Prevention of/Reaction to Financial Crisis

About a week before being elected President, this is what potential candidate Barack Obama told Time magazine in an interview: “We have got a boat with a lot of leak and we need to get it into port. Once we get it into port, once the credit markets are functioning effectively, it is time to get back to the fundamentals of our economy.” The truth is that one of the worst financial crisis of recent times has been because of gross violation of the fundamentals. Giving loans to low- income or sub-prime US households in the hope that they could recover the money on bad debts from the property in the hope that property price would always go up and stay up turned out to be financial hara-kiri. The Times of India reported that the investors could not be protected from one simple and irrefutable principle — if these housing loans turned bad, the instruments based on these loans would lose value, which is, what happened, denting investment portfolios of banks and destroying their capital, inter-bank liquidity and general confidence. In 1999 during the tech stock bubble, many of the hot tech companies had no earnings, little revenue and no long-term track records and without these absolute basics, it was a bubble waiting to be burst, which it did.

Financial education
From an individual’s perspective, there is again a simple and irrefutable fact — a sound practical financial education emphasising on basics as prevention is better than cure. Since everybody has to manage money, a knowledge of accounts, which is known as the language of business, is always an added bonus. The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad says that practical financial intelligence is a synergy of accounting, investing, marketing and law. Each child needs to know the rules — a different set of rules. According to the authors, being rich basically implies being financially independent, which implies that one’s regular income from investment is such that one can survive from that alone and can choose not to work if one wants to. This implies financial freedom for which instant gratification has to be postponed initially. I learnt all this from my father, a chartered accountant. Unfortunately a lot of young people do the other way around in an effort to get rich quick and start lives in debt. For being a good investor, one has to learn how to do financial analysis of company balance sheets along with the qualitative analysis to the extent possible and also have a sound knowledge of technical analysis for investors to enable them to know when to enter and exit. The most intelligent man I met in the stock market was a broker who had a background in merchant navy (most individual brokers are commerce graduates). He told me that he had a position trading system which he had been perfecting over a period of 10 years and was still coached by a mutual fund advisor. Even with all the fancy software in the US, trading has a 95 per cent failure rate and most traders speak against day and to a lesser degree, swing (weekly) trading. Unless one has a very good intuitive sense of the market which very few people have, it would be foolish to trade. There is an old saying that nobody can claim to be an expert on the market including the mutual funds which the current crisis clearly reveals. Today’s computerised era makes it possible for even a layman to maintain systematic financial records for effective follow up. A good basic knowledge of both investment and financial administration is a must.

Avoid greed
Since many people get into financial trouble because of greed, it is interesting to know what the above book says about high consumption spenders: “They get a few bucks in their hands, again the emotion of joy, desire and greed take over. But the joy that it brings is often short-lived, and they soon need more money for more joy, pleasure, comfort and security. They don’t want to lose the big houses, the cars, the high life that money has brought them. They worry about what their friends would say if they lost all their money. Many are emotionally desperate and neurotic, although they look and have more money.” In one of my previous articles, I have mentioned how eight prominent people in the US who were at a peak in their careers in 1923 were nowhere 25 years later — one became bankrupt, two died as penniless fugitives (one pardoned from prison), one went insane, one died insolvent, one was imprisoned and three committed suicide. I do not know the root cause of the problems in all the above cases but there is a book called World Famous Riches to Rags where a lot many other cases are given in detail and much of their fall from grace can be directly attributed to the high consumption lifestyle. A couple of them went bust because they could not control their over-spending wives. Many committed fraud out of blind greed, some could not manage at a higher and a more complex level and some suffered because of trying to operate on a bigger scale which was done for still better status. A majority of them were a case of ‘all covet, all lose’ or ‘those who miss the silver lining are those who opt for the gold’.

My father who turned around a sick company once and had to operate on a shoestring budget for four years says that the problem arises when one starts doing well, the feeling of “having arrived” can go to one’s head and one tends to get extravagant. This could be true both for companies and individuals. The old saying ‘success is never certain, failure is never final’ is true even more now because of the kind of turbulent changes that are expected in the 21st century. Some of the things I learnt from my father about the wisdom of frugality are better expressed in how the world’s most famous and perhaps the best ever investor, Warren Buffet conducts himself. Buffet never travels by private jet, although he owns the world’s largest private jet company. He even drives his own car everywhere and does not have a driver or security people around him. He does not even carry a ‘cell phone’, nor has a computer on his desk. He does not socialize with the high society crowd. He still lives in the same small three-bedroom house in mid-town Omaha that he bought after getting married 50 years ago. He advices young people to stay away from credit cards, to live their life as simple as they are, not to go for a brand name; just wear those things in which they feel comfortable, not to waste their money on unnecessary things and last but not the least to remember that money doesn’t create a man; it is the man who created money.

Even if one were to follow the middle path advocated by the most famous enlightened man in history, Gautama Budhdha, one would be much better off. Unfortunately, many young people learn this the hard way, which is why we have situations like the one where two MBA students were arrested for kidnapping 15-year-old Arjun Verma after suffering a loss of Rs 80 lakh in the stock market, which would not have happened with more balanced thinking. It would not be out of place to mention that Buffet and another great speculator-cum-investor, George Soros are now known as much for their philanthropic activities as for their financial expertise.

Looking beyond money

The root cause of the high-consumption lifestyle is keeping up with the Joneses syndrome and false notion of the role of money and status in determining a person’s worth. Unless that issue is addressed in pragmatic realism instead of giving lectures on values and character sounding as platitudes, it is not likely to be resolved. I read once that Sachin Tendulkar earned eighty times more in endorsements than his contemporary hockey superstar Dhanraj Pillay when both were at their peak, which is only because of the fan following that cricket enjoys. It does not mean that Pillay is a less superstar. Similarly, someone like Govinda may have more commercial success than a brilliant actor like Naseerudin Shah. Even Abhinav Bindra, who was the first individual gold medalist in the Olympics in over a hundred years, will probably earn less in shooting than a good Indian cricketer would do but his achievement is greater in a certain context as the competition in the Olympics is a lot stiffer as a lot many countries participate than in cricket. While attending a function for a school of mentally challenged children abroad, referring to the activities of the school Rahul Dravid had remarked, “These are the real heroes. We are just more visible.” The role that the NSG played in the recent Mumbai terror attack also reveals this but how much paid are these real heroes or the army heroes who protect our lives paid compared to cricketing and bollywood heroes or even corporate executives? There is nothing wrong in wanting to be rich and famous but looking at the element of destiny from a reality perspective, one realizes what can best be summed up by a quote from Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

This can be said for other fields as well. In a recent article in the Hindustan Times, journalist Karan Thapar wrote that once upon a time his merchant banker’s wife’s salary was eight times his salary. He may be a very good journalist but if the profession itself does not pay, what can he do? In Vir Sanghvi’s book, Men of Steel, Infosys CEO and MD Nandan Nilekani stated that his success was being at the right place at the right time. He elaborates that there are people who are much brighter and work much harder than him. His wealth is partly a consequence of good timing. Likewise, in his book on Bill Gates, Jonathan Gatlin states that his leaving Harvard for starting Microsoft was largely a matter of timing. On the other hand Leonard Mlodinow has written an entire book on how the element of chance makes less talented people more commercially successful than their talented contemporaries.

Remain motivated

Other prominent people like Shakespeare, Vincent van Gogh, certainly Munshi Premchand were all posthumous successes — a case of bad timing. Some books even state how to remain motivated if you are the wrong person at the wrong time. Even in well-paid industries the dynamics of business — markets, segments, customers, buying behavior and costs — can be drastically different and beyond an individual’s control. One may mention here that the Gita’s message of doing one’s work without being attached to the results is not merely because the Gita says so; it is so because the market profile in any profession is dependent upon tastes and preferences of millions of people apart from other variables which is beyond an individual’s control. So blindly following money as a measure of a person’s worth and running after brands and status can be counterproductive in the long run. Many spiritual books are critical of the role that advertising plays in converting wants onto needs in impressionable minds. It is better to hear it from the horse’s mouth — In 1982, a study entitled Advertise-ment and Social Responsibility indicated that of the total advertisements sampled only 3.3 per cent were factual and informative about the product without any psychological appeal. The appeal becomes more predominant when there is little to differentiate between brands and products in the market.. In such a situation there seems to be no other alternative but to win the consumer support by flattering his or her ego or resorting to a whole range of basic psychological and emotional appeals, including the most primordial ie sex appeal. With so many channels since 1982, I wonder if the situation is any different. What happens when one suffers from a sudden crisis for no fault of his? When a financial
crisis strikes, instead of letting our imagination blowing it out of
proportion, the best thing for coping initially is to think about the
Sometimes money itself can be a source of the kind of crisis mentioned above. About a year back, in Mumbai, a rich Parsi boy was kidnapped and murdered by four of his friends on whom he used to splurge. Some years back, when a builder was killed by extortionists, his wife mentioned how being rich had proved to be a bane in their case.
Filmstar Shah Rukh Khan mentioned in one interview how he was sometimes apprehensive about losing all that he had achieved.. It is perhaps because of the intangibles that both Osho and Krishnamurthy said that people follow security but it is like a mirage because even if one is able to achieve financial freedom, destiny can strike in other spheres of life over which one may not have any control. Severe problems in other intangible spheres — relationships, health and career can be even dicier even if the losses cannot be determined numerically. So the perception that once economic freedom is achieved, all will be well could be deceptive, which is another reason why a blind pursuit of wealth should be avoided.

