Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Favourite Spots in London

These are not available on standard tourist maps. These are not what a tourist would like to do in London. But I would recommend these without hesitation to anyone who wishes to seek my advice.

These are:
Hamleys - a place to rediscover your childhood. Perhaps the greatest collection of toys and games under one roof. And if I am not wrong has 5 floors of pure pleasure.

Foyles - All the books you can read. Amazon is good but Foyles is great. Heaps and heaps and heaps of books under all possible categorization.

Nando's - Their peri-peri chicken is to die for. A most wonderful family living in London takes me to Nando's every time I visit them.

Visit these and thank me for the rest of your life.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Colour of a Continent

From 30,000 feet it is easy to determine when the airplane crosses into Europe.
As the brown of the Asian deserts changes colour to green, you know you are over Europe. And I wish India was as green.

I just love sitting in the window seat, especially when it is a day flight.

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The Threat of Manchester City

The English Premier Football League is in turmoil. Everyday in the newspaper you can see news of Manchester City buying up superstar footballers. Today the newspaper carry tye news of a clearly agitated Alex Ferguson ranting against Manchester City.

And all this makes me extremely pleased.
Check out my post on Manchester City dated 24 September 2008: Manchester City Will Win Premier League
Go man!

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Athletes Are Different

It is good to see some of my favourite TV shows still running on English TV's. One of these is: The Weakest Link
I couldn't care less about Anne Robinson's sense of humour, but the questions are could and the format is fast moving and crisp.
The most heartbreaking round - to me at least - is usually the penultimate round when the two of three contestants left out in the game 'gang' up to 'conspire' to eliminate the strongest link. They do not talk to each other of course; but if you think about it, it is obvious. Going head to head against the stronger contestant does not make much sense, so eliminate him/her and try your luck against a weaker opponent.

However, last evening's show with invited athletes from various discipline was different and refreshing. I thought Sally Gunnell will be eliminated by the other two as she was clearly leagues ahead of them. But they athletes stuck to spirit of the game. Sally Gunnell went on to win.

No wonder sports is considered so important for character development.

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Mobile use in aircrafts

It has been just over an year when I last traveled. And things have changed. Airlines already have allowed mobile use when in air. I dreaded this. Imagine sitting in a tin can for over 8 hours listening to your co-passenger yapping away to glory.

But surprise, surprise. No one, not one passenger chose to exercise the option. There were no phone calls made. And that was one big relief.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Business Trip to England - Transit at Dubai

Dubai Terminal 3
Local Time 7:50 a.m.
Marhaba Lounge
In transit
Final destination: England

As the A330-200 took off from Bangalore, I realized that this was my first trip after I started blogging.

So, this is sort of running commentary.

I had seen Terminal 3 being built. This is my first visit to this terminal. So far, it has been a disappointment. Unlike Terminal 1, where the way to gates are on a floor above the shopping centre, the way to the gates seem to go through the shops. This makes the passage crowded.

Terminal 3 also seems to have less number of lounges.

The smoke detector alarm goes off as I type. The only person who can perhaps shut it off is not listening.

The Business Class Lounge located in terminal 1 is brilliant. Unfortunately, there is no other lounge in Terminal 3 that accepts Priority Pass.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Magical Nights

First in high school and then in college my favourite time was summer. Now those who have ever visited Gwalior in summer must have by now determined that I am a pukka nut case. Gwalior can be really hot. Really, really hot. So hot that in summer we had to sleep on the roof under open sky. Sleeping inside the house was like sleeping inside a furnace.

Sleeping on roof tops gave a little bit of relief, especially when there was gentle wind. But only a little. I would lay with a radio transistor near my ear, listening to old Hindi film songs and staring at the skies above. The nights were usually cloudless and suddenly, as if by magic, the Milky Way would be visible. And though I knew exactly what that strip of fuzzy stars was, it used to amaze me every single time.

But even more interesting were the man-made satellites that shone like little stars but made its way across the sky at a steady pace. I would follow their course till they disappeared from my sight.

Time passed.
I am now in Bangalore.
It is no longer possible to see the night sky. There is so much city light.
And in any case, nights in Bangalore are very pleasant and without proper precaution, one could catch a cold.

So all my sons know are a few constellation, like the very distinct Orion and Ursa Minor, and Mars and Jupiter and Venus. That's about all.
I have still not been able to create my childhood magic for them.
And that has been my biggest failing as a father so far.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Evolved Mind Lagging Brain

I am left shaken.

