Thursday, November 29, 2012

India Grows at Night by Gurcharan Das

INDIA GROWS AT NIGHT - a liberal case for a strong state by GURCHARAN DAS (2012) Allen Lane (an imprint of Penguin Books), Penguin Books, India p 307

Indian economy is growing fast; it is much discussed and talked subject in the present times amongst the residents of urban India.  It is second fastest growing economy in the world after China, which aspires to have double-digit growth in the times to follow.  Urban India visibly portrays that kind of development through the expansion of physical infrastructure and the provision of amenities, though not adequate to cope with the fast migration of striving rural class towards urban centres.  Another topic of discussion amongst the argumentative Indians is the issue of governance which off late has become a serious problem as day after day a new scam is getting unfolded and the media as the fourth pillar of democracy is able to influence people conscience in different ways. 

In these times an acclaimed author and columnist, a management guru (as Arvind Kejriwal calls him), an erstwhile corporate leader, Gurcharan Das brings out this book in the title of ‘India Grows At Night (IGAN) – a liberal case for a strong state’.  As he mentions he intended to keep the title as ‘India grows at night when the government sleeps’ and he drops the later half and settles for first.  However the book keeps the reader reminding that in spite of the governance deficit growth is taking place which is praiseworthy.  One tends to wonder as to what would have been the situation had there been better governance.  I am sure as regards to the economic growth; India would have surpassed China by this time easily.  But that was not to happen.

An excellent case of comparison between Faridabad and Gurgaon in the backdrop of Indian Polity, Policy and Partnerships of private as well as public initiatives is exhibited in the book to which the reader is reminded many times as and when the reference is required.  One a sparkling star whereas another one getting to fade off.  The former is Gurgaon and the later is Faridabad.  I myself have observed it when I visited Faridabad first time sometime in late 80s or early 90s, it was a much better township as compared to erstwhile Gurgaon. 

Having read India Unbound, another masterpiece by Gurcharan Das, I somehow could relate and preempt the interventions made by IGAN, though not agreeing to all points made by him.  However I enjoyed reading the book with full involvement, concern and commitment to the cause of the book.  The transformation in the visible indicators during last 20 odd years is appreciated in the book apart from the dismal conditions of social infrastructure viz., education, health, sanitation, etc., especially in rural India.  The reality I think is even worst in the rural India.  The force driving the rural youth towards cities in search of petty jobs is still continuing and at least I have not come across any data supporting the case that such migration is in real terms getting down even when our growth rates are positive and are being appreciated by all. 

The book provides an excellent account of rationalizing the existence of democratic practices and the comparison between democracy in America and Scandavian countries is tracked and elaborated very eloquently.  A realization driven by the personal experience at the Tahrir Square (situated at the downtown Cairo in Egypt which is also knows as Martyrs’ Square) further reiterates the merit of democracy.  Ironically in India we do see mockery of democracy (many in social media term it as demoncracy in Indian context) however as a form of government still it carries more merits and judicious fairness as compared to dictatorship or autocratic rule of state.

The story of young aspiring Raju (as narrated in India Unbound) who portrayed the future of young through learning Windows and English reminds me of another low of Indian corporate aspiration through the case of Raju of Satyam and Raja of Indian telecom scam fame (for wrong reasons).  The appreciation of Anna Hazare movement as an awakening call is illustrated at many places in the book, however the author does not subscribe to all that this movement followed.  In order to build a case for poor governance, the cases of Jessica Lal and Ruchika apart from many others are cited.  These are not stray cases, these are happening day in and day out in all cities and villages, at all places.  Crony capitalism has somehow found a concrete grounding in the Indian development story.  The purchase and sale of favor is at rampant and the politicians playing the middlemen have become so acceptable that aspiring bidders first form nexus and then manipulate the whole process.

The analogies from Mahabharata are cited at many places.  It is important to mention here about the great work of Gurcharan Das in the shape of a book entitled Difficulty of Being Good – on the subtle art of dharma.  Dharma as a proxy for moral well-being and artha as a proxy for material well-being are narrated through the text very convincingly.  Gandhian way of promoting small business and developing industries on the basic premise of self sustenance is questioned and in a way big-push theory of economic development is advocated by the author highlighting and illustrating its strengths over welfare economy.  I have my personal reservations on that and feel that it is the prime spice of bottom-up approach to development as against top-down approach as followed by China and well explained by the author in the book.

The suggestions towards the end of the book through borrowing the title of the chapter What Is To Be Done from Vladimir Lenin’s prescription providing a solution and treatment of working class in erstwhile USSR, as to looking for political alternatives (as seems there is no other better way to seek justice and improve governance) through initiating to revive swatantra party or starting a new political party at the national level as both the large parties viz., Congress and the BJP are losing people trust, is a very welcome suggestion.  I too feel that an awakened India would certainly like to see the change at the top and would commit oneself and pray for the cause for a better India which does not only grow at night, rather during the day as well and there is never a scene when the government really sleeps.  I admire Shakespeare for his farsighted and ubiquitous statement ‘great men work when others sleep’.

The book is a simple read making a strong case for liberating India from the clutches of corrupt individuals and showing us a path which could help the state to deal with governance deficit successfully.  It is a richly referenced book defending the viewpoint of the author very nicely. I recommend this book to all who are concerned about the future of India.