Facing financial crisis with courage and dignity can prove to be an achievement in itself. In the book Riches to Rags, it is mentioned that Oil baron Glenn McCarthy, though down and out, remained a respectable man and a hero to many people who admired him for his courage, hard work, uprightness and honesty. He faced his destiny with ease and equanimity and never compromised with his principles though driven by destiny from riches to rages. So much so that a book was written and a movie made on him. The railway king of England, George Hudson died a poor man but when his procession passed through the streets of York, the citizens rose to the occasion and gave him a peaceful burial. Sir Clive Sinclair’s phenomenal wealth vanished because of cheaper and better competition but he continued to be treated as an honorable man. All this reminds one of that question one comes across in management books: “What would you liked to be remembered as when you die? What would you want your obituary to say — someone who earned so much money or left a legacy”? The examples clearly show that the world would remember you more for what you achieved and how you conducted yourself than how much wealth you earned or had.
J Krishnamurthy had mentioned in one of his books that pain is physical but suffering is psychological. This is true in the context of ‘perception of reality is more important than reality’ and therefore, how one responds to a crisis is even more critical than the crisis per se. However, as the earlier part of the article clearly shows, one can dig one’s own grave by ignoring certain basics. Whether it is finances or life, perceptions or reality, one thing is certain to avert any kind of crisis which generally has consequences that are mental, one cannot violate any fundamental.


Competencies in politics

This article is published in the December issue of Management Compass. The magazine version is in the pdf file-:obama-dec-2008

Now, walk the talk

Intro: Barak Obama has proven his broad vision, brilliant oratory skills. Now he must prove his execution skills

Body Text

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

In one sweeping statement, Barack Obama seems to have emphasised the one issue that should matter most in politics: Despite all the diversity a nation may have, when it comes to electing a leader, they should forget all the parochial biases and elect the most meritorious. Since the US and India are the world’s oldest and largest democracies respectively, one could not help but wonder about the possibility of an Indian Obama and by that I mean not necessarily someone from an underprivileged segment of society but a person who is the most deserving should be able to rise to the highest office in the land.
One comes across articles stating Mayawati to be a potential Indian Obama as she is a Dalit. But that, to my mind, is fundamentally incorrect as she has used caste as her calling card extensively. Obama, on the other hand, never used race/colour or the victim mentality as part of his campaign. He was chosen by 45 per cent white America, majority of every ethnic group and even Jews in a country where 11 per cent of the public is black. In contrast, Mayawati has been known for naked aggression in the past compared to the calm and unflappable Obama who is so popular internationally for his conduct that a German daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung, called him the new Dalai Lama. Oratory apart, Obama, known for swaying audiences with novel ideas, having risen from obscurity, also reminds one of the Mahatma.

Style with speed

Since brilliant oratory is what Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is most known for, can that alone make a good politician or statesman? Rajdeep Sardesai mentioned on one of his blogs on Television politicians how he had to make do with Arun Jaitley and Kapil Sibal when the top leaders of their respective parties were not inclined to debate on television. The recent American debate clearly revealed Mccain’s ignorance and discomfiture on matters related to the economy and Sarah Palin’s gaffes on international affairs. Would Indian politicians subject themselves to such rigorous scrutiny before the elections and if some of them prove more knowledgeable than their senior counterparts, will it take them anywhere? There maybe other chuppa rustams within political parties who may have the potential but even if that comes out, what after that? The Lead India campaign threw up an ideal candidate in RK Mishra, who though not a brilliant orator won on the basis of his execution skills. Where is he now? What happened to him after that? Can such people be allowed to be out of sight, out of mind?

Even if people are in favour of a particular person, since political parties are faction-driven and have their own internal politics, will that young person ever have a genuine chance of surging forward or will he have to wait in the wings for his turn even if he is more capable. Obama at 47 had only five years’ experience in national politics but he was still nominated by his party and made it to the top. Recently, Mahendra Singh Dhoni got selected as the captain of the Indian cricket team on merit, bypassing seniors like Virendra Virendra Sehwag and Yuvraj among others. Can that ever happen in politics? In India, when it comes to the Lok sabha elections, only the most senior leaders are projected as prime ministerial candidates. The young brigade in the Congress already speaks of Rahul Gandhi as its leader, which is completely at variance with what Obama stands for. A party with a hundred year history is bereft of talent to rally the masses to a particular cause and therefore has to depends on a single family. In Obama’s case, there has been an element of luck as well, as the recent financial crisis and mismanagement of the past few years probably influenced voting on merit than any other consideration.


Oratory may not reflect the real picture or be an asset in all situations. Newsweek reported that Mc Cain’s speechwriter had tried to convey sentiments that he symbolised but they sounded stilted coming from his mouth. Talking the walk, therefore, can be as important as walking the talk. That apart, I am reminded of a statement made by former British prime minister Clement Atlee, who said that while eloquence maybe an asset in election speeches and Parliament, it could be a liability in cabinet meetings where brevity is the norm. This brings us to the critical question of execution. Whenever the word execution comes to mind, one is reminded of Rajiv Gandhi’s famous statement in which he stated that 85 per cent of the funds for the poor never reached them and he was a powerful PM with 400 plus MPs in the Lok Sabha. Rajiv Gandhi also showed a lot of fresh promise in the beginning with his speeches at the UN in 1985 and his tirade against the power brokers in the Congress but towards the end of his term, he seemed to have lost his way and began to sound more like a typical politician. In a recent column in Hindustan Times, historian Ramachandra Guha, while praising Gandhi for his encouragement of technological innovation and Panchayti Raj also conveys how his record in office was sullied on issues like Shah bano, Ayodhya and Kashmir. Promise in oration need not imply exemplary implementation.

Since Obama stands for change, it would obviously include implementation in its range.
If an aspiring politician is a brilliant orator, can his execution skills be taken for granted? Some very good insights are available in the book Execution by Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy. The book says, “Intelligent, articulate conceptualizers don’t necessarily like to execute. Many don’t realize what needs to be done to convert a vision into specific tasks because their high-level thinking is too broad. Boards of directors, CEOs are too often seduced by the educational and intellectual qualities of the candidates they interview. Instead of checking how good the person is at getting things done, they check whether the person is articulate, a good change agent and a good communicator. In our experience there is very little correlation between those who talk a good game and those who get things done come hell or high water.” In many cases, the people concerned falter when they are promoted to a higher or different level. Edward de Bono said once that the person with the bright ideas is not always the best person to execute those ideas. Venture capitalists also say that they fund teams and execution, not ideas. Brilliant oratory can prove deceptive and to judge by that alone would be missing the wood for the trees. There maybe the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip.

In that context of walking the talk, one Indian politician that comes to mind is chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. I went to a function in Delhi where he was going to be felicitated for bringing the Nano to Gujarat. This was the first time I heard him speak though I had read elsewhere that he only spoke the language of development. He speaks very well and made a very good presentation on how Gujarat was progressing as a state and the various initiatives his government had been taking on social, economic and other fronts. He clearly sounded very much like a man with a mission on the move and spoke of proactive governance among other things. In India, it is a pleasure to hear a politician who is gloating over his performance instead of trivial regional and parochial issues and he has beaten the anti incumbency syndrome twice. Though absolved by the Nanavati commission for his role in Godhra, he evokes strong reactions in many people. All one can say is that at least from the development and economic progress perspective, he has given a Ram Rajya of sorts which the BJP used to talk about earlier.