The human mind is more powerful than I thought it possible.
And in a very dark way.
One has to read Sway: The Irresistible Pull Of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman to get the full flavour of it.

But here's an aspect.

If you judge a person to be cold, for example, your behaviour towards her will be different than if you judged her to be warm. This much is obvious.

But did you know that your behaviour will still be affected if you have been told by someone that she is cold? Even if you are known to keep an open mind.

Not only that, you will also perceive the person to be such, no matter how you interact.

In an experiment, a new professor was introduced to a class and the students were given a fact sheet about the professor. Half the students read the fact sheet that indicated that the professor was 'cold' and the other half read the fact sheet that stated that the professor was 'warm'. In fact, these were the only words which were different in the fact sheet. The rest of the fact sheet was identical.

After the lecture, the students were asked to rate the professor. And guess what? It is as if the students were rating two different persons.

But that is not all.

In another experiment, it was proved that the army recruits actually performed as categorized. So those who were judged and categorized to be leaders actually behaved as leaders. The funny thing about the whole experiment was that the categorized was done randomly and only their commanders were told about it. It was the behavior of the commanders that was subtly passed on to the recruits who then behaved accordingly, irrespective of their inherent potential.

So, when two humans interact, their minds too interact.
And the mind can play amazing tricks on us.

I think the mind has evolved faster. The rest of the brain is yet to catch up.

Remember this when you interact with people, particularly when you are in the position of strength. If you are the boss and you have decided that a subordinate is good for nothing, perhaps he is behaving that way because you think of him has good for nothing.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making Devanagri Script Universal

As I learn new European languages, I can't help but feel amazed by the ancient wisdom of the creators of the Devanagri script. I am fairly certain that most European languages had their own script before turning to Roman script. Otherwise there is no reason to use same alphabet to generate different sounds.

Take 'j' for instance.
It is pronounced 'j' (as in jacket) in English, pronounced 'ya' in German and 'kh' in Spanish.
In Devanagri script, there are different alphabets for each of the above sounds. (ज, य, ख)

What about 'a'?
Both Spanish and German the 'a' is stretched and pronounced with lips open and relaxed, almost 'aah', like in father. In English, apart from a few exceptions, like father, 'a' is pronounced 'ay'.

In Devanagri script you can distinguish the two sounds, अ and आ.

Then there is the soft 't' and the hard 't'. The soft 't' is pronounced with the tongue between teeth like the Spanish do. In English it is always the hard 't'. In Devanagri script you have a त (soft 't') and a ट (hard 't').

These are a few illustrations. I could go on and on.
The advantage of the Devanagri script therefore is that you get read what you write.

Shouldn't the Devanagri script be made the universal script?
This could be India's second gift to the world - the number system being the first.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Smiling Girls on Advertisements

Pick up any magazine. I am sure you will come across an a picture of a beautiful woman on an advertisement that has no relation whatsoever with the content of the advertisement, I have come across advertisements of a UPS showing a beautiful girl smiling away to glory. Who buys a diesel generator because of a girl? And who pays these marketing executives for coming up with such trash?

Just read this.

[I]n South Africa ... a consumer lending bank wanted to push personal loans to fifty thousand of its customers. Working together with a team of economists, the bank crafted several variations on the same basic loan offer letter. The different versions were randomly assigned to recipients and mailed off without any indication that the letters were part of an experiment.

The letters included different interest rates (ranging from 3.25% to 7.75% per month); some featured a comparison to a competitor's rate; others a giveaway ([Win one of] TEN CELL PHONES UP FOR GRABS EACH MONTH!); and still others a photo of either a man's or a woman's pleasant, smiling face.

Now you'd think that the customer would evaluate the offer based purely on interest rate and the specific terms of the loan. Marketing gimmicks such as competitor comparisons, giveaway offers, and fanciful photos shouldn't be part of the calculation. [The results showed that most of these gimmicks] didn't have much of an overall effect. The unexpected effect kicked in with the less relevant variation: the inclusion of a picture of the smiling face in the corner. ... According to the study, the magnitude of [the men receiving pictures of a smiling woman] is "about as much as dropping the interest rate 4.5 percent points."

Well, well, well!
How many of your purchasing decisions are made because of the smiling man or woman in the advertisement?

