Category Archives: General

Get me 200 rejections and let’s talk…

My wife and I were recently discussing an interesting initiative with our son. He and his friends have this big, bold and really audacious idea about including children and young citizens under the age of eighteen into the governance process even though they are not allowed to cast their “vote” – after all, why should the democracy be reserved only for the voting class? Just because they can’t vote, none of the political parties even acknowledge their ‘presence’, much less engage with them for a dialog (never mind that at 44%, they constitute our largest ‘minority’). The worst part – they will grow up to be the newest voters without any awareness whatsoever into the political process! This year alone, we added 100 million first-time voters, and yet, as a country, we have no mechanism to tap them young, and engage with them into the nation-building process. Their idea has a merit, for our country has 500 million citizens under the age of 18, and very aptly, they call it “18minus“.

They are currently working on how to take their idea forward, and have come up with a bunch of ideas, and some of them have good merit while some of them seemed to be populist measures – stuff that might get you a headline in a city daily but might not take them closer to the goal. While letting them figure out what’s best for them, I was urging him to think really B-I-G, when I ended up blurting –

“Get me 200 rejections and let’s talk…”

After I said it, I started thinking the meaning of what I just said, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. Here are some self-conversations on it:

Rejection means you are thinking new. Nothing new here, but sadly, we still ignore this basic tenet. Quite often, we take a self-serving initial hypothesis that very closely matches our own ideas about the world, and test it inside familiar territory (friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, etc.) and if it succeeds, we end up blissfully believing that we now have external validation to our idea, so let’s proceed with it. In our hearts, we badly want that validation, thatsocial approval to go ahead and chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Getting a rejection is not only a heartbreak event, it also potentially jeopardizes our relationship with those closest to us (and that very thought perhaps either stops us from sharing highly contentious ideas with them, or them sharing their true feedback on our idea?).

Rejection wins when you accept it!

Rejection wins when you accept it!

However, when you are thinking really big, something radically different, something totally new to the world, anything other than a rejection only means you are simply doing a linear thinking. If people wholeheartedly (or even partially) say yes to your idea, it only means what you are telling them matches their existing mental models, and hence they believe that might be a good idea. It is also very likely that there might be many more already thinking on similar lines.

Repeated rejections are awesome! In a random sample of respondents, there will always be a mixed bag of opinions about your idea. However, if you are thinking really big, you are more likely to hear a resounding NO from just about everyone. Suppose you hear the first NO, what do you do? You probably ‘listen’ to that feedback and ‘adapt’ your idea to suit what people might be looking for – you basically try to conform to what people expect. So, the next time, you are more likely to get a feeble YES than a strong NO. You keep iterating till you come to the point when there is a resounding YES to your idea and that’s when you’ve hit home run. However, what happened to your big bold audacious idea in that process? You probably twisted and adapted it so many times that what you are now serving is what people are comfortable with. In short, you are matching their thoughts.

But what if you want to change their thinking, or show them a vision so radical, they can’t even imagine it in their dreams? As Charles Kettering said “Every great improvement has come after repeated failures. Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success“.

What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. If you actually go out and talk to 200 people and don’t give up, not only your own story will get much cleaner, your own conviction about the idea will be sky-high. So, if you are still standing tall after those 200 rejections, then boy, do you have something in you – apart from the idea! If not for anything else, just go out and make those 200 naysayers eat crow…

Vincent van Gogh painted 800 paintings, but sold only one during his lifetime (that too, to a friend), Walt Disney was rejected 302 times, Col Sanders was rejected 1009 times for his famous secret chicken recipe, JK Rowling was rejected 12 times…the list simply goes on…What if any of them had decided to stop pursuing their ideas at the first, or second or the third rejection, or worse still – adapted their ideas to the feedback? As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

Finally, don’t ‘think’ to please others! If the only reason you ‘think’ is so that you could think along what others are thinking, you might as well not think at all! Life is too precious to be lived in ‘more of same’ format.

Now, what are you thinking? Are you thinking what I think you are thinking?

What can fire tragedies teach project managers?

Today evening, we lost at least 9 innocent lives in the fire at Carlton Towers, Bangalore, and many more are still battling for life. All these were office-goers who worked an honest living and were part of the burgeoning IT industry. While details will be out in next few days, preliminary reports, live tweets from some of the people stuck in the building, and eye witnesse accounts all suggest that these most of these lives could have been saved. I write this blog post to offer my tribute to those lives that we lost, and want to share my anguish by means of lessons that we project management can (and must) learn and hopefully avoid such tragidies in everyday project, and in homes and workplaces where we work and our families live.

Emergencies can strike anytime

This was otherwise a perfectly normal day – as normal as it gets. No rain, no thunderstorm, not really hot day, no major loadshedding. We don’t know whether it was a short-circuit (reports at this hour do suggest that short-circuit was the most probably culprit), or some other cause, but the circumstantial evidence suggests that there was nothing that could perhaps be blamed on an ‘external’ factor. I am reminded of the famous lines from Fred Brooks timeless classic, The Mythical Man-month, that it is ‘termites’ more often than the ‘tornadoes’ that hit the project. Most often, our carelessness and neglect sustained over time leads to breeding grounds for such termites and results into such grave catastrophes. It is important to ensure that regular health checks are part of any infrastructure, project or a system, for nothing is big enough to escape an emergency, even if its probability of happening might be miniscule.

Emergencies can strike anyone

This was a facility in a busy residential locality, and houses some restaurants. There is nothing around the building that could raise its threat level from fire due to its location, or due to its inhabitants, or nature of its business (it has mostly IT offices on upper floors). There was no real hazardous business carried on inside the offices. Still it met the fate that it met. Titanic sunk because its designers and crew thought it could never sink. Probably, someone in Carlton Towers felt the building was safe and hence there was no need for periodic checks and other fire-safety measures. However, as history forces unpleasent and unforgettable experiences down our unwilling throats, we somehow manage to neglect them in good times. It’s almost like the eventual fallacy of the eternal youth – only when we are past the so-called ‘eternal’ youth that we realize the true and bitter facts of life. Likewise, no project manager must ever think that he has fortified his project enough to be immune from any acts of man or god!

