Indra and the story of pigs

Long time back, I worked under a CEO who loved to do micromanagement. He never gave up his pet products and projects he handled in his past roles. He also had his loyalists who would do anything on his command just because they grew up under his umbrella. The CEO never understood the meaning of the word delegation. He was so addicted to his previous role at a lower level that he found very little time for his main responsibility as a CEO which was to take the company to newer heights. One could easily guess the fate of such a company. Yes, the company stagnated for a long time and today they are struggling to survive.

This is a common problem several people face at work as well as home. They cannot get used to new roles that come along as life evolves.

You may wonder what this has to do with the story of Indra. This is also a story of addiction. Read the story to see the connection.

The story goes that Indra, the king of the Devas was once on a holiday to our mother Earth. During his travels, he saw some pigs and piglet living a horrible life in filth. He wanted to reform them and the best way to do that, he reasoned, was to take the form of a pig and live with them. He transformed himself into a pig and started living with them. He then found a female pig, mated and gave birth to several piglets. Soon he got attached to his family and became one with them rolling and playing as they did. In the meanwhile, Indra’s subjects in Swarga suspected something fishy about his long absence and went down to trace him. They were horrified to see him in such a terrible state playing with pigs in mud and filth.
The Devas told him: You’re our king. What are you doing here. Please give up all this and come back.
Indra replied: What are you talking about. I’m happy being here. This is my wife. These are my children. I have to get them food and my piglets expect me to play with them. In fact, you’re all fools and do not realize what you’re missing. Join me and enjoy.
Devas: You are our king and we are ashamed of seeing you in this plight.
Indra:I’m quite happy the way I am. I’m having a great time being with my family who love me so much. Leave me alone and go back.

Devas realized that the only way get him out of this bondage was to kill the pigs. They first killed the piglets one after another. Seeing that Indra was still unrelenting, they dragged out the she-pig and killed her too. As Indra was still not willing to get back to Swarga, the Devas had to finally destroy Indra’s body also. It was only when his soul was released, Indra realized his folly and eventually got back to Swarga to rule.

This story tells us what addiction can do to people. Addiction is defined by a neurologist as a state where the body becomes the mind and calls the shots. It’s like the tail wagging the dog.
This was the problem with the CEO I was talking about. Since he was addicted to his lower level roles, he was happy doing micromanagement forgetting about the company’s long-term growth.

P.S: This is a story narrated by Swami Vivekananda and appears in Patanjali Yoga Sutras. The significance of the story in the Yoga sutras was to show that our bondage to material life prevents us from taking up spiritual pursuits in life.

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Published in: on October 25, 2015 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Abuses of Intellectual Property Rights

