Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creative Destruction - the wildfire of hope

(This post has a competition, open to all my readers, especially young managers, and management students from any B-school in India or abroad.)

The world is facing dilemmas and challenges no one ever imagined in recent past. Forces of change have been sweeping the world with such pace that no one - nations, companies, families, societies, communities - can escape the consequences. Existing models of behaviour and business are being turned upside down, and everything seems to be tumbling in a morass of uncertainty.

But mankind lives by hope. At times, hoping against hope, and winning even then!

When existing models crash, we become clueless as to what's wrong. Is it our mistake, or is the system itself breaking down? Whose mistake is it? This "collapse" of existing models leads to tremendous confusion, and eventual redemption or death.

Today, the world is facing a crisis in all three main spheres - Economic, Natural, and Political. Let me list the major aspects of these crises
  1. The accepted academic fact that "CAPITALISTIC ECONOMIC MODEL" driven by the West (especially America) is the best model of growth, social happiness and mankind's future has been shattered badly.
  2. The political hegemony of the West has been challenged hugely by many nations. Continuous failure of many big adventures has shattered the myth that anything that the West (led by the US) does will succeed. People now believe that the West can fail politically as well.
  3. Global warming, and the utter failure of nations to do much about it, has brought a sense of agony and helplessness in the minds of right thinking citizens. Many openly say that the world may not have more than a century of safe living conditions for its denizens.
In this context, comes the concept of CREATIVE DESTRUCTION. I personally have found this to be an interesting and correct postulate. So what's it?

Creative Destruction is the process where the existing models get destroyed, and then rebuilt totally into something radically different, by a conscious process. The people who run a system that's broken-down realise that it will no longer serve the purpose, and hence set about redesigning it. So what we saw in the US elections was a small glimpse of this - Obama promising to rebuild a broken system. I call Creative Destruction a "wildfire of hope" because just like a jungle fire, it first destroys everything, then from the nutrients available post-destruction, it rebuilds everything, and often it turns out to be better that the past :-)

The key aspects of Creative Destruction are
  • it's a conscious process - the people in charge know what they are doing
  • it's a result-oriented process - people know what they want at the end of it
  • it's a defining process - entire model gets redefined, restructured, rebuilt
  • it's a painful process - not many agree to it, and not many have the guts to pull it through till the end, till results emerge
  • it's a process of compromise - you have to make compromises to make things work
Where all does Creative Destruction happen?
  • in corproates & workplaces - just recall the Global Crunch of last year
  • in political systems & nations - remember USSR?
  • in religions - challengers can force this to happen
  • in communities - entire communities get uprooted at times
  • in personal lives - yes! you can undertake it at a personal level
One of the best examples of corporate Creative Destruction is Nokia. In early 1990s, it realised that its major lines of business (wood products, footwear etc.) could be dumped in favour of a major promise of tomorrow - mobile telephony. The CEO took a bold step of actually redesigning the entire company around the new promise of the future. It has surely paid off. Similarly, IBM (early 1990s), Microsoft (right now) and Apple (early 2000s) are great examples of visionary leaders' efforts to destroy the company's redundant operations creatively and bring out something new. In all these cases, the leaders imagined a future that was yet-to-be, worked towars it with all their conviction, and bet everything they had on it. Finally, what emerged from the wildfire of uncertainty was a new model, that worked!

So here's the competition!
Suggest two names (of nations, companies, organisations..) that are in big trouble right now, and who/that need to take on a conscious process of Creative Destruction to rebuild themselves, in order to remain relevant in times to come. You must post your answer as a comment to this post, and against each name, must mention the reason you feel they need to do this. Also suggest what you think is the best route ahead for the 2 names you suggest.

Deadline for commenting: 72 hours from this post appearing.

The best anwer (one) as judged by me will win a collection of management books from my personal library worth Rs 2000=00, alongwith a certificate with my signature. Sounds great? Go for it!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Teaching the bully called China a tough lesson

Newspapers are known for screaming headlines. I suspect journalists often get paid in proportion to the sensationalism their words and headlines can generate in readers. Especially so when it comes to India's foreign relations!

