Sunday, December 30, 2007

Height of e-governance

Last week I went to sub-registrar office in Chennai. I got a big shock when I saw the notice board. The e-mail ID of the sub-registrar was mentioned as: igregn.tn.nic.in (See the picture below)




This exactly shows how clueless our government systems are when it comes to deploying technology.

Long live India’s e-governance!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Games Indians play

In 2002, I visited USA for the first time. During transit I spent some time in Singapore and Hong-Kong. I was totally shocked to see the great infrastructure, well defined rules, robust systems and responsible individuals. After I got back to India, I was frustrated and disgusted to see the Indian system. We Indians just don’t follow any rules; Even if we follow, it is short lived. Take example of Indian roads: We can’t lay good roads; Even if we lay, we will not maintain it; within months, the newly built road will have numerous potholes; Added to that we spit, throw garbage, urinate on it and make sure it is spoilt to the maximum. This phenomenon is very unique in the subcontinent. Take the well developed western world, Middle Eastern and south East Asian countries – they all well built and properly maintained.

After some more experiences, I learned that it all finally boils down to an individual’s behavior. Even though Indians are as smart as anyone else in the world, what makes us to behave the way we do? Why can’t we follow basic rules by taking responsibility? The same Indian follows rules, exhibits basic civic sense, and drives properly when they travel or migrate to other countries. This has got nothing to do with culture, tradition, education, rural-urban divide, globalization etc. It is just the way we are; what goes behind this ‘Indianness’ behavior?

On top of all, I had very interesting observations when I visited Singapore earlier this year. The whole of Singapore is clean and rule-bound. But there is an area called ‘Little India’ where things are totally out of control. I can just cross the road without even bothering for traffic signals, just like the way we do in India; The interior streets of Little India really stinks and I have seen people even spitting on roads in late nights. Some of my friends in Singapore told me that the government couldn’t impose the rule in Little India area in spite of consistent efforts. How can I explain this behavior? Wherever Indians are living in larger chunks and form a community, the system goes for a toss (Another example: Edison in New-Jersey area). Why on this planet we Indians are like this? If we can boast of having a great system for sanitation during Indus valley civilization times, why the system is in pandemonium now? While I can give a whole lot of philosophical explanation for this condition, it always great if somebody gives an analytical perspective of the situation. The book ‘Games Indians Play’ just does that and much more.

The Author Mr. Raghunathan (professor at IIM-A) came across very interesting observations when we was teaching ‘Game Theory’ for his B-school students. Basically Game Theory is a mathematical technique, used by economists in the behavioral context. Using some of the principles of Game theory (especially prisoner’s dilemma) author has tried to characterize the whole behavior of Indians. The author has mapped the game theory with practical situations, which gives great motivation for the reader. I was getting multiple feelings as I was progressing each chapter; Sometimes I felt like a student; Sometimes I broke into laughter; Sometimes sad; Sometimes guilty; At the end of the book the author leaves the reader with an urge to do something to make the system better by exhibiting default ‘co-operative’ behavior. In the last chapter he compares Game Theory with Bhagavad-Gita, which left some ever last lasting impact on me.

In conclusion, this book is a must read for every educated Indian. As an engineer I was able to appreciate the book better as it combines analytical and emotional aspects of Indian behavior. As India is becoming more important piece in the world map by growing economically, behavioral change is the need of the hour to sustain it. Books like ‘Games Indians play’ are very critical to sow seeds for the behavioral change. If not anything, at least the reader will think before throwing garbage or spitting on the roads.

Brilliant book!

Related posts:
India : A garbage land
Am I proud to be an Indian?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

IT.India part – II: Workplace diversity

Before reading this post, please check out this link for my opinions about diversity.


Here is the latest buzzword among Indian MNCs -- ‘Workplace diversity’.

The amount of non-sense going behind this topic is pretty interesting. It also shows how, we Indians bow our heads and accept things without asking any questions. Whatever told by the parent organization in US/UK is taken as a ‘mantra’ and we end up implementing it without knowing head or tail of it. Especially the senior management of India based MNCs has no clue of the rationale behind many of such initiatives. The latest ‘workplace diversity’ campaign is a classic example.

According to ‘Wikipedia’ the diversity in workplace or business is defined as:

The "business case for diversity", theorizes that in a global marketplace, a company that employs a diverse workforce (both men and women, people of many generations, people from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds etc.) is better able to understand the demographics of the marketplace it serves and is thus better equipped to thrive in that marketplace than a company that has a more limited range of employee demographics. An additional corollary suggests that a company that supports the diversity of its workforce can also improve employee satisfaction and retention.


What does that mean? It’s very straight and simple. When hiring new employees organizations need to make sure that they hire people from diversified background. This really helps in business as different set of people bring strengths in different areas. For example: the diversified mutual funds have proven track record of giving consistent, better returns for a long period of time. This is mainly because it has stocks from various industries in various proportions. When one sector is not doing well another will balance it, which eventually keeps the ROI intact for the investors.

In western countries, organizations promote diversity by -- hiring more women candidates (gender diversity), physically disabled, African Americans, Asian Americans etc to have the proper balance in the workplace. Even in those developed countries (like US) they are very particular and make sure all sectors are represented properly. In the past, initiatives like ‘Affirmative action’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action) were taken to promote the workplace diversity at corporate level.