Genomic Medicine is becoming commonplace in the US and I am sure developing countries like India will catch up soon. Each major advancement in Science brings along with it certain ethical & moral issues related to business practices by greedy companies. The case of the pharmaceutical Company Myriad Genetics is just one example of corporate greed. This company, for the first time, identified the genes called BRCA1 & BRCA2 which are related to Breast & Ovarian cancers respectively. More specifically, this company correlated variations (technically called mutations) in the said genes with incidence of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in patients. Myriad Genetics applied for a patent on this and have been happily monopolizing the business of screening patients for specific mutations of these genes. The US Supreme Court , in a historic judgment in June this year, rightly ruled that Genes cannot be patented. Everyone thought the monopoly of Myriad Genetics would end. However, the company came up with an ingenious (or is it devious?) method to maintain its monopoly. They declared that the data base created by them on gene mutations on breast cancer patients is their Intellectual property and therefore cannot be shared with the public. In other words they are now monopolizing genetic data. And without this data, other Medical practitioners will not be in a position to assess & interpret the significance of gene testing and mutations occurring in the BRCA genes, while screening new patients. To understand how rediculous this is, consider a scenario where one doctor or a company has the record of all clinical reports (like X-Ray etc) of the entire humanity and refuses to share the data with others. Without this data and its correlations with symptoms, how else will the rest of the guys learn? The medical community learns by sharing data on case studies, which benefits the entire humanity in terms of better health care and treatment.
Reacting to the unreasonable claims of ownership by Myriad Genetics on genetic data of patients, the American Medical Association, in an exemplary move, declared this data monopoly as unethical. The association further demanded that the data be made available in the public domain.
Incidents such as these makes one conclude that IPR (Intellectual property rights) is perhaps doing more harm than good to the humanity. In the recent past we have come across the following cases of misuse of IPR by companies. First, it was Novartis trying to exploit with incremental innovations on the Cancer drug Glivec, the patent for which was struck down by the Indian Courts in a recent historic judgment. Second, we have just seen how the US courts have banned patenting Genes. And third instance of abuse comes from the case of Myriad Genetics trying to monopolize clinical data. Each one of these abuses has far-reaching consequences on the cost & quality of health care for the humanity.
Votaries of IPR may insist that without such rights, there would be hardly any incentive for innovation by private companies. On the face of it, this argument appears logical. After all Private sector companies are credited with most of the revolutionary innovations over the years. Right? No, completely wrong! Surprised? Here is an interesting article from the Magazine NEW SCIENTIST, which refutes this contention with solid facts. The article proves that the private sector dominance of innovation is a myth. The article makes an amazing statement –
Forget Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. It is government that should be credited for backing wealth creating technology in the past century.
I reproduce below salient portions of the article:
“Whether an innovation will be a success is uncertain and it can take longer than traditional banks or venture capitalists are willing to wait. In countries such as the US, China, Singapore and Denmark the state has provided the kind of patient and long-term finance new technologies need to get off the ground. Investments of this kind have often been driven by big missions, from putting a human on the moon, to solving climate change. This has required not only funding basic research – the typical “public good” that most economists admit needs state help – but applied research and seed funding too..Apple is a perfect example. In its early stages the company received government cash support via a $500,000 small business investment company grant. And every technology that makes the iPhone a smartphone owes its vision and funding to the state: the internet, GPS, touchscreen displays and even the voice-activated smartphone assistant Siri all received state cash. The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) bankrolled the internet, and the CIA and the military funded GPS. So, although the US is sold to us as the model example of progress through private enterprise, innovation there has benefited from a very interventionist state.The examples don’t just come from the military arena, either. The US National Institutes of Health spends around $30 billion every year on pharmaceutical and biotechnology research and is responsible for 75 per cent of the most innovative new drugs annually. Even the algorithm behind Google benefited from US National Science Foundation (NSF) funding.Across the world we see state investment banks financing innovation. Green energy is a great example. From Germany’s KfW state bank to the Chinese and Brazilian development banks, state-run finance is playing an increasing role in the development of the next big thing: green tech.
Recognising the state as a lead risk-taker, and enabling it to reap a reward, will not only make the innovation system stronger, it will also spread the profits of growth more fairly. This will ensure that education, health and transport can benefit from state investments in innovation, instead of just the small number of people who see themselves as wealth creators, while relying increasingly on the courageous, entrepreneurial state.”
Published in: on September 8, 2013 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why Can’t we learn from others’ blunders?

Recently I came across an incredible corporate story from the US. Can you believe that an ex-Walmart business strategist Andy Ruben joined hands with a Walmart critic and environmental activist Adam Warbatch to set up a new venture with the sole purpose of reducing purchase of goods and materials worth 200billion USD annually? A company, Yerdle,  was floated in San Francisco in November,2012. Here is how it would work. You log in through Face Book to enter a well-designed marketplace carrying photos of items your friends and friends’ friends would like to sell or rent for free. That is, before making a new purchase, you would check out at YERDLE. YERDLE would offer their services to coordinate and ship out items on payment of a fee.

The saving of $200 billion is an estimate of the percentage of the $1 trillion in durable retail goods purchased in the U.S. each year.