So it is with India's relations with China. An uninformed visitor to India who would read through the past 6 months of national newspapers will invarialbly derive the conclusion that China is on the verge of taking over large parts of India along the borders, starting with Arunachal Pradesh, and ending at Kashmir. She is also likely to conclude that Pakistan is greatly benefitting from all this and getting tremendous support in maintaining its illegal occupation of large parts of Jammu and Kashmir state of India.

Right, and Wrong.

So what should India now do? How should we react to Chinese moves? Can we really contain China's naked aggression towards us, its leaders' propensity to issue sick, stupid and senseless statements against India?

Here are the facts that must be known before you can reach some idea about India's possible course of action
  1. Globally, when it comes to economic interests, China is deeply tied up with America. Most of this tieup is now turning negative, as the US has plunged into a deep crisis, first economic, and now strategic.
  2. China's economy was touted as the unbreakable engine of global growth. The sweat and tears of its leaders in past 12 months has proven it is not quite that.
  3. China is a nation run by a grand gang of stick-wielding communists, not a flexible modern democracy like India. Gangs usually fail after people get tired of them. And just because you are the State, does not mean you are not a gang.
  4. India's strategic advantages over China in terms of long-term social stability and human growth are far more superior.
  5. China maintains a force-fed military threat over eveyone in Asia, but it dare not use it, for its economy may slip terribly post-that adventure.
Once these facts are studied carefully, India can confidently move to quash the stupidity that China indulges in frequently, against it. Here is what I propose
  • India must forcefully speak out in favour of the terrible harrassment that ethnic minorities in China occupied territories face. One example - Uighur muslims in Xinjiang province.
  • India must continously berate and remind China of its inhuman takeover of a beatiful religious stage - Tibet.
  • India must raise formal objections on all international fora to the presence of China in all such territories.
  • India must attach pre-conditions to American companies' presence in Indian markets that make it mandatory for the US to support India in such strategic moves against China.
  • India must open its market to Chinese companies, and force China to economically engage with it, and parallel continuously berate China for its aggression and killing of innocent ethnic minorities around its occupied territories.
  • The Indian political system across the entire spectrum from Right-wingers to extreme left-wingers must speak in unison on this matter.
  • India must make a permanent base for the Dalai Lama in Arunachal Pradesh, and must popularise and promote it as a tourist destination.
  • For various Chinese territories that are adjoining to Indian borders, India must issue permits to visit, that are not visas.
If India can react in a coordinate and strategic manner, it will be no time before the supposedly unshakeable dragon called China will be on its knees begging to be left alone.

We have allowed them to hit us below the belt for far too long now. It is time to talk to them in the only language they understand. Will the Indian political establishment please wake up?

Jai Hind!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

CLOSURE - the secret of moving ahead successfully

Good news my readers! I have stopped using footnotes. I use popups now. Just hover your mouse over the popup link and POP will you see the detailed "footnote" there and then itself. Hope this helps! Caution : some links in posts maybe actual hyperlinks and not popups.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Firecrackers are a good signal!

This post celebrates my understanding of Indian resilience in the face of all odds, and with all its paradoxes. Read it carefully, and completely to see what I mean.

Yes, yes, I know! They are said to be environmentally bad, some of the manufacturers employ child-labour, and they are oh-so-out-of-fashion now for some of our urban youth.

But firecrackers, especially those that reach for the sky are a very strong indicator of the economic mood of the people. After all, firecrackers that reach the sky are the costlier versions - and the people who buy them (and fire them) are likely to be those who have substantial disposable income in that period, and the willingness to spend it. I agree that a little element of "showing off" cannot be ruled out, but largely, people will not fire crackers (in the sky especially) just to show off! Someone who is dejected, or has lost out in business, or has no hope for the future, is likely not to celebrate by shooting costly fireworks up in the sky. Right?

To be honest, I have grown up celebrating Diwali with firecrackers, and like mad! Only recently have the spirits been tamed slightly :-)

Diwali night (17th October) was a big surprise for me. A big pleasant, positive surprise. Like every year, we spend the last part of the evening on top of our building (that's 5th and 6th floors). It offers a panoramic 360 degrees view of my city (Indore). Usually it feels as if the entire city has put up a beautiful fireworks show just for us! You can see firecrackers everywhere continuously, brightly lighting up the sky randomly, with all possible colours. It is quite an overwhelming feeling.