The above extract is from a wonderful book called Sway: The Irresistible Pull Of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

How's Life?

"How's life?" This is what I say after saying hello to anyone at work or outside. I don't quite know where I picked this up from, but I am glad I did. And I am amazed by the variety of responses I get.

"Going on".
"As wonderful as ever."
"Not that good."

And yes, you guessed right, "As wonderful as ever" is my favourite response.

So, How is life?
What's your response?

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National Identification Card is a funny concept

The National Identification Card baffles me. Why not just issue passports to everyone instead?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Goldman Sachs Story

Goldman Sachs has reported a huge profit of $3.44 billion for the second quarter ending June.

Not surprising. Read this ...

As the story goes. the head of risk management at Goldman Sachs identified the risk of mortgage-backed securities (subprime) early on and raised the alarm to Goldman's executive board. He made his recommendation to sell off as much of the potentially "toxic" securities as he could, and for those that he couldn't sell, he secured insurance against their risk with a reinsurer.

Unfortunately, the insurance was with AIG. AIG almost took Goldman down, but for the timely bail out from the US government. Good to see wise companies like Goldman Sachs emerging stronger.

In the coming months more such stories will emerge. Stories of wise men who rose above blind greed and foolishness.

Watch this space.

By the above extract is from Chaotics by Philip Kotler and John Caslione.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When Taleb Speaks One Listens

My regular readers know that I a a big fan of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Black Swan.

In a very short and sweet article, published in the Financial Times, he says,

The core of the problem, the unavoidable truth, is that our economic system is laden with debt, about triple the amount relative to gross domestic product that we had in the 1980s. This does not sit well with globalisation. Our view is that government policies worldwide are causing more instability rather than curing the trouble in the system. The only solution is the immediate, forcible and systematic conversion of debt to equity. There is no other option.

Their conclusion "Invoking the pre-internet Great Depression as guidance for current events is irresponsible: errors in fiscal policy will be magnified by this kind of thinking" makes sense.

To read the trenchant analysis, click here.

You may have to register to read the whole article (it is free). The article is worth the small trouble.

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Microsoft versus Google and a third Player

It is perhaps the mother of all battles. The two gladiators have been moving in circles waiting for the other to make a move. And now that the move is made, we will see a no holds bar fight to finish.

That the two giants, Microsoft and Google, will collide was in a way inevitable. If it were not Google it would have been some other player. At the root of this competition is different view points of how people of this world need to communicate.

As Philip Kotler and John Caslione puts it very aptly in their book Chaotics, "information is communication and communication is information."

Will desktops - the domain of microsoft - remain the nodal point for communication or will the internet cloud - no one really dominates this space yet, Google is trying and so are companies like Yahoo (no, please don't write it off yet) and Amazon (Amazon?) - take over? That's the question.

Google's announcement of its free Chrome Operating System that will piggy back on Linux has clearly rattled Microsoft. Otherwise why else will it make foolish announcement that it is going to launch an online version of its Office Suite next year. Next year??? Clearly Microsoft has nothing up its sleeves right now. Who waits for one year today?

Will Google win or will Microsoft?

Here's a little bit of clairvoyance:
Google is opening up doors in the Internet space, but rarely does the me-first company win in this domain (Google itself came in late). I predict that a third company that has a better understanding of how Internet works will take over. At present the only company who has really understood how Internet works is - no not Google, not Amazon, not Yahoo. Yes Apple Inc. Apple understands the Internet better than any of these players. Witness the business model of iPod and iPhone. And once Google makes desktop a non-entity, Apple that has played second fiddle with its brilliant operating system will come on its own and steal the show.

Now who wants to place a bet?

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Excellent (Free) Spanish Language Resource

You want to try out a new language.
Spanish, for instance.
You do not know if this is just a passing phase or if you are serious about leaning Spanish.
Obviously, you do not want to spend any money on it. Not yet.
Look no further than Coffee Break Spanish.
The basic weekly podcasts are free.
The introduction to the language is gradual.
Words are repeated often with pronunciation very clearly brought out.
At the time of typing this blog, there are 28 lessons.
A total of 80 lessons are planned.
Coffee Break Spanish has premium services too, but I recommend trying out their basic podcasts (free, of course) first.
If you think, you are up to it, you can always go for their premium services later.

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The Interconnected World is economically more (not less) stable

Books after books, articles after articles have proclaimed that we have entered the age of turbulence. And the markets are flooded with books that give you the solution.