So, you save money as well as reduce waste by sharing and reusing goods. This is a typical “Sharing Economy”. I believe this concept is catching on in the US as a number of startups like YERDLE are being planned.

Clearly, in the west there is a growing realization that they have taken a wrong route to civilization. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm to reverse the trend in life styles, the Americans overreact and resort to rather bizarre experiments in extreme living. For instance I read somewhere that certain American communities are committed to what they call Paleodiet. Paleodiet is the diet of paleolithics or the hunter-gatherers (ancient cavemen), who lived for more than 2 million years untill the onset of agriculture about 10000 years ago. The diet would consist of meats, fish, fresh fruits, veggies, Nuts and exclude all cereals, refined salt & sugar and dairy products. The modern scientific view is, of course, against the diet because we are not identical to our Paleolithic predecessors. While such extreme ideas are certainly not desirable, the experiment on the lines of YERDLE is surely compatible with our traditional culture of sharing and caring. Unfortunately, though, we are blindly aping the West in everything that we do. We are happy to follow the white men whose standard of living and life style is judged by how much he consumes. The more you consume or waste, the merrier for the likes of Walmart.

Even people from the West are shocked by our new culture of excessive consumption. Recently, one French woman and an environmental activist visited India to participate in Sustainability Summit. She was surprised to find that every YUPPIE(Young Urban Professional) in India is focused  on buying a car. She further added that in Paris, where she lives, most of her friends including herself do not own a car. Owning a car is such a hassle in metros like Paris. In Mumbai, where I live, the norm is to own 2 cars per family. If you have 2 cars – one SUV and one small car – you have arrived. Having one car may be justified considering the state of our public transport. But two cars? It beats all logic in a metro where there are no parking lots. Traffic congestion and bad  roads only add to our woes.

The situation is even worse if we look into our Mall culture. Consider the following statistics, for instance. In spite of  the slump in our economy, the number of malls has doubled during the past 5 years and the mall areas are becoming bigger and bigger. The logic of the mall developers is to bring all retail brands under one roof.

Is this Choice or over-choice? In the book titled PARADOX OF CHOICE – WHY MORE IS LESS, the author argues forcefully how over-choice can lead to depression and loneliness. He says – there are too many choices, too many decisions and too little time to do what is really important!

Choices give one a false sense of well-being and happiness. As an analogy consider the late 1990s science fiction thriller THE MATRIX,  This film is about humans who are enslaved by machines  but made to believe they are free under the influence of an artificially created  virtual reality. Extending the analogy of the film, I think the malls are creating the illusion of freedom by giving us unlimited choices under one roof but are actually enslaving us. They create bondage by getting us addicted to walking around malls, create desires for unwanted luxuries, and condition us to do impulse buying. We eventually get mal-adjusted to the mal-content resulting in mal-functioning! What is the solution to the mal-ady? Very simple. The answer lies in going back to our roots, our good old tradition of simple living and great thinking!

Published in: on August 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Myth of Multitasking!

Multitasking?! I exclaimed in exasperation to a young colleague of mine who wished to claim credit for his ability to do several things at the same time. His point was that since he was better at multitasking compared to his other colleagues at work, he deserved better increment! I told him bluntly that I never considered a multitasker to be an asset to the organization. He looked puzzled. So I took it upon myself to explain to him in some detail. Here are a few insights that I gathered on the subject over the years:

Firstly and most importantly, Scientific evidence is clearly against this practice. I am using the word Practice advisedly since many youngsters have been consciously trying to master this by constant practice. Many take pride in their ability to do several things at the same time and in fact mention this as a special skill in their resume too.  So, the question is whether multitasking( MT) increases productivity in the workplace? Not a chance. Neuro scientists have proved conclusively that it increases stress, wastes time, and therefore leads to incompetence at work. Quality of output suffers as we miss out on vital insights due to lack of adequate attention on any one task.

