Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What sets apart good ideas?

In one of our strategy classes we happened to discuss this paper by McKinsey that talks about the revolutionary courses of action required to usher in an entire business makeover. Once you study the paper it all seems to be common sense, so much so that it isn't common anymore. The paper lists that the players in a business setting need to come up with unprecedented strategies to gain a strong foothold in their respective sectors and/or to wipe out competition. 

Everybody knows that 'thinking out of the box', 'being unique' and striving creatively do bring out windfall returns in any game. However, why do these articles and books that assert received wisdom stand out in the clutter? Discounting for the common factors such as good writing, critical examples to augment the claim and good language what really sets apart certain presentations of the good ideas? 

In my opinion it is the confidence one has in ideas. History has proved that excellence, wisdom and grandeur can prop up in the most unlikely of situations and people and that they are not limited to a select few. Why then only few privileged few in the society get to take away a big share of the pie? It is because they are willing to believe in themselves, their ideas and are ready to dedicate time and efforts on realizing their ideas. They are blessed with more or less the same capabilities as the next person but their differentiating factor lies in them taking the game ahead on their shoulders. 

This confidence doesn't only come with repeated practice of applying one's ideas but also through reinventing oneself in every trying situation. Complacency, monotony and self-doubt are the biggest foes of confidence. If you have an idea, work on it. Action pays more than mere intellectual rationalization. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

I am better than you

The dangers of creating a space devoid of hierarchy of any sort is an unfathomable idea today. People are in the constant quest and race to prove their mettle to themselves and others. I need to dress better than others, I need to know more than the others, I am a far superior leader than you, I can get this job done better than you. People are in a perpetual challenge-winning mode. Challenges range from "do you want to see how much I can accomplish" to "do you want to see how you can't accomplish anything?". This reminds me of the concepts I learnt in Economics classes. When there are two competitors although the combined benefit is maximum by cooperating, every player has strong temptations to cheat in the short run and bring down the optimal benefit payoff in the long run. Contrary to what religions, philosophers and sociologists have conveyed through tons of collective human wisdom, people think that showing compassion and uplifting each other is a lose-win situation. 

When one is compassionate to another fellow traveler, there is only compassion that one can get in return. It is effortless to get flown away in the negative spiral of self-centered behavior and non-compassionate interactions. But once the wheel of compassion sets in, the true meaning of seamless, effortless meaning of life starts to unfold. In this extremely competitive capitalistic world of today, at the outset being self-centered and aggressive might denote strength and happiness. But on introspection one realizes that aggression and competition to put oneself ahead of others is taxing and unnerving. This is only because aggression is an implicit cry for attention and stems from a deep need for love. Instead, acts of compassion draw from inner reserves of abundance where one has love to shower inwards and outwards. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sore loser or learner!

To absolutely know dimensions of your personality and using them to your strength is one  thing and to go way beyond your comfort zone to try new things is yet another level of zen. When I think of words of describe myself the ideas that pop up in my head are non-conformist, socialist, pacifist, peace lover etc., I choose to end the list here because the terms that I just listed make me a person who doesn't enjoy conflict ridden zones. Essentially that implies that I can absolutely not compete and be aggressive. 

By spending inordinate amount of my last 5 years with the marginalized communities of urban and rural India I have seen enough to believe in the fabricated complexity and competition of daily life. I have been fortunate to witness talent flourish in ghettos and open fields amidst acute poverty, crime and abuse. As a teacher and a social worker if there is one thing I believe in it is collaboration and mutual support in hardships. This experience has instilled in me a mental block that competition with others is detrimental to growth. While some may argue that competition is inevitable for a person's growth, I ask again "is competition with others good or with oneself better? If it is with self then is it competition or self development?". 

The past one week has been really interesting in terms of being someone I am absolutely new to! I competed in an election. At my Post Graduation Program in Management at Indian School of Business, I contested for the post of Net Impact Club presidency. This is a professional club that provides invaluable exposure to using business skills to attain sustainability in society and environment. Given my professional bent towards all things social, I couldn't keep away from this club. It was natural for me to want to contribute to this club. Without thinking much I desired to work on the causes represented by this club. But all hell started breaking loose when a dear friend of mine with similar social sentiments too decided to contest for the post. Since the day he announced his candidature it always irked me whether I had to continue with mine. 

