone calls, demos, support & other partners in the chain.

What they need is a Product Manager – of the out-bound variety. In an earlier post I had written about the skill shortage for starter PMs and that no one is looking at this business opportunity.

Since affordable (to a small business) PMs don’t exist, we went scouting for solutions. Outsourcing was an obvious place. We quickly identified small companies who were in the business of documentation. We connected the two parties together and hoped that things would fly. Nothing happened. No deal.

On analysis we found that the price quoted, reasonable as it looked to us, was not affordable. Small companies tend to operate in very cash-strapped situations, often living hand-to-mouth. Ah, well, back to square one.

A chance conversation with another company gave us the next idea. We would look for documentation setups that would quote a price, and collect twice as much in merchandise, not cash. So if the documentation costs Rs. 50,000 and the partner transfer price for the product license were Rs. 10,000, then 10 licenses will be transferred in lieu of cash. Our thinking was that the developer lost nothing, at least in money outflow terms, and the other party received twice as much, albeit in the form of risk (there was no guarantee that he would sell them all, nor the time frame it would take).

So armed with a new energy we approached a small setup, someone we knew has documentation skills and could manage the other requirements. This company welcomed the business, but flatly refused the remuneration in the form of risk. Points raised were:

  • We cannot sell, that is not our model, we are into services
  • We need predictable money to keep our business running
  • What if the product does not sell or the developer goes bust?

Ah well, back to the drawing board. How can capacity and money constrained start-ups get the assistance they need, considering that the best people who can assist them are themselves start-ups?

How will we bring up father?

 

You, I, We and Product Companies

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Baby-Bird Personal maturity can be viewed as following three stages:

      • Infants are born dependent and remain primarily dependent until at least age 15 or so.

      • Healthy teenagers become independent and remain that way until at least age 20.

      • Healthy adults can become interdependent after age 20 and for the rest of their lives. (content from here.)

Today, attending a Microsoft technical session on Office 2013 & Sharepoint 2013 I reflected again on companies as individuals. I have written about how products are babies born to companies. Today my thoughts drifted to the companies themselves…

The session was all about how Microsoft was embracing industry standards like HTML5, CSS3 and working with Facebook, LinkedIn – even with sites that are built on LAMP. The theme was about the company opening its arms to embrace other players, vendors, technologies and ideas to deliver a rich compute-anywhere ubiquitous environment. And, more important, to support other vendors to deliver rich functionality via low-cost developer-partnership programs.

I looked around (virtually) at the World of IT and saw companies in these three stages:

YOU: product companies who so focus on the ‘you’ that they morph into service companies and become faceless utility organizations – working on time & money basis.

I: companies that escape the gravity of money and manage to build a commercially successful product. Often they wallow in a sense of deep superiority, of always knowing what is right, of beating their chests and stroking their egos, and die slow painful deaths or remain shadows of a promising company…

WE: Then there are those that take the next leap in their organization maturity and actively move into the inter-dependence collaborative mode. More often than not, this is forced upon them (as I suspect is the case with Microsoft) – yet when they do, they find themselves in a World beyond imagination.

And then there are companies in no-mans land who are transitioning these stages. This is the time when everything must change – from complete cultures, to management practices, to hiring & firing, even corporate values… see the struggle that the youth of today goes through to grow up into a real adult.

But then things like corporate culture are for a later day….