As we all know, US/UK based companies have started their offshore centers in countries like India to take the demographic advantage. Now these western organizations want to promote initiatives like ‘workplace diversity’ India. What is the result? The ‘workplace diversity’ is narrowly interpreted as ‘gender diversity’ and companies are hiring women candidates with special recruitment drives. Here is the pattern of advertisements I get to see in job portals and local news papers.

"SPECIAL DRIVE FOR WOMEN CANDIDATES at company XXX"
"Diversity initiative for women candidates at company XXX"

And one of the HR guys makes a generic statement like:

Hiring more women into the organization has brought in stability and
maturity within the organization. We find that women are also better at
multi-tasking and move more easily from one project to another.
I can agree on the advantages that gender diversity brings in; I am not agreeing the narrow interpretation these companies are doing a about diversity. When it comes to India, it is the country with diversity at its best. People are different in terms of food, culture, customs, caste, religions, regions etc and no-body need to do any diversity hiring in India as a special drive. When a team has ten people, they are naturally diversified given India’s nature. Given this Indian context I am not able to understand how hiring more women candidates will bring in strength to any organization? This might have worked well in the western world, but requires some amount of retrospection or customization when it comes to India.

The local management and HR folks in India need to evaluate such initiatives before implementing. This also shows how much un-aware the local folks are when anything new is asked to be driven. I have one simple word to tell them: ‘Grow-up!’

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Billion beats

Recently, Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam has launched fortnightly e-newspaper 'Billion beats'. This is a welcome initiative as the internet medium is reaching every corner of India. Got a chance to read the first edition yesterday and it is very good.

Check out this link for the latest edition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

India - A 'garbage' land ?

Recently came across couple of interesting experiences, which prompted me to write this post.

Scene 1: Bangalore Airport

I was waiting in a long queue for checking in and came across Cafe coffee day joint. This is supposedly an exclusive one inside the airport, where the coffee is priced higher than their outside joints. There was a dust-bin kept outside the shop and I was totally shocked to see the state (see the picture below).

This is the behavior of 'so-called' -- educated, elite, urban, upper-middle class people who are engineers, doctors, businessmen by profession. They can afford to pay 50 INR for a cup of coffee but can't think of disposing the used cup properly; They are representatives of new India and popularly known as 'Global Indians'; They visit multiple countries but just don't have basic civic sense when it comes to their own country; They make the westerners believe that the world is flat but still throw used coffee cups in a reckless, irresponsible way; They write software for Fortune 500 companies but can't even think of behaving properly;

Scene 2: The cafeteria at my workplace

I work for extended R & D arm of a global MNC and all the engineers sit in my floor work on next generation products. In the cafeteria the facility team kept three different bins (see the photo below) for disposing different kind of wastes -- tea-bags, organic and general waste. But still I haven't seen a single engineer placing right kind of garbage in appropriate bins. By end of the day, nobody can make out which bin is kept for what kind of garbage.

The idea of keeping different bins is to apply proper disposing methods. This is imposed by my organization worldwide to be a good corporate citizen by taking care of the overall environment. But still when it comes to India, everything goes for a toss due to the irresponsible behavior of these 'Global Indians'.

If the scene is pathetic in the so called 'Silicon Valley' of India (Bangalore), we don't have further discussions about the rest of India.

I now call India as 'garbage land' -- consisting of educated idiots!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

BOOK REVIEW : Only the paranoid survive

Author: Andrew S grove

Price: 600 INR

Andrew is one of the famous CEOs, who lead Intel into the path of microprocessors. In this book he shares his experiences, which can be applied to individuals’ career as well as organizations. Andy introduces a term called 'Strategic Inflection Points' (SIP), which has got equal probability to make or break any business. The businesses who adapt these SIPs (paranoids) will go successful, failing which will make them to shut the shop. He explains about how the businesses are affected by many factors which he calls as '10X' forces which primarily drive the organization beyond the SIP. These 10X force could be in the form of new technology, innovation, economic reforms, business model etc.

Throughout the book, Andy explains his SIP and 10X concepts with the PC business as an example. In 1970s the PC business was a 'vertical' one which was heavily dominated by companies like Digital Electronic Corporation (DEC). By 'vertical' he means that the hardware, OS, software, support will be provided by the PC manufacturer himself. Companies like DEC where pioneers of this vertical business model and no-one could even question their domination.

However the 10X came in form of two major innovations:

  1. Micro-processors: This innovation brought the computing to become de-centralized and the power shifted from mainframes to Personal Computers (PC). The cost of computing came down tremendously and lot of component manufactures (like memory, keyboard, disks etc...) emerged in the eastern world (Singapore, Malaysia, Japan etc..) from nowhere. Fueled by system integrators (like Compaq) the computing industry was going through 10X amount of change.
  2. Software revolution: The first innovation lead to the change in the way people perceive software. From the 'processor-tied’ approach the software became more of 'usage-tied' and Microsoft rode this wave big time. The perception of seeing software only as a 'freebie' with the hardware changed totally.

Now the only chance to stay in the business is to adapt to this change. Initially Intel was into memory chip manufacturing. When the 10X change happened in the computing industry, Andy made Intel to exit from the memory business and move to the microprocessor business. This caused what is popularly known as 'WINTEL’ phenomenon (Windows + Intel) and the rest is history.