Our brains have evolved over millions of years to concentrate on one thing at a time. So by forcing yourself to do several things at a time, you are de-evolving your brain. Human brain is distinguished from animal brains by the presence of the so called prefrontal cortex (or PFC for short). What is the function of PFC? This is the centre of  our AWARENESS. PFC  is also known as our inner CEO. Without PFC we are no better than animals. PFC becomes active every time we engage in an important task requiring attention. If we take up 2 important tasks at the same time, PFC’s attention gets divided between the 2 tasks, resulting in unsatisfactory performance of both the tasks. Okay, just in case you are sceptical about Scientists, let us consider ancient wisdom. I am sure everyone remembers the old Nursery Rhyme, which goes like this:

Work while you work,
Play while you play,
This is the way
To be happy each day.

All that you do,
Do with your might,
Things done by half
Are never done right.

This old poem is enough proof of the fact that our ancestors indeed gave a lot of importance to the practice of  MINDFULNESS! Clearly multitasking is the opposite of concentration!

My battle against multitasking goes back to early years of my career. I clearly remember my boss instructing me long time back as follows: “You start this experiment… in the meanwhile plan another experiment….. in the meantime read up this article & write this report……and make sure that the first experiment is finished before lunch….!”.  Being hopelessly bad at multitasking, I kept wondering how on earth I would satisfy this guy! I recall telling him politely but firmly that I am bad at doing things in parallel and added, for good measure, that I can compensate for that by doing a good job of any one task at a time! Not that my boss was impressed with my honest submission! But then that is a different story!

This brings us to the question whether one should multitask at all. The answer is, of course, yes. Surprised? Let me explain. This has to do with our brain structure again. I mentioned earlier that humans are unique in the development of Prefrontal Cortex or PFC , which is the centre of awareness. There is another part of our brain which is common with animals and is known as  ‘Basal Ganglia’ and this is meant for routine, repetitive and mechanical tasks.  Therefore, the only condition in which we can attempt multitasking is when we want to combine an important task with a routine task. The former demands the active involvement of  PFC, while the latter needs just the ‘Basal Ganglia’. So the routine activity will not compete for the PFC space, which is left free for handling the task needing complete attention. So, then, what sort of  tasks  can be combined for multitasking? Here are some examples: While driving, one can listen to music but can one talk on cell phone? No way.  And, what about Home work & Texting? Sorry kids, this is not on! Why? Both tasks require your PFC time & space! How about crocheting while watching TV or listening to a discourse? My wife does it routinely and so I cannot complain!

Unfortunately, the modern day office gadgets complicate our ability to concentrate. For instance, while you are working on a report, you hear a ping on your PC alerting you to the arrival of an email, or worse still you get an sms and you are tempted to Text back. To avoid precisely this kind of distraction, I have reconfigured my office to make sure that my Laptop is located at an inconvenient corner away from my work table. So it becomes easy to  take uninterrupted screen breaks whenever I am attending to an important report.  I became aware of the email menace in the office only last week when our company server crashed and remained dead for 2 complete working days. While almost everyone complained, I really enjoyed the free(d) time to catch up with technical reading. Likewise, I enjoyed absolute freedom from my cell phone for a week when I lost my Blackberry last year!

Published in: on July 13, 2013 at 10:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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Novartis lost the battle but lacs of people won!