Sample this from Chaotics by Philip Kotler and John A. Caslione):

[T]he U.S. financial meltdown struck in 2008, with the seeds laid much earlier ... The fact is that we are entering a new age of turbulence, and moreover, heightened turbulence. ... The world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. Globalization and technology are the two main forces that helped create a new level of interlocking fragility in the world economy.

The italics in the above extract are from the authors.

Let us examine this concept of "interlocking fragility".

Suppose A supplies, exclusively, its raw material to B. If the market to which B supplies collapses, then B is out of business and so is A.

Now suppose, B supplies its different products to multiple markets, and one market collapses. B is hit and so is A, but they do not collapse.

Further, assume that A supplies to B and C. And both B and C supply multiple markets. The impact on A reduces even further.

The above illustration shows how interconnected world reduces turbulence from spreading. An analogy would be the very stable Geodesic Dome.

So where is this "interlocking fragility" coming from?

Here's my conclusion:

The economists and management gurus do not see (or do not understand) that this is a transitory phase. The interlocking is not yet complete. The rich countries are more interlocked and turbulence spreads among them very rapidly. However, as the other regional economies strengthen and as the world get more interconnected, collapse of one economy will merely cause a ripple. Interconnected world is risky for a market leader or a given market itself. Because of technology diffusion and market accessibility, tomorrow, an upstart can turn the tables on a behemoth, such as Microsoft or Intel. The gurus then incorrectly extrapolate this to the world economy itself.

As to why others are proclaiming the arrival of the age of turbulence, I can think of only two reasons:

a) Most if the gurus cannot see beyond America and Europe and possibly Japan. A myopic world view is interpreted to be "interlocking fragility".

and / or

b) This represents an opportunity to cash on paranoia and sell books. Don't believe me? Go to a book shop and see the number of books that offer solutions to the present economic crisis.

By the way, Peter Drucker wrote his book, Managing in Turbulent Times in 1980. Yes 1980. So this is not something new.

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No one knows - not even the economists

I have been unfair to the economists in my last post. I found out over the weekend (source: Chaotics by Philip Kotler and John A. Caslione) that an economist did indeed confess that nobody knows what is going on.

When asked the same question [when would the recession end?] in October 2008, Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, said, "Nobody knows. I certainly don't know."

Though I suspect this is largely a response in frustration rather than acknowledgment of truth.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Nobody Understands

This is humbleness, greatness and reality check all rolled into one:

What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school - and you think I'm going to explain it to you so you can understand it? No. you're not going to be able to understand it. Why, then am I going to bother you with all this? Why are you going to sit here all this time, when you won't be able to understand what I am going to say? It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see, my physics students don't understand it either. This is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.

This was Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman giving lecture to laypersons in New Zealand on Quantum Electrodynamics, his work for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1965 for physics.

By the way, replace "physics" with "economics" in the above extract and you will not be far off! Only no one as great as Richard Feynman has had the courage to admit it.

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Seth Godin on Alpha Inventions

Well ... well ... well. Seth Godin's Blog is doing rounds on Alpha inventions. Can you believe it? He, whose blog is read by 1000's, if not more, is testing out Alpha Inventions.

Unless someone else has submitted it or Alpha Inventions has picked it up on its own, it definitely means Alpha Inventions has come of age and is earning respectability in blogging circles.

But this is something we regular users of Alpha Inventions always knew, didn't we?

See Two definite ways of increasing blog traffic and Are hits from Alphainventions.com for real?

One can expect a clever analysis of Alphainventions from Seth Godin soon.

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A language without pronouns

Every language has some unique features that strikes to you odd at first, but then once you get used to it, makes lot of sense. Take Spanish, for instance. It is took me a while to get used to almost complete absence of the pronouns: I, you and we. Since the verb form changes with the personal pronoun, one can easily understand who the text is referring to.

For example,

tengo - (I) have
tiene - (you) have
tenemos - (we) have

Efficient, isn't it?

I wonder why German that has similar verb form did not go the same way. Is it because Germans prefer order? Perhaps. It is definitely worth exploring the relation between general characteristics of a nation and the language.

Well, I guess that's the way a language evolves. It grows naturally. No wonder why artificial language like Esperanto could not grow into a world language despite numerous attempts in the past.