Execution talent

Normally a good chief minister is perceived as a potential prime ministerial candidate, the issue is how does one decide who is likely to be good at execution at the national level. Since ability is backed up by visibility, how does one make execution talent palpable to the general public as oratory talent. People who show good organisation and administration skills at the party level or within a company are prime candidates for providing good governance in politics. I worked under a boss once who was so good in conception and execution that he got elevated from sssistant manager to chief executive in just one year. That apart, he had Lord Krishna-like smartness to get around office politics. Such people arre obamas in letter and spirit. To borrow a quote from bill Clinton, I would say, “It is the execution, stupid”. A less charming but better executing politician is preferable to vice versa.

The book mentioned above has an entire chapter devoted to ‘Right man, right job’ and concludes: “Even the best process always does not get the right people in the right jobs, and it can’t make everybody into a good performer.” In another book on competency mapping, it was mentioned how the right person in a particular role can be 20 times better than the wrong one. In politics however, talent seems to be taken for granted. Since Obama did not have any exalted political lineage, this is a fact worth mentioning. In India, one reads about sibling rivalry in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the scions of state politicians either being “groomed” or having taken over the reins in Punkab, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kashmir and of course the national scene where one can see smart and educated descendents of politicians in the Lok Sabha. Prominent journalists write on the “heir apparent” time and again with an article pitched in once in a while against dynastic rule. Benazir’s niece Fatima Bhutto has expressed strong views against dynastic politics and speaks in favour of platforms, not personalities. This is very true as Obama talks of including republicans in his new team because of their capabilities, which is a great boon in the Presidential system. According to some reports, India’s prime ministers have to do all sorts of balancing acts — region, religion, caste etc. The Indian Obama may not be able to walk the talk in a situation like this, no matter how brilliant an orator he.or she is.

Talking of personalities, what happens if Jyotiraditya Scindia or somebody else in the young brigade turns out to be more talented than Rahul Gandhi as people’s talents can be as different as their appearances? In corporate management, such a person would stand a far better chance. Since everybody is unique and talented to different degrees in different competencies of a role, Individuals have to be distinguished separately in talent management as the penetrative power of different radiations -Apha, beta and Gamma if we have to get a genuine Obama. What we have currently is political legacy passed on by Papa and Mama. In corporate management, hiring, training, performance appraisal, compensation, career and succession planning is done on the basis of extensive competency models. Compared to the suited booted world of professional corporate implementation, execution in politics seems more like a man out on a stroll in a kurta pajama. Then how can one hope for an Obama? This is also due to the fact that in the management world, results are monitored on a quarterly basis.

One thing that deserves to be mentioned in the context of execution is whether a politician should be allowed to do any and everything once he is elected. Before the Iraq war began in 2003, all kinds of people in the US, including Obama expressed their opinion against it but Bush chose to ignore not only that but bypassed the UN and made what turned out to be the biggest mistake of his Presidency. He is expected to bow out with extremely low ratings. This is even more relevant to India as the credibility of politicians is extremely low. New information technologies should be invented to ensure that elected politician honour public opinion.

Since the general public cannot be expected to read fancy talent management books, how does one educate them on spotting and voting for political merit? Since Bollywood and cricket drive India, we could perhaps take their examples. Being born in 1965, I grew up on Sunil Gavaskar and Amitabh Bachchan. While the sons of both the superstars followed them in their respective professions, neither is a chip off the old block where sheer talent is concerned. Rohan Gavaskar could not even play in tests and though Abhishek Bachchan seems to have done better, he has a long way to go before he can be anywhere near his father. If one looks at a majority of father-son cases in cricket and bollywood, the descendents have rarely surpassed their fathers with the possible exception of Hritik Roshan and the Kapoor sisters whose fathers were not successful actors anyway. There may be other exceptions or examples. Even in politics, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi simply do not command the kind of respect Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed as a national leader. How can talent ever be hereditary? One has to get the point across somehow. However if somebody is genuinely talented, he deserves to go further irrespective of the fact whether he belongs to a political family or not. The issue is how does one determine that — by oratory alone?

For the time being, one has to be vary of the wrong kind of political speech making. Considering that much of India’s population is illiterate, it is not very difficult for a good communicator to be a good rabble rouser in the wrong manner towards the wrong or right ends. The recent example is of Raj Thackeray. Considering that the Jet airways employees sought his help when they were removed from the company, it would be even more easy for relatively uneducated people to play into his hands and such people abound in India. Time magazine reported that after winning, when Obama asked Mc Cain for help on being called by him to be congratulated, Mc Cain replied “Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans.” In India, however, there are all kinds of politicians following divisive politics and trying to invoke false pride in the name region, religion, caste etc instead of performance. Even if we cannot achieve the rule of Rama or get a Mahatma, a Dalai Lama or an Obama, we have to stop this drama. I wish like Obama, one could say with confidence “Yes, we can”.

Rock on or knock off

This article was published in the November 2008 issue of the magazine Management Compass. The relevant pdf file link is rock-on2(May take about three minutes to upload)

A Bollywood blockbuster reinforces the importance of correct career choice, for your career constitutes bulk of your waking existence

The most important hymn of young India today, ‘Rock on, hai yeh waqt ka ishara’, has the country ecstatic with joy. But the strongest undercurrent in the movie is the sadness that the key four characters carry with them, 10 years after they split, signaling an end to their music band. They achieve varying degrees of success in their respective professions, including investment banking, but that does not take away the bitterness about what they could have been. The best designation in investment banking and the best office suite can’t compare with the lifestyle — long hair, hair bands et al — they have left behind. No promotion can touch a chord, what music did 10 years ago..

The movie Rock On is about a character called Avinash (portrayed by Farhan Akhtar), an investment banker by profession, who comes across as quite grumpy and indifferent initially, but changes drastically when music reenters his life. He had been an aspiring music star in his college days but could not pursue his calling. Though he has become a successful professional, he does not at all seem happy with life. Rekindling the old passion does seem to rejuvenate him and infuse a spark into his somewhat moribund existence. Even the character Joe, played by Arjun Rampal, is shown rejoining the music band in the end, rather than take up a secure job which his wife feels so strongly about. The narrative in the end depicts practically everybody following what they enjoy doing after dropping old occupations.

A week before the movie was released, this is what I read in an article in the Brunch magazine of the Hindustan Times group: “Dancer and choreographer Sandip Soparrkar made quite a few pit stops before he found his true calling. He started out with a degree in hotel management, did an MBA, was the head of a PR firm and then turned to modelling. He left that boring life a few years ago when he discovered dance and never looked back.” Sometime later, The Sunday supplement of The Times of India had two articles on unconventional career choices, the jist of which was: Unusual careers like wealth manager, hair stylish, graphic designer, bar tender are now bringing both fame and fortune. The lead story of India Today’s Aspire (November 2008) is on out-of-the-box careers, where they have mentioned various other unconventional careers, apart from those given above..

In May this year, I went to Ladakh on a holiday. We were staying at Mantra cottages in Leh. One evening, in a group gathering, the manager in charge, Sunil Motay, played the guitar so well that there were repeat requests for other songs from everybody. His body language indicated that he was enjoying himself very much. That prompted me to ask him the very next morning, “Didn’t you ever think of taking it up as a full time profession?” He replied that because of lack of proper guidance, he could not make the right moves at the right time, and music being a field of sporadic and irregular income, he didn’t later have the guts to switch professions. He also told me that his niece was an aspiring singer and he was encouraging her to participate in the music shows on television so that she does not repeat his mistakes.

In the context of passion for music, the one person who comes to mind is the all time great singer, the late Kishore Kumar. He put in so much zest in his singing through his vibrant, bubbly personality that his co-singers were inspired to perform better by his sheer presence. The book Kishore Kumar by Derek Bose says that since he would perform a song with all nuances and expressions, his dancing and jumping around in the studios would make it impossible to hold one’s laughter, so much so that his lady co-singers would plead with the music director for half-hour breaks with Kishore not being around. He carried this exuberance to stage shows and could galvanise live audiences into dancing with him for hours on end. The king of playback singers was a living testimony of the fact that to “sing is king”.

However, the same book also records the very same Kishore Kumar’s attitude towards acting. “I only wanted to sing. But I was conned into acting and I hated every moment of it — I muffed my lines, pretended to be crazy, shaved my head off, played difficult, began yodelling in the midst of tragic scenes, told Meena Kumari what I was supposed to tell Bina Rai in some other film. I screamed, ranted, went cuckoo.” All this considering that he was such a natural actor that neither could any director enact a scene for him, nor any seasoned actor find it easy to match his style. When his elder brother, the established star, Ashok Kumar pointed out all this to him along with the fact that actors got paid more than singers and musicians, he replied “Acting is fake. Music is real as it comes from the heart. Only that which emanates from the heart can reach the heart of others.” It would not be out place to mention here that many, if not most Indians would have even at that time preferred to be a Bollywood acting star or a part of the Indian cricket team because of the visibility and following they have always commanded compared to other occupations in India. More importantly, it shows the plight of a person in the wrong sub vocation even within the same domain, the film industry.

