December 27, 2008

Good and Best – very close or enemies?

We have heard two popular phrases - ‘Perfect is the enemy of the Good’ and also ‘Good is the enemy of Best’. As with everything in life, there seems to be a contradiction here… And typically these provoke thoughts  There is a lot written about these phrases in books, commentaries, blogs, etc… - I thought I could share some of my first hand experience.

Having spent more than 10 years in the Supply Chain optimization domain, I want to optimize everything – from time to resources to my actions. In the last few months, I remember so many days that I ‘thought’ of posting something on the blog, but making sure that it is the best topic and the best ideas actually paralyzed my efforts! It was an experience to realize that if excessive focus on the best and optimality goes to the extent of stopping you from doing any work – then it may be better to just start doing things.

I also remembered a small story (Centipede's Dilemma) in which a centipede was about to eat a spider and the spider asks it how will it co-ordinate the movement of its legs. The centipede started thinking about its action that was natural and innate to it – but this thought actually crippled it and the spider got away. Although, thinking may be required; but we need to understand the difference between thoughts that result in action and thoughts that paralyze actions.

At the same time, if we become complacent about things and be satisfied with ‘good’, the best will keep eluding us. Striving for perfection is as essential as continuing with actions.

A fine balance I guess – that needs to be perfected!

September 11, 2008

Why we need more than Singapore visits?

Recently, the Bangalore traffic cops were to be sent to Singapore to learn from “one the best-managed traffic systems of the world”. They will definitely learn a lot, but we need much more than that. If you have driven on Indian roads, you will know what it is.

Roads are a great leveler – everyone driving on the road is equal – irrespective of their background, status, etc… In fact, if you are affluent, and your car shows it, this is one place where it is definitely a disadvantage. You will be always on the receiving end, irrespective of who is at fault!

Check this video on Driving in India

We need to recognize that a person’s attitude reflects in any work he/ she does – at office, home, even while driving. When we are looking for shortcuts everywhere, we will also look at ways to beat the other person on the road and reach faster. At traffic signals, it is the best. We will zig-zag across lanes to find that spot which is one meter closer to the signal than what the car behind us will get. It is like playing tetris, where you want to generate a grid without any holes in between – if there is any left, the two-wheelers and autos percolate through the grid like sand and pebbles to fill it.

When a big percentage of people driving on the road have got their license through an agent without passing the road test, we cannot expect them to even know all the rules. I am not sure how many people would have even seen the driving rule book – let alone read it. There is no point talking about lane discipline, when there may be people who genuinely do not understand what a lane means. Especially on a road without any marking, people are expected to draw imaginary lines and stick to it.

A lot has been written on the internet and the written papers on Indian driving. Everyone blames it on each other. There is sarcasm, bashing, desperation, philosophy – all emotions that you can think of – associated with such write-ups.

Is there a way out? In my view it is a two fold approach.

One is infrastructure related – I was very impressed with the comments made at two-day Bangalore Transportation Summit organized by Trans Innova and BMLTA. To quote, “What is different is lack of public accountability and absence of a concrete policy.” The suggestion to fix basic things like good street illumination, good roads without potholes and well-laid pavements is definitely a good one. Such practical and easy to implement solutions is what we need today.

The second is people. Even with the existing road condition, we can drive more sensibly and chaos would not be as much as it is today. This may sound simple, but it is the most difficult to implement – because it means that “I have to change”. Even if you had well laid out lanes, unless you and I start driving in lanes, it is of no use. The only solution then would be to put concrete dividers on the lanes! Even then we will have people jumping over it :-)

So, unless you and I change, we are still a long way to solving traffic problems on Indian roads.

September 04, 2008

Mathematics or History

We often make fun of politicians and say that they grab all the limelight without doing much or sometimes even doing things that are counter productive to society. On the other hand we have this layer of intellectuals who analyze, dissect and come with the best approach to improve things and make life more efficient and effective. Yet, many a times they do not find takers other than people in the same boat. I wondered - what is it that makes someone or some idea click? As a consultant, it becomes even more important on how do you communicate your idea effectively and more importantly get a buy-in from the audience.

In professional life, we are always taught to focus on an analytical and structured approach. If the structured approach itself was sufficient, then the same approach/ presentation would have worked for everyone. However, this is not something that has been our experience - even a great idea needs to be conveyed differently to various people. One of the main reasons for this is that every person's thinking approach is different. Some part of the thinking is innate, however a significant portion is acquired based on their experiences in life - not just professional life. I think this is one of the biggest mistake professionals do - look at others as another professional/ designation - not as a human being with a varied background, desires, experiences, etc...