You can thrust a language on anyone.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Beware of neat theories

Centuries ago, Ptolemy explained the heavenly in a neat little theory. That the Earth is the centre of universe and the sun, the moon and the stars walk across the skies in predesignated paths. The universe was, of course, messier. Galileo and Copernicus discovered that universe is a mess. They came up with another neat theory - the heliocentric theory where the sun was the centre and earth and other planets revolved around it. The universe laughed and proved to be a bit more messy that these scientists thought. Today, the scientists are not sure - they have big unknowns and call them dark energy and dark mass (reminds me of Lord Voldermot).

Look at the other side of the universe - the smaller side. Scientists thought the have solved the puzzle with Quantum Mechanics. But, of course, they are still struggling with String Theory and alternatives.

Any system that has more than one parameter (player?) is by nature messy - marriage, for instance :D.
Neat - but not necessarily simple - theories cannot explain complex systems completely.
Beware of any neat theory that seeks to explain complex system.
Actually, I am wrong.
Look out for any neat theory that claims to explain complex systems.
You opportunities lie exactly there.
Be it science or economics or management or social sciences or market.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What India Must Do - A Must Read

Martin Wolf, the famous columnist of the Financial Times has just published an article titled What India Must Do If It Is To Be An Affluent Country. While the details and the solutions suggested is well known, I am struck by the conclusion.

What I take for the world is that India, for all the huge challenges it confronts, is likely to continue its rise, if more slowly than the report assumes. The job of adjusting the familiar western ways of thinking about the world to the new realities has hardly begun. Within a decade a world in which the UK is on the United Nations Security Council and India is not will seem beyond laughable. The old order passes. The sooner the world adjusts, the better.

Many years ago Rabindranath Tagore had penned this ...

Sound the clarion
India is going to reclaim its position at the top in the world stage.

(Lousy translation of the excellent Bangla poetry, I agree, but the meaning is conveyed, I hope)

But before that we need to change. The good thing is the path is clear, but do we have the political and social will?

read the article by Martin Wolf.

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Life Factors Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Half a century ago, Frederick Herzberg discovered that the factors that affect satisfaction are not the same as the the factors that affect motivation on the job. He called them Hygiene Factors and Motivators.

He found out that absence of Hygiene Factors cause dissatisfaction. That, of course, does not mean that presence of Hygiene Factors result in Motivation. Example of Hygiene Factors are security, status, salary, peer relationship. Herzberg, in fact, found that presence of Hygiene Factors has very less impact on the motivation level. On the other hand, absence of factors like Good Job Content, Recognition, Achievement, Responsibility, etc. - termed Motivators - had a huge impact on Motivation. Their absence did little to remove dissatisfaction from the job. So, in essence, a great paying job that goes nowhere is satisfactory but you will not be motivate to give your best.

Fair enough!

What is good for a job should be applicable to life too, isn't it?
So why do we focus on aspects that are (apparently) mutually exclusive?

Success in job at the cost of family life.
Wealth but no true friends.
Palaces but no home.

Perhaps we do understand the basic dynamics of life. I am sure laughter and responsibility can go hand in hand.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Abolish Income Tax

One of the advantages I have as a blogger over the Finance Minister of India, is that I can come up with outrageous suggestions. Like this one ...

The expected revenue from Income Tax is 9% of the total government income. I do not know how much the Income Tax department spends to get this 9%. I was wondering if the Income Tax can be abolished all together. Instead increase taxes on non-essential, luxury items. Believe me the economy will boom like it has never before. Some money will go into buying luxury items; the rest will go into savings and investment. And I do believe that the government will more than recover the 9% lost out. Actually this may even wipe out the 38% debt (of the total expected income for this financial year) the government is under.

Now that is not really outrageous, is it?

Economists may argue that this will lead to a spiraling inflation. Will it, really?

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Making Budget Really Interesting

So the annual union budget is tabled. The television channels are out to out-do one another by projecting different, unique perspective to the budget.

Ok, here's a question: Can you tell me one item on which the duty was reduced in the last year's budget? That was difficult, wasn't it? Ok, I will make it simpler. Just generally, very generally, describe last year's budget - the general policies, the thrust. You now know where I am coming from. No one - except the economists and perhaps the FICCI, perhaps - remembers the budget 6 months down the line.