Fire Drills prepare us for dealing with emergencies

At this point, we don’t know if regular fire drills were conducted or not, but initial reports suggest that many (if not all) fire extinguishers did not work. It is also very likely that in panic, people were not able to figure out how to operate fire extinguishers. Also, initial reports suggest that some fire exits were blocked. If periodic fire drills were conducted, most of these issues would have been identified and hopefully rectified on a routine basis. Just now, as I watch news, I came to know to my shock and horror that there was no fire exit beyond 7th floor – and the building has 10 floors! How can we expect hundreds of officegoers to maintain calm and manage an emergency where they are stuck on 4th or 5th floors of a building on fire when there is no way they can defend themselves, no way they can fight the fire. I am always reminded of the golden mantra of armies – the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war! While the loss of lives is condemnable and an irrepairable loss to their loved ones, the people whose negligence led to this tragedy must be held accountable. Would they be able to sit down with their families for a dinner tonight without their guilt asking them some simple but difficult questions that they know they can’t ever answer? In projects too, we must understand the true nature of the beast, and create adequate planning to simulate all possible trajectories. While plans can, and will, change in real-life, the real value is in the process of planning and the more one goes through the script, the more one discovers hidden problems languishing in the dark alleys and breeding in difficult to reach nooks and corners. A project that runs without script might look cool, but when the crisis hits (as it eventually must!) the team members have no clue how to respond.

Tweeple created alternate channels of communication

People like @jackerhack were able to reach out to the outside world by their tweets. While I don’t know if there were more, but thanks to them, we were able to get a heads up that might have probably saved some time and lives (at least I do think). Similarly, in projects, formal communication mechanisms often are inadequate, late and too rigid to be of any real use. Informal communication, especially the distressful one coming from the trenches, is perhaps the most important one that most managers tune out due to several reasons, most of then unreasonable. It is important to create back channels of informal communication where the real heartbeat and pulse rate of a project and the team could be felt without getting adulturated and sugarcoated, and available after a week in the next project report.

Conclsions

Unfortunately, this was not the last of avoidable tragedies. We create systems and infrastructure assuming there will never be a mayday, and live in a soft fort made of dry sand, blissfully unaware that forces of neglect are slowly and softly chipping away at our sand fort. If we take the ‘all is well’ for granted and wrongly assume it to be a result of our meticulous planning and flawless execution, we might only be burying our head and hiding ourselves a little deeper in the sand like the ostrich. A project manager must learn invaluable lessons from such unfortunate tragedies and put them into practice. Hopefully, they will avert a bigger disaster. If not that, at least that would be a small tribute to the tragic loss of those innocent lives.

IT industry at cross-roads: Top three priorities for IT companies in years ahead

This was the theme of IIMB-NASSCOM Leadership Summit 2010 where I had opportunity to share my views as a panelist. It was a great evening where we panelists got to share our thoughts, and also learn from each other and from the enthusiastic participants, essentially students of PGSEM and PGP and other courses of IIMB. In this blog, I will share some of my personal reflections that I shared at the summit.

One thing about predicting future is while short-term predictions tend to be conservative, the long-term predictions tend to be optimistic. So, while we still don’t have personal flying machine, fuel cells, foldable LCDs or many of the several James Bond gizmos, it is also a fact that short-term bandwidth requirements, mobile handeset adoption, and even the longevity of recently conclused recession have all been proven wrong and how! The recent controversy about melting of Himalayan glaciers and threat to Amazon forests has only once again vindicated the theory. 

Issues

As we step into post-recession year 2010 – the year that probably will matter much more in the long run than any other year – a lot of battlelines are being redrawn, new socio-econo-geo-political issues are being debated and the pyramid seems to have been turned on its head. Without being judgmental about these issues, let’s see what they look like:

  • Anti-outsourcing sentiments – while some of it might just be playing to the gallery, there are definite issues underneath those jingoistic slogans that should not be lightly discarded.
  • Rising costs of Indian operations – while we have gone up the food chain, we also need to realize that cost of higher competence has also gone up. Whether we should kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, or play with patience – this indeed is the billion dollar question.
  • Other emerging low(er)-cost destinations – whether that is China, erstwhile East Bloc, Latam countries, Philipines, Vietnam or eventually Africa, the race is on to provide services at the lowest price-point. While not all of them might offer the simultaneous advantages of English language skills + scale + open market + existing base of skills and several other key success factors uniquely available at India, I think it still is a credible threat if we simply sit back on our laurels.
  • Rather low domestic consumption (under $10 Billion) – this is a real underserved market and a real goldmine. The fact that our domestic consumption is so low, it not only lowers our credibility in the world market, it also limits our ability to build world-class facilities and infrastructure.
  • Pressure to deliver more value within reduced IT budgets – post-recession is a whole new world. The IT and new product development budgets are lower than before, and the pressure to deliver more in less is the new universal truth.
  • Growing digital divide – while some 2.3 million of us have benefited from the IT boom (and another 8 million having benefitted indirectly), there are hundreds of million who are forced to be mute spectators while the carnival passes by in front of them. Not only are we depriving ourselves of an opportunity to bring more talent and thereby expand the envelope, I think we might even be setting the field for a social unrest (going by the rising crime in metros, I don’t think this is a far-fetched fantasy).

I am sure there are many more. However, none of them are brand new. I also think most of these have limited potential to affect our story just by themelves. What is worth realizing is that many of these are happening simultaneously, and it doesn’t matter if the relation is causal or collateral, the damage will surely be comprehensive and complete!

Trends

Let’s also look at the current trends, facts and opportunities:

  • Hiring is up
  • Attrition is up
  • 7 Million micro-firms in India are waiting to hop on to the bandwagon of information superhighway
  • 95% of software exports come from just 7 cities
  • 2.3 Million direct jobs created and 8 Million indirect jobs created
  • SME potential ~ $16.8 Billion in 2010 on technology, software, hardware, bandwidth
  • Over 550 Million mobile subscribers, but probably not more than 50 Million on any data plan

These trends are not necessarily good or bad. We need to devise our strategies such that we can exploit these trends in way that allows us to move past those issues that we discussed earlier.

What next ?

So, what can we do next ? It is very tempting to continue the number game, and if 100,000 IT professionals can give $5 Billion annual revenues, then it must be simple math to reach $10 Billion and then $15 Billion and so on. Right ? Wrong! Sadly, that might not be so easy. As we saw earlier, there are far too many negative issues that might limit the dream run. From where are we going to get 5x manpower (at the industry level) to get 5x revenues (though, it might not be a linear relation anymore, but that’s another point)? From where are we going to get civic infrastructure to house office space, residential localities, hospitals, schools, living spaces in teh already supercrammed metros to house even more  carbon-emitting professionals, their industries and their super-sized cars ? From where are we going to create a domestic industry that can act as a shock absorber when the next global recession hits us ? How are we going to ensure an inclusive society where we are able to help people realize their potential and become a proud partner in tomorrow’s India ? How are we going to grow up from maintaining software for the world to innovating for the world ? From where are we going to get the next 50 million internet users, the next 50 million mobile internet users, the next 50 million credit card customers ? From where are we going to sustain world’s largest middle class of 400 million without giving them any realistic means to 2x or 5x their potential ?