This is great news but it has almost gone unnoticed last week. Our media which is ever happy reporting unhappy news made only a passing mention to this big news which benefits thousands of poor cancer patients in India. The news I am talking about is the recent landmark judgment by Supreme court rejecting the grant of patent for the cancer drug Glivec to the Swiss multinational company Novartis. This is a drug developed by the MNC for a certain type of blood cancer. A couple of Indian pharma companies developed the generic versions of the drug and the ongoing court battle pertains to grant of patent rights for the drug to the MNC. The apex court has ruled that the invention does not pass the test of novelty. How did the court come to this conclusion? It is based on a unique clause in the Indian Patent Law which disallows ‘ever greening’ of patents. ‘What is ever greening?’ Asked a friend of mine, who is not familiar with patents. I tried to explain in crude Tamil as follows: Pharma MNCs are today like ‘KHALI PERUNGAYA DABBA-  ARACHAMAVAYE ARACHINDIRUKKANGA’. Translated into technical terms, MNCs have run out of ideas in the business of discovering new drug molecules thanks to exhorbitant costs associated with basic research & clinical trials; so they had to come up with a clever ploy to keep extending their patent rights on a drug with minor tweaking of an existing molecule. It is pretty much like reinventing a wheel with minor changes in design or appearance. While the developed countries allow ever greening of patents clearly biased in favour of MNCs, India is the first country to come up with a bold change in the patent law to plug this loophole. Ever greening is almost as ridiculous as introducing a new improved SURF or an improved anti-dandruff shampoo and claiming that no one else should be allowed to manufacture the product.

What are the implications of this judgment? This will result in tremendous savings in costs of treatment for blood cancer. I understand that one month’s treatment of the original drug costs Rs 1 lac plus, while the generic drugs offered by Indian pharma companies cost just one-tenth of that figure! After all, the greed of the MNCs doesn’t recognize the need of the poor!

This anti ever greening clause to reject marginal inventions was drafted by India in the year 1995 and it became a law in the year 2005.  This was subsequently adopted by several developing countries. The good news is that even developed countries like Australia & certain countries from the European Union are considering adopting this clause based on India’s lead & example.

Published in: on April 6, 2013 at 10:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Native Intelligence

Travel & Tourism invariably throw up surprises when you least expect them. In fact often such experiences add to the pleasure of travel and help us break the monotony of our daily lives.This is what happened during our recent visit to the temple town, Tiruchanur. Here is a brief account of what took place during our trip:

We visited Tiruchanur for a day as part of our brief pilgrimage after the wedding of our daughter in Chennai.
We completed our temple visit in the evening after our arrival and decided to retire early to bed as we knew that the following day would be equally long and tiresome. We got up early on the following day, finished our morning chores and set out to have our breakfast before leaving for Tirumala. Myself, my brother and sister decided to have simple and harmless Idlis for breakfast and went to a hotel nearby. Even as we were entering the hotel, I told the waiter that we would like to have steaming Idlis and nothing else. He simply nodded his head in acknowledgement. However, to our surprise, the Idlis served were cold and unappetizing. When Sambar served also was ice-cold, we lost our patience. We protested and walked out in a huff as the guys were not even bothered to explain the situation, clearly showing that they didn’t care.
Although disappointed, we were not in a mood to give up so soon and therefore ventured into a road-side eatery on the recommendation of a localite who vouched for its quality. The place was right in the middle of a busy thoroughfare but we didn’t mind because at that time quality mattered more than hygiene. But it turned out to be yet another disaster. My brother was the first to be served idlis & sambar. As soon as he tasted the sambar, he screamed out loud saying, “God, it is too hot & spicy”. My sister got up instantaneously and said, “if Ravi(my brother) felt it’s spicy, it must be some authentic ‘Rocket fuel’or ‘Gun powder’ straight from the notorious Guntur town in Andhrapradesh”. We paid up for the idlis that we didn’t consume and instantly performed a perfect vanishing act. At this stage, we almost gave up convinced that it was simply not our day. We were not in a mood to take any more non-sense.
As we started to walk back to our place, someone led us to yet another hotel in the same area. Although we were very reluctant, the guy was very emphatic and sounded credible about the quality of snacks in the hotel recommended by him. We entered the hotel disinterestedly without much hope. But then, to our pleasant surprise, our experience was completely different this time. What happened during the next 20 minutes had to be seen to be believed. The idlis were excellent. Not only that, we were coaxed into taking vadas & coffee too which were equally good.