[published in The NEHU Journal Vol XI, No 2, July 2013, p 83-85]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GET TO THE TOP by Suhel Seth

GET TO THE TOP - The ten rules for social success by Suhel Seth (2011) Random House India, p 196

I have always believed that it is the relationships which provide energy and strength to carry on with life positively.  It is through relationships that we get to learn the nuances of leading life successfully and in full king size.  Friendship is one such relationship and since it involves the choice rather than imposition one has to be cautious while choosing friends and committed while maintaining friendships.  This is the basic rule that I have been following.  Having watched Suhel Seth on TV and read him through his columns, when I came to know about this title called 'Get to the top', I decided then and there to get a copy and go through it to further explore on the art of maintaining relationships.

This book is divided in four parts which cover 10 chapters, 4 appendixes apart from acknowledgement section.  Relationships are mutual and could be initiated by either party.  At times we look at a person and get attracted to talk to and at times people get attracted to us.  

The book provides the keys for attracting the attention so that people keep looking forward for meeting you or listening to you or sharing some time with you, he provides two rules for that, viz., the self-development rule and the impact rule.  Similarly the book prescribes many rules and guides the reader to follow some practices which always help to maintain long lasting relationships.  The book is full of anecdotes and examples from the personal life of Suhel and after going through the book one would certainly develop an admiration of the author as he is able to balance his relationships between two persons of totally different ideology.  This is an impressible art.  And in a very suggestive form this book helps one to that call of balancing act.  Respect for friends and selfless commitment is a virtue and it is really a very difficult act, though not impossible.  His relationships with his friends like Russi Mody (though at a time his boss), Vijay Mallya, Kapil Sibal, Arun Jaitley, Barkha Dutt, etc. (a complete list of friends is given at the end of the book who taught him the secret of learning how to get to the top), as narrated and illustrated through the events makes the book rich in its delivery and content as well as relevant and convincing to the reader.   

The most important advice I liked was the uprightness and consistency in one’s behavior and I too strongly feel that it might result in some short term losses but at the end one is sure of being admired by the affected parties.  So a great lesson and practice which keeps one as an honest, concerned and committed relation maintainer.

I loved some of the sentences like : Ultimately, the secret to expressing an opinion intelligently is to ensure that it doesn’t cause irreparable offence (p38), be interested in people, not because of how wealthy or intelligent they are or how old, but because of what they are like (p 57), once you discover that you are the object of gossip, take instant action (p 74), Bitching isn’t the only thing that erodes trust. So does praise.  Too often compliments can became flattery and flattery puts you in a n asymmetrical relationship with a person (p 75), turning friends into clients is a recipe for disaster (p 120), remember always that the rich and powerful ultimately want the same things as the rest of us (p 168), no matter how powerful or influential a crook is, you should realize that you can never have him as your true friend (p169), never give precedence to your new friends over your childhood friends.  Your childhood friends are the only ones who will never judge you for what you have become or when you have failed (p 170),

He chants some mantra’s like: having opinion is the key to getting noticed, people need to be like sanitary napkins – absorb all opinions but not colour the issues, think like a debater – respect the other side of your argument, delivery is key – opinions should make you friends not enemies, invite people to your home who will laugh and be happy irrespective of material considerations like which car they drive or what clothes they wear.

In total the book is packaged very nicely and it really does not take much time to get through the end of the book.  I personally enjoyed reading it for a change. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Business Policy and Strategic management – concepts and applications, Vipin Gupta, Kamala Gollakota and R Srinivasan

(Old Book Review Published in Business Analyst)

BUSINESS POLICY AND STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT – concepts and applications, Vipin Gupta, Kamala Gollakota and R Srinivasan. Prentice Hall of India. New Delhi – 110 001. 2005. xix + 611, Rs. 300
Strategic Management is gaining importance in the curricula of management, business and commerce courses in Indian universities and institutes year after year. In conventional course structure of commerce, it is yet to establish its relevance at a national level.  However, as micro level studies of different businesses are finding place in research domain, strategic management has become an important reading for the students of business and commerce.  Strategy is a must read for the management students and the available literature on strategic management in India has not yet been able to relate indian cases with its theory convincingly and successfully. This book has come at the right time when a systematic study of the theoretical framework and related indian cases are lacking in the strategic management text.

The book has three sections viz., Business Strategy, Corporate Strategy and Enterprise Policy.  These sections cover 21 chapters, 7 in each section.  In the process of equally dividing the chapters within sections, the authors have not been convincing on putting certain chapters under certain section.  How corporate governance and ethics, change management, strategic control and strategic decision making fall under Enterprise Policy, one may not be able to follow.  The presentation of the book as a text is excellent and the course students of strategic management would find it easy to use and understand. Every chapter of the book starts with an introduction as a heading; even without using this heading it could have conveyed the intention.  Some of the chapters have conclusions towards the end, which sounds more like a research paper, which it is not.  Further, the chapters starts with learning objectives and a summary is put towards the end of each chapter followed by key terms, concept review questions, practice exercises, case study, discussion questions and references. This structure should be appreciated by the readers.  The authors have attempted to present the book in a more student friendly environment.  The book follows headings and bullets format which makes it a ready capsule for students but somewhere looses scholarly approach. 