This is where, I think, sometimes history helps more than mathematics/ science! Knowing about the cultural background and sensitivity of people you are interacting with is very essential. Not only would you not want to make a cultural blunder, this knowledge can actually help you score some brownie points. It may a little more effort, but it actually makes you connect to people directly. They are likely to be more open to discussions and less rigid.

As consultants working across the globe, we need to be even more careful. Each culture has its own characteristics and what it glorifies - like in some cultures, the designation could be more important than the work content or mannerisms more important than your idea. If you have to successfully implement an idea, you need to be able to relate to the concerned people and communicate at their level. In my opinion, that is the key if you want people to listen and implement your idea.

Sri Sri says that emotions are a hundred/ thousand times more powerful than thoughts - they can come like a storm and overrule any rational thinking. This can be easily seen when we see the politicians connecting to the vast majority of people around. Since, there is no 'professional' tag they carry with - they are able to exploit everything around the people's background and really relate to them. I think this is what makes them mass leaders and people are willing to go out of their way to implement their leader's ideas. Nobody really even thinks about change management effort ;-)

I think a person's knowledge about world history and current affairs should be one of the key skills tested for any job. It is only now that I understand why we are taught these as compulsory subjects in our schools!

So, do you want to be an intellectual or a politician? Or a revolutionary leader who is an intellectual politician? Or a top consultant who is a political intellectual?

August 15, 2008

Shanghai - a traveler’s experience - some insights (Part2)

I wondered what is that makes this city so vibrant. The population of the inner city is massive > 1 crore - yet there is some orderliness that is visible. The traffic density is high, lane cutting, honking, overtaking but still driving in lanes. The infrastructure is massive - these people have a vision. I think they are planning for the next 2 decades at least. They have set up a Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) train from the city to the airport that takes 7 minutes to cover 30 kms - reaching a peak speed of 431 kmph! And this is termed as a demo project. This is likely to be rolled out to other cities soon.

While Beijing is done with the Olympics 2008 preparations, Shanghai is busy with the Expo 2010 preparations - amazing! This place is a real example of what a good government can do. In Beijing, to combat air pollution for the Olympics, the odd-even rule for traffic has been enforced - implying depending on your number plate, you can drive your car only on alternate days. This was experimented a few months back so that they know what it takes to implement it. The new airport terminal built there is bigger than any entire airport in Asia - even bigger the entire London Heathrow airport. The new terminal at Shanghai airport is also huge. That is the amazing part - to be able to visualize the next 2 decades, plan and execute to it. At the same time, they have also figured out aesthetic, yet cheaper, options for their infrastructure.

The trust in the system is high - it was evident when I witnessed one road accident at 7 am involving a taxi and bicycle. A small crowd gathered, but there was no shouting or fighting. The cyclist remained sitting on the road till the police and ambulance arrived. The taxi driver accompanied the cyclist to the hospital and came back after some time to pick up his taxi.

Such a system can also result in some interesting mandates - the government has mandated the stock market fund managers not to give any bearish outlook till Olympics are over, people have been asked to improve driving habits to create a good impression, citizens have been instructed not to ask foreign visitors about their age, wage and sex life and religious/ political beliefs. There are posters/ signboards also put up with these instructions. Anyone present during the rehearsal of the Olympics opening ceremony and found leaking out the secret on the details will be jailed for 7 years! Believe me; the authorities are capable of finding it out and implementing it.

Known for its communist policies and one-party rule, the system has produced quite some results. As an example, certain CPG industries that have high profit margins (like chips, soft drinks) need to have around 50% government holding. This would ensure that these profits go to the government and are more evenly distributed in terms of the infrastructure and other facilities. For this to work, however, you need good faith in the system and its delivery capabilities.

Not to say that there are no problems beneath this good looking layer, but the way things work - is something worth a look. Other economies also work in their own way - we can surely borrow some good learning from each other... Hopefully, we (as individuals, society, and administration) can learn from other parts of the world and also share some of our learning with others!