Even as all of us were busy consuming the snacks served, I kept wondering how could this be so. What could possibly account for such a contrasting experience? I asked myself,”Who is the director of this excellent show?” The answers were not far to seek as I watched quite closely and intently. There was a lady at the cash counter who was virtually directing the whole show. She was welcoming guests, giving them suggestions on what to eat, commanding waiters to ensure prompt service etc etc. While doing all this efficiently, she still seemed to manage the cash counter well all by herself. It was virtually a one-man(rather one-woman) show! I was quite impressed with her all round management capability. It was an excellent display of multitasking. She had shown her skills of man management, customer service, and cash management – all at the same time. She also exhibited excellent marketing skills by encouraging us to try out different dishes and we obliged her without any hesitation. And the fact that the food was tasty proved that she was also good at Kitchen management and Quality management.

Here is a lady who doesn’t have any qualification or formal training, comes from a rural background and yet has exhibited wonderful native intelligence (another name for management skills?) which is on par with any well trained Corporate team.
What more proof does one need to say that managers are BORN and NOT MADE.

Sales Conference – A mere annual ritual?

In general Corporates do not show any innovation in organizing Annual Sales Conferences. At least the ones I am associated with have always gone through the process with a time tested formula without making any effort whatsoever to try out new ideas of organizing the same. No doubt they spend a lot of money and resources on the annual extravaganza but all that is done merely for the purpose of giving the employees their due – which is a paid holiday at best. Employees also have come to look upon these events as a perk rather than as an occasion to benefit from. I am not against having fun, but alas ,a balance between pleasure and business is definitely lacking in most of these celebrations. In this respect our company is no exception. Here is a brief account of how it went:

Last weekend was a mix of business and pleasure – probably more of pleasure and less of business. We had our annual Sales conference arranged in Udaipur – the famous Lake city. About 40 of us were huddled together in a historic Fort transformed into a 5-Star Hotel. We reached just in time for a Royal Lunch on Saturday, relaxed for a while and then went for a short pilgrimage to have Darshan of Srinathji and Eklingji. The place where we stayed for 3 days is known as ‘Devi Garh’ Fort. As we landed at the Fort and entered the main yard which is in fact a wonderful garden, we were taken by pleasant surprise by a shower of Rose petals from the terrace. Coming from a city like Mumbai where people are happy being businesslike and informal,this royal treatment must have been amusing to many of us.
Temple visits were prearranged to ensure that we didn’t get caught in the crowds and long queues for hours. We could get an entry straight into the ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ through a side entrance meant for VIPs. However,once inside,the crowd was unbearable as usual and we barely escaped being crushed by the crowd. I suppose crowds are great equalizers as everyone gets the same treatment. For many of us the experience in Mumbai local trains must have come in handy.
In the night we had a great Rajasthani royal dinner served on Silver plates,which we thoroughly enjoyed.
The following day was essentially the day of the conference,which I will deal with at the end.
The evenings were celebrated with local artists giving performances. One evening we were treated with some nice ‘Qawwali’ music while on the second evening,we had some local folk dances depicting the story of Krishna with Gopis.(At least that is what I thought they were trying out based on the costume and expressions).
The 3rd day was essentially devoted to sightseeing – the Royal palaces,lakes etc and in the evening it was time to catch our flight back home.

The Fort area where we stayed is particularly enjoyable for people who love long walks. I had long walks in the mornings as well as evenings on all the days. The mornings presented a serene atmosphere accompanied by moderate chillness and gentle breeze , an ideal place for meditators.The skyline was superb with majestic mountains all around and the Sun rise from behind the mountains was a treat to watch.