I believe the solution lies in our own backyard. We must go back to our roots and strengthen them to get ready for the big game. What we have achieved in all these years is nothing short of a miracle from a country that till just fifteen years back was still trapped in pseudo-sociolistic hangover that only led to a solitary contribution to the world of economics – the ‘hindu rate’ of growth. However, the world has not sat still while we blazed the trail last fifteen-odd years. It has grown up to pose credible challenges that simply can’t be met with sweetening the deal anymore. We must think differently.

So, what do I think ? I think we should invest in the following, as an industry or whatever it takes for us to get together, to set us up for success in the long-run:

Radical changes in eGovernance

The eGovernance must simply reach every internet kiosk, every cellphone, every doorstep. Anything short of that is just an eyewash. It doesn’t help if the urban youth can book railway tickets  or pay electricity bills. How about making the average Joe in a dustry town get micro-loans using his cellphone ? How can we eliminate the middlemen from every transaction that deprives a farmer his fair due ? How can we ensure that construction workers get their full wages for their hard work ? Bill Gates mentions Rahul Gandhi in his annual letter, and appreciates Rahul Gandhi’s candidness when he says that the money meant for the poorest of the poor doesn’t reach them. How can we ensure that this happens, every time, for every citizen, every single day ? We develop solutios for countries, cities and counties but we are not using that knowledge and expertise to develop our own backyward ?  

R&D / Innovation

I refer to applying ‘jugaad’ innovation to make simple, everyday things even more simpler so that an average 5-year old and an 80-year old grandma can easily use those services to access information and services at their fingertips. We need to make systems so that a cabbie in Mumbai can remit his daughter’s school fee in a remote village – instantly. We need ability to bring healthcare to the needy and poor to their homes. We need solutions to make our farmers more informed and better prepared to handle adverse weather situations and use more efficient farming methods.

Manpower Development

Manpower development is often restricted to the elite technical and business schools, but I think that perspective needs to be readjusted. How can we develop solutions that can benefit poor, needy and illiterate farmers, workers, cabbies, mom and pop shops, kirana traders, physically challanged and socially isolated if they are not taught how to use those gadgets ? Even if we produce 10x IIT/IIM grads, the bottom of the pyramid won’t shrink. Real benefits will only accru when the society is ready to absorb the supply. So, developing manpower at grassroot level seems to me as the only way to create a robust, need-driven and sustainable demand system that can effectively absorb the increased supply (that becomes available by methods outlined earlier).

Job Creation

As I noted earlier, our IT intensity is restricted to just 7 main cities. Neither industries want to move to other Tier B and Tier C towns, nor the professionals want to move away from chaotic metros (we just love to blame Bangalore traffic, but don’t ever ask us to move away from Bangalore :)). It is like a Catch 22 revisited. This forces money to stay in metros, and makes people from rest of the country to move into metros. While this is not unusual in any part of the world, it forces youths from villages to move away from agriculture and other trades that might have brought economy to their homes rather than forcing them out of their homes. We need to reverse the trend and decongest cities and spread the fruits of economic boom with more of the lesser privileged ones. I am not for peanut butter spreads, but surely there is a huge gap between what we have now and the peanut butter spread. Moving industries back to smaller cities, towns and villages will help create a more ribust local economy and ease-up pressure on cities. 
 

Conclusions

We have the lifetime opportunity to alter the course of future by taking some far-reaching and hard-hitting steps at an industry level. Honestly, one company or one player alone might not be able to make that huge a difference, but surely we all need to think about. Your prescription might be diferent, and that’s fine. What is important is to agree on what we want to be and hopefully we all will find a way to agree on how we want it to be.

What can we learn from CAT’s failures ?

 (This plog post is contributed by Lt Col (Retd) Rahul Kumar, Managing Director of Srijan Consulting, Bangalore. In this post, he analyses recent failure of the Common Admission Test (CAT) conducted by the premier B-schools of India, the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), and raises key questions on how one should have done adequate planning, thorough testing, backup planning and then some more! You can write to him at rk@srijanconsulting.com)

The Business Management Gurus had a PLAN – to go online for CAT. And do I hear that this was all that was required? PLANNING was ZERO!

 

Plans are Nothing – Planning is Everything – Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

Surely the top most Management Institute of the country would be teaching this day in and day out to the numerous batches passed out till 30 Nov 2009!

The difference in the teaching which they should realize now – better late than never – is that there is a world of a difference in “teachings in class rooms” and “situation on ground”!

Responsibility – The recent failure of CAT has thrown up a big question mark as to how the prime institute of Management defaulted. It’s easy to pass the blame on the conducting organisation. Agreed that the conducting organisation is the executive arm but the responsibility rests with the management. Just by allotting the responsibility to someone else and hoping that everything will be fine is not a management rule!

Load Testing – The management of the institute should have monitored the progress, carried out a hundred dry runs on the systems? Simulation of a number of students undertaking the test simultaneously should have been done – This is known as Load Testing!? I remember after setting up the best ever technical infrastructure at Digital (now HP) back office in Bangalore when we proudly placed our credentials for picking up the business from HP-US, the first question from their Head of Call Center shot out was – “HP will have a 24 hrs load testing on the infrastructure?” I confidently welcomed it and subsequently conducted the same accepting a large number of simulated calls (a few thousand) simultaneously, switching off the mains and checking for back up power, plugging out the IPLC (International Private Leased Circuit)  and noting the call breaks if any, recording the wait time of the calls before they are attended and so on. It’s a different matter that the infrastructure came out absolutely error free and we got the business but what learning we carried along was that the ONLY way to ensure 100% reliability is to actually take the process through a number of times with equal or larger volumes than expected.

Approval for Battle Readiness – How was the ‘all clear’ report from the vendor accepted? Who from the conducting authorities checked the same? Did they physically go through the process? Were mock runs conducted and the management satisfied with the Infrastructure in place?

Efficiency Check – It is said that the “efficiency of a machine is inversely proportional to the number of people watching it!” CAT is being watched by world over apart from the few lacs that experience it. Shouldn’t someone have checked the efficiency of this system? It’s prudent not only to have a working system but an efficient system.

Check Back – In the forces we give a command to our troops. It is essential to “check back” as to what they have understood. Was there any process of check back with the vendor?  If so what were the parameters and the process defined in it? A mere verbal assurance is not the management game – at least not what is taught!   

Back up Plan – Failures are a part and parcel of life. While accepting the same, one needs to have an alternative plan in order to have 100% success. What was the back up plan? The management lesson says that the back up has to be as robust as the original. Failing twice will not be accepted. One needs to carry out similar tests on the back up plan also. Did anyone check on the back up plan? When and who orders to switch to back up plan? Three days down on CAT and still the problem continues.