The cases on Quest International, Burns Philip, Crompton Greaves, Doordarshan, E-Sewa, IIM-B, Infosys, Lucky Goldstar Electronics, MIRC Electronics, Meddirect, Mumbai Dabbawala, NABARD and Grameen Bank, NTPC, Napster, Mahindra & Mahindra, Pepsico India, Pratham, Tata Motors, Telecommunications Consultants India and Yakima-Olympia have been included in the book and the discussion questions make it more lively.  The appendix of the book at the end, is very well placed concentrating on simulated marketplace, usually it has not been attempted by many other authors writing on strategic management.

The gray shaded boxes in different chapters could have been made on a little lighter background to make it easily readable without any strain.  The discussion on the development of strategy thought has been avoided by authors which could have been put in the beginning.  Indian industry database should have been incorporated wherever relevant to address the Indian students. The authors should have put a company and people index towards the end to provide better value to the readers. 

Overall the readers would find this book contemporary and practical in its approach.  The authors have been successful in linking the traditional framework with the modern structure through various cases.  As readers we might have more expectations from the authors in the forthcoming editions of the book.  The authors deserve congratulations for this successful venture.  More so, when the first author is an alumni of SRCC, Delhi.  

(published in Business Analyst Vol 1, No 1 (New Series) April-Sept 2006, New Delhi, India. Pp 124-125)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Employees First, Customers Second by Vineet Nayar

EMPLOYEES FIRST, CUSTOMERS SECOND - turning conventional management upside down by Vineet Nayar (2010) Harvard Business Press, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Pages 199.

Vineet Nayar who took over HCL Technologies as CEO from Shiv Nadar, has brilliantly portrayed his personal belief and conviction in the thought and practice of considering employees over customers.  As a teacher of OB, Strategy and HR, I always had this view of prioritising employees over customers as they are the ones who put efforts to satisfy customers.  A satisfied employee only can deliver satisfaction to the customers.  Nayar's application of this concept (EFCS - Employees First, Customers Second) in HCLT further reiterates my belief in long standing assumption with which I have been living all through these years.  This book is a great treat to all HR teachers and practitioners who can pick up the methods and manners in which Engagement and Empowerment can be practiced by the organizations.

The book is divided in 5 chapters apart from introduction, notes, acknowledgement etc.  The foreword is written by late CK Prahalad, an internationally aclaimed scholar of business strategy, formerly known for core competence (competing for the future) and recently known for BOP (Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid) concept.  The introduction of the book provides the motivation of writing this book. 

The book gains more ground even as it questions a long accepted belief of management that the dependence of business is on customers, hence the customers should be the prime focus of strategies and policies of business organisations.  As the title suggests, the author strongly believes that it is the employees who are more important than customers, it is employees who should be the prime focus and then comes the customers.  His practical experiment at HCLT makes the case more authoritative.  As one reads the book, one keeps gathering strong processes to really make it happen and successfully engaging the employees in achieving the business goal. The feed-forward communication holds the key to drive the employees to get engaged and dedicated to the cause of organizational commitment and performance.  

The path so designed and followed by Vineet is based on his learning and experiences from his personal life, his growing up, his family, school, college and friends, his visits and interactions, which does find place in the book at several places as they helped him developing an action plan.  It tells us that every event of our life, every interaction of ours, every action of ours get reflected in what decisions we make.  So the internal as well as external factors contribute in shaping a successful leader.

The book discusses the transformations as they happened as the result of following EFCS approach. The involvement of employees from micro to macro level for doing what is good for the organisation is the step followed as 'All aboard' and these agents become the transformers for introducing change in the organization as well as contribute to growth of the organization.  The author advises to use mirror for better reflection and to see the events of the past (Mirror Mirror exercise) and warns to get away with the excuse culture.  Similarly engaging customers also is said to be important for organizational responses and growth as well as to serve a great value through putting employees first, customers second, and management third.  The examples of Facebook and Google for bringing out innovated products and services are well placed in the book.    

The employees need to be driven to believe that they are most important for the organization, they are the first players and through this they have to have a sense of pride of belonging and owning the organization.  As the author mentions -  pride can be a great source of strength when coupled with a desire to change. Change is the only thing which is constant.  Organizations imbibe change in order to respond to market and customers.  As society changes customer expectation also changes and the organizations face this great challenge to respond to customer’s expectations.  Successful organizations develop a culture of change and nourish this culture through strategies and policies.  The way HCLT took initiatives to develop such a culture based on mutual trust is really remarkable and it was possible through the concept of EFCS.  Trust quotient has to be improved all through ranks in the organization and through leading by example one has to develop a sense of acceptance among the followers so that they can believe that their boss is a trustworthy person. 

The four dimensions of trust - Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, Self-orientation as mentioned in The Trusted Advisor by Maister are well cited by the author in the book.  It is to be followed with employees as well as with customers, as both play strong role in building the organization.  On one side the organization communicates the sense of trust to employees and on the other hand it has to communicate it to the customers as well.  In the model of EFCS, the customers have to know why do they come second (as against common belief that customer is always first - because the customer is King, and the King can do no wrong, hence the customer can do no wrong - thinking) and it is the responsibility of the leader to positively communicate and convince them why do they come second. 