After explaining this 10X, the author extends his discussion into people side. When such chance is going in the industry, its extremely challenging to change the mindset of the people and make them work in the new technology. This is mainly because people still 'perceive' that the old technology (say mainframes) will be alive and PC cannot change the world. Taking people through this change is very challenging for any leader and he calls such changes as 'death-valley'. He also talks about how important it is to listen to lower level employees, who he calls as 'Cassandra'. These Cassandra’s would bring informal but important information about the 10X well before it is understood by the top management.

I would rate this book as one of the classics which mixes Technology and Business very well. I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who is in the technology industry.

IT.India Part I : Offshore R & D

For the past month or so the Indian rupee is getting stronger against the American dollar, which has come down to 39 INR compared to 45 INR. This is already bleeding Indian services companies and their Q3 numbers speaks for that. When the rupee was getting weaker these service companies used to make 4-5% of their margins just by keeping their money in dollars and converting them back during the results announcement. Nowadays Indian service companies are mulling multiple options to resolve this problem -- six day working week, reduced hike for employees, productivity improvement, moving to lower cost geographies (like China and eastern europe) etc. With STPI tax sops are getting withdrawn by 2009, Indian IT companies are having challenging times ahead.

Let me take the example of product R & D happening in Indian companies as an example. Of course value creation can be done at multiple levels apart from R & D as well. Majority of MNCs which are having their engineering centers in India are working in the 'Offshore R & D' or 'Engineering services' model. In this model, the offshore team owns majority piece of the SW that goes as a part of the product and take the complete 'delivery ownership' from India. This is slightly better than the 'pure-vanilla-service' model which Indian service companies (like Infosys, Wipro etc..) are offering majorly.

To understand this slightly better, let me take 'Core vs Context' framework introduced by Geoffrey Moore's latest book 'Dealing with darwin'. Let us understand the four quadrants with
some new definitions:

Core: Processes that enable and amplify your chosen vector of competitive differentiation
Context: All other processes

This Core and context can be again classified on 'Mission critical' and 'Non-Mission-Critical' which leads us with four quadrants. See the picture below to get a better idea:

Indian service companies, which are offering 'pure-vanilla-service' come under the bottom right side of this model, which is popularly known as 'outsourcing'. There is very little value addition can happen here as it falls under 'non-core' activity.

The offshore R & D organizations are operating under the top-right quadrant. This means the activity is 'mission-critical-but-non-core' portion. For example: if a company is working on a enterprise router, the offshore R & D team can work on adding new features, maintaining the existing code and do some level of program management. From the business point of view this is critical, because the product is generating revenue for the company at present. In a way this quadrant is higher in the product value chain, but still it is not coming under the 'core' portion of the company's strategy. Because the work the offshore entity doing is not providing any 'competitive differentiation' to the parent company. On the other hand, the parent companies will place all the resources into developing core portion of the product.

Sitting in places like India, contributing into the 'core' portion is extremely difficult. Following are the major challenges Indian companies are facing now:

  • The offshore team is totally un-aware of the customer needs. They are far away from the customers and most of the technology products won't get deployed in countries like India. I won't see this changing in the near future because these 'emerging markets' need to mature a lot before they start adapting any new technologies. Except for the areas mobility I don't see any technology has taken off in countries like India.
  • The local job market is over-heated where retaining talent has become uphill task. Engineers jump jobs every 1-2 years and its very hard to build the product building expertise with this mindset. I have personally seen engineers dedicating 30 years in a same product and understanding 'nuts-and-bolts' it. Its very very hard to such stuff here.
  • The offshore leadership team is primarily grown in the engineering domain and lack business acumen. For example a second level manager don't have much idea about the big picture of the overall product. They only possess expertise in areas like: resource management, delivery management and to certain extent program management.

Now, how does the future looks from here on?

At one end its hard to imagine any US/UK based company to offshore the 'core' work because it doesn't make business sense.On the other end the offshore entity can't do much because they don't know the customer. In a way the 'offshoring' is stuck in top right portion (quadrant-III) of the Geoffrey Moore model. In my perspective, it will continue to stay there for a long period
of time until the local market gains significance. The local market growth will mainly depend on multiple factors like: Good governance, robust infrastructure, litracy and technology awareness. I would say the 'india-offshore-story' has just begun and it is foolish to start celebrations at this point in time. These companies have got to cover much more distance before they really achieve 'value creation'.

Monday, November 05, 2007

BOOK REVIEW : Wise and Otherwise

Author: Sudha Narayanamurthy


This book contains collection of short stories, which the author wrote in many newspapers and magazines. The author has traveled extensively to the rural parts of India where she met different type of people in India. She explains how people in rural India are having very high value system and leading a self-contained life. This book contains almost 50 small stories. Written in very simple English, this book explains the author’s experiences. Reading this book also gave me the background information of Infosys able to contribute to the society. Basically the author experienced everything, which made Infosys as a good corporate citizen.

However at some places, the author mixed too much of sentimental stuff which I didn't like it. Also at some places it became boring as it had similar kind of stories. I would strongly suggest to read this book if anyone is interested in doing charity in India.