This year, going by the media reports, the widespread Dengue menace locally, and the general mood around, I thought the mood would be sombre, and downcast. So I was all the more eager to study it carefully.

How wrong I was! The animal spirits of the people of Indore (animal spirits = raw spirit of enterprise and achievement) was visible in ample measure. The firecrackers show was almost as good as last year, when it was anyway very strong! Watch a raw video here

Children in my family went crazy seeing all this :-)

My learnings from all this

  1. Festivals are meant to be celebrated with ample gaiety, and the Indian people surely know this well! They are an extremely resilient lot. They do not like to allow anything to come between them and their festive celebrations.
  2. We Indians know how to optimise:-) The main Diwali night is too precious to be lost out to stupid niceties of global trade realities. We may cut down on other days of the festive season, but main Diwali night? Baahh... forget it!
  3. There is nothing like commuity happiness and cumulative display of confidence when it comes to beating the blues. The inner emotional feeling I had while watching the splendid show put up by the citizens last night was unparalleled. I almost forgot things are not all well with global economy, all I felt was a sense of raw joy, pure elation and unbridled sense of optimism for the future!
  4. It will be a wonderful idea for the Indian governments never to forget that not integrating India totally with the global economy is actually a good idea - we are so big, so people-rich, so ideas-rich, that if clean leadership can be provided to us internally, we may have little to look outside our borders to fulfil our basic needs. The world will come to us - they need us badly.
  5. Firecrackers on main Diwali night are not a bad idea, if they reinforce a strong sense of community well-being. I felt this strongly last night.
Civilisations that have lasted several millennia have something truly spectacular about them, and inside them. In my opinion, the Indian civilisation's resilience in the face of all possible odds across generations is what keeps us ticking. From time to time, the outward manifestation of this resilience changes shape, but the root is still the same.

Long live the Indian resilience and spirit!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Obama, Nobel, State-of-the-world, Diwali, Human relations

I'll soon start using POPUPS instead of footnotes. This will help my readers avoid too much of "up-and-down-and-up.." kind of scrolling in my posts. Please wait for a few days till that happens. Thanks!

The past few days brought a flurry of emotions along. Alongside the hectic preparations for despatching Diwali greetings and gifts to friends and colleagues across India, came the news of Obama getting the Nobel peace prize, and some wonderful articles in business dailies on the state of the world (economy). Also, interesting discussions with colleagues on human relations in today's changing times made me wonder on a lot of things. Penning the same here.. enjoy!

The world is not only changing at a rapid pace it seems to be longing for a return to the old normal - the steady and predictable state as it was in 1970s and 80s. I can sense that from the rather unexpected desperation of tone evident in reputed columns of international publications.
The sombre mood post the grand global crunch has totally changed expectations all around. Massive restructuring is taking place in the world economy, which is now a government dominated structure which many of us accustomed to the fruits of LPG will fail to recognise properly!

I also came across this wonderfully written article by Prof.Jeffrey D. Sachs that spoke about the perils of government sponsored bailouts without a focus on longterm sustainable infrastructure projects. I found this very useful.

Set at a 180 degrees contrast to this global sense of doom comes Dipawali - the Indian festival of lights celebrating Lord Rama's triumphant return to his kingdom. The joyful nature of such almost religion-agnostic public festivals in India gives us food for thought. Such occasions also give a unique opportunity to examine human relations.