Once Bitten Twice Shy – We have only seen the execution part of CAT. Learning from the experience the authorities need to be extra careful in ensuring that the selection of questions from the question bank is as per the design and error free. Management needs to check and recheck a thousand times. 

Finally – the evaluation. It’s a question of make or break for many. Each appearance for the candidate is critical and hence a foolproof software which is tested a hundred times. One may even consider it cross checking manually – at least for the first time and also since one goof up has already taken place.

Wake Up Call – Its time that our Management Institutes wake up to the realty and link it’s teaching to on ground work. Foreign institutes are not fools to have the obligatory requirement for students to have at least 4 / 5 yrs experience before they plunge into this course. Ground realty is different than classroom! How will the product of such institute who fails to execute a process sell in the market?

It’s hard to believe that this was a show from the Indian Institutes of Management – or should we say Indian Institute of Mis-Management?

03 Dec 09 

Congress Passes Resolution to Establish Computer Science as a National Priority

Just got this in my mail inbox:

ACM Bulletin Service
Today’s Topic: Congress Passes Resolution to Establish Computer Science Education as a National Priority
October 22, 2009

ACM has joined with several partners from the computing community to commend the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of a resolution to raise the profile of computer science as a transforming industry that drives technology innovation and bolsters economic productivity. The resolution, H. RES. 558, designates the week of December 7 as “National Computer Science Education Week” in honor of Grace Murray Hopper, one of the outstanding pioneers in the field of computer science, who was born on December 9, 1906.

ACM is partnering with Microsoft, Google, Inc., and Intel as well as the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), and the Computing Research Association (CRA) to build awareness of computer science education as a national priority.

Citing the influence of computing technology as a significant contributor to U.S. economic output, the House resolution calls on educators and policymakers to improve computer science learning at all educational levels, and to motivate increased participation in computer science.

I think this is a great news for our industry, especially during the post-recession times. I am sure this will give the industry a much-needed free-publicity and encourage students to take up computer science as a profession. What say ?

Where is the shark in your cubicle ?

A friend sent this story sometime back:

The Japanese have a great liking for fresh fish. But the waters close to Japan have not held many fish for decades. So, to feed the Japanese population, fishing boats got bigger and went farther than ever. The farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring back the fish. The longer it took them to bring back the fish, the staler they grew. The fish were not fresh and the Japanese did not like the taste. To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats. They would catch the fish and freeze them at sea. Freezers allowed the boats to go farther and stay longer. However, the Japanese could taste the difference between fresh and frozen fish. And they did not like the taste of frozen fish. The frozen fish brought a lower price. So, fishing companies installed fish tanks. They would catch the fish and stuff them in the tanks, fin to fin. After a little hashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive.
 
Unfortunately, the Japanese could still taste the difference. Because the fish did not move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The Japanese preferred the lively taste of fresh fish, not sluggish fish. The fishing industry faced an impending crisis! But today, it has got over that crisis and has emerged as one of the most important trades in that country! How did Japanese fishing companies solve this problem? How do they get fresh-tasting fish to Japan?
 
To keep the fish tasting fresh, the Japanese fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks. But now they add a small shark to each tank. The shark eats a few fish, but most of the fish arrive in a very lively state. The fish are challenged and hence are constantly on the move. And they survive and arrive in a healthy state! They command a higher price and are most sought-after. The challenge they face keeps them fresh!
 
Humans are no different. L. Ron Hubbard observed in the early 1950’s: “Man thrives, oddly enough, only in the presence of a challenging environment.” George Bernard Shaw said: “Satisfaction is death!”
 
If you are steadily conquering challenges, you are happy. Your challenges keep you energized. You are excited to try new solutions. You have fun. You are alive! Instead of avoiding challenges, jump into them. Do not postpone a task, simply because its challenging. Catch these challenges by their horns and vanquish them. Enjoy the game. If your challenges are too large or too numerous, do not give up. Giving up makes you tired. Instead, reorganize. Find more determination, more knowledge, more help. Don’t create success and revel in it in a state of inertia. You have the resources, skills and abilities to make a difference.
 
Moral of the story: Put a shark in your tank and see how far you can really go!

Not sure if you agree with such extreme measures to push people (or is it motivate people ?) to achieve the impossible or even accomplish everyday tasks, but I think there is an important message in the story. Quite often, we underestimate the power of ‘positive pressure’ (some might prefer to call it a negative pressure, though) dismissing it as a constraining force rather than an enabling one. However, there might be situations where such tactics might actually be a good, rather better, way to get things done.

I believe opportunities almost always masquarade as problems. I have never seen an opportunity present itself as a career-building assignment, or a game-changing company event on a silver platter. They all present themselves as a small, constant irritating pain of no major importance or immediate consequence. Most of us ignore them and walk right past them, prefering to often wait to work on ‘bigger’ problems, strategy and so on. I remember a highly inspiring talk by Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, a few years back in Bangalore. Scott talked about how they do the strategy for their products. Instead of a very hi-tech way to define product development strategy, they go about identifying pain-points their customers experience while using their products. They simply work on improving the user experience as the primary way to create opportunities for themselves. And it works for them.

Don’t run away from the shark in your cubicle, and if you have none, start by putting a shark in your cubicle first 🙂

Dumb and Dumber

A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer,”This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.”

The barber puts a dollar in one hand and 25 cents in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?”
 
The boy takes 25 cents and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!”

Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey son, may I ask you a question? Why did you take 25 cents instead of the dollar?”

The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game’s over!”

Moral: Sometimes, when you think the other is dumb, you are making a fool of yourself.

 

Solution to Bangalore’s Traffic problems ?

We Bangaloreans love our city, its greenery and reasonably well-maintained gardens, its great weather, its wonderful people who are mostly peace-loving and gentle in nature, its attitude (“swalpa adjust maadi“), its food (simply too good !), its openness and warmth towards non-Kannadigas (thanks for making us a part of your culture), its intellectual capital and its generally understated elegance anchored by universal middle-class values like simplicity, respect, hard work and honesty. We also love its IT industry like a rare vintage wine, and its newfound romance with its vibrant enterpreunership eco-system that continues to attract best of the talent from all over India to its doors.

Of course, we don’t love its roads…and we simply love to criticize its perennial and ever mounting traffic woes.

After living in Bangalore for last 14 years, and paying all my taxes to Karnataka government on-time, I feel I have earned the coveted rights of being called as a ‘Bangalorean’. It is with this self-endowed right and pride that I share my view of what ails Bangalore traffic.