The culture of trust is learnt at the first institution called the family and the values one learns in the family get reflected in one’s behavior as one takes charge of activities in an organization.  Apart from trust, in order to build a sustainable organization one has to be transparent in his/her approach as elaborated by the author through the Amsterdam Window experience as he mentions – A transparent house, has a dramatic effect on the culture inside.  In fact through this experience he successfully communicates the advantages of being transparent.  He introduced a system at HCLT which connected the CEO with all its employees through a exclusive networking group for HCL employees called ‘U&I’, which seemed to have worked quite successfully there.  This approach sounds unique and through leveraging technology the organization provides an ear to the issues of concern for all its employees. 

The fifth P of marketing viz., People (employees, partners, customers) play an important role in the life of an organization.  The concept of inverting the organizational pyramid is all centered on people as experimented at HCLT through reversing accountability by concentrating on enabling functions, the managerial chain of command all the way to the CEO, and the influencers who are not part of hierarchy but are critical to achieving the desired wow in the value zone. The company introduced Smart Service Desk (SSD) to resolve issues related to employees quickly by using technology and expertise of employees. It was based on common practice of customer care service provided to the customers.  SSD was meant to resolve problems and issues of employees.  Initially the employees at HCLT were little skeptical about the whole scope and operations of this desk as to if any employee has a problem/issue with his/her boss (upto the level of CEO), how would it be presented, processed and resolved.  But slowly it got working well and as mentioned they were resolving thousands of transactions each month at an amazing rate. This further got a concentration on zero ticket call for evaluating employee’s performance and they willingly and successfully followed 360 degree model keeping the Happy Feet. Inversion of organizational pyramid

The mention of the major achievement (during the transformation phase at HCLT between 2005-2009) towards the end of the book is the outcome of EFCS approach.  It makes the model incredible, practical and convincing. Collective wisdom outshines individual judgment.  I truly loved this statement which is the core of the book entitled The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. EFCS model traces its root in the work of Surowiecki which got Vineet thinking and using it while developing the whole concept.    Though the book is based on the practices followed at HCL Technologies which is an IT company, however the concept is well appropriate for any organization dealing in products or services in any sector of the economy. 

EFCS through its engaging appeal makes a strong case for prioritizing employees over customers.  It is possible through developing committed systems and processes for engaging the whole employee and not just his/her performance.  The role of a leader is very crucial to make EFCS model successful as there as to be a culture of change, trust and transparency which has to keep the CEO under attentive scanning of their employees.  The openness of CEO and a sense of humility as portrayed in the acknowledgement section of the book towards the end is just unparallel.  Vineet Nayar gets full marks for writing such a wonderful piece (acknowledgment), acknowledging all concerned individuals. This is what takes to envisage a concept called Employees First, Customers Second.

(finished reading it ...8 Aug 2011).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Turning Points by Abdul Kalam

TURNING POINTS - a journey thorugh challenges : the inspiring sequel to Wings of fire by APJ Abdul Kalam (2012) HarperCollins Publishers India, p 182

This treatise on the development path to be followed by India is a great work on reminiscences of APJ Abdul Kalam while in and out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the highest constitutional post in the Republic of India (President 2002-2007).  I remember when he was awarded Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, perhaps he was second non-political Indian (after JRD Tata) to have received such an honor.  His commitment to the cause of seeing India as a development nation by 2020 is so convincing that one tends to just keep getting moved by his concern, care and concerted efforts.  

This book is in in continuation of his autobiographical sketch which came earlier with a title Wings of Fire.  This is one such book which I finished reading with full attention and engrossment in just one full sitting.  Somehow I always had a soft corner for a person in the name of APJ Kalam ever since he proved his scientific calibre as a great practical scientist who had a great sense of humility and who rose from a poor family to a scientist and to the ranks of the highest post of this great second largest nation in population and a largest and most vibrant democracy among all nations.

Having seen him twice and heard him in person while his visits to our university at Shillong on the themes of Leadership and Nanotechnology, I always tried to keep track of his activities to the extent possible.  I watched on TV when media started talking of his book in the backdrop of two important issues - one Gujarat and another one Sonia Gandhi nominating Manmohan Singh.  I acquired this copy through flipkart and carried it through the journey from Guwahati to Bareilly today.  

Turning Points has 14 chapters apart from preface, acknowledgement, epilogue, afterword, appendices and index.  Each chapter starts with a theme and small saying or statement and ends with the summary in one or two sentences.  The writing style is biographical and simple and easy to understand.  He explains the way he entered to the office of President and the way he moved out of the office as well apart from many  initiatives he led, many decisions he took and many interactions he had with all kind of common people from children to farmers, to scientists, to college and university students and teachers, to his staff at the Mughal Garden.  The book also prints some 25 odd selected color pictures of Kalam in different actions, moods and  attire with different people. 
I do not know how and when it all happened in particular that I started admiring this great visionary.  Even this time I wished it was he who could have come to the position of President and at least maintained and spearheaded his own efforts which he initiated on his earlier tenure as the President of India specially on few areas of development viz., science and technology, education, and PURA.  I never knew that he is also not very comfortable with the concept of GDP as a measure of development which I learn from this book. Though he maintains his praise for economic growth.  I have always been saying and questioning the development path which prioritises GDP or economic growth over human well-being.  He talks of National Prosperity Index (NPI) which should be initiated to look at the national resources and their use.  He says that NPI is a summation of annual growth rate of GDP, improvement in quality of life of the people, particularly those living below the poverty line; and the adoption of a value system derived from our civilizational heritage in every walk of life which is unique to India.   It should also take into account various well-being indicators.  The richness of Indian ethos and human values needs to be spread all through the nation.  