Let me share my thoughts pointwise!
  1. The Western superpowers have realised that the years of irresponsible propsperity are almost over. This is a crude realisation, brought about by a sudden collapse of their world-dominating capitalistic structure.
  2. We should expect a lot of humble gestures from the US towards the Arab world, China, and also erstwhile rogue states like Iran and N Korea. The US is in such deep trouble that it will dare not mess with anyone in a significant manner now.
  3. The dramatic award of Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama for doing nothing worthwhile at all for peace till date is indicative of the fear of the Western world that their carefully arranged deck of cards may be falling apart. This award shows that when it comes to rallying behind the chief marksman of their civilisation (forget the often kiddish trans-Atlantic Euro-US rivalry), any authority in the West will go to any extent.
  4. My take is - the award of the Nobel to President Obama is an award for the "future hopes" rather than "past achievements". In this, surely it's a Nobel first!
  5. India celebrates its festivals despite any raging global issues. This is quite fantastic and indicates the detachment of Indian economy from a large part of speculative world economy. Celebrations, after all, are a very strong indicator of emotions, which are directly linked to reality.
  6. Human relations are taking a turn for the worse. The way people related to each other is no longer what it used to be. Money and materialism is the ONLY driving force for many. I had a pleasant experience today when one of the most influential persons in my city called me (in response to a lovingly sent Diwali card and gift) and said "Sandeep, it is nice to see a person of your generation maintaining relations with my generation. Most people in this city have forgotten the importance of relationships." I realised things are truly going downhill. So friends, spare that extra moment and warmly wish your loved ones a great Diwali :-)
  7. Globally, the banking system is in a fine mess (India is an exception).
  8. Governments need to now focus on sustainable projects that drive real growth rather than projects generating paper money and paper wealth.
  9. I met a young professional working with India's biggest private sector bank today. He told me that banks are now pushing pre-paid cards rather than credit cards. There were interesting insights in this.
Wishing you a great festive season ahead!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The perils of permanent connectivity

Anytime, Anywhere fast internet connectivity.
Finest to use handhelds.
Fantastic widgets, tools, devices.

It's a disease that afflicts many. Without their knowing about it, they slowly sink into it, step-by-step, silently, intellectually, and without a hope of stepping back. Finally, it takes control of their lives.

Yes, I am referring to the perils of permanent connectivity. The situation (convenience!) where a person can choose to be connected to the online world (and its many distractions) on an almost 24-hours-a-day basis.

Based on my experience, the standard tools that one invariably uses, to accomplish the desirable act of staying online smartly are -
  • emails - both professional and personal
  • blogs - can be both personal and professional
  • professional networking sites - linkedin / xing etc.
  • social networking sites - twitter, orkut, facebook etc.
  • video sharing sites - youtube etc.
Typically, a smart professional or a smart youngster will be doing these things online, on any regular day
  1. Checking his professional emails (multiple email IDs) several times a day
  2. Checking his personal emails (one or two mail IDs, depending on marital fidelity) once or twice a day at least
  3. Checking the various online social media sites at least once during working hours (it can be more than once too)
  4. Spending at least 1 to 2 hours every late evening "updating" the social media sites (after all, who wants to look inactive in happening places?)
Add all of this together, and bingo! You just invested close to 3 solid hours doing all this. Each day! But the story does not end here.

The result of this mindless, endless daily investment manifests itself in various ways.
  • The quality of individual interactions (that one is part of on a daily basis) drops substantially. After all, one cannot do justice both to an email crying for attention, and a colleague making a serious point sitting face-to-face.
  • The quality of time that one spends with family drops substantially. While wife is longing for a loving hug, the next scrap on Orkut steals your attention. When the child desperately wants a pat on the back and a kiss on the cheek after her shakily drawn sketch of nature is ready, you are busy clicking a photo (with brightness and contrast perfectly adjusted) rather than giving that kiss.
  • The intensity with which one is able to think and contemplate seriously (on various matters) drops a lot. Various online avatars are vying for your precious time, and the cerebral hemisphere can simply run out of juice at times!
  • The overall sense of fatigue increases a lot. It may be beyond many people's potential to do justice to so many avatars simultaneously.
  • Every morning you wake up, you feel sapped. Drained. Empty.
Personally, I know all this as I am doing all this intensely. On a typical working day, I check tens of emails, make and upload at least one serious blogpost, update entries and scraps on Orkut, Facbook and Twitter, and check out Linkedin and Xing. I must make a distinction here - for a technical person (which many of us now will profess to be, in order to escape the inevitability of what's coming next) some of these perils of permanent connectivity may be unavoidable. But for most of us (professionals) and almost all youngsters (not working), we can avoid a lot of these fancy habits safely. Friends, it is a myth that by being online you are automatically more productive. Most users (and surprisingly even old-timers) at times do not understand the difference between nonsensical scrapping (on Orkut) and sensible professional messaging.