What Kishore Kumar says about the heart seems to find an echo in management circles as well. I found Mr Kumar Mangalam Birla’s views, the most intriguing in this context. In the book, Smart Leadership Insights for CEOs, he says, “It is not always that a family member wants to spend his entire career in the family business. With education and changing value systems, today’s youth often prefer an independent path, and sometimes a vocation completely different from a family business. If those aspirations cannot be accommodated, then the successor may as well have to come from outside the family.” That would probably happen when the family member decides to follow his passion fulltime. One such person was Subir Malik, key recordist and manager of the most successful rock band in India, Parikrama, who made a conscious decision to switch from his motor spare parts business in Kashmere Gate to music. The adulation that the music band received at an informal public performance queered the pitch for the formal creation of India’s first rock band. On the other hand, Osho had once advised a very successful surgeon to spend the last fifteen years of his life as a musician for personal fulfillment because the person felt that music was his real calling.
Since this article is written in the context of music, it may not be out of place to mention that Singer Abhijeet was a chartered accountant, singer Shanker was a software engineer and last but certainly not the least, AR Rehman was a civil engineer. The so called extra curricular activity may sometimes turn out to be the main activity. Anupama Shah’s book on Shah Rukh Khan states, “Shah Rukh enrolled in Hans Raj college for a degree in economics but his real education started in the evening with the Theatre action group.” What draws out innate talent in the right vocation is real education indeed — “In work, we have the possibility of discovering ourselves.” This is a far cry from the tendency to have a somewhat negative attitude towards vocational education vis-à-vis studies. In our time, SUPW, which stands for socially useful productive work, included music, electronics, clay modelling, batic etc among other things. As students, we used to joke that SUPW could also stand for some useful periods wasted but such jokes can turn out to be very costly in real life if one is in the wrong profession, where he may have to spend a majority of his waking hours for a lifetime.

Many people, though they feel miserable in the wrong profession, do not have the guts to change because of various reasons: fall in income, fall in stature and status, lack of confidence of functional excellence in their professed area, possibility of exploitation etc. An American entrepreneur, when complimented on being able to leave his six figure salary to pursue his passion of opening a chain of food stores, said, “such decisions can only be made if the personal profile, the business profile, and the market profile match.”. One cannot ignore the practical perspective before making such a shift. The point to note is that like Soparrkar, if you take a very long time in seeking your correct working identity or matching the personal and business profile, the chances of success can reduce considerably as your unique talent also needs to meet the market requirement of the times. This could especially be so with certain unconventional career choices having low success rates and the solution is to know your correct vocation early. There are certain things only practical experience can teach for which there is a gestation period in which one learns the new trade or occupation.

The director of Rock On, Abhishek Kapoor himself started off as an actor but after his first couple of films (which he didn’t believe in) flopped, he moved out of the film industry to create an entertainment-based website at the wrong time when the dotcom business crashed. He then wrote and directed a film in which he believed, Aryan, which took four years to release but didn’t do well. That, however gave him the confidence and practical experience to write and direct Rock On, a film in which he closely identifies with the character Joe. He has been overwhelmed with the response to this movie. The correct working identity with a suitable market profile at the right time queers the pitch for commercial success. Currently, the demand for music and new sound has been rising because of the media and the entertainment boom, which means opportunities for people with that kind of profile.

One wonders why determining the right career can be tough. Supposing one were to indulge in a bit of upside down thinking and contemplate how the situation would be if sports or music education is imparted the way general education is imparted. Supposing here the aspiring sports or music students were stuffed with all kinds of facts on their subjects for a few months/years, earn a degree and then made to try the musical instrument or their respective sport. What could probably happen for some of them is the opposite of what happened in Soparrkar’s case. Many of them may realise that music or sport is not their cup of tea and opt for an MBA but it may not be easy to shift. Learning by doing not only enhances learning but helps in pinpointing vocation. Functional talent and passion can only be reaffirmed if not known by functioning and not by analyzing what others may have done, which can, at best make an intellectual of the particular subject or vocation.

It was the pioneer of training and development, Dale Carnegie, who said that choosing one’s spouse and one’s occupation are the two most important decisions of one’s life. When one comes across fancy expressions on career coaching sites like life purpose, life work, personal fulfilment, career meditations to know one’s vocation, it reminds one of the lines in the movie Dil to Paagal hai: “God has already made your life partner, it is a matter of finding him or her..” The Tagline: Someone, somewhere is made for you. That is equally true for the right occupation as well — something, somewhere is made for you. One may not find a hand in glove kind of match but at least the broad direction has to be right. The negative is also worth pondering upon.. Just as the lover Devdas is shown destroying himself in a spiral of negativity because of not being able to marry his desired choice, the misery of the Career Devdas is even greater for not being in the right occupation because of the time involved. In my article ‘Soul of a profession’, I narrated the real life plight of the great Indian actor Balraj Sahni. Another Sahni, Jaideep Sahni, the writer of Chak De India, called the wrong occupation “Lifetime imprisonment”.

These questions of career coaches explain it all:-
Do you dread Monday mornings and feel that the day and week just drags by? Are you ready to make a change but want to avoid saying ‘yes’ to a job that you may end up despising even more? Do you lack self confidence and have the belief that you can’t accomplish your career goals? Are you feeling stuck in your career and confused about possible job options? Are you puzzled about your strengths, talents, career values and career interests? Is your work your calling? Are you engaged in work that you value or does it merely pays the bills? Does your work bring out your strengths or do you keep thinking about turning work activities into your life’s work? Do you have the financial security to effect a career transition?

Another analogy could be the recent big bang experiment, where the The £5bn machine, Large Hadron Collider (LHC), was designed to smash protons together with cataclysmic force to discover what the Universe was made of billionths of a second after the Big Bang. In the West, no foolproof method has so far been devised to know the talent of a human being (what he is made of). Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know oneself”, is almost as relevant today as when he first said it. As far as I am concerned, if you discover what you are made of correctly early in life, it is like the big bang either way — it considerably enhances your chances of success and happiness as career constitutes 70-75 per cent of waking existence. On the negative side, life can bang you very badly — you can suffer both emotionally and financially — a lifetime of frustration and regret according to Devajit Bhuyan, chairman of a Career NGO.

It is not easy for everyone to determine his working identity but that can pave the way for both satisfaction and professional success. Writer Salim Khan, who joined films as an actor but switched to script writing, says in the book The making of Sholay that he had the gift of conception but not the gift of projection. He managed to make a shift within the same domain but what about people like Soparrkar who have to seek their working identity by trial and error across industries. While feeling a rift within, one can continue to drift for discovering one’s gift by making a shift from occupation to occupation. It can be a merry dance and as stated in the movie Rock On, life may never offer you another chance. Contrary to the commonly heard phrase among youngsters these days, “You rock, dude”, the wrong occupation could be a prelude to your being anything but a dude. It could very well be knock off; not Rock on.

BIG BOSS II-Political style v/s substance

This article is published in the October’2008 issue of the magazine, Management Compass.

The Reality game show Bigg Boss was in the news recently for how politicians were desperately trying to get into it to hog the limelight. Manas Chakravarty, the managing editor of Mint, in an article, in the Sunday Hindustan Times of 31 August reported that hundreds of Republican Party of India (RPI) workers ransacked the office of Colors television channel as their leader, Ramdas Athavale was dropped from the reality show Bigg Boss-II. He also stated that Sanjay Nirupam from the Congress and several other politicians pulled all the strings they could to get in and the UPA tried to persuade Shibu Soren to accept a place in Bigg Boss rather than become the chief minister of Jharkhand. You’re in front of a camera every single minute of the day for three months, it’s every politician’s dream, the analyst pointed out. “They would do anything to get on the show.” Some desperation.

Earlier, an article by Shailaja Bajpai in the Indian express on August 20 revealed that Sanjay Nirupam had stated in his blog that that he had agreed to participate in the show to enhance the image of the politicians through his behaviour in front of 32 cameras. One wonders whether Rahul Mahajan also had similar ideas. If he did, he was not doing a good job of it as by the end of the first week, he seemed hyperactive and desperate to make a good impression. It was best summed up by actress Ketaki Dave on the show on September 1, “Rahul is trying to be gregarious with everyone but is that the real Rahul?” God knows.