He narrates about his concept of PURA (Providing Urban amenities to Rural Areas) in this book and at many places mentions that his concept is already in practice in many parts of the country and he is working on this as well.  I too strongly feel that until we get back to villages and develop them through creating good infrastructure there, the balanced growth would never happen in India.  India still lives in villages.  We need to have strategies in place in mission mode for rural focus - on agricultural planning, marketing, community development, village education etc.  Of course it has to all start at individual level and that is where Kalam has been quite successful in enthusing that energy in the young minds of India.  

One thing that really I liked about the book is that he was throughout been positive about all the events individuals, places etc though we do know that there have been instances of differences of opinion, criticism and embarrassment to the office of the President during his tenure.  He does mention them with positive perspective.  

His priority of nation over his own conscience is a great example which he has very nicely elaborated and defended.  His religious beliefs and faith demonstrates his strengths.  His sense of humility is just uncommon one such example is reflected through his conversation with Air Marshal Manekshaw and further following  his suggestion.

I wish that Kalam's dream of seeing India as a developed nation by 2020 comes true.  Of course looking at present India it seems a herculean task, but nothing is impossible in this world and at times miracles do happen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M Christensen, Allworth and Karen Dillon

HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE? - finding fulfilment using lessons from some of the world's greatest businesses (2012) by CLAYTON M CHRISTENSEN, JAMES ALLWORTH & KAREN DILLON, HarperCollinsPublishers UK, p 221

We have an inherent instinct and desire to live longer, healthier and wealthier.  During the course of performing our duties we try to achieve our set goals and in cases where goals are not set, take up things and activities into our stride and perform our best in the interest of the stakeholders.  This is an ideal thinking and many a times we ignore this ideal expectation and pursue something which is not so desirable of us. This is what makes our life miserable and we regret later but at that time it is already too late.  Clayton M Christensen, along with James Allworth and Karen Dillon brings out this book entitled How Will You Measure Your Life to get us focused and to let us introspect whether we are on the right path. 

A personal experience sharing style of presenting this book through the real life examples of business organisations make this book engrossing, interesting and convincing. It is sheer a coincidence that I picked up this book just after reading Breakout Nations by Ruchir Sharma, who is a regular columnist with Wall Street Journal without really having any clue as to Clayton while in his early 20s wanted to become the editor of WSJ.  Though Clayton could not become the editor of WSJ, he chose his career otherwise.

The book is written in a very simple, easy to understand, and common self-help book style though it refers to some of the most cited researches like Michael Jensen's Agency/Incentive Theory, Herzberg's Hygiene theory, McCall's Right Stuff, Todd Risley & Pretty Hart’s contribution on Talking amongst Parents and children, etc.

The book is divided in three sections as Finding Happiness in Your Career, Finding Happiness in You, and Staying Out of Jail.  These three sections are basically titled out of his personal oath to the students while they leave the college.  Each section has chapters on different related fields.  Management theories have been explained briefly in a layman’s style and their application in organisations and then in personal lives are elaborated so convincingly that one starts thinking of those theories as the ones primarily meant for individuals and not organisations.  His personal recount of the events in his personal life makes the book more authentic and authoritative.  Clayton has been advisor and consultant for many firms and government agencies and he is primarily known for the concept of 'disruptive innovation'.  He has been quite successful in documenting his interactions with CEO's and others and through that reaching out to lot of life lessons.  The examples of Andy Grove of Intel, Steve Jobs of Apple, Sam Walton of Walmart, Nolan Archibald of Black & Decker, are well placed.  His experiences with the students and their queries further establishes the link between theory and practice and reiterates his conviction on seeing through his students fulfilling their life goals.  Though the book is authored by three of them, but as the first author, Clayton writes the book and narrates many incidents in the first person. Hence I too took this liberty of mentioning ‘him’ and not ‘they’.

The strategies adopted by Honda while making an entry into American market (big bike segment) to compete with HarleyDavidson through Triumph and then shifting to introduce SuperCub (small bike) is elaborated through the landscape of emergent and deliberate strategy which is often applicable and used in personal lives.  That’s where his philosophy of giving more importance to JOURNEY than DESTINATION becomes relevant and important.  In fact, I have always been sharing this with my students and friends.  Personally I too strongly feel that it is the journey which is more important than the destination.  At times during the course of walking on a path we tend to change or shift our destination and that keep happening all through life.  It is true for organizations as well.  I wish there is some hard core research in this direction to further validate this thinking.

The organizational examples of Walmart's location selection, Disney's failure in Paris (because of wrong assumptions and calculations), Sonosite's introduction of ultrasound machine (its excellent features, usability, marketing, selling and wrong provision of incentives), Motorola's sponsoring Iridium Satellite Network for inventing mobile phones, Sweden's IKEA furniture store and its unique approach, Dell’s outsourcing to ASUS (price of overdependence), ENRON’s debacle, Marginal Thinking at Netflix as against Blockbuster, are some of the real organizational stories which could be helpful in problem solving in personal lives as well. 