Let me now come to the main business of the conference. We had presentation after presentation interspersed with some (not so serious)debates. There was a clear show of one-upmanship in the presentations. While the Marketing teams from various regions vied with each other, some manufacturing presentations also excelled in the art of exaggeration. But our CMD who generally keeps his own counsel, rarely got into any heated debates. He would generally play his cards close to his chest keeping everyone guessing!
What was missing in the conference then? One expects a great show of ideas from a gathering of people with such diverse backgrounds. Isn’t it a big opportunity to brainstorm on various issues affecting the current business? Isn’t it also an occasion to bounce ideas on future new business opportunities for the short term and the long term? I am sure all this can be done with some preparation by all participants. Instead,most of the participants simply chose to present past year’s data which was already known to many. Won’t it be good enough to merely circulate this data beforehand and allow only a brief discussion for an hour or so on the same? Rest of the conference should simply focus on the future.

Some time back I read a book titled, “Where Good ideas come from” by Steven Johnson. He has forcefully argued in this book that cities are very innovative by virtue of the fact that there is great exchange of ideas. In cities “ideas collide,emerge and recombine”. After all in a Sales conference aren’t we spending huge amount of money and taking trouble to gather people from so many cities? And having done so we don’t make any effort to harness ideas.

Published in: on April 30, 2011 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Core Competence? – you must be kidding

The whole of last week was quite hectic in the office as we(in the office)were unusually busy. Wonder what we were busy with? No prizes for guessing – we were busy with fire fighting! It was during that chaotic period that an old friend of mine visited me. As we were chatting he casually asked me about our company’s Core competence. “Core Competence?” I replied to my friend,”you must be kidding – there is only one core competence common to all Indian companies – that is – Fire fighting”.
Come to think of it,whatever else we,Indians, may be good at, we are best doing fire fighting. Some one asked – what about systems then(ISO9000,14000,18000,TPM and all that),meaning that since we in India have implemented all kinds of systems,there should be very few crises in the first place. I replied that even to implement systems we do fire fighting. Haven’t we seen a flurry of activity in many companies just a few days before an ISO audit for instance?
Even as children,we were used to postponing our studies right until the last day of the examinations – very often with disastrous results!

This reminds me of an industrialist friend of mine who,when questioned by me as to how he was proposing to expand into a business area which was totally unrelated,quipped- “Our core competence is diversifying into unrelated areas”. Probably he is right. When one is good at fire fighting and crisis management is the way of life,it makes no difference whether the business one chooses is a related area or not.
Typically in an average Indian organization,not withstanding the importance of a customer’s order (which can break or make a business),the system will go at its own pace doing things sequentially instead of in parallel till a crisis point is reached. The behaviour of team members during a crisis has to be seen to be believed. There is exemplary solidarity and team spirit and extraordinary comraderie.
As it happened during the last week in our company – the marketing man pressed a panic button as we failed to keep up with our committed deadline for supplies to a very important customer – the CEO declared “Do what you will but this prestigious order must be executed”. This was followed by the R&D head and the business head screaming that if we failed to service this order we would lose our credibility,our business and our technical position in the market place. Then the plant head was challenged to raise to the occasion and prove that he was the man for the crisis. The plant head was also equally under pressure from his deputies for providing all resources in the quickest possible time. Then every one’s attention shifted to the plant head and his team as the fire fighting exercise started. He moved heaven and earth and quite magically produced the desired results just in time.

I am sure the readers will have similar stories to tell from their experiences which should prove India’s undisputed global leadership in Fire fighting & Crisis management.

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Information Trap and Consequences