As I have done it for a long time now, wasted a lot of time and resources, I have learnt my lessons well! Let me share these with you.

How to be significantly online, and still be highly productive
  1. Fix a time when you will check your social online media every day. If you are a working professional, it should ideally be in the night (at least an hour before you sleep). It is really a bad idea doing social media during working hours. If you are doing it, you are addicted. Seek help.
  2. Bundle together your activities on online social media in this one slot - try twitting, orkutting, facebooking simultaneously. It will be a good idea as you can cut-paste a lot of stuff, saving precious time.
  3. Fix a time interval between checking your emails every day - say 60 minutes at least. It will help you clearly focus on the task in the meantime.
  4. Avoid Blackberries if possible. They are a disease. I do not speak lightly on this - having observed many people who use this, I can safely conclude that the tremendously advanced design (user-friendly) of this manufacturer is so sticky, so terribly sticky... one just cannot de-addict once stuck. Then the spectacle of heads bowed, both hands together, thumbing away, head nodding... ad infinitum. I have so far successfully restricted myself to the humble Nokia Communicator, which with its archaic keypad scares me when it comes to typing anything beyond a few hundred characters. So I am forced to limit my use, thereby increasing the quality of my human interactions.
  5. When in a social setting, avoid using your gadgets. It is horribly irritating to others.
  6. Try observing a no-internet day once a week. It may be very tough, but try it once.
  7. Don't get into fancy technical stuff if you are not really good at it. It can suck precious energy out of your mind. It will, for no good reason, make you feel smaller and insignificant.
  8. Don't buy gadgets just because you cannot allow being seen as outdated. You may be smarter in not using the latest gizmos that dehumanise.
Remember, when it comes to human impact - nothing is as powerful as a face-to-face warm human interaction. Simple voice calls come next. Then come text messages and social media.

Unfortunately in the race to be the fastest, brightest and trendiest, we are losing a sense of the finest of arts - warm human touch.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Guaranteed formula for MBA success - Long-term vision

Guaranteed formula for MBA success - Long-term vision

One of the questions often asked by MBA aspirants, young MBAs, and practising managers is "How do we become really successful?" Let me crisply answer this fundamental question, using my experience as a guide.

When we talk about MBAs - managers - what do these guys really do? Even before that, just who are these guys? Well, the "who" ratio is approximately 20 : 30 : 40 : 10.
  • 20% are entrepreneurs - totally self-driven and in-charge of their own destiny
  • 20-30% are intrapreneurs - they are entrepreneurs inside an organisation
  • 40% are executives - they carry out things really well
  • 10% are eternal crib-nannies - the world failed to see they are god's gift to mankind

I have worked with dynamic and successful people from all categories above (the least being from the fourth). The one thread which is common to all successful people is LONG TERM VISION. Every single one I saw had at least this one thing in common - they were all thinking and acting really long-term.

So what's that? What really constitutes long term vision?

A distractor intelligently said : in the long run, we are all dead. So for him there is no point in anything that's long-term. But what is long-term? 5 years? 15 years? 50 years? In my opinion, "LONG TERM" in any decision situation is a sufficient enough time period that you allow all players in the game to have their full effect on the situation. The subject (i.e. the manager or You) waits patiently for the final effect to display itself.

Hoping that you have understood this argument above, here are precise points.

When someone is in the first stage of her/his career, it pays to remember that it is precisely that - the first stage. The whole life is yet to happen! The first job, or the first 5-6 years of your job are your foundation years when you must focus on these four things above everything else
  1. Greedily learn actual professional skills that matter - not just basic stuff like smart paper-pushing, ppt-making, and glib-talking
  2. Slog your bones off so you learn more - your body can support it now (in your twenties). It will be too late after you are 30
  3. Overlook the money you are making, focus only how much you are growing as a professional whose opinions people seek. It changes your *ENTIRE* perspective on life
  4. Try working with the toughest bosses, not the easy ones. The tough bosses will force you to grow completely out of your comfort zones, and you will thank them for the rest of your life
I feel that 9 out of 10 successful people did many of these things in their earlier years, knowingly or unknowingly.