BOOK REVIEW : Straight from the Gut

Author : Jack Welch
Price: 750 INR

This is autobiography of Jack Welch one of the very well known CEOs of the world. Initially the author talks about how he became the CEO of General Electric (GE) and talks some thing about his personal things as well. Things like 'Fix,sell or close' policy, which he applied to each and every divisions of GE, 'Churning bottom 15% people' has became alltime favorite of the business world. One simple lesson, which at least I learned from this book, is neither the organization nor the technology, will give lifetime employment for anybody in any hi-tech industry. Only working in a focused way for the customer will give that.

I got impressed with this book so much that I gave the same name to my blog :)

BOOK REVIEW : Count your chickens before they hatch

Author: Arindham Chaudhuri
Price: 200 INR

This is one of the best selling books in India. This book consists of two major sections. The first section is more of a ‘Self development’ stuff where the author talks about the ASK paradigm (Attitude, Skill and Knowledge) in order to raise any individual. The second sections talks about the theory ‘I’ management. The ‘I’ stand for ‘India Centric’ management. Particularly I liked the second section where the author mentions that the management policies in any country should be based on the social architecture. He compared the western and Japanese management and gives a proposal for India,which is quotes lots of examples from Mahabharata.

Tech/Biz Magazines

Here is some of my favorite magazines!

These mags are targeted to a specific audience, providing vital information. I started liking these type of stuff as they are catering to my interests. They also give altogether a 'positive' outlook of India.

1. Dare (http://www.dare.co.in): This is published by cyber- media completely focused on Entrepreneurship. They started the print edition from Oct '07 and the website is yet to be populated. Got a chance to read their Nov '07 and found it very interesting. It covered various aspects of Entrepreneurship -- new business ideas, VC/private funding, value creation and guest columns by successful Entrepreneurs. I also learned that their advisory committee consists of stalwarts like C.K.Prahlad, N.R.Narayana Murthy, Kanwal Reiki etc. Welcome effort from cybermedia!

2. Smart techie (http://www.thesmarttechie.com): This is a technical career magazine launched from Bangalore, which is a sister concern of Silicon India. I found this magazine provides very deep insights into interesting work some of the Indian companies doing. Also comes with loads of career related articles. Considering the young nature of technology industry in India, this magazine is very vital to bring in the proper exposure.

3. Mint (http://livemint.com): Launched as JV between Hindustan times and WSJ, this provides crisp business update. I got a chance to read their print edition when I visited Delhi during May, but recently they launched in Bangalore too. But I subscribe to their RSS feeds, found it pretty good to read. In a way this magazine lives truly up to its name 'Mint' -- Just digest it.

4. Business Gyan (http://www.businessgyan.com): Excellent magazine published out of Bangalore targeting small and medium businesses. I have read printed edition (digest) as well as RSS feeds. The 'classifieds' section of their printed edition gives very useful information about all contact details (legal, real-estate, website building etc...), which are the first set of elements to build a business ground up.

Friday, November 02, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Think and grow rich

Author: Napolean Hill

Price: 150 INR

Its been long time since I stopped reading motivational or self-help books. I used to read them during my school days to 'pep-up' myself during examinations.Recently one of my mentors requested me to read this book 'Think and grow rich' by Napoleon Hill and found it different from typical motivational books. The Author Napoleon came up with this book based on his 25 years of experience in studying success philosophy, inspired by Dale Carnegie.

This book consists of thirteen principles for becoming 'rich'. The author describes 'rich' not only in terms of accumulating material wealth but also in-tangible wealth -- in terms of success, accomplishment, love, peace, courage, purpose, happiness and contribution. To be very honest, I found the initial chapters as boring and it was covering typical motivational topics -- imagination, auto-suggestion, having a purpose in life, daily to-do list etc.

The later chapters got much more interesting when the author started focusing on real life examples and some philosophical explanations. In the chapter on DECISION, the example of Richard Henry Lee and his famous proposal to congress on June 7, 1776: 'That these United Colonies are,and of right ought to be,free and independent States' was good. The story followed after this proposal was quite inspirational and makes is really interesting to read. Followed by that I liked chapter 10, which talks about 'power of master mind'. The author defines the term of 'master mind' as: 'Co-ordination of knowledge and effort in a spirit of harmony between two or more people for the attainment of a definite purpose'. As the world is becoming more and more interdependent, it makes sense to collaborate with like-minded people to accomplish anything significant. In this chapter the author covers the power of coming together as each one in the team positively influence each other to achieve the common goal. Followed by that the author covers the 'infinite intelligence' which he defines it as: 'The source of knowledge experienced through creative imagination'.

The highlight of the book was chapter 13, THE BRAIN, which talks about the scientific aspects of human brain as follows:

'It has been determined that there are from 10,000,000,000 to 14,000,000,000 nerve cells in the human cerebral cortex and we know that these are arranged in a definite patterns. These arrangements are not haphazard. They are orderly. Recently developed methods of electro-physiology grow off action currents from precisely located cells or fibers with micro-electrodes amplify them with radio tubes and record potential differences to a millionth of a volt.

It is inconceivable that such a network of intricate machinery should be in existence of the sole purpose of carrying on the physical functions incidental to growth and maintainability of the physical body. It is not likely that the same system, which gives billions of brains cells that media for communication one with another, provides, also the means of communication with other intangible forces?'