I think the real problem in our country behind unmanageable traffic in big cities is GOI-sponsored sixty-year old policy to only create mega-facilities in select cities. This self-appointed eliteness and preferential treatment, even if highly irrational even back then, of national capital and other so-called metros has ensured a huge and irrconciliable chasm between ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ and has caused mass-scale migration of economic labor across all socio-economic strata of the society. For example, up until 10 or 15 years back, for every damn thing, you had to go to Delhi because that’s where the real ‘power’ was played. Similarly, by not doing any development in North East (and graciously supported by commies), we have a time bomb in Calcutta with some 11million+ population (and events like Lalgarh are only the beginning). Today you go to any state in India – I think more than 70% of economic output is generated by its capital city and except another 2-3 cities, other cities have virtually no industry or miniscule economic contribution. The only source of income in over 90% of such cities and towns is government jobs and small trading. Take UP – systemic misgovernance over last several decades has ensured there are today virtually no industries in UP. Commies have ensured there are no industries in WB and Kerala. The horror stories continue in almost all of the top 5 or 6 most populous states, with other states being only marginally better off. 

All this is forcing people like you and me to travel to such megacities in search of livelihood – this is not only the white-collared salaried professionals hailing from Lucknow or Baroda or Vizag or Madurai, it includes the carpenter from Kanpur, the mechanic from Patna, the plumber from Ujjain, the kirana shopkeeper from Kota, the jalebiwala from Ambala, the cabbie from Dharwad, the cash counter girl from Salem, and the Watchman from Nepal or Darjeeling – look around and you will find those are people who have also come to Bangalore and other big cities along with us. Why? For the first time in their several generations, they have all got an opportunity to do something bigger in life – move up the pecking order, so to say. With opportunities to make a decent living dried up in their hometowns, all they carry is hope in their souls and reams in their eyes to take a small sip from the fountain of newfound prosperity that a modern India has to offer – but unfortunately, only available to a select few in some big cities. Who are we to stop them from buying their first mobike (even if second-hand) or their first car ???? Just because we have enjoyed all that an urban life in such a wonderful city had to offer, do we have the right to stop others from having the same ??? I think that is a very selfish thought. So, whether we like it or not, economic labor migration is a reality that has always been there ever since human beings started settling down, and will continue to – it is as simple as water finding its own level. You and I can’t stop it.

Then people complain that all these migrants are the real reason behind traffic problem – they are causing undue pressure on a city’s public transport system that simply can’t scale up anymore. And when these people arrive in life, they upgrade to personal mode of transport and then once again add to the already overcrowded roads.

So, off we go thinking for a solution. Since we are not Singapore (though we aspire to be like Singapore but don’t have the guts to put in decades of hard work and no-nonsense governance before we become Singapore), we can’t stop people from buying vehicles. We don’t want to levy a city decongestion tax like in London. And since we are not China, we don’t want to control a city’s population by ‘regulating’ who all can come to a city and who can’t (90% of China’s wealth, top jobs, internet users, businesses, etc. are all in 5 cities – and yes, no common citizen who doesn’t have the skills to contribute to the economy of these 5 cities is allowed to just like that enter and live like a parasite). So, we neither have the stomach for tough decisions nor the wherewithal to implement hard measures. Some people say use public transport, some say use two-wheelers instead of cars, some say Metro will solve the problems…..

I think all that is just nonsense. You tell me how safe it is being on a two-wheeler on Bangalore roads where BMTC drivers start, stop and drive buses at their whims and fancies, and almost after 8pm any day, every second car is driving drunk. It is very easy to advise people to give up their four-wheelers and use a two-wheeler – question is, will you do the same and compromise on your family’s safety ? If not, then you have no right to advise others to do it. Let’s take buses. Every day I pass by the stretch of land in front of Lido Mall (can’t call it ‘road’ howsomuch I try to imagine!) and at 8am, I see some ~100 people waiting for bus. Probably there are more people already inside the bus! This must be true of pretty much every bus stop. This is not the life I asked for. No, I don’t think it is a sustainable solution. Let’s take Metro. IF and WHEN it gets completed, it would be yet another frivolous experiment at the cost of taxpayer (just like the fun that will begun IF and WHEN Worli-Bandra sea link opens – there are problems of congestion at the entry and exit points waiting to happen the moment the sea link is thrown open). It won’t solve any real traffic problems in a meaninful manner. For one, it won’t be point to point. So, first I need to drive to my nearest metro station, then catch the metro, alight at the station closest to my office, and again find a way to reach the office. Many times it will be too early in the morning or too late in the evenings, or it might be raining, so I can’t always walk down to the metro station. I need either an auto or I need to drive. But if I drive, where do I park my vehicle ??? I think it is not difficult to visualize the problems that will come up. I am not overcriticizing it or dramatizing it for effect – doing something once or twice is easy, very easy, but sustaining it over a prolonged period of time is what tests a system. I don’t think most people who drive cars today will consider Metro as a viable option to commute to work. Secondly, if BMTC buses are NOT taken off road once Metro starts operation, then we are worse off then when we started. I don’t think Metro will ever have the extensive connectivity that BMTC buses offer today, and hence there will be too much public backlash if any of the existing routes are discontinued. Then there are thoughts of widening the roads – you would have seen those red-colored hand-painted signs like “+4.5 mtr” – tell me, if that compound wall has to be pulled in 4.5 meters, the commuters on the road will probably be within kissing distance of the building occupants! Is that how we want to build a modern city ?

Meanwhile, some people thought of another clever solution: carpooling.

I think of all these things, carpooling is a collosal waste of time becuase its hides the real problem and creates illusion that it is really a simple problem that can be solved by taking small baby steps. Do we all really think 10,000 carpoolers will change the real problems in Bangalore in the long-run in a sustainable manner ? Even if tomorrow we have 100,000 carpoolers in Bangalore, that will not have any meaningful impact on traffic snarls. The problem with such models is first of all they are impactical to be scaled up beyond a point and that they give you the illusion of over oversimplicity that such a model is scalable to address Bangalore’s traffic issues which are nothing but some youngsters with an indifferent civic sense wanting to drive their newly bought cars everyday to work, and take away focus from core issues that the city is simply not enough for us all, and today it is traffic that is choking – tomorrow it will be housing, then water, then schools – traffic is only its first visible symptom! We need to realize that traffic is not a problem – traffic is the first victim of a much bigger problem that is waiting to explode anytime in future – and not just here in Bangalore, but in every such mega city which is target of mass migration of economic labor.

I think the solution lies only in decongesting cities over time. Develop other cities. Make sure no new industries can come to Bangalore, or at least no new staff augmentation happens in existing companies. Create tax incentives so that people setup industries in Hassan, Dharwad, Mangalore, Mysore and like. Make really good highways that ensure even if you worked in Bangalore, you would not mind living in the serene Doddaballapur or some other such place because commute will be such a breeze. Make sure all future IIT, IIMs and any other new engineering and medical college only goes to a Tier3 city. Make sure their is great 3G connectivity so that I could actually work from my ‘hometown’ and not just from home. Change labor laws to make teleworking attractive (today some 25% of Australia workforces does teleworking of some kind a few times a month) so that people can live anywhere in India and still work for a Bangalore-based office. Make sure no one has to ever stand in queue for doing silly things like making payment for electricity bills (at least in cities like Bangalore) – ensure 100% e-governance. I think these are real impediments that are choking us, not the traffic.