Ironically, the same edition of Hindustan Times that featured Chakravarty’s article revealed a reality of a different kind. Actor turned MP Vinod Khanna was praised very highly for the initiatives he had taken to build several bridges throughout his constituency, Gurdaspur. The article stated that embittered by corruption in Indian politics, medical practitioner Narinder Kumar Kohli had stopped casting his vote 20 years ago. He changed his mind recently. In his own words, “I will exercise my right to franchise during the coming Lok Sabha elections only to support him. His contribution in this area in the past one decade has been immense. Vinod Khanna is a real-life hero for me,” said the 58-year-old doctor. He said the BJP MP was doing a good job, even if he was inaccessible. It seemed strange that while politicians were pulling out all stops to come to the limelight frivolously, a former actor and celebrity was avoiding it despite performing so well in politics; style without substance and substance without style.

It seems that some politicians are of the view that just as Big Brother did a lot more for Shilpa Shetty than her acting career, they would perhaps fare likewise just by appearing in front of the camera.

Is it so easy to impress just by being in front of the camera? It is worth looking at perhaps one of the best performing politicians in front of the TV, former American President Ronald Reagan. When he died in the year 2004, Time magazine devoted an entire obituary issue to him. It has some interesting insights about his television performance. The magazine reported that when his career as a Hollywood actor was going nowhere he was hired by General Electric. For $125,000 a year, he would act as host and occasional star of a weekly television drama series for General Electric; for 10 weeks each year he would also act as a kind of goodwill ambassador to GE plants around the nation. As one of the first prominent Hollywood actors to defect to the much-scorned new medium of TV, Reagan revived his acting career. The General Electric Theatre, with Reagan as host from 1954 to 1962, dominated the Sunday-night ratings. But what changed Reagan was his tours of the GE plants. Later, Reagan’s opponents often underestimated him, dismissing him as “just an actor,” an amateur lacking political experience. What they failed to see was that although Reagan had not spent much time in conventional politics, he had gained both skill and experience in what was to become the politics of the TV age, the politics of electronic images and symbols. Reagan once figured that in his eight years at GE, he had visited every one of the company’s 139 plants, met more than 250,000 employees, spent 4,000 hours talking to them and “enjoyed every whizzing minute of it.” He polished his delivery, the intimate confiding tone, the air of sincerity, the wry chuckle, the well-timed burst of fervour. The very fact that he had to make so much conscious effort despite being an actor shows how difficult it is to pull off an outstanding performance on Television.

That apart, one needs to be smart and witty like Shah Rukh Khan, who seems to be in his element in front of the camera not only as an actor but whenever he gives interviews or speaks extempore. Coming back to Reagen in this context, he once turned the tables on his electoral rivals by one witty remark. Reagen was getting on in age and this had become an issue during the 1984 presidential debate with Walter Mondale. His humorous reply “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience..” bowled over a wide American audience and impressed his opponents as well. That one statement made a pivotal role in his victory.. So political performance apart, even TV by itself requires a flair of a different kind. I doubt if even the actor politicians of India can get anywhere near Reagen.

Our politicians are lucky that our audiences are not so discerning. American politicians in general and Presidents in particular have to do well in terms of both style and substance on TV as well as politics.

Since politicians are so desperate to get into the limelight, conducting behavioural interviews on what all they had achieved could make interesting viewing as anecdotes can be very entertaining. They could be pitted against one another or other features could be introduced to make things more interesting. The Times of India with its lead India campaign, has already shown the way on how to detect political talent but that was from among unknown people. This would be more of a performance appraisal of established politicians. The politicians would have their place in the sun and be made accountable on TV with behavioural interviews. It could be a win-win situation for everyone.

An inadequate performance culture is one of the reasons why politicians try to hog attention the wrong way in real and reel life. India Today summed it up wonderfully in one of its recent issues — “The world Bank says that four out of 10 Indians live below the poverty line. You could quarrel with the methodology but there is no disrupting the cause — pathetic governance” Its latest issue, while giving the constituency wise performance and stating that even the constituencies of long-elected ministers and former prime ministers were far below from the top performing ones, has this to say in conclusion: “The landscape is littered with issues of poor governance- from teacherless schools to waterless pipes to a crumbling delivery system for foodgrains. At the assembly level, anti-incumbency is as high as 65 per cent, while it is between 45 and 55 per cent at the parliamentary level. Nothing reveals the sloth in the system that renders even the most voluble politician ineffective better than this study”. On the positive side, the article praises Sharad Pawar alone for bringing about a complete transformation in his constituency.

The public has to act as the big boss and using transparency provided by Television, choose to stay with or remove them, the way people are ejected from the reality game show. The India Today article above thankfully mentions that though MPs are elected to legislate at the centre, they are now expected to monitor everything from bad sanitation in the neighbourhood to public transport in their constituency. The media, in turn, should follow up the MPs using behavioural interviews or whatever feasible manner, instead of just moving on to the next news story. The crisis of Kosi has shown how lack of competence can make things messy. Politicians can face problems of a far greater magnitude than companies and lack of relevant competencies can prove disastrous in preventing such crises or coping with it; Kosi left 2.5mn homeless, 1000 dead and 866 villages destroyed. Looking at it from another context from the scale of problems that politicians may have to face, they are the big bosses and not being able to elect the right ones can cause substantial, unmitigated losses.

Talent in Management and sports

This article is published in the September’2008 issue of the magazine The Management Compass

The fear factor

What is stopping Indian sportsmen from emulating the chinese and US success story?

China had been going all out to put in an impressive performance at the Beijing Olympics. China’s leaders have had a long tradition of using sports to boost national pride. For china, a significant victory at Beijing would enhance its potential superpower status. Its vast multibillion sports machine has only one goal in mind — grooming Olympic champions. At the time of writing this piece, they seem to be succeeding in their mission; currently, China is at the top with 35 Golds, 13 silver and 13 bronze (on August 18).

The heartening thing about the Beijing Olympics is that India too finally managed to produce an Individual Olympic champion, 108 years after the Olympics restarted, Abhinav Bindra received the first individual gold medal in shooting in the 10ms Air rifle category from a strong field of 122 shooters from nearly 100 countries. His impressive performance got him the kind of adulation that is normally reserved for cricket and Bollywood stars in India. Apart from being feted for his achievements both by the President and the Prime Minister, the manner in which the newspapers and news channels covered him made him a national hero and an eligible bachelor overnight. However, considering that it was the first individual gold medal for a nation of a billion plus population in such a long time, everything said in his praise would seem like an understatement.

Bindra mentioned in one of his interviews that our country’s sports administration needs to be brushed up in a way that winning such medals should be more a rule than the exception. How does one achieve that? The Mittal Steel Trust (MCT), with a corpus of $10 million set up by steel baron Laxmi Mittal to support talented Olympic aspirants, is a handsome initiative. Bindra was one of the beneficiaries of Mittal’s largesse. The Olympic gold quest by India’s sporting legends Geet sethi and Prakash Padukone backed by business funds is another such initiative. Apollo Tyres Mission hopes to create a Grand Slam champion in India in Tennis by 2018 and NIIT Mind Champion Academy has taken chess to 4,000 schools across India. While all these attempts are laudable and one hopes that other business houses follow their footsteps, will that be enough?

The China model

One needs to have look at the way China develops its champions. After 1959, when Rong Guotuan made history as China’s first world Table Tennis champion, to maintain ping pong supremacy, coaches fanned out across the countryside looking for kindergartners with quick reflexes and superior hand-eye co-ordination. In their table tennis school, kids train for four hours everyday in the morning and three times a week in the evening with academic classes in between. Many kids see their parents for only a couple of weeks each year. That maybe a little far fetched but a proactive talent spotting process has to be there in place to ensure that talent is spotted at a very young age and groomed on a continuous basis.

Retirement blues

That is one aspect of talent management in sports. There are deeper issues involved. Who shall take care of the sportsmen after they retire, is a prime worry that prevents many a talented sportsman from opting for a sports career or devote full time to it with a single minded focus.