Now, here is one thing that can be done to make the budget more real to you and me - the common person: the finance minister can still make that 2 hour speech, if s/he so desires; but wouldn't it be nice if at the end of the whole budget a speadsheet is presented listing planned and actuals ... like this

Goal ---------Planned Budget ---- Achieved
Employment-------1,50,000------------ 25,000
New Roads -------6000 km -------------2000 km
Water -----------500 villages ------- 1200 villages
Electricity -----500 villages --------600 villages

The spreadsheet can be made available in the public domain and the bureaucrats can keep updating the document with the data.
Easy to understand. easy to follow.
Now that would be a true transparency.
So what do you say, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee (or any other future Finance Minister)? Up to the challenge?

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Faulty Motivational Model

I am surprised when established names confuse between causal relation and correlation. Just because parameter A and parameter B seem to move together (or in opposite direction) does not mean A is driving B or vice-versa. It is entirely possible that there is something else that is driving both A and B. That is something else has a causal relation with A and B; on the other hand A and B have a correlation.

Let me make it more clear with this ...

I am now reading the Harward Business Review series on Motivating People. The first article is Beyond Empowerment: Building a Company of Citizens by Brook Manville and Josiah Ober. They mean well but the premise is basically faulty. The article proposes that the participative democracy of Athens should be the model for 'Business Organizations Suited to Knowledge Economy'. Such a model would encourage creativity in an atmosphere of trust and dignity. Especially because some 2500 years ago such participative democracy resulted in flowering of the Athenian civilization.

Now I am all for creative freedom and self-governance that will motivate knowledge workers, but we need to be very careful when we start using something as model. Was participative democracy the cause for the creative outburst in Athens? Let us see a very contrasting situation. What is now called the Classical Period in India's history is when King Vikramaditya ruled India. We have mathematicians such as Aryabhatta who not only gave the value of Pi but also explained the heliocentric theory and the revolution of earth's on its axis. Kalidasa, the Shakespeare of India, created during this period. Temple architecture reached its zenith during this period - at least in Northern India. But this was under an absolute Monarch. Likewise, when the Arab world flowered - Mathematics, Astronomy, Poetry - that eventually resulted in the European renaissance, was not done under any participative democracy.

So, does it mean we should implement the model of absolute but benevolent monarchy on 'business organization suited to knowledge economy'?

I think too much emphasis is placed on developing a model. It appeals to the human sense of order. Here we have a model. This is prescriptive but gives you general guideline of how an organization should be.

And oh yes, lest we should forget, it was this participative democracy that sentenced Socrates to death.

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Why am I learning Spanish?

Why am I learning Spanish?
In one sentence, I think I have a nut loose up there.
But it is amazing how things work out.

There is a sweet lady in Bangalore who runs a book shop called Strand.
She has Strand Book Festival every December.
I regularly visit this annual affair.
I go just to browse and end up buying a bunch of books.
That is the purpose of the book festival min any case.

About 4 years ago, my wife and I were browsing books in the Strand Book Festival when I came across two tiny packets, one called Learn French and the other called Learn German. My wife always wanted to learn French. SO she encouraged me to buy both. The packet consisted of a tiny booklet and a small-length cassette consisting of assorted phrases. I started learning French and I found it exceedingly difficult. I mean, after all, one cannot start learning a foreign language by just listening to some random phrases, can they? And one fine morning I misplaced the French lessons. I search and search but no, it was nowhere to be found. So I picked up the German packet and to my surprise I could pick up a few words straight away. One thing led to another and today I have a passable command (an oxymoron, I suppose, "passable command") on that language.

What aided in my learning was that shortly after I started learning German, I visited Germany. The company I work for got its first German customer. I visited Germany many times thereafter.

I am hoping the same with Spanish :D
Now that I have started on Spanish - Madrid, Barcelona, Lima, Beunos Aires, and most importantly, Machu Picchu, here I come.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Learn Spanish - The Easy Way

My dream is to learn a few world languages. Some day it will be useful when I visit these places. Learning German has already proved useful. In my regular visits to German I am able to talk to people - or at least I try. Check out my lessons on German.

I have now started on Spanish. Check out this lens on Learning Spanish - The Easy Way.

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Damage done by self-help books

Those who follow by blog closely would, by now, have noticed that I am not taken by the secrets offered in The Secret (see here, for example).

Now comes the news that self-help mantras can leave some people actually unhappy. People who are low on self-esteem will end up feeling worse when the repeat self-affirming statements. It works only for people who already have a a high self-esteem. This is based on the study conducted by Joanne Wood, John Lee and Elaine Perunovic.