This is one of the points where the author interfaces with the philosophy, from the motivational landscape. In my previous blog about 'personal experiences with yoga' I have experienced somewhat similar stuff the author is talking about.

Overall it pretty good motivational and philosophical book.

Yoga part II : Personal experiences

Its been two years I have been practicing Yoga. Typically I spend about 45 minutes which includes about 20 asanas followed by some pranayama breathing techniques. In this post I am sharing some of my personal experiences.

Its completely 'Experiential'

The first point I learned about Yoga is -- its completely experiential. No matter how many books, articles, blogs anyone read, it just can't even come closer to the real experience one gets while performing Yoga. Its hard for anyone to believe this as we are more used the traditional way of learning (reading/writing/sharing). For example, if somebody some information about a book, I will at least get 20% of what he is trying to say. The 20% can be "quantified" because the knowledge a book provides itself finite. In case of yoga, the paradigm is totally different as the performer is connecting to infinite knowledge within himself. I know I am sounding abstract and confused -- thats what I call it 'experiential'.

Out of the body experience

When continuously performing yoga over a period, I feel 'out of body' experience for a brief period of time. During this short duration I experienced the following:
  1. Breathing pattern comes into a particular rhythm
  2. The body becomes extremely light and feel as if I am a thread
  3. A very light amount of vibration/current throughout the body
  4. I could see myself as an external person and watch myself
These experiences are very much 'personal'.I don't want to give a philosophical or scientific explanation at this point in time (more on this later).

Feeling the 'oneness'

In my engineering days I have learned about Finite Automaton (FA) as a part of the computational theory. Basically the FA is a state machine consists of a finite number of states. On a state when a particular symbol acts, it transitions to a different state. This finite automaton is the basic model for computers and the brain also works in a similar model. According to my perception, I imagine brain as a Finite automata with 10 to the power of 15 states. When any external evenets (stimuli) occur on the brain, it moves to a different state by reacting. By doing yoga, it prepares us to react 'better' to these stimulis. This better reaction is seen in the forms of reduced stress, better concentration a nd higher energy. When I am in that 'better' state, I feel complete 'oneness' with the environment.

Learnings do happen internally

It is general view that we can only learn/perceive things though our five sensual organs. As a yoga practitioner I can definitely say, learnings do happen internally apart from the sensual organs. When an individual is connecting to his inner self tremendous learnings happens. This is mainly because one connects with the infinite world of inner imagination which normally we don't get oppurtunity to explore. I work as a firmware development engineer and couple of times I found solutions during my yoga session. I could really see the exact line in my C code and where exactly it needs to be fixed. Its hard to believe but trust me -- it happens!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Randy Pausch's last lecture

Want to get inspired? Watch the video of CMU professor Randy Pausch's last lecture below.



Monday, October 22, 2007

'Chak De India' and 'Corporate India'

Here is couple of interesting links:

"Winning is everything"

"Chak De India enters management books"

Another movie has come to the lime-light of the corporate world - 'Chak De India'

In the movie, the hero (kabir khan) takes-up the herculian task of coaching women's hockey team and finally the team wins the women's world cup. Starting from building a team with complementory skills, the hero demonstrates elements like patriotism,leadership and personal experiences to make the movie interesting.In 2001 'Lagaan' created lot of exicement by taking up a similar story. These type of movies get huge popularity ranging from companies to b-schools. Even though these type of movies are really vital to have a 'positive' thinking going among Indians, they take us very far from the reality. Added to that the movie directors smartly add the required 'sentimental' elements to tap the average Indian fan and make the movie as a box-office hit.

These type of movies portray one 'super-hero', who turn things around for the team. After watching the movie, everybody gets inspired but expect that super-hero to come. Corporates try to gain some mileage out of such movies by making their team members to watch this movie and have some coffee-table discussions. They expect their team members to come more nuclear to perform better as a team. But where is the super-hero to unite them? Thats where the fun begins. End of the day nobody comes forward to take up the real 'responsibility' and these type of movies simply end up a formalities rather than accomplishing something concrete. No super-heros are made just by watching a two hour movie. It requires ample amount of effort added with commitment for a cause to make any signifcant impact. As long as corporates don't
understand this reality, these type of movies will simply be a time-pass formality.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"D.O" -- Two simple letters

I really liked the caption of TOI's 'Lead-India' initiative: "D.O --Two simple letters"

Keeping my opinions apart, this is one of the very few initiatives which really emphasizes about 'doing' something rather than 'talking' about it. In my point of view doing is the only solution for all the problems India is facing today -- be it poverty, illetracy, pollution, politics or traffic problems. As 'Argumentative Indians' we tend to 'talk-talk-and-talk' about every other issue on the planet and do nothing about it. Every Indian is aware of all the problems surrounded by him. When it comes to taking concrete actions to attack the problem, we fail miscerably.

If I look back the post-independent history of India, there is very little that is 'done' compared with the amount of planning or talking.I can satisty myself by saying 'mera bharath mahan' and point out our achievements in certain areas. Is there an example in India where doing took more precedence than talking? where can I see a group of individuals delivered great things by working as a team, which had significant impact on the society?

Recently came across some photographs (see pictures below) which shows some of the 'from-the-scratch' pictures of Indian space program. These men really did something in the post-independent India by building something ground-up.