Here was a guy who was absolutely capable of taking up this position and who was skilled enough to formulate a great campaign before elections. My basic nature of being competition averse and the desire to work in collaborative conflict-free environments compelled me to reconsider my candidacy. However, since elections was something new and outside my comfort zone I decided to contest nonetheless. That meant 20 more hours of extra work in addition to the thousand commitments I already had at ISB. But I made a small bargain with myself. I decided to stay very much in my own skin. I shunned heavily campaigning for this post and I stuck to the forms of communication that I was most comfortable with. The day before soapbox presentation I had almost pulled out of competition since going up on stage and talking about myself and how I would contribute to the club was a bit too much for me. But I braved ahead and stood in front of people and cameras to give my election pitch. 

This experience played out to prove that 

  • My leadership style is influential personal relationship rather than public coercion. 
  • I can't market myself to save my life. 
  • I would rather put in the same amount of work without a title than with one. 
All this internal struggle finally ended with my friend winning the elections deservingly so.  I am at a place where marketing oneself is seen as a strength. However mentally I am at a place where I believe endless collaboration is the best option for progress more than competition. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

To be or not be

Karan Johar has famously declared in his autobiography that he doesn't understand the social repercussions of the way he portrays the characters in his movie and also that he is least bothered about it. All he claims is that he knows to make fun movies.

Let me zoom in a bit and come to my small world of friends and families. Few believe that making innocent sexually violent comments about the opposite sex, preserving interests on one's own caste and deriding people's looks are all personal choices with no far bearing consequences on the larger society.

Come to think of it again!

Are our actions so isolated and limited to our personal space? Are personal and public lives really that tangential? If they ever meet what is the dynamics of that tumultuous space? Do humans exercise any control over the forces in that realm?  When does the personal become political and where does political impact our personal choices? Can we be naive and behave in a way so as to implicate absolute disconnectedness to the larger game of life?

Can I watch sexually violent teenage porn and fight for child rights?

Will I not add to the communal riots by not inviting my other religion friend to dinner at house?

Should I call myself a feminist if I enjoy making and laughing at sexist jokes?

Would it impact the nature if I decorate my house with only plastic stuff?

K P Poornachandra Tejaswi is a renowned Kannada author whom I like specifically for bringing in the social angle to his stories. Seemingly innocent and isolated incidents are shown to create a wave of social sensitivity and one cannot be awed by how effortlessly he shows these connections in his writing. If you have ever wondered about the implications of your actions in your private space on the workings of the public sphere then reading Tejaswi's "Chidambara Rahasya" book is a good start at gaining clarity.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A game of rewind and forward

Roughly twenty years ago, we got a basic Philips tape recorder model. Many of my ticklishly wonderful childhood memories are somehow arrested within this black box, that still sits atop my nostalgic sister's fridge. My sisters and my favorite past time was to repeatedly rewind and forward the music cassettes until we landed on one of our favorite songs. Just to beat the nostalgia I am going to play the game but only imaginarily.

Let us rewind about a 100 years back in time. Right then in a not so well known small town center called Narsipura, I met a girl called Bhagyavathi. Bhagya (for I love to shorten names) was a firecracker in the sense that she had quick wit, a sharp tongue and a insatiable curiosity about the world. She was a natural at reading people's behavior and the underlying intentions. Needless to say she carried a vista of local knowledge about plants. Icing to the cake was that she was highly logical and compassionate! Now you might be wondering how she looked right? Well sorry that I can't help you much out there since her beauty doesn't matter to my story and neither should it matter to you. I often wondered how successful she would be as the main adviser to the ruler of the territory that she lived in. But wait! She couldn't have been that right. Bhagya and many other girls like her were restricted to the domestic affairs, rightly so. What would a curious mind like her do with politics and social welfare? She learnt very early on at the age of 5 that she shouldn't be talking at volumes equal to that of the male members of her family let alone ask questions to them or around them. By the age of 9 all her outings to the nearby woods and hills were abruptly stopped because she was beginning to resemble the adult version of her species. But her parents being highly liberal and fore-thinkers allowed her to read stories from her books until she was 10 after which they all knew that  before she hit puberty she would have to be whisked away to another owner who could decide for her. Thus ended my dreams of her becoming the chief adviser to the ruler. Now I know that you would blame me of irrational imaginations but can you please allow me to narrate another story of a girl in the future, whom also I met only in my imagination.

When I fast forward to 100 years from now, I meet Spashta. She is an epitome of tenderness and kindness. Spashta is one person who people go to for solace. With her rightly measured words she always knows what's the right thing to say or hold back. Her inclination towards caring has bestowed indeterminable courage on her. She works as a bio-conservationist and right now tending to the preservation of an endangered weed species that adds valuable phosphate content to farm lands due to its presence. Spashta's work requires her to visit farmlands at night time when the phosphate generation activity is the highest among these plants and they run the risk of being poached by chemical industry laborers. Her job role involves scientific monitoring and data collection along with manually guarding (and fighting for) the crops. So naturally she needs to be out in the open at night and has claimed all possible public spaces (like all the other girls of her time) at all times of the day irrespective of who is with her or not.