Question: Why would people with high-self esteem want to repeat self-affirming statements?

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Heroes and Managers

This is from Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University and Zeno Franco of the Pacific of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology wrote an article called "The Banality of Heroism" ... According to Zimbardo and Franco, heroes managers do five things:

1. Maintain constant vigilance for situations that require heroic action.
2. Learn not to fear conflict because you took a stand.
3. Imagine alternative future scenarios beyond the present moment.
4. Resist the urge to rationlize and justify inaction.
5. Trust that people will appreciate heroic (and frequently unpopular) actions.

In my book, managers are heroes. They make things happen. Not heroes.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Death of books

Yesterday, when I blogged on Death of Newspapers, I was tempted to add that perhaps before the newspapers die, books will. Good that I didn't.

Guy Kawasaki, top blogger, best selling author and entrepreneur. He has seen all sort of digital waves and here's what he has to say about books in the introduction of his book, Reality Check:

I wanted this information to provide hardcore information to hardcore people who want to kick ass, and I wanted this information in something you can hold in your hands - aka, a book. Why? Because a book boots up faster than a blog, and a book has better copyediting and fact-checking than a blog. Also, a book is not dependent on Internet connectivity, battery life, or the ineptness of HTML printing. And best of all, because you can write in a book, stick stickies in a book,and dig-ear its corners.

So there you have it. Books are not going anywhere either.

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Want to be rich? - notice

After I moved the Want to be rich? series to an independent blog, I have added on 7 more posts. Please feel free to visit and comment.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Governments taking risks

Here's a blast from the past ...

There is NO more persistent and influential faith in the world today than the faith in government spending. Everywhere government spending is presented as a panacea for all our economic ills. Is private industry partially stagnant? We can fix it all by government spending. Is there unemployment? That is obviously due to "insufficient private purchasing power." The remedy is just as obvious. All that is necessary is for the government to spend enough to make up the "deficiency." ... Everything we get, outside of the free gifts from nature, must in some way be paid for. The world is full of so-called economists who in turn are full of schemes for getting paid for nothing. They tell us that the government can spend and spend without taxing at all ... such pleasant dreams in the past has always been shattered by national insolvency or a runaway inflation. ... The proposal is frequently made that the government ought to assume the risks that are "too great for private industry." This means that bureaucrats should be permitted to take risks with the tax payer's money that no one is willing to take with his own.

Extracted from Economics In One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

It is quite heartless to point out this fact when so many are losing homes and jobs in the west. But could it be that US and Europe are actually digging a deeper hole by the present bail-outs?

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Death of Newspapers

Bloggers of various reputes predict the death of newspapers (in paper form). In fact they have been doing so for some time now. This includes Seth Godin, who I admire for his views.

However, I think their viewing window is very myopic. And they talk only of US. Welcome to India. Find out the depth of digital penetration. Walk into any store (not just supermarkets); check out the number of magazines that line up the racks - they are gone by the end of the week/month. Magazines and Newspapers are not going to die out any time soon. In fact, the circulation is growing. Vernacular Newspapers, such as Dainik Bhaskar, is now pushing into the metros.

I am not so sure about US either. I talked to a regular Kindle user - from US - just the other day. He is an avid reader. So I asked him if he subscribes to newspapers on Kindle. "No", he said, "the format is not what I expected. It is no fun."

The argument against newspapers is that a) it is expensive b) the news is old by the time you read it. Inexpensive is a game even newspapers can play. As it is, in India at least, it is not expensive at all. Besides, everyone knows that newspapers do not contain breaking news. Newspapers have an advantage that digital free-for-all versions do not. And that is this: It is organized news. And it gives you all relevant news with the least effort. Try gathering all news in the newspaper on the internet and see how much time you need to spend. Not everyone needs news instantaneously. But everyone needs them organized. Therein lies the key to newspaper survival.

Personally, I cannot see myself in the toilet with a Kindle in my hand. Give me the rustle of newspaper any day.

Do you agree? Or do you see death written on the face of paper newspapers and magazines

PS: Didn't realize who Malcolm is? Seth is talking, in his blog, of Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers, The Tipping Point and Blink. Do read the review by Malcolm Gladwell (link in Seth's Blog). It is very interesting and designed to provoke varied reactions.

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