The pictures above speak two simple letters - "D.O"


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Abundance mentality and Entrepreneurship

Its time for a blog post on Entrepreneurship!

I was brought up in the north-west part of Tamilnadu, which happens to be the ‘textile-hub’ of south India. Most of the businesses are Small-And-Medium scale and are into producing textile products like cotton sarees, lungis, hankies and shirts. Also, there are numerous businesses in various aspects of the textile value chain -- dyeing, calendaring, bleaching, tailoring and printing. There are 24189 registered SSI units as on 31.12.2000 in the district besides 59 Large Scale Units. I have vivid memories of this business hub – dusty, vibrant and narrow streets, bullock carts carrying textile materials, chai and bhajji shops serving snacks, businessmen from the north and western part of India, daily wagers leaving their kids to nearby schools etc.

Most of these businesses are run by people who hardly have a university degree. Right from my school days I have always been spellbound by the entrepreneurial passion and hardworking nature of these people. These folks learn business from the streets and come up in a hard way. Compared to the high-tech entrepreneurial ventures, these businesses are extremely fragmented and commoditized. Due to high pressure and cut throat competition many of the firms have shutdown their business in the recent past. I personally know of friends, who have taken to a job as their family business is in vain. On the other side, the surviving businesses are operating on the same scale over decades. For quite sometime I was mulling over the reason for their ‘non-scalability’ and came up with some interesting observation:.

Most of these businesses are family owned businesses operating on ‘proprietorship’ model, where there is no concept of ‘equity shares’. All other people are hired as employees by paying salary and exploited to the maximum extent. Some of the high-performing smart employees are given more responsibility -– dealing with channel partners, getting new business, having a team built around them etc. These smart employees will slowly get contacts and open up their own shop in a matter of two to three years. The lower entry barriers added with strong channel relation built on the previous business helps these ‘recent-entrepreneurs’ to open up their shop in no time. They start competing with the ex-proprietor and the chain continues forever. Instead of increasing the pie, they cannibalize each others businesses.

The example I have mentioned above is a classic example for ‘conservative’ thinking instead of ‘abundant’ mentality. Any Entrepreneurial venture can scale up provided it has a core team working on a common vision with complementary skills. As the initial folks have totally different strengths, the business will start growing in multiple dimensions with each one of them leading in their area of expertise. When such people come together it is important to have properly defined profit sharing mechanism in terms of equity shares. This is one of the key factors to keep the core group as a ‘nuclear’ team and sow the seeds for long-term scalability. However this trait will not come easily to ‘normal’ people -- who want to have more power rather than profitability of the company. This is where the abundant mentality plays a major role as it has got to do with having a bigger heart. For example, having 80% stake in an Rs 10,000 profit is any day better than 2% stake in Rs 10,000 crore profits.

Most of the SMBs are not able to scale, mainly due to the ‘old-school’ conservative thinking. It is very critical to understand that the world is becoming more interdependent and knowledge oriented where looking for synergistic opportunities plays a vital role. Unless an Entrepreneur has the ‘new-school’ of thinking by shedding ego and craving for the power to control, the firm will not scale to a larger extent.

After all everybody understands the difference between water-gun and Niagara falls!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why do I write blogs?

There are ample reasons for anyone to flock into the blogsphere. Recently I came across some blogs with gobs and gobs of ‘negative’ contents focusing on 'controversial' topics. They quickly become popular as they get high hit-rate and copious comments. These blogs mainly express strong 'opinions' against some of the burning issues in the areas of religion, sex, creed, caste, racism, nationality, politics etc. Naturally they catch attention of readers -- as it has got to do with an individual’s emotions. Readers quickly tend to take stands and tempted to express their counter arguments.

According to me there are enough avenues to discuss about controversial topics as they are very well known. Especially in countries like India -- the media is given complete freedom to conduct debates, opinion polls, panel discussions to discuss flaming issues. Also at an individual level, most of these issues are 'no-control' problems and finding a solution is close to impossible. I am not against expressing an individual's opinions but it will not make any difference to anybody.

When I was thinking in these lines, I asked a question to myself: 'why do I write blogs?’. After contemplating for quiet some time, I came up with the following points:

  • I feel happy when I write.
  • Blogs provides a platform to share my knowledge with a bigger world.
  • I always wanted to write about 'positive' things to 'influence' rather than critiques. For example, blogs like 'Emergic' has influenced me to a larger extent.
  • Connect with like-minded people rather than the general mass.

Request: Can you please post your reasons for blogging?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Argumentative Indian (Part – I)

Author: Amartya Sen

Price: 690 INR

This classic book has been in my reading list for quiet some time now. I have finally started reading it, in a phased mode. Unlike my other book reviews, I am planning to write a series of reviews for this book. This is mainly because of the sheer density of the material that author Sen has presented in this book. At the outset this book illustrates a vivid perspective of the Indian mind.

To start with, Sen explains the ‘argumentative’ nature of India, for which it is very vital to understand contemporary India. The very nature of Indians is to get into arguments or lengthy dialogues whenever they get an opportunity. Ranging from weekly status meetings to the cauvery tribunal, I can quote numerous examples for this nature. This is due to ‘dialogue’ based approach existing in our culture for a very long time. For example, Arjuna, in Mahabharatha, gets profound doubts in the battlefield. In order to get clarifications he takes up the dialogue based approach with Krishna. The author also gives examples from ‘Brihadaranyaka Upanisad’ and ‘Kiratarjuniya’ to illustrate the argumentative nature of Indians. Allowing arguments makes lot of sense in today’s democratic India. As India is the biggest democracy in the world, providing freedom of expression by allowing arguments is a very crucial element to sustain it. In today’s globalized ‘flat world’ India scores against China mainly because of its vibrant democracy and expressive media.