Every one loves information. Right? This is because we are all taught to believe that information is power. But what happens when one is fed with too much information,most of which is superfluous for taking a decision? Worse still,what happens if the information given is not quite genuine but has a vested interest? We will examine all this in the light of my recent business experience. For the past 2 weeks at work,we have been working overtime on ways and means of coming up with a strategy to handle a competitor who has outsmarted us by feeding highly biased information to our common customers with the obvious intention of winning critical deals. For those who may be interested,we are in the business of manufacturing Transformer oils. These are sold to transformer manufacturers who,in turn,sell to Power Utilities. Our competitor has a simple ‘modus operandi’. He will make a lengthy presentation only on specifications of the product,totally ignoring the performance requirements. Typically,all the international standards(whether relevant or not)will be cited in detail while waxing eloquent on how the Indian Standards are lagging behind. Then,as the customers get confused(customers being electrical engineers do not have a quick grasp of chemistry of oils),he will push forward his case for an oil with an atrocious specification suiting his specific raw material. This ploy had indeed worked more than once and it was quite a while before our management woke up to the realities. Now ,of course,our company has also decided to launch an aggressive information campaign based on the ‘right specifications for the right performance’. It will take some time to control the damage done,but nevertheless,we are confident this will help all concerned in the long term. This business experience reminds me of what management experts call ‘Information Trap’. When one is lost in a sea of information(like our customers from Utilities),one loses the benefit of integrated knowledge. One loses the power of discrimination and under such circumstances can not appreciate whether a piece of information is genuine or biased or has a vested business interest. Very often,we do not know from what distance we should view an information so that we don’t fall into this trap. The information trap typically will result in lack of discriminating knowledge which is one form of ignorance. And the ignorance can ,in turn,manifest itself as stress,as it happened in the case of our clients. Yes, I must emphasize that Ignorance is,indeed,STRESS – NOT BLISS,as is commonly believed! What gives us Bliss is not Ignorance but Knowledge. Ignorance and Stress together can form a ‘vicious cycle’,meaning that more the stress generated the more the ignorance it breeds and vice versa. In the case of our clients,the resulting panic led them to pick and choose the best specifications from all the available international standards (which is stupid to put it mildly). This is because the only way we know of relief from stress is to pass it on to others. The net result is the industry ,as a whole will stand to lose. The customer would be buying an oil which is over-specified for a purpose and therefore would be paying a higher price. The supplier,on the other hand, would be forced to depend upon uncertain sources of raw materials and to that extent service levels would be poorer. How,then,does one get out of this ‘vicious cycle’? The best way is to come up with a ‘virtuous cycle’ (there has to be a corresponding virtuous cycle for every vicious cycle). In this particular case,the virtuous cycle is obviously – Knowledge and Bliss. This is what we have decided to do now to counter the strategy of our competitor. That is,we have undertaken the task of spreading genuine knowledge about oil chemistry,technology and most importantly specifications as related to performance. It will take time but the results will be long lasting.

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rejoicing over Competitor’s Failure

“Doctor,our competitor’s product is failing completely whereas ours, which is of acceptable quality, is failing only marginally”, my colleague shouted at the other end of the phone excitedly. “It is indeed interesting”, I said sharing his excitement and realizing the implications of the result. Now ,we can leverage our better quality product to get a better price.
To my colleague the failure of our competitor’s product seemed to be more of an “Eureka moment” than any of our successes earlier.
It appears that the competitor’s failure is relatively more relieving(of stress),enjoyable,and something to relish.
Isn’t it a strange and convoluted logic? It speaks volumes about present day stress at work. People are constantly pressurized to perform. If a product of good quality is made, the focus shifts to cost and if cost parameter is also met,there is pressures on service. And if all issues are satisfied, then there is constant demand for showing the numbers quarter after quarter. The milestones are constantly being shifted to levels beyond reach.
Looking at it from a business perspective,it is almost a war-like situation out in the market place. And as they say,all is fair in love and war. Or is it? Today, marketing is all about outwitting the competitor. Today’s Marketing function is over-obsessed with the role of ‘Competitor Watch’. On the contrary,a balanced approach with equal emphasis on customer focus and leveraging one’s strengths along with information gathering on competitors will yield more dividends in the long run.
This,I feel,is one of the greatest pitfalls of the modern day Free enterprise(wishing our competitor failure and rejoicing over the same).Personally,I feel that this mindset of rejoicing at some one’s failure can eventually become part of our personality and affect our ethical behaviour in our daily lives too.