The China Sports Daily estimates that 80 per cent of the world’s retired athletes are plagued by poverty, unemployment or chronic health problems, resulting from overtraining. India’s record is hardly impressive. Norman Gilbert Pritchard, who got silver medals for India for 200m sprint and hurdles in 1900 and was the first man to score a hat-trick in Indian football, died a physical and mental wreck in New York in 1929. Freestyle wrestler KD Jadhav won a bronze for India in the 57kg bantamweight category but got nothing on his return, apart from felicitation. He was killed in a road accident in 1988, for which his widow received a paltry for Rs 25,000. He was posthumously awarded the Arjuna Award in 2001. This is peanuts for people who win medals for the country. Hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar had himself been in the Indian hockey team but he mentioned once that since Dhyan Chand did not get anything out of hockey, he did not want any of his sons to play after his playing days got over. Though Flying Sikh Milkha Singh’s son Jeev is now an established golfer, the father did not exactly approve of the son’s choice of career in sports because of his own experience of disappointment with the returns on his achievement.

Sportsmen from other disciplines may face problems of a different kind. Tennis ace Vijay Amritraj revealed in his autobiography that his worst nightmare after retirement would be to be forced in a business not of his liking just to support his family. India’s former coach John Wright had to actually live through that nightmare. In his book Indian Summers ,Wright explains his experience in the corporate world after retiring as a test cricketer, before he became coach for Kent and then, India. In his own words, “Working at Fletchers gave me a crash course on everyday reality, which for many people boils down to earning a living doing something they wouldn’t necessarily choose to do. I had gone from doing something I had a passion for to doing something completely different, which, with the best will in the world, I wasn’t passionate about.” Kapil Dev’s autobiography reveals how a senior cricketer like Chandu Borde was humiliated routinely by the board as he was dependent on them for a job.

Right choices

Fortunately, Bindra seems to have earned a fair amount of prize money from various sources. He is a rich man’s son but otherwise, would it suffice to sustain him for a lifetime? Who will take care of the responsibilities on retirement. Maybe other corporate houses would come forward to absorb them just the way some of them absorb cricketers. Bindra’s spectacular achievement is a good opportunity to look at talent management from a different perspective on how excellence can be achieved both in sports and other spheres. The book Welcome to the Talent Wars by Bruce Tulgan and Now, discover your strengths by Marcus Buckinhgam offer insights into talent management, which one can apply from sports to corporate management and vice- versa.

Both Tuglan and Buckingham have emphasised the importance of knowing your one’s specific niche and planning accordingly. Buckingham has given the example of super golfer Tiger Woods and English soccer star David Beckham. Tiger woods knew that his bunker play was poor. Once he made sure that it reached acceptable levels, he focused totally on his dominant strength, his swing. Explaining how English soccer star David Beckham hit a 35 yard shot to beat Equador 1-0, Buckingham says that he had become so overwhelmingly good at bending long range free kicks into the net that this one strength virtually defined his entire role. He calls this rarefied specialisation and advises emulating it in the management world. Buckingham has written extensively on how silly it is to correct a weakness at the cost of building a strength. Whether before or after retirement, or in sports or other disciplines, nothing can be truer and if one discovers one’s niche at a young age, chances of success improve considerably.

Buckingham has also said that it is better to aim for well-rounded organisations with people complimenting each other’s weaknesses. The percentage of great all rounders to total number of cricketers is extremely low and even if one were to possess that kind of versatility, one can only focus at one area at a time. The core of talent management is to know your niche and build on it.

Phelps phenomenon

There will of course be honorable exceptions. Swimming superstar Michael Phelps is one. By winning eight gold medals, he conquered Mark Spitz’ record of seven gold medals and with the highest number of individual gold medals, became the greatest Olympian of all times. He is not great just because he got eight — he has achieved single handedly what India could achieve in 108 years. Phelps’ total tally — 16 golds and 2 bronzes — towers over India’s total tally in 108 years. Phelps has 14 golds against India’s nine. Without his contribution, the US gold tally would be halved.
Phelps was diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in school but as his talent was spotted early, he focused only on that. I had read in one write- up how some ADHD children have a very high IQ but only in one or a few areas. Such people cannot afford to be in the wrong profession. If not handled properly, they can make a nuisance of themselves and even take to crime. Phelps has shown what is possible when they are in their prime, which is possible only with the right kind of talent management.
When people are in their right roles, they represent the strength, health and wealth of a nation. A person who could have been a zero is a superhero and what is a nation without its heroes?

If some superstars like the players mentioned above cannot afford not to know their sub niche within their main professions, can anyone afford to be in wrong profession at all?

Former seven times world Billiards champion Geet Sethi answers that both for sports and management. In his book Success v/s Joy, he states that after exposure to the game for only a few months, he got addicted to billiards at the age of 13. Though Sethi focused on billiards, his friend Sunil Aggarwal did the opposite. Though he shared his passion for billiards, he focused on his IIM and IIT and achieved the exalted social status as the managing director of a company. He declared that a feeling of inadequacy and failure dogged him continuously, which was primarily because of lack of achievement in what he considered to be his true passion — the billiards table. Considering that such well-qualified man can talk like this, can sportsmen or anybody for that matter afford to be in the wrong occupation?

Talent and passion

Former football superstar Pele, considered by many to be the greatest ever football player ever answers that when he says, “I felt a strange calmness… a kind of euphoria. I felt I could run all day without tiring, that I could dribble through any of their team or all of them, that I could almost pass through them physically.” Pele also said,
“Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.” Which reminds one of former management leader Charles Schwab’s assertion, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”. Talent management in this perspective is nothing but locating and redirecting talent in the right areas, whether is management or in sports. Both our World cup winning captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kapil Dev are prime examples. Both were ardent footballers but switched to cricket because both discovered by chance that they could hit the ball very hard while trying another activity (batting) in another sport (Cricket).

Doesn’t that imply that training matters more than education in spotting and grooming talent? This is because talent is actually activity centric unless one is involved in research. According to Buckingham, “Whatever our job happens to be, it comprises several activities. Some invigorate us, some leave us neutral, some deplete us, bore us or drain us. There cannot a perfect job we love but the jobs can be sculpted around activities which strengthen us.” Buckingham has asserted in his book that 8 out of 10 people not using their strengths actually shows tremendous scope for talent management. In sports career switching is relatively easier as it is more activity centric.

A word of caution here. According to Buckingham, interest without adequate ability can also be dicey. Giving the example of Basketball superstar Michael Jordan, he says that even if he had not spent countless hours in the Gym, he would have still been a better player than most of us.. But without those hours in the Gym, he would not have become the star he was”. Talent management implies a healthy balance of both talent and passion. Buckingham has also explained what a waste of time and money it is to send people for training for talents that they do not possess. According to him, while skills and knowledge can be learnt, Talents are inborn and cannot.

Management lessons

Tuglan offers some valuable insights while comparing education with training. He says “General Electric alone — with its stunning college campus at New York — spends $500 a year on training and education, 10 times more than the total annual tuition paid by Harvard’s MBA student body in a typical year. Nobody can be stubborn and insist that the only way to train people is for the long haul, mimicking the obsolete pedagogy of yesteryear. Corporate training and distance learning will eventually wipe out many, if not most of the graduate business programmes in existence today.”

One of the chapters in Tuglan’s book is Turn Managers into Coaches. According to him, personal coaching is much more effective in getting the best out of people. Tuglan says “If it takes your organization months on end of years to get people up to speed into meaningful roles, you have a serious problem in today’s short term environment. Neither individuals or organizations that employ them have any more time for long term knowledge acquisition. It is no longer sufficient for anybody to receive their education up front through formal schooling and expect that education to last them very long. You have to identify quickly what a person is capable of, choose the right role for that person, teach that person exactly what he needs to know to play that role and then require that he gives it all. Depending upon his, there should ba a multiplicity of opportunity for you.” He gives the examples of US Marines on how in 11 weeks, they can get a person ready. Explaining a training programme for a new trainee, an example of one company was given with a training programme from week to week, where the individual is assessed at the end of every month. According to the company “Every day is meant to be like an MBA crash course because we have hired you to run our business”

Such emphasis on training rather than formal education may allay some of the fears that sportsmen have about what to do after retirement. I had once come across the businessman father of a promising Tennis player who was wary of going all the way because of the risks that it entailed. When one reads of the difficulties of career switching at sites like or books like Working Identity even in the western world, one can hardly blame him. That apart, career switching can sometimes bring out very promising talent — Amitabh Bachchan is also a case of lateral career transition who came up more because of hands-on coaching rather than formal education in acting.
The word education comes from the latin word educere which implies to bring out what is already in, which perhaps can be done better in some cases by hands-on coaching.