Noble efforts by a few, like the carpoolers (and I have admirations for their efforts – just that I feel their efforts won’t bring in the results that believe so passionately in), will help us highlight the problem and raise civic awareness, but no sustainable solution will come out of them and achieve critical mass unless we attack the root cause. When faulty policies are the root cause, the solution also must be found within correcting them.

And yes, let’s not envy those lesser blessed countrymen who, for the first times in their generations, have the real opportunity to improve the living standards of their coming generation, even if they have to live 2,000 miles away from home and survive on bare minimum.

My favorites from “The HP Way”

Books continue to be my biggest source of wisdom – they are the true time machines. You can travel back in time as the author takes you on a journey to the distant past and helps you form a mental picture of the unique circumstances that led to them taking a certain decision. Unless one truly understands the context, one can’t really distill the knowledge from those stories and convert it into timeless wisdom.

I especially like reading books a couple years after their release – gives the story enough credibility (or otherwise) because there is enough experiential data to validate the thoughts and ideas proposed in the book. Sometimes, it also brings out ‘timelessness’ of ideas – and helps you understand things that continue to withstand the tests of time, while in some cases, you find why the idea that was very hot once, has now fallen out of favor. Sometimes, I re-read books after a few years just to understand ideas that have a deep foundation and have clearly provided firm guidance, especially in turbulence, while there are some that faded into oblivion.

Some of my favorite timeless ideas from The HP Way include:

  • Given equally good players and good teamwork, the team with the strongest will to win will prevail (Pg 12)
  • Personal communication was often necessary to back up written instructions. that was the genesis of what became “management by walking around” at the Hewlett-Packard Company (Pg 27)
  • I spent a full afternoon with him and I have remembered ever since some advise he gave me. He said that more businesses die from indigestion than starvation. (Pg 52)
  • I knew by then that Easthan realized we were going to be in direct competition with his company, and I anticipated that our meeting with him would be uncomfortable. He assured us, however, that compettion was a good thing and it was better to have two companies introducing a new product, especially if it incorporated new technology, because that made it all the more credible to the customer. (Pg 52)
  • Our success depends in large part on giving the responsibility to the level where it can be exercised effectively, usually on the lowest possible level of the organization, the level nearest to the customer. (Pg 72)
  • I noted that the banks simply foreclosed on firms that mortgaged their assets and these firms were left with nothing. Those firms that did not borrow money had a difficult time, but they ended up with their assets intact and survived during the depression years that followed. From this experience, I decided our company should not incur any long-term debt. For this reason Bill and I determined we should operate the company on a pay-as-you-go basis, financing our growth primarily out of earnings rather by borrowing money. (Pg 84)
  • No company has unlimited resources, so it is essential that the resources available be applied to the projects most likely to be successful. At HP we often used to select projects on the basis of a six-to-one engineering return. That is, the profit we expected to derive over the lifetime of a product should be at least six times greater than the cost of developing the product. Almost without exception, the products that beat the six-to-one ration by the widest margin were the most innovative. (Pgs 97-98)
  • Lab managers face a real challenge in dealing with the enthusiastic inventor who presents a very creative and innovative idea – and idea that after careful and objective analysis by others is turned down. How do managers provide encouragement and help the inventor retain enthusiasm in the face of such disappointment ? Many HP managers over the years have expressed admiration for the way Bill Hewlett handled these situations. One manager has called it Bill’s “hat-wearing process”. Upon first being approached by a creative inventor with unbridled enthusiasm for a new idea, Bill immediately put on a hat called “enthusiasm”. He would listen, express excitement where appropriate and appreciation in general, while asking a few rather gentle and not too pointed questions. A few days later, he would get back to the inventor wearing a hat called “inquisition”. This was the time for very pointed questions, a thorough probing of the idea, lots of give-and-take. Without  a final decision, the session was adjourned. Shortly thereafter, Bill would put on his “decision” hat and meet once again with the inventor. With appropriate logic and sensitivity, judgment was rendered and a decision made about the idea. This process provided the inventor with a sense of satisfaction, even when the decision went against the project – a vitally important outcome for engendering continued enthusiasm and creativity. (Pgs 100-101)
  • Several years later, at a gathering of HP engineers, I presented Chuck with a medal for “extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty”. So how does a company distinguish between insubordination and entrepreunership ? To this young engineer’s mind the difference lay in the intent. (Pg 108)
  • Every person in the organization must be continually looking for new and better ways to do his or her work. (Pg 126)
  • Another requirement is that a high degree of enthusiasm should be encouraged at all levels; in particular the people in high management positions must not only be enhuisiastic themselves, they must be able to engender enthusiasm among their associates. There can be no place for hanfhearted interest or halfhearted effort. (Pg 126)

I feel these are great lessons that apply at any workplace even today. Since I have never worked at HP, I don’t know (and don’t wish to comment either) how well they are followed at HP, or if they are effective. Just that these ideas resonate well with me 🙂

Change yourself, not the mirror

Change is painful, especially when you have to change yourself. However, in reality all change is really about – changing yourself ! When people ignore this simple and timeless truth, they start accumulating a lot of ‘rigidity’ – growing at the rate of one day at a time, until that years-of-accumulated-and-hardened-behavior becomes a Frankenstein’s monster and an inseparable and indistinguishable part of themselves ! So much so, that they don’t even see that as the problem. I read somewhere that it takes an average of 21 days for a practice to become habit. I think the same must be true for negative change – i.e., refusal to adapt to changes around us. And in, perhaps, as little as 21 days, we just fortify ourselves against the impending and growing change around us. When that happens, another fantastic thing happens. Since we are out of tune with the system, there is a real danger of the system rejecting us. To preempt that from happening, we reject the system ! We criticise the environment around us, we comment on people’s behavior, we become cynical of changes, we are uncomfortable with others enjoying their newfound happiness…and we defend our own stand tooth and nail….and become even more rigid in that process. There is one thing as maintaining your values and convictions, and quite another to be rigid. A hairline separates them, and any judgment is as subjective as any other one. In reality, one person knows the right judgment – you.

The trick, of course, is to view every small, delta, incremental change as something as trivial as driving you brand-new car on a dirt road in the country. Just as you would slow down at every hump or look out for potholes, and chickens and dogs trying to cross the road, so should you in real life.