Now back to where I am today in 2016. Unlike Bhagya for whom having a voice and education was next to impossible, I enjoy a certain degree of intellectual and political freedom through which I can claim my rights to study as much as I want. However I am still not as free as Spashta in pursuing job roles that are gender-unbiased, roaming wherever I want at whatever time I want with whoever I want doing whatsoever that I want. I feel fortunate that I live in times where there is so much progress that women have already made and the fruits of which I already taste. These times are also tempered with a restive feeling of injustice where I know there is so much that women still cannot do.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pigeon story

This morning when Bangalore was recovering from an incessant rainfall of two days, there was a pleasant lull in the air. The air was unusually chilly, humid and the sun didn't claim his share like he usually does. I persisted with my love for warm clothes. One of the places where I am consulting these days happens to fall right beside Lalbagh lake. As I was talking over my phone, a curious flock of pigeons were eating rice grains that were laid out on the moist ground for them. After a minute or two of mindless watching, I observed a strange phenomenon. One of the pigeons, which was fat, let us call it 'Dumma' for the moment, strutted along elegantly into the center of the group and started pecking any pigeon who tried to eat the grains. Dumma would peck a pigeon until it flew away and then peacefully pick on its own grain not until another pigeon came in the proximity, by when it would again start its irrational assault of sharp pecks. This continued to happen until Dumma had successfully driven away more than 11 pigeons and had a big fill.

This incident made me reflect strongly on one philosophy of life that has stuck with me for a very long time now. Nature always tries for disorder, a phenomenon beautifully captured by a scientific term called entropy. It has been observed that all molecules try to attain the state of highest disorder. It takes more energy to maintain order than to disorder. It is easy to allow water flow than to restrain it. It is easy to break than to build. It is easy to rumple than to tidy up. When such is the natural order of the world, human beings are trying to build a cumbersome case against nature by trying to hold an enormous social system in a unified fashion. It is extracting painful energy on part of humans to maintain this system that is so inherently unstable. All the additional energy that is going in to retain order rather than chaos is bringing up strain in the human society. The cracks due to this are conflicts. Conflicts within human mind, families, communities, nations and ultimate globally.

Human mind tries to rationalize every act as moral and immoral thereby laying huge stress on the mind. Like for our Dumma, for a human mind too it is natural in an evolutionary sense to fight for the available resources, to gain supremacy. This act demands an exercise of power at all times which gives rise to unfairness and inequality. When such is the case, for human mind to pursue illusionary quests of equality, honesty and justice is just hypocrisy. As Sartre says "man is condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world he is responsible for everything he does" and to hold responsibility for a world as chaotic and as random as ours is nothing but insanity. Likewise in family and relationships as soon as the human mind claims unconditional love, it is fake, for a human mind or for that matter any species can look after only its own survival and it will pursue any relationship only for its usefulness in its survival. If this argument is further extended to nations and global relations, we can soon see sense that any claim to eradicate the inequality and crime to humanity (is there a thing called humanity after all?) is doomed.

So that leaves us with the question of 'what is the ultimate good in the world?'. Well that is an effing joke. There is nothing called the ultimate good or the noble truth. Humans need to shed all delusions of grandeur and realise the fact that they too are humble species on the Earth trying to etch out a living for themselves by fighting against many odds of the nature. Sorry to break this you but you (and me) are not special in any way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I cried!!

It was a pleasant rainy day at Bangalore and I had the most productive day at work. To add to it all I had a sumptuous lunch and an interesting snack time :) Just when I thought the world was at its beautiful best in an Ola share cab, I met a woman who challenged it all.
This woman that I so unsuspectingly helped was reeking pride and meanness. First of all she made the driver wait in front of her hotel door for 5 minutes even when he called her. She simply assumed (without checking her app for the car number) that he isn't the one. Then she strutted around to the front of the car grudgingly when she couldn't get into the back seat because there were already two customers from the previous bookings. She allowed 3 men, plus me, to fit her big suitcase next to my bag in the back of the car without offering so much of a thanks in our way! Fast forward 15 minutes, it was time for her to get down. The cycle repeated when she loitered around the car door and let the driver manage her heavy luggage all by himself. I would have still not minded her lack of compassion had she not thrown away the driver's book rudely onto the seat that she had nudged down to the road while getting down.
This miss here is the answer for why big reforms often take a very very long time to bring about a small change. It's because we forget to give the world a little more compassion on our part.