Following the philosophy of “The best are worth accommodating”, Tuglan states that in the current scenario, companies have to bend backwards to accommodate aspirations of the best talent. The book mainly talks of how the most talented people in management are now thinking like free agents (like professional athletes and actors) and how it is not possible to achieve excellence without catering to their specific needs, whether it is a three way workweek or sticking to one location instead of shifting them around etc. It talks of fluid and flexible staffing: “Learn to employ people wherever, whenever and however they are willing… Where and when people work matters much less in the new economy than what people actually do and how they do it… In the new economy, career customization will be the norm, not the exception”.

If these are the new standards of talent management, we can hardly afford to mistreat our sports or other superstars before or after retirement. The people who make the country proud can hardly be treated as the rest of the crowd.

True to his name

The word Abhinav means brand and uniquely new and one must say that with his achievement, he has lived up to his name. Though old is gold in a certain context, we should ensure that his gold never becomes old and continuously inspires us to better performance. The name of the first citizen of the country, the President of India, is Pratibha or talent, which should symbolise our conduct. Bindra has set a healthy precedent. Following letter and spirit, President and precedent, it is better if we pull up our socks in talent management to live up to the new Olympic spirit everywhere. Otherwise the saying Chak de India may end up meaning more like chuck (leave Olympic aspirations) de India.. And instead of our players being on song, “Hum honge Kamyaab” will remain what it is — just a song.
———————–End of Published Article——————————–
Though perhaps not evident in the way the article has been edited, much of Bindra’s success has come from some of the factors mentioned in the article- discovering his passion(talent) at a young age, having the flexibility to devote to it with a single minded focus, having no worries of life after the sport etc. Competency based systems which have a people orientation rather than a task orientation are more likely to detect talent at a young age.

That apart the chapters of Tuglan’s books is clearly indicative of a sports model for training which can be applied in management:-

Talent is the show,
Staff the work, not the jobs,
Pay for performance and nothing else
Turn Managers into coaches

Spiritual and emotional intelligence;Consciousness and intellect

This article was published in the August edition of the magazine “The management compass”
Intro: The magazine version pdf file is here- spirutal-intelligence-august-2008

More than intellect, it’s spirituality that leads us to bliss.

In my previous two articles, I tried to explain emotional intelligence from a life purpose and a practical perspective. Another word that one comes across is the word spiritual intelligence. Some years ago, I attended a workshop which covered spiritual concepts for successful management. The conductor of the workshop mentioned that the byproduct is to become happy, peaceful and balanced, which more or less matches the goals of emotional intelligence as that would help in good inter-personal relations. The word spiritual however has a wider connotation and would encompass wisdom, compassion, connection with the higher self etc.

In this context, one of the best definitions of spiritual intelligence is by D Zohar and I Marshall. They define spiritual intelligence (which they abbreviate as SQ) as “the intelligence with which we address and solve problems of meaning and value; the intelligence with which we can place our actions and our lives in a wider, richer, meaning-giving context; the intelligence with which we can assess that one course of action or one life-path is more meaningful than another. SQ is the necessary foundation for the effective functioning of both IQ and EQ. It is our ultimate intelligence.” While emotional intelligence is based on the notion that the ability of managers to understand their own emotions, and those of the people they work with, is the key to better business performance, spirituality assumes that one needs to become fully conscious of the emotions before one can feel what lies beyond — love, joy, peace.

Emotional intelligence is operative at the cognitive/intellectual level or level of the mind, whereas spiritual intelligence is operative at the consciousness level or beyond the mind. One comes across people who gloat about being spiritual rather than intellectual or sometimes go overboard in expressing consciousness vis-à-vis intellect. The objective here is to put things in proper perspective while exploring the common ground between spiritual and emotional intelligence.
In the book, The power of Now, it is given that thinking cannot exist without consciousness but consciousness does not need thought. Identification with mind causes thought to become compulsive. The basic error is to equate thinking with being and identity with thinking. Enlightenment is a state of wholeness or felt oneness with being or consciousness and can bring about the end of dreadful enslavement to incessant thinking, which prevents one from the realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from being. The author states that if one is able to observe the mind as the witnessing presence rather than be swayed by it, one can be in a state of constant peace, if not happiness.

Vipassana meditation explains the significance of experiential wisdom vis-a vis the intellect very well. Vipasana is a meditation technique that was introduced by Gautam Buddha 2,500 years ago. Vipassana literature states that with his strongly concentrated mind, he penetrated deeply into his own nature and found that the entire material structure is composed of minute subatomic particles which are continuously arising and vanishing. In the snapping of a finger or blinking of an eye, he said, each of these particles arises and passes away many millions of times. An American scientist discovered the same thing through a bubble chamber and found that in one second, a subatomic particle arises and vanishes 10 to the power of 22 times. However that scientist is not an enlightened person and has not been freed from all the suffering because he has not experienced truth directly and is therefore more of intellectual wisdom.

However, intellect is also important in its own place. For one, one needs intellect to have a basic understanding of consciousness. My first understanding of consciousness came from a book which stated that just as you cannot be your shirt or trousers, as anything that is yours cannot be you, you cannot be your body or your mind. Then who are you? Osho said once that you are nothing but your consciousness. When one is able to respond to situations purely as a witness or with equanimity, this may be the pure or witnessing consciousness. This is because it is free from greed and fear, craving and aversion or as described in certain religions, Raga and Dvesha.

The Power of Now further states that emotion is the body’s reaction to the mind or a reflection of the mind in the body and arises at the place where the mind and body meet. If there is an apparent conflict between them, the thought will be the lie and the emotion will be the relative state of the mind at that time. Awareness in the context of emotional intelligence however has more to do with the intellect. People who recognise their emotions and their effects know the emotions they are feeling, can label them, can realise the effect of emotions on their actions, can know how their feelings affect the quality of work and working relationships and can readily acknowledge the gaps between the actual and espoused goals and values. People who have this kind of self awareness are more objective and are able to respond to day-to-day situations with poise, self assurance and sound judgment. Emotional intelligence is more about understanding emotions but spirituality is about transcending them.

Though connectedness with the being of higher consciousness may enable one to stay at peace with oneself, in day-to-day life, what one says in response to various life situations can be deemed equally important. At a press conference after the 9/11 when mayor of New York, Rudy Guliani was asked what he thought the body count would be, instead of saying that he didn’t know or the figures were not complied or passing on the question to his aids, he replied “I don’t know what the final number will be, but it shall be more than what we can bear”. With those empathetic words, he was able to emotionally connect with twelve million New Yorkers who began to then look upon him as the person who would see them through the crisis. Being connected with the higher consciousness may put one at peace but what one says at the spur of the moment spontaneously in response to situations would come within the realm of intellect. Emotional intelligence here is a kind of talent. Some of the greatest leaders in the world, being superb orators have been able to emotionally connect with their audience because of their dexterity with words.

In the context of emotional intelligence, empathy has a prime place. However, one has to be clear on where empathy works and where it does not work or may not work that effectively. Empathy is generally considered one of the best tools to connect and bond with people but there are certain situations where it may not be required or not be effective. For instance, in human interactions associated with activities like credit collections, empathy can prove more to be a liability than an asset.

In addition to being spiritual, being intellectually clear on specific issues is equally important.. This would also be issues like violence for instance. The Dalai lama had this to say about violence in one of the books written on him, “Violence is fundamentally wrong but in some external circumstances with an altruistic motive, when there is no other alternative, one can consciously and full awareness of karmic consequences, commit such an act.” Even Mahatma Gandhi had to clarify once in the context of Hindu Muslim riots: “To stand by and do nothing when your brothers and sisters are killed and raped is not Ahimsa but cowardice.” These statements clearly show that intellectual discretion and discrimination is equally important, especially on critical, provocative issues. At the same time this should be in the right proportion. Considering that “Knowledge is food for the ego” endless intellectual discussions is against the very essence of spirituality.

J Krishnamurthy was perhaps able to put things in the right perspective. He said that meditation of the heart is understanding, which is the very basis, the fundamental process of meditation.. Understanding means giving right significance, right valuation to all things — the right value of property, the right value of relationship, the right value of ideas. The beginning of meditation is self knowledge, which means being aware of every thought and feeling and action as it arises. Here the implication probably is that if one looks at a negative emotion like jealousy/ envy without understanding the false importance or over valuation to certain things/issues which caused the emotion to arise in the first place, the whole practice of meditation would be superficial. The conscious mind has to understand the significance of its own activities and thereby bring tranquility to itself. According to Krishnamurthy, the mind is an excellent instrument of thinking and communication in the functional context. However, the very same mind in the psychological sphere could create severe problems if thoughts and emotions are not observed without reaction and transcended

In the original article, the editor chose not to mention this but I consider it important:-

One of my cousins who lost his son in an accident told me that being a person of spiritual orientation helped him cope with the tragedy better but he could empathize with others who had lost children better after losing his own child . So equanimity from spirituality need not translate into empathy; spirituality cannot be the be all and end all of everything .