Mac Anderson is Founder of Simple Truths who make lovely self-help books. In a post, he shared a wonderful story:

A few years ago, British Rail had a real fall-off in business. Looking for marketing answers, they went searching for a new ad agency – one that could deliver an ad campaign that would bring their customers back.

When the British Rail executives went to the offices of a prominent London ad agency to discuss their needs, they were met by a very rude receptionist, who insisted that they wait.

Finally, an unkempt person led them to a conference room – a dirty, scruffy room cluttered with plates of stale food. The executives were again, left to wait. A few agency people drifted in and out of the room, basically ignoring the executives who grew impatient by the minute. When the execs tried to ask what was going on, the agency people brushed them off and went about their work.

Eventually, the execs had enough. As they angrily started to get up, completely disgusted with the way they’d been treated, one of the agency people finally showed up.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “your treatment here at our Agency is not typical of how we treat our clients – in fact, we’ve gone out of our way to stage this meeting for you. We’ve behaved this way to point out to you what it’s like to be a customer of British Rail. Your real problem at British Rail isn’t your advertising, it’s your people. We suggest you let us address your employee attitude problem before we attempt to change your advertising.”

The British Rail executives were shocked – but the agency got the account! The agency had the remarkable conviction to point out the problem because it knew exactly what needed to change.

When confronted, don’t change your mirror – change yourself.

What is a Lean Enterprise ?

 

A Lean Enterprise is defined as “a business system for organizing and managing product development, operations, suppliers, and customer relations. Business and other organizations use lean principles, practices, and tools to create precise customer value—goods and services with higher quality and fewer defects—with less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time than the traditional system of mass production.”[1]

Womack and Jones describe Lean Enterprise in detail as follows[2]:

“The objectives for the lean enterprise are very simple: Correctly specify value for the customer, avoiding the normal tendency for each firm along the stream to define value differently to favor its own role in providing it. …Then identify all the actions required to bring a product from concept to launch, from order to delivery, and from raw material into the hands of the customer and on through its useful life. Next, remove any actions which do not create value and make those actions which do create value proceed in continuous flow as pulled by the customer. Finally, analyze the results and start the evaluation process over again. Continue this cycle for the life of the product or product family as a normal part, indeed the core activity, of “management”.

The mechanism of the lean enterprise is also very simple: a conference of all the firms along the stream, assisted by technical staff from “lean functions” in the participating firms, to periodically conduct rapid analyses and then take fast-strike improvements actions. Clearly someone must be the leader, and this is logically the firm bringing all of the designs and components together into a complete product…However, the participants must treat each other as equals, with muda as the joint enemy.”

How does one create a Lean Enterprise ? How does that happen in a software organization ? Let’s explore this subject in the coming few weeks…


1. What is Lean, http://www.lean.org/WhatsLean/

2. Lean Thinking, Womack and Jones, pg 276

Some ‘universal truths’ of software development

 

Over the years, I have had the good fortune of stumbling upon several universal truths of software development. that have stood the test of time. While some of them were gratefully borrowed from other more competent professionals, several of them have been earned first-hand 🙂

I offer them here for your critique:

  1. Good methodologies  are never at crossroads
  2. “One size, fit all” doesn’t fit any size
  3. Every good thing has a shelf life – and everything was good once
  4. Good engineers and great teams make a bad reference point for future estimations
  5. There are no pre-conditions to performance – especially when you are a manager
  6. People don’t just want to make good software – they also want to build a career alongside
  7. Nothing is new – especially the outside world is far more evolved than we believe
  8. A poor workman blames his tools – and a fool with a tool is still a fool
  9. Software development is not the goal – solving the problem is always the goal
  10. All silver bullets are made of clay
  11. A shaky take-off is better than not starting at all
  12. Best engineers self-train
  13. Project planning is a misnomer – but do it anyway
  14. Leadership is just another name for the response to a stimuli – and hence nobody has a monopoly over it
  15. Not everyone constantly working overtime might be a project’s best friend
  16. Most crisis managers were responsible for that snafu in the first place
  17. Invest in rookies – they will surprise you and everyone else

What is your cross-cultural quotient ?

This mail is doing its customary rounds on the net, and not for a wrong reason! Though there are obvious pitfalls of stereotyping people, it also serves as a handy learning guide, even a field manual, when the similarities are generic in nature, and far outweigh the minute differences that might make an individual unique and different from others, but not dramatically different from other fellow tribesmen. The fact is we are all different, and success at workplace is also impacted by our ability to recognize, appreciate, respect and work through such cross-cultural differences. In today’s increasingly globalized world, this serves as a good starting point to recognize that there are people different from us, and a team’s success is impacted by mutual understanding of such differences.

These icons were designed by Liu Young who was born in China and educated in Germany. She is an accomplished designer…check out her work at http://www.yangliudesign.com/. I found her usage of metaphors captured in nice little icons very interesting, and even if it is a gross generalization of human beings, it is a nice piece of creative work!

Legend: Blue –> Westerner, Red –> Asian

Opinion

 

 

 

 Way of Life

 

 

 

Punctuality

Contacts

 

 

 

Anger

 

 

 

Queue when Waiting

 

 

 

Me (I)

 

 

 

Sundays on the Road

 

 

 

Party

eastwest09.jpg

 

 

 

In the Restaurant

eastwest10.jpg

 

 

 

Perception of each other

 

 

 

Things that are new

 

 

 

The child

 

 

 

What is trendy

 

 

 

The Boss

 

 

 

Moods and Weather

 

 

 

Shower timing

 

 

 

Elderly in day to day life

 

 

 

Transportation

 

 

 

Three meals a day

 

 

 

Handling of Problems 

 

 

 

Travelling  

 

 

 

Stomach Ache 

What is wrong with online ad optimization ?

Yesterday evening, I sat through a technical seminar on online ad optimization. It was a very enlightening talk, reasonably technical, that help me get started on this subject. I learnt how online ad optimization involves so systematic gathering of data, slicing and dicing, analysis based on demographic strata such as age, gender, ethnicity, wage groups, etc. They also collect data on unique visitors, and are doing real cool work like frequency capping (i.e., don’t show the high-priced ad more than a certain number of times to the user who doesn’t click on it in that many number of times – the logic being he is most likely not interested in it), and so on. After the talk, I had a few questions. The answers left much to be desired, and hence I thought of posting those questions in a blog post. So, here we go.

Just a small caveat: I am a die-hard supporter of “no-irritating-online-ads-please” policy. Yes, yes, I understand the economics of how ad revenues help in cross-subsidizing the magazines or newspapers or the websites, but I think there is a fine line between what is done and what is not done, and every customer knows where is that fine line ! So, let’s get going…

1. Why does online ad optimization include ‘unique visitors’ as a data for analysis and not ‘repeat visitors’ ? I read long back that it takes up to 6 times the time, money and effort to attract a new customer as compared to retain an existing one. Why not focus efforts on people who are coming to your site twice, thrice…ten times a month as compared to the unique visitors. A frequent visitor likes the user experience on your site (that’s why he is coming to your site so many times !), and might be more open to what you advertize on it than a vagabond visitor.

