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?