Significance of lateral thinking

This article was published in the June’2007 issue of the magazine Educare

Lateral thinking is an unpredictable and unconventional approach to solve problems in a non-evident manner against the normal logical step-by -step linear or sequential thinking. Lateral thinking is a step-by-step method of creative thinking with prescribed techniques that can be used consciously. The objective here is not to get into technicalities of lateral thinking (well covered in Wikipedia) but explain lateral thinking in a way the students can understand through practical examples.

One simple example is that of my brother, a businessman who, several years ago, wanted to buy a personal computer when the production reached 10,000 units from the current 4000 units because only at that volume the computer was justified because of the administrative work involved. I pointed out to him that he could buy the computer first, then from whatever time that was saved by the computer could be used to manufacture those 10,000 units. He liked the idea and on implementing the same he was able to achieve a production figure far in excess of 15,000 units.

The best example of unconventional thinking the world over is that of Henri Ford who is considered to be one of the pioneers of the motor car. He saw profits in mass production and to make his car affordable to workers, he adopted a totally different approach. He shocked the world with what probably stands as his greatest contribution ever: the $5-a-day-minimum-wage scheme. The average wage in the auto industry then was $2.34 for a 9-hr shift. Ford not only doubled that, he also shaved an hour off the workday. In those years it was unthinkable that a guy could be paid that much for doing something that didn’t involve an awful lot of training or education. The Wall Street Journal called the plan “an economic crime, adopting biblical teachings where they do not apply” and critics everywhere heaped ‘Fordism’ with equal scorn. But as the wage increased later to a daily $10, it proved a critical component of Ford’s quest to make the automobile accessible to all. The critics were too ignorant to comprehend that because Ford had lowered his costs per car, the higher wages didn’t matter —except for making it feasible for more people to buy cars. He increased his market share from 10 per cent to 40 per cent while the share commanded by General Motors slipped from 23 per cent to 8 per cent. After cutting the prices 30 per cent during the 1920 economic crises, Ford commanded a 60 per cent share in the market that had grown by a factor of 12 in a decade. Within a decade and a little later his net worth increased from the original $ 28,000 to $ 715 million.

This upside down thinking or supply creates its own demand has been followed in India no better than Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons. This is what a Reliance manager has to say about Dhirubhai’s initial moves in the textile industry:

“Against conventional wisdom, he started manufacturing synthetics on a mega scale realising that the poor would pay more for a reasonably good quality because they got an image boost. He did not look down upon consumers or take them for granted. The polyester pasha had stumbled upon a polyester market which the older mills has missed completely. When Reliance entered the domestic market, it met with a lot of resistance from traditional cloth merchants whose loyalty was towards the older mills. Following a totally unusual approach, he bypassed the traditional wholesale trade, opened his own showrooms, tapped new markets and appointed agents from non textile backgrounds. While he may not have pioneered the concept of company stores, he pursued this policy on a grand scale. In a drive to achieve high volumes, Ambani spotted an entirely new market- the non metro urban segment and opened it up. Other mill owners watched enviously as Ambani scooped rich profits from fabric marketing in smaller towns as the first to both recognise and exploit their potential. Setting up capacities far in excess of what the market has required is the trigger that sets off unconventional thinking in Reliance; on product applications, new grades and interesting methods by which growth can be accelerated. It gets Reliance to think. If Reliance had set up capacities in line with the then-existing consumption standards, it would never have emerged as a pioneer because there would have been no trigger within the company.”

Reliance Petroleum’s systems manager once stated, “Being unconventional is the biggest convention in Reliance.” This is what their president, basic services, had to say about bidding “We bid successfully for the Gujarat basic services circle on the conviction that the more phone lines we give out, the greater will be the demand. Not a linear expansion, but a geometric extrapolation. Typical Reliance thinking? This is very true. This is what one of their assistant vice-presi-dents had to say in this connection

“Reliance has been built on the premise that supply will create demand. This is something that one must remember when the capacities installed by the company look crazily in excess of what the country may need at that moment in time. The installed capacity for polypropylene in the country when Reliance conceived of the project was two lac tonnes per annum (tpa) against an existing domestic supply of 1.5 lac tpa. Reliance commissioned its plant with 3.5 lac tpa capacity. Crazy? That one move more than paid off in the late nineties. The market expanded significantly and prove the above measure to be correct.

According to the Reliance website, executives are constantly encouraged to think out-of-the-box, not traditionally or sequentially and the brothers themselves have this tremendous ability to think laterally and look at business as a series of processes. As Mukesh says, “We work in concentric circles, rather than in straight ranks, but there’s always a centre of accountability. To meet Dhirubhai’s deadlines in one of their major projects, Mukesh’s young project team discarded several established business practices in favor of unconventional methods which have now become part of Reliance’s corporate culture

Reliance followed lateral thinking very successfully in all departments. Though it is not a recipe for success which also depends upon the market profile of the particular industry at any given point in time, considering the kind of success Reliance has achieved, maybe it could have been a part of formal school curriculum the way Edward de Bono suggested.

From here, I am going to discuss lateral thinking in the education context but those desirous of knowing more about Reliance’s application of lateral thinking can read the gallery portion of their website or read the Dhirubhai Ambani section of the book Business Maharajas.

Edward de Bono, the world famous proponent of lateral thinking had said once that children and people should be encouraged to think of a different answer and not the right answer which genuine educationists also advocate. Edward de Bono had also said that lateral thinking is so important that it should be taught in schools along with other forms of thinking.

I once had a discussion on this issue with the best boss I had come across in my life, AK, who got several double promotions and went on to establish businesses of his own. Though in the context of lateral thinking, one has to probe different answers especially in education, the reality is poles apart. He narrated his experience at one of the most prestigious management institutes in India from which he did his MBA. On my request, he wrote down the experience.

They were given a case study for which they were asked to think and offer their solutions. In his words:

The problem/case

A 14 storied building had only two lifts. The municipal laws did not allow more than two lifts, so adding more lifts was out of question.

The building housed offices of various companies, all, obviously, in different floors – and more than one office in each floor. Due to the limited capacity of each lift, there was a long queue every morning at 9 am when offices opened. All the occupant office managements complained about this to the management of the building, and asked them to sort out the problem.

Solution given by my study group:

We came up with the following solutions, to be used in conjunction with each other:

1. Since the number of lifts cannot be increased, we should assign one lift for odd numbered floors, and one lift for even numbered floors.
2. Secondly, the lift should not stop at the first floor, as the offices based on this floor can easily use the stairs.
3. Request half the occupant offices to change their opening time to 9:30 am, so that the traffic is halved between 9:00 am and 9:30 am. Solution as per the professor (or as per the published guideline available with the professor):
1. Fix two full length mirrors along the lift area walls. This way people will look at themselves and others, and not feel the delay.
2. Fix magazine stands with magazines in them — those waiting for the lift would then not get bored waiting for the lifts. Our argument against the published solution:
1. If I am a staff in one of the offices, and I have to reach the office on time, or if I have a meeting at 9:15 am, how would looking at others and reading magazines help?
2. The published solution may be applicable in one way, but the concept of the published solution and our solution was different
a) The published solution looked at creating an environment so that people would not feel the problem of delay, or would not mind such delay;
b) Our solution aimed at removing the delay.

We argued, that management is firstly not about fixed solutions (this we said because the professor was insisting that his solution is the only solution). Moreover, management is about removing problems, not making it easier to face them. To explain my point to the professor, I told him, that if he (the professor) went to a doctor with a stomach pain, which resulted from inflammation of the appendix, the doctor could do as follows:

a) If he followed the concept of the professor’s solution, ie, making it easy to face the problem, the doctor would administer pain killers and play classical music, so that the professor would not feel the pain and would be distracted from the pain. But the problem would remain, and the pain would continue.
b) If the doctor were to follow our concept, he would operate on the appendix, so that the problem itself would be removed. Which solution should the doctor take?

Needless, to say, the professor got his way by asking me to leave class!

Einstein may have said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and the Ambanis may have been phenomenally successful because ofunconventional thinking but there are some theoretical academicians who are hell bent on making the students toe their line and preserving status quo.

Sometimes I feel that lateral thinking should be applied to