Next, the author starts his viewpoints about secularism and diversity. Unlike any country India is much diversified -– in terms of language, food, culture, rituals and literature. The long history of heterodoxy of India is a basis for its diversified views, which is in alignment with scientific way of thinking. The more diversified any system becomes, it inherently becomes more resilient. I have written my viewpoints on ‘celebrating diversity’ as a separate article.

The political ideology of such a diversified country should be mainly driven in an inclusive way by collectively addressing consensus of all the people. Whichever king or government or dynasty failed to understand this important point has had a hard time ruling India and has eventually failed. Among the mughals, Akbar was the only king who understood this and created his own religion ‘Dhin-ilahi’. Apart from him Akbar, Ashoka was the other king to understand India in a detailed manner. In the contemporary India this concept has evolved as ‘secularism’. Even though other countries like France can claim that they are secular, it never allowed any religious symbols in the workplace. After independence the Indian constitution points to the importance of taking issues in an inclusive way for which the ‘secular’ viewpoint is very vital. In a way designing a political ideology for a country like India is extremely challenging. This is mainly because every other country in the world is uniform in someway or other.

On contrary to ‘secularism’ the ‘Hindutva’ ideology was created by Veer Savarkar. Fundamentally the Hindutva is based on two main points:

  • In India more than 80% of the population are Hindus. The political ideology should be based on this religion.
  • Tracing back in history (from Indus valley civilization) – Indians are primarily Hindus. So there is nothing wrong in looking at India as a ‘Hindu-rashtra’ or ‘Bharat-varsha’.

This Hindu political moment was fuelled by ‘Hindu-mahasabha’ and organizations like RSS, VHP, BJP and Shiv-sena are some of organizations spawned from this ideology. In this book Sen argues, looking at India with this myopic view will create religious fanaticism. He gives examples of Ayodhya and Gujarat riots when this Hindutva ideology got the political backup.

I am of the opinion that, religion cannot be ruled out of the political arena completely. Given India’s diversity there needs to be a common ‘bonding’ factor to bring people under one umbrella. Let me throw some of my questions:

  • If religion can act as that umbrella why can’t we accept it? If Sen can substantiate for secularism by taking riots as example, I can argue for ‘non-secularism’ with bomb blast examples.
  • If terrorism can be justified as a way to protect a religion, why can’t we justify ‘religion-based-governance’ for a better tomorrow?
  • If the so-called ‘open-society’ Americans cannot accept Bobby Jindal as Louisiana state governor without converting himself into Roman Catholic, how can only India accept every religion by giving all sort of freedom?
  • The real rural India is fragmented in all possible factors. What sort of progress the ‘secular’ governments in the past have brought so far? How much % of real ‘inclusive’ growth has taken place in the past 60 years?

End of the day there needs to be a law of the land and everyone should follow them. If that can be brought by using religion, I welcome that. At the same time I am not arguing for religious forces, which will vandalize the societal harmony. We are singing too much of this ‘secular’ song for the past 60 years, whereas India continue to be ‘pseudo-secular’ in reality.

Am I sounding like an ‘argumentative’ Indian now?

Related blogs:

New Blog on Tech trends, Impacts and Innovation

Looking at my blogs in a critical mood a few days back, I was both happy and a little guilty. Happy for the fact that my blogs cover a variety of topics, but guilty for the fact that they do not provide much of my views on my love for technology. Wanting to keep pace with the happenings at the technology arena, I have started co-authoring an exclusive technical blog- 'tech trends, impacts and innovation', with some like minded people. It has proved to be an immense pleasure for me and has provided me with a sense of fulfillment to be a part of this blog space. It would be wonderful to hear your views about the blogs.

Long way to go

No doubt! The 1991 economic reforms brought magnanimous changes to Indian economy. Indian companies are going ‘global’ by acquiring foreign firms, getting into joint ventures, reporting consistent profits and become much more professional. What about public sector organizations? By virtue they have long legacy by creating a good brand image among average middle class Indians. On the other side they are facing stiff competitions from their private counterparts and ‘somehow’ learning to think about customer satisfaction. Recently I came across a couple of interesting observations.

The first one was with getting landline and internet connectivity,when I moved to a new house. I chose BSNL without doing much research and initially got a good impression by looking into their website – well designed contents; downloadable application forms, electronic billing and payment facility, rate plan details etc. Added to that, I got the landline in a week’s time without any issues. But the real face of the public sector got exposed after some time:

  • The broadband internet connection was not given. When I called up all the support numbers provided in their website (except their toll free 1500), no-one answered the phone. Finally (after much frustration) I was able to get hold of one officer who routed me to another number. But again no response from the new number.
  • I opted for electronic clearance of my bills but it was not done. When I called up their billing department I got the answer saying it will be done from the following month. Finally it was never done.
  • In order to get the status of the internet I visited the BSNL office but got one uniform answer: ‘your connection is not yet approved’. It was as if I am at their mercy and they are doing a big favor by ‘approving’ my application. When I asked the ‘why’ and ‘when’ questions, nobody was able to give any answer.