2. Why do online ad optimization techniques completly disregard ‘user preference’ in favor of inconsequential static factors like age, gender, ethnicity, etc. ? Let me explain. Suppose I never click on any online ads on a site. Irespective of whatever my demographics say about me, what possible value would it be to keep popping the ads at me ? At best, it is a wastage of advertizer’s money (which, in the long run, could mean the advertizer taking away his business to another publisher if the returns are less than expected). At worst, I will take away my business somewhere where there are less irritating ads (which also means problem for publisher if not too many people visit the site). Here is my proposal: on your site, ‘reward’ users like me who don’t click on any ads by showing less ads, or removing them altogether. And for user who are prolific clickers, ‘reward’ them by giving relevant ads and offering them ‘deals’ that make them click on them even more. Such an automatic ‘opt-in, opt-out’ will make sure it is a win-win-win-win situation: people who want ads will be happy to get more deals (which get funded by not popping ads at people who don’t want them), people who don’t want ads get an ad-free experience, advertizers are getting a better bang for the buck and publishers are finally getting to make everyone happy ! There, the biggest problem in online advertizing has just been solved. And, do remember to mention that you read about it here first 🙂

3. I blogged about Gmail a few months back (and surprisingly, it continues to be my #1 post). Here is some more on that. There is no bigger culprit than Gmail when it comes to making money on your user experience.So, when you open your mail in Gmail, its humongous search algorithms try to find the best ads for you based on what is written in your email. For one, that is an outright invasion of privacy – so what if it is done without human intervention. Anyone can hack into any customer data, right ? Secondly, it slows down your mail thus deteriorating your ‘user experience’. So what if that deterioration is unperceptible most of the time – it is getting bigger and more noticable every time I log into Gmail. Thirdly, every search on Google is supposed to crete 7 grams of Carbon Dioxide – so, every time I open my mail, I am unknowingly creating an unsolicitated search and creating another 7 grams of CO2 that we all could have very well done without ! Isn’t that a disincentive big enough to stop this mindless data mining that user don’t want ?

4. Every ad on your site is like an outlink. It makes your visitors go away from your site. Now, why did they come to your site in the first place ? Not to search for which is the coolest mobile phone – they could have googled or cuil’ed for that. They came because they liked what you offered them – whether it was ideas, articles, ecom, vacations, books, e-shopping..whatever is your core business proposition. And by hosting a sexy ad, what did you do – for a few dollars more, you allowed, rather facilitated the visitor to go away from your site. To me, it is like loaning your working capital to other businesses even if that brings more returns than your own hurdle rate ! Agreed, you need to make some money and hence your require some ads, but here is the problem: on a typical CNN.com or a rediff.com, there will be thousands of pages. The most unreachable pages will attract least sexier ads, and the top pages will get the most coveted ads – the ones that have the biggest potential to take away your visitors from your site – lock, stock and a few smoking barrels ! Visitors will come to those top pages first, and get floored by the latest hi-tech flash-based ads and with them, goes away any hopes of them visiting the deeper pages on your site. Now, what is your aim: don’t you want people to spend time at your website, and visit as many pages as possible. But, you are achieving exactly opposite. It beats me why will somebody want to do that ?

These are my four questions that I have not understood yet. Maybe its my ignorance about the subject matter, but it most certainly doesn’t seem to add up.

So, what is wrong with online ad optimization ? I think absence of ‘customer’ as a thinking, rational living being is what is wrong. Till that happens, I can’t think of how one could fix this problem. Surely, ad networks and publishers will make money as is the case in any business which is floating on high tide, but eventually water will recede….

How are Ethics and Excellence related ?

A friend sent a nice story:

A gentleman was once visiting a temple under construction. In the temple premises, he saw a sculptor making an idol of God. Suddenly he saw, just a few meters away, another identical idol was lying. Surprised, he asked the sculptor, “Do you need two statutes of the same idol?”. “No”, said the sculptor, “We need only one, but the first one got damaged at the last stage”.

The gentleman examined the sculpture. No apparent damage was visible. “Where is the damage?” asked the gentleman. “There is a scratch on the nose of the idol” replied the sculptor. “Where are you going to keep the idol?” asked the Gentleman. The sculptor replied that it will be installed on a pillar 20 feet high. “When the idol will be 20 feet away from the eyes of the beholder, who is going to know that there is scratch on the nose?”, the gentleman asked.

The sculptor looked at the gentleman, smiled and said “The God knows it and I know it !!! ”

The desire to excel should be exclusive of the fact whether someone appreciates it or not.

Most people would not set such high standards of self-approval when it comes to excellence, especially when it is very evident that their omissions and commissions won’t have any significant impact on the output and is unlikely to be ‘discovered’, and many will surely take the wrong route. However, there are many blessed souls among us who not only constantly strive for such excellence, but will also pursue it relentlessly, come what may – may their tribe prosper. So, excellence is not just an extremely advanced state of knowledge, skill and abilities – it is much more. It is about having the right attitude, a clear vision of what is required and, of course, a great sense of ethics. And that also reminds me of a great definition of ethics. This is not my definition, but if someone knows the source, please let me know so that I could credit the source with gratitude. It goes something like this:

Ethics is all about doing the right thing when you know that even if you were to do the wrong thing, no one would come to know.

How profound, and yet how simple. When I read the story that I mentioned earlier, I felt there was so much in common between Excellence and Ethics that they seem to be two sides of the same coin. Of course, excellence seems to have much wider meaning, and one could argue that ethics could be construed as one of the components of that. I believe someone who is truly passionate about excellence can’t be unethical, and vice versa. However, it appears to me that one can’t build a culture of excellence without having the strong and unshakable foundation of ethics. Excellence is the goal, but can’t be always guaranteed despite having best intentions and selfless efforts to achieve it. Failures do happen, and under pressure from stakeholders, there is always a temptation to cut corners. However, with a strong foundation of ethics, one can hope to build it all over again. Perhaps ethics is the self-regulator, speed-governor, the character-radar built in our conscience that doesn’t add anything to the knowledge, skills or abilities, par se, but acts as the mirror on the wall, the guardian angel, the lighthouse brightly shining its beacon in dark and choppy waters.

My interpretation is that ethics is the input that leads to excellence in output. It is the manure that leads to a healthy sapling which ultimately goes on to become a strong, tall tree. And unless you invest in this manure, how are you ever going to get such strong trees ?

Do you demand excellence at workplace without investing in building ethics first ?