August 03, 2008

Shanghai - a traveler's experience - (Part1)

In the last decade of my travel, China was one country that did not figure on my passport pages. So, when it was certain that I have to travel to China, it sure came along with some anxious moments. In the basic list of 'Roti, Kapada aur Makaan' - food would be the primary concern for any traveler with strict vegetarian preferences. Anyways, I started my journey with the confidence that if the divine has approved the travel, it will ensure that it will be a great experience :-))

Shanghai - the word evokes a mixed response before you reach there. You wonder what the city would be like - one hears so many things about China and the restrictions, yet you also know that Shanghai is a place that has opened up its gates to the rest of the world with ease. The first ride in the city from the Airport to the hotel was a real long one - reminded me of Devanhalli Airport to JP Nagar (Bangalore). You are taken by surprise at the kind of infrastructure that exists - the roads, flyovers, metro rail and the magnificent skyline.

The real adventure starts after this - when you see Chinese characters all over the place with bits of English words sprinkled like seasoning. I wondered what it would be like in smaller towns/ cities outside Shanghai. You do have a couple of international TV channels along with one local English channel (surprise) to keep your connection with rest of the world alive. Getting your way around is like playing dumb-charades or pictionary. We landed up in a local shop to buy some basic groceries - only to realize that the shop owner did not understand what 'sugar' is! After attempting some sign languages, an idea struck me. There were some items that had the ingredients written both in Chinese and English and also had sugar in there - so after matching the sequence, I showed the owner one Chinese word from the ingredients list - and that did the trick and we got what we wanted :-) I ended up using this many times - I guess you need to be innovative not only at work but even in a shop!

You have many options for getting around in Shanghai - if you can continue to be innovative. To save our energy for work, we limited ourselves to the taxis. An interesting concept used is the id number for each taxi driver. This is a six-digit number implying that lower the number, more experienced that driver is - so, if you the number starts with 0 or 00, you can be sure that you will reach your destination is the least time and fare. Although we had over hotel/ office address written on a card, we had lot of variations in the route, time and fare. What we figured out was that either we have the map of the address or the nearby intersections clearly mentioned - having just the street address is not enough. After we did this - everyday - it was exactly the same route.

The high rise buildings dotting the skyline are amazing - each with its own style and size. Anything less than 15-20 floors is not even a visible part of the skyline. I will post some of the pictures. In the meantime, Google devta can help you. Check this list - the tallest so far - Shanghai World Financial Center has 101 stories and is has a long story behind the design. There seems to be some common pyramid like top in most of these structures. You wonder how did they ever build such things in these crowded business districts...

Just when you started noticing the development all around and mistook it for an European or American city - you realize that the people are very different - closer to home :-) Getting a taxi on the road is a small adventure - you have to walk on the road and jump into an empty taxi. Do not worry about what others will think - while in Rome, be like Romans! One evening around 8 pm, it rained heavily - and it is the same with taxi drivers in Shanghai or auto drivers back home. We had taxis refusing to go and some asking for 5 times the normal fare. Finally after 30-40 minutes of futility, we got one guy to agree at double the normal fare.

They say - to get a real local experience, go shopping. You will meet a wide cross section and get to know the pulse of the city. The local markets are famous for the 'fake branded stuff' - so I went out to enhance my wardrobe with some hi profile brands. Bargaining is the law of the land. Do not be afraid to bargain - quote your price, you may just get it! The golden rules that I followed
Think of how much you would have paid in an Indian local market for slightly good quality stuff - convert into local currency and quote slightly lower.
Do not be overwhelmed by the first price that gets quoted - that may be 2-20 times higher than the actual.
Even if asked, do not make the first move.
Know the rule - "An Indian cannot stay without asking for a bargain, and a Chinese cannot stay without giving one"!

Coming to food - there are approx 20 Chinese Veg restaurants in Shanghai itself - apart from the occasional dishes that you can get at other places (Italian, Indian, Thai, etc...). If you are wondering about the Chinese Veg restaurants, these serve 'fake meat' (with a tofu and related products base) - these are sure to be veg (even the oil that is used). There was one chain that even offered food without onion/ garlic if you want. These are more expensive than a normal local restaurant - however, still cheaper than any of the international cuisine (including Indian). Since, some of this veg stuff can tend to have strong meat/ seafood taste - you may not like all the preparations. There was one innovative idea that we encountered - that of a 3PL in food-delivery. There is an agency named 'Sherpa' that has tie ups with a large number of restaurants. You can call them up (talk in English) and order food from any restaurant listed in their directory. The charges for delivery are reasonable and is dependent of the distance between the restaurant and your location.