As internet is a must have especially for me to surf endlessly , I decided to cancel my landline and application for a BSNL broadband and approached Airtel. The experience was totally different.

  • The connection was provided within 48 hours of submitting the application forms. The support engineers reached my home at 9 PM in the night and did the installation. They were totally professional -- explained the operational manual completely, installed all necessary software in my laptop, provided their mobile number for immediate support.
  • The next day I got a call from their support desk asking for the feedback about installation and support engineer. After a month they called me again and explained every minute details of the first bill.
  • The line maintenance is always done in early mornings (3 AM to 5 AM) and Airtel notifies its users of the same by sending an SMS well in advance. Even though there is very little probability of using the line during that time the user is not in for a rude shock while on the net at that time.

I am a more satisfied user by opting for Airtel!

Coming to statistics, India’s teledensity (number of landline telephones in use for every 100 individuals living within an area) is 19.26% as of May 2007. Given the one billion Indian population, this presents a mammoth opportunity for telecom companies as rural India is not connected, and needs reliable connectivity. The BSNL might have got the early mover advantage in landline (by having 78% of the market share) and but has already lost ground in mobility. As remaining 80% of population needs to be connected, public sector companies like BSNL need to become extremely competitive.

Now let me move out of telecom! I wanted to enable electronic clearance for BESCOM (Bangalore Electricity Supply Company) and checked my e-banking website. I got the following information, which shows the number of days required to enable this facility:

Organization

Number of days

BESCOM

65

BSNL

45

Airtel

2

Reliance

2

Here also public sector’s reality got exposed!


In summary words like -- competition, customer satisfaction, professionalism, reliable service, adopting technology is ‘new’ to these public sector organizations. They are used to operating in the old-economy style with bureaucratic mindset. Now all of a sudden they are asked to change their mindset and operate in globalized world. They are learning in their own phase, which may not be acceptable in today’s world. They have a long way to go to attain world class excellence and I hope will not be too late.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tale of two Indias

In order to attend a training program, I visited another facility of my company, which happens to be a building with seven floors. Also it is one of the well planned and truly upto the global standard, somewhat similar to Singapore technology parks. During the break time I opened up the curtains and observing the surrounding areas. This is basically a very well constructed technology park (called as Bagmane Tech Park in C.V.Raman Nagar, Bangalore) and houses about 7000-10000 technology professionals.It was looking really great from the seventh floor -- well designed parking lots with about 1000 cars , clean and green surroundings, regulated traffic etc.(See the picture below).


When I turned another 30 degrees to my right, I got a big shock. Just next to the technology park there is a slum followed by a dumping yard (See pictures below).



The experience was really an eye opener for me as it clearly depicted two Indias. If I can call the first case as the ‘developed India’, what name should I give for the second one? Should I feel happy or sad?

Monday, June 18, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Give me back my guitar

Author: Potharaju Ravindra

Price: 160 INR

About a year back I read the book ‘Success Vs Joy’ by Geeth Sethi. Two things stand out about this book; its simple language and the overwhelming effect it has on an individual’s thought process. Built along similar lines is the book ‘Give me back my guitar’. In this book author Ravi talks about mind control, inspiration and energy management. The joy of reading and re-reading such books is in the inspiration and support that they provide by telling you just three words: Follow your dream. And just as success vs. joy, give me back my guitar is also blessed with the use of simple and unambiguous language which makes it a pleasure to read.

The first thing about the book that interested me was the title itself -- What is this topic all about? Who is going to give the guitar to whom? But, when I started reading the book I found that the book is all the nursery parables that we have all read and enjoyed being modified to suit the present scenario. Sounds different? read on!

Basically the title is derived from the story The ant and grasshopper ,where the ant works all summer by gathering food and the grasshopper ‘wastes’ time by playing the guitar. When its winter the grasshopper struggles to find food and learns the importance of working hard. But when he tries to work hard like his ant friends, he gets frustrated. This is mainly because the grasshopper really enjoys playing his guitar. Now -- What if the grasshopper gets a chance to do the work he ‘enjoys’ as well as ‘earn’ his food? What about converting the ‘wastage of time’ (as perceived by others) to a revenue generating task? Sounds interesting? In fact this is the crux of the book. It re-iterates the importance of choosing joy compared to success. As a matter of fact the latter is the by-product of the former.

Apart from this, the book talks about five other popular parables with a modern moral- known fable- unknown interpretation. The author urges us to ‘Enjoy, Adopt and Practice’ the ancient Indian wisdom by reading this book. It appears that the intention of the author is not to motivate but to make the reader think on each of the messages conveyed. This is typically recommended for folks who are bored with the grueling corporate life style - those who in their rush do not have time to stop and smell the roses.

As the book is targeted for wide range of readers, the author has written the book in both conversational and message style. I am not sure how it will be taken, as this style may not be liked by everybody. Also there are some stories in the ‘Epilogue’ which it not related to the main topic. On the cosmetic side, the author has given three email IDs for communication which can be reduced to one.

In conclusion, if you want a book to kindle your thought process this is for you. For more details about the book visit: http://givemebackmyguitar.com/