The emphasis on Resources, Processes and Priorities is well explained in the book and their interrelationship as practiced in the organizations is illustrated through examples.  The authors have quite successfully linked their applicability in the personal lives as to learning, knowledge, actions, choices, decision making etc.  I really liked him quoting an old saying 'find a job that you love and you will never work a day in your life'. So philosophical yet so practical.  The book emphasises on leading a good family life through inculcating good values in children so that they learn to respect work and develop a sense of compassion for others.  It also helps in building strong culture in the family which helps one to make choices and take decisions at work places.    

Just This Once is something which really got my attention as many times we get carried away with compromising on some of our personal principles just for some minor gains or under environmental pressures.  As mentioned, it really becomes the beginning point for a series of compromises.  Clayton warns the readers and tells that 100% of the time is easier than 98% of the time as he mentions one of his own example of getting pressure on playing on Sunday, the day he keeps aside for Sunday service (committed to God). Ultimately he takes a decision otherwise and does not compromise on taking just this once as told to him by his fellow players. Towards the end of the book in the epilogue, the authors discuss the importance of Purpose and its three important components – the person I want to become (likeness), becoming committed, and finding the right metric. The examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dalai Lama are well cited here. I wished that the book had a reference section at the end and some suggested readings with it which could have guided the reader further.

As the hypothesis on the primacy of life satisfaction over job satisfaction and the other way is getting tested and retested, questioned and re-questioned, there seems to be no two opinions about one simple thinking and practice that job satisfaction and life satisfaction are interrelated.  At this time this book certainly makes a mark, though it does not directly talk of positive psychology, subjective well being, hedonic treadmill, etc, however the book leaves a strong imprint in the practical literature relating life satisfaction with job satisfaction.  Clayton successfully sails through the journey from disruptive innovation, to the innovator's dilemma, to prescribing how to measure life, especially when he cannot cogently verbalise his concerns and contributions due to his health.  I wish him great health ahead and expect another bestseller from him or/and his team on the modern ways of measuring life.  Isn't it important?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Russell: Authority and the Individual

Russell: Authority and the Individual, Special Indian Edition (Reprint), published by Routledge 2010, First Published in 1949
(c) 2010, The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation Ltd.
(c) 1995, Introduction by Kirk Willis

This collection of six lectures are popularly known as Reith Lectures (which were delivered in the autumn and early winter of 1949, to honor John Reith, the founding Director of BBC who was Proud, Imperious, and vindictive autocratic administrator and formidable personality who succeeded brilliantly both in bruising the sensibilities of subordinates and overseers alike and in creating one of Britain's most admired and durable institutions) were delivered by Bertrand Russell. Authority (which is a reflection of state power) and the Individual (which reflects human freedom) as a book includes the lectures on Social Cohesion and Human Nature, Social Cohesion and Government, The Role of Individuality, The Conflict of Technique and Human Nature, Control and Initiative - their Respective Spheres and Individual and Social Ethics.

The first essay (lecture) on social cohesion and human nature deliberates on different aspects of commonalities in the beings (animals and human) as well their distinctions. Russell gives a very good example of Bees and Ants who have cooperation and unity of a group as important instincts though they are 'never tempted to anti-social actions and never deviate from devotion to the nest or the hive'.  However they do not dream like the human beings.  It is the social group called Family which necessitates the division of labor as the men hunted while the women stayed at home.

The transition from the early human beings to the social beings is very nicely elaborated and defended with reasons, conditions and considerations.  Many a times we tend to live in the past with its expressible glory, however each one of us live to earn that glory with which we would associate ourselves later in life.  That keeps driving us to perform our better and to make greater achievements.  Russell warns towards the end of the essay of the destructive philosophies that might prevent us from performing our best - 'If this is to be prevented, the savage in each one of us must find some outlet not incompatible with civilised life and the happiness of this equally savage neighbour.'

Second lecture entitled Social Cohesion and Government discusses the responsibility and role of government in order to build cohesion in societies.  It also establishes the fact that the relationship between societies and the government has to be nurtured for better policy to rule.  Different kinds of governments ruling in different parts of the world from Old Stone Age to the modern ones are exemplified in order to strengthen the argument as to authority, obedience, enforcement, liberty, freedom, religion, etc.  Russell mentions - Governments, from the earliest times at which it existed, has had two functions, one negative and one positive.  Its negative function has been to prevent private violence, to protect life and property, to enact criminal law and secure its enforcements and positive functions of government at most times have been mainly confined to war: if an enemy could be conquered and his territory acquired, everybody in the victorious nation profited in a greater or less degree. He further states that the ambit of positive functions is broadened now as the governments have to provide education (consisting not only of the acquisition of scholastic attainments, but also of the instilling of certain loyalties and certain beliefs), and encouraging industrial enterprises. The examples of the government in USA, Britain, Egypt, Sweden, India, China are sketched very lucidly.
Third lecture entitled the role of individuality basically deals with the impluses and desires of individuals for good as well as for evil.  The differences between individual's behaviour as the change happen with their respective roles have been critically discussed.  The role of court poets, artists and their contribution towards the expansion of glory of their patrons is well placed.  We have been witnessing such glorifications all through ages and the present time is no exception.  This is what makes his lecture still very relevant and provides a questioning eye towards such self sponsored praises.   Religion, moral progress (innovation), rise of men of science, community feeling and their role in building the base for individual behaviour is just marvellous.  Russell puts it - The great men who stand out in history have been partly benefactors of mankind and partly quite the reverse.  Some, like the great religious and moral innovators, have done what lay in their power to make men less cruel towards each other, and less limited in their sympathies; some, like the men of science, have given us a knowledge and understanding of natural processes which, however it may be misused, must be regarded as in itself a splendid thing...I cannot think of anything that mankind has gained by the existence of Jenghis Khan.  I do not know what good came of Robespierre...I see no reason to be grateful to Lenin. But all these men, good and bad alike, had a quality which I should not wish to see disappear from the world. The lecture ends with a very hopeful note on the role of modern organizations and institutions in allowing/disallowing the individuals to play their constructive role. 