Let me be honest, while we are in the daily rut, it is difficult to get a 30000 ft view like the one I have propounded above. But if I am sharing this with you, maybe you should take it at the face-value.

So think really long-term. Focus on the job's content, not payoffs. And taken to extreme, if you get a chance to work with a super boss, a guy who can totally change your professional calibre, maybe it'll be a good idea to do it free of charge  :-)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gandhi meets Mao

Competition's results declared. See the post on "ancestors"

01st October is China's 60th Founding Day celebrations. 02nd October is Mahatma Gandhi's anniversary. I put here my feelings, based on what I have studied, about these two great nations who command between themselves more than 35% of humanity! Gandhi speaks first, then Mao Tsetung (the founder of Chinese Communist Party and creator of PRC).

Gandhi meets Mao
It was way up in the sky, in the heavens to be precise
That the two great men of Asia met each other
Gandhi and Mao, liberators of nations worldly-wise
To take stock of situation, it was time, high time.

I chose non-violence, said Gandhi, and liberated my 300 million
Leveraging centuries of philosophical wisdom, we stood free from shackles.
So what? gushed Mao, I chose the power at the right end of a gun's barrel
Bang, bang, bang.. here's PRC delivered, and there runs Chiang Kai Shek rattled!

India is free, truly free, my people can speak their hearts out
Fear they may none, neither secret police nor the military's rifles.
That's your folly Gandhi! You give them rope they hang themselves with
We know a thinking populace is unproductive, foolish wasting time over trifles.

My successors have done a good job, they have nurtured democracy
Institutions and elections.. we are the best, second to none.
Of what use? To what end? A poor man with choices is still poor
Look at Deng's reforms - mighty, prosperous and resplendent we have become!

We are flexible, elastic, plastic, we change, we move
The harshest of criticisms we take in our stride and emerge stronger.
It's your mistake Gandhi, you fail to see
We are a monolith - quicker, faster, surer, steadier.

But a monolith is a monolith, strong maybe, but brittle
Of what use is freedom when celebrations arouse fear and suspicion!
Haah! It's not that, my dear, it's just precaution, remember the rogues
The rogues you shelter, we see you do, without compunction.

The Dalai Lama is not a rogue, he is a wise guru of millions
His love can set you free, the pain of decades, oh, sweltering over.
To hell with love, we need hard cash, resources and machines
Global trade knows no love, and we are the prime mover.

What has all this brought us? Global Warming? Hatred? Credit crunch?
Wisdom demands we see it straight, and speak it straight.
What straight? This is as straight as straight can get
We make a 500 kms highway straight, obstacles no bar, homes be razed.

Ahh.. now there you are! People's rights - do they mean nothing?
Uprooting anyone, anywhere, anytime without warning?
Are men above nations, Gandhi? Are they?
And to this lovely freedom of speech you profess, what do your Naxals have to say?

Naxals? They are our own, our brothers and sisters
Historically wronged indeed, they will be part of mainstream for sure.
While you dither Gandhi, we crush, smoothen it out, and move on
Uigurs, Tibetans, you name it, we have permanent peace, 100% pure!

Democracy, the internet, the knowledge highway - it's all there
How long can anyone dam the forces that unleash democracy's waves?
Waves? We'd rather turn them into a theme park, the world's largest (of course)
For history is written by the man the streets of history who paves.

I put man's dignity above everything, he is God's finest creation
His happiness, choice, free-will are civilisations' substrate.
We share the same views Gandhi!
But for man, I substitute the State.

You think our men and women produce little? They are not fecund?
Software and Services you seem to forget, Mao my dear.
Just two, Gandhi? I could name fifty such sectors
The mere mention of "China" where will bring tremble & fear.

Churchill said India will break into pieces upon independence
We proved him wrong, our historical glue too strong.
While you contend with what you had and still treasure
I capture new territories, left, right and centre!

Our debate it seems will go on for ever
Our roads may never meet, I fear.
Really? What if we both relent, a little
From positions we hold so dear.

Together we are 35% of humanity, imagine what we can achieve
If we set aside our differences, hold-hands and synergise
Maybe Hindi-Chini surely can be Bhai-Bhai
The world will shake, when our positive power will arise, awaken and shine!