Continued... (in Part2 - some insights)

June 30, 2008

Technological Generation Gap

This started with an incident - an acquaintance of mine was panicking as her kid was traveling with her mother (kid's granny) and they were not carrying a cellphone with them. The granny was not able to understand the reason for panic as the cellphone was not an integral part of her life - whereas the next generation could not think of a day - leave aside travel - without a cellphone. This made me think about the technological gap between generations.

The need to communicate and be connected seems to be as old as life itself. However, the modes have changed over time. The new generation gives way to the newer generation! This is even more true about technology. As technology takes a center stage in our lives, communication has taken a different dimension. For me, mobiles, emails, IMs may be the way to communicate - but for the newer generation, all this is old! Blogs, SMS, MMS, online forums, communities, SecondLife/ Lively is the way to go...

I can always stand away and say that all these new technologies are not for me - my life is going on without it and I am fine. But this thought could potentially develop into an aversion towards change and new things. I believe that all of us - old or young have many things to share with each other. It is only a matter of communicating in a manner (medium and content) that the other person understands.

So, if I want to share and express my ideas and views with the new and newer generation, I have to use the appropriate medium... Else, I would be sitting and complaining to myself that "nobody listens to me" :-)

This was my little story on overcoming the technological generation gap. I will update this space frequently - so keep coming back for more...

Till then - enjoy life!

June 08, 2008

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar - an inspiration...

From the head to the heart

I could have never imagined that life can change so much. And, the best part of this journey has been that there were no turning points - it was a gentle curve under the loving guidance of Guruji. Having done my education from the premier institutes in India, I was a bit intellectual. I was not ready to accept the existence of the Divine. Yet, the irony was that I used to do all the chanting in the pujas at my home. I was looking for something more - link that could put all my understanding together. And, then I met the Divine itself.

I remember fighting against torrential rains and wading through knee-deep water on my way to the temple where Guruji was to come. That was my first meeting with Him and there was something that just pulled me towards Him. I can still feel the vibrations in my body when I first hugged Him that evening. After that there has been no looking back.

I continued on my intellectual quest of understanding the scriptures and meanings behind it for quite some time. By Guruji's grace I used to get good insights into my questions during my sadhana. Then one day, a realization dawned upon me - "You may know everything in this world - So what? You may know the entire secret of this creation - So what? Till there is no love, no devotion in your heart, till you do not share this joy and happiness with others - it is of no use!" That was the actual beginning of my journey - from the head to the heart.

Always be with me

On a flight to Ahmedabad, I was seated next to Guruji. I asked him if there was something that I need to do. He said, "Just be with me, always." It was like receiving a blessing in the form of a command. He is always there for all of us. By keeping our focus, it reduces the overtime He has to do.

A couple of months later, when He was leaving Bangalore, I asked Him when we would meet next. He paused for a moment and said, "Come with me to Paris and German ashram. You anyway have work in at your German office". I replied that I would surely come, but I did not know of any work at my office. He started talking about something else and in the afternoon, He again asked me, "So, Vinod, what do you say - the Paris and Germany plan is good, isn't it?" I was more puzzled than ever. My confusion increased when He again reminded me about it in the evening.

I found out if there was some work at Germany - there was none. But, I was I was mentally prepared for anything now. Two days before Guruji was to leave, I got a call from my manager that I had to go to Germany immediately - And I could be there with Guruji! When I told Guruji about this, He pretended as if He did not know anything - He's got the style!

And, I must admit, He has done this many times after that!!! - rather, I became aware of it only after this incident.

You are the best

What would you say when Guruji asks you, "Can you pack these bags? Do you know how to do it?" I said, "Yes, I can do it. I know it a little bit" - wanting to be a bit modest. And then, there was a stern voice, "What do you mean little bit. Say you know it the best. No one can do it better than you. Stop this, something, little bit..." It was a lesson well learnt. That single incident has put in so much of confidence and fearlessness in me. It is amazing how Guruji transforms you with each sentence He says.

Doing things 100%

I had this wish that He should scold me in a satsang - a crazy wish maybe. But, He is there to fulfill even that. One evening, He asked me to type out the knowledge sheet. I just typed out the content and did not bother to get the continuous flow into it. I thought it would be edited later. And, to my surprise, He asked me to read it in the satsang. I did - and got nicely reprimanded for doing such a shoddy job, for not being 100%.

It really takes a Master like Sri Sri to make sure that each and every one devotee is able to totally integrate the knowledge in his/ her life.