Then comes the fourth lecture on the conflict of technique and human nature. I like the very first sentence of this differs from other animals in many ways.  More for the word ‘others’ as we all consider human being as social animal.  The comparison of men with other animals is just excellent and voices his argument for the differences and conflicts as part of human nature.  The change in the degree of conflict for early man to the modern man is expressed brilliantly.  However one has to remember that as these lectures were given sometime in the early twentieth century, the term modern become very relative.  As a student of organizational behaviour and strategic management, I really liked this lecture the most.  This is why I shall like to elaborate on this lecture more.  Let us first read this stanza and then discuss the issues involved on the basis of the researches done in the last century (approx):
Consider a large factory, say one that makes motor cars.  The purpose of the organization is to make cars, but the purpose of the workers is to earn wages.  Subjectively, there is no common purpose.  The uniting purpose exists only in owners and managers, and may be completely absent in most of those who do the work.  Some may be proud of the excellence of the cars produced, but most, through their unions, are mainly concerned with wages and hours of work. (p 42)
When this lecture was delivered, around same time Ford was leading car company and Fordism was in currency so far as management practices are concerned which was also driven by the view as reflected by Russell (the purpose of the workers is to earn wages).  Primarily for survival it seems correct but beyond that it is not just that.  Elton Mayo's work (Howthorne Experiment) defends an argument that work is a group activity and workers are driven by many other factors as well.  Herzberg's Hygiene theory concludes on satisfiers and dissatisfiers and apart from Salary there are other factors which play an important role.  Further beyond management, Easterlin Paradox also defends that the role of money ends till the basic needs are fulfilled and beyond that there are other factors which become more important.  So the point is that at present can we continue with a framework of mindset that the workers are working for wages only.  I feel that would certainly be a folly.

This lecture questions the basic premise of all the problems of today's world.  He questions the very concept of money and monetization which has created a great divide.  The conflict between management (capital) and the worker (labor) and the role of the government to resolve such conflict though he warns - it would be unduly optimistic to expect that governments, even if democratic, will always do what is best in public interest.  His another warning - Men can be stimulated by hope or driven by fear, but the hope and the fear must be vivid and immediate if they are to be effective without producing weariness. His views on competition, democracy, role of government, austerity, power, politics, industrial revolution are worth reading and thinking which are highly contextual and lead to a thinking of well-being.  

In continuation, fifth lecture is entitled control and initiative: their respective spheres. The aim of government as he suggests should be security, justice and conservation apart from taking care of institutions which produce scientific research.  The spirit of the whole chapter lies in the fact that there cannot be fruitful initiative without government, but there can be government without initiative.  The role of government is well explained and the problems in the absence of government are illustrated as well.  The scope of initiatives and actions as inspired by the governments are subject to control so that the governance becomes better.  These ideal roles of states are to be subject to public scrutiny through appropriate institutions.  The issues related to the remuneration, industrial democracy and institutional control are well spelt in the lecture keeping in mind the differences between nations as material goods are more a matter of possession than goods that are mental. 

The last lecture in the book entitled individual and social ethics concentrates on two points – first to repeat briefly the conclusions reached in earlier lectures; and second, to relate social and political doctrines to the individual ethics by which a man should guide his personal life. Security and justice as mentioned as the function of the government in the earlier lecture, require centralized governmental control.  He suggests a supra body called world government.  This whole lecture provides guidelines for the functioning of state keeping in mind the individual initiatives and basic human ethics.  His suggestions as to governance of railways and control of scientific research are worth reading.  The religious texts like the Old Testament are quoted for maintaining human/social ethics.  As I said in Lecture III, prophets, mystics, poets, scientific discoverers, are men whose lives are dominated by a vision; they are essentially solitary men.  When their dominant impulse is strong, they feel that they cannot obey authority if it runs counter to what they profoundly believe to be good.  The assertions by such individuals and bodies in order to follow ethics while being loyal to their masters are great examples which as the part of state are still relevant.  Individuals play their roles according to their loyalties.  Men who boast of being what is called ’practical’ are for the most part exclusively preoccupied with means.  But there is only one-half of wisdom. In the present world it might sound very conservative but in the name of practicality and professionalism the spirit gets lost and the drive to create new knowledge, the understanding of love and friendship, the feeling of the smell of blooming flowers, the glory, etc etc, all fall flat.  Love of power still leads to vast tyrannies, or to mere obstruction when its grosser forms are impossible.  And fear – deep, scarcely conscious fear – is still the dominant motive in very many lives.   He guides towards the end of the lecture – self control has always been a watchword of the moralists, but in the past it has been a control without understanding. 

These lectures are still very relevant.  The language is excellent and the approach is very convincing.  The examples are contemporary. At times his personal bias towards individuals, states and institutions is reflected but he accepts that.  Overall reading these lectures has really benefitted me immensely to understand the basics of individual and group behavior in different social settings.  I wish I had personally attended these lectures.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Revolution 2020 - Love, Corruption, Ambition

REVOLUTION 2020 - Love, Corruption, Ambition (2011) by Chetan Bhagat, Rupa Publications, India

Before the formal launch of the book, in my mind it was obvious that if now Chetan writes something it must be related to corruption, looking at his active visual presence on different channels in the wake of uproar against corrupt politicians and system.  Hence it was not a surprise for me, however the plot of the book really caught my attention and I really loved the approach, agenda and activation of this young (no more budding) and established author, an iconic figure for the youth who understands their lingo and who seems genuinely concerned on the deterioration of educational standards.  He respects the social fabric but does not mind rejecting the social clutches of free market capitalism.

This fictional story surrounds three young friends (two boys, one girl) like any other bollywood love triangle and develops around their families, ambitions (more than theirs, their parents), migrations and reunions.  The rivalry between two friends, one who responds to the dreams of his father and another one though gets an engineering degree, still lands up concentrating on his passion of writing, and becomes a journalist.  The girl keeps her flirtatiousness alive while swapping her way through shifting her suspicious loyalties towards both of them.

Chetan successfully depicts the realities of Indian middle class through his textual ability of getting attached to the reader as he mentions - In most parts of the world, speaking about your income is taboo. In India, you share the figures like your zodiac sign, especially if you have lots. Further his punch on friendship is quite apt when he says Successful people dont have friends. (p 5).  Through this book he tries warning those parents who impose their own dreams on their children without even leaving any room for their wards to have their own thinking on their future.  Quite truly mention of paternal love obviously overestimates progeny's abilities (p 26) drives me to renew my belief about the trust, confidence and faith parents presuppose in their children.

The journey of a young lad from Varanasi (UP) to Kota (Rajasthan) in the expectation of getting into one of the best engineering colleges of the country is mesmerizing,  more so when I have myself seen many of my young relatives sending their wards to this city.  Kota is known for transforming tender teenagers into mechanical entities through developing an attitude that by just cracking the entrance their bright future is assured.  It is quite ironical for a country like India that every young student passing out from a school dreams of only getting into engineering or medical.  And if one does not succeed in getting into either of them, he/she develops a complex which keeps reminding him/her of the failure throughout their lives.  It is not just ironic but unfortunate as well.  

The story present in this book exposes many aspects of the coaching institutes and these preparatories through the experiences of the auto rickshaw drivers, owners of paying guest facilities, managers and other employees of the coaching institutes etc. Everything follows pure market dynamics.  

The reunion of these friends while in their professional career opens another dimension of present day opportunism.  The involvement of politicians in business ventures and their strong patronage of such initiatives with ulterior motive of sustainable consideration is another low which India is facing at present.  At this moment the book more closely resembles a bollywood drama resulting in some reconciliations and compromises.  The good and not-so-good, ideal and practical, right and wrong, dichotomies compel the reader to look around for suitable defense.

The emergence of private engineering and management colleges with profit motive as against philanthropic initiative is spoiling the educational environment in the country. Chetan also seems quite serious about it, just read some of his lines in the book - Politicians, builders, beedi-makers, anybody with experience in shady business does really well in education (p 116) and Most people who own colleges in India haven’t (gone to college themselves). Stupid people go to college, smart people own them. (p 120). I do not think that we are matured enough as a country, economically, socially and politically, that  we can leave this domain of management and development of education in the hands of private entrepreneurs who believe in vulgar display of their wealth.  

The end of the story seemed to me quite expected, surrender and sacrifice for the cause of true love.  

Apart from the mention of one of my favorite songs (If you want to make the world a better place - Man in the mirror song by Michael Jackson, and Kailash Kher), I loved some of the lines of Chetan as follows: 

Take a top ranker to meet your parents when u have flanked. (p 31)
In small towns, everyone is interested in every male and female interaction. (p 35)
When people achieve something they become self-obsessed. (p 40)
Girls are the best topic switchers in the world. (p 46)
This complex vortex of tests, classes, selections and preparations (AIEEE & JEE) is something every insignificant Indian student like me has to go through to have a shot at a decent life. (p 55)
Once you get low marks, you learn to lower your eyes rather quickly. (p 64)
Love, officially is nothing but a bitch. (p 73)
We dont get things easily, marks, ranks, girls - nothing is easy for us.... no home, no school, no college, no job, Only Kota. (p 79)
Sometimes the only way to get rid of an unpleasant feeling is to replace it with another unpleasant feeling. (p 80)
Love is what your parents give you if you clear the IIT exam. (p 81)
Girls get extremely upset if you give them evidence contrary to their belief. (p 85)
When someone refers to your weak spot even indirectly, it hurts. (p 89)
There is a sense of power when you sit in a white government Ambassador car with a red light on top. (p 96)
Losers, even if they dont have a brain, have a heart. (p 102)
Ease of cremation is one solid advantage of being in Varanasi. The death industry drives the city....  probably the only city on earth where Death is a tourist attraction. (p 109)
Politicians can multitask better than most people. (p 123)
We don’t fix cases, we fix the people in the cases. (p 125)

(finished reading on 23 Oct 2011 (10:30 pm) Shillong.... compiled notes and wrote this review on this day...20 March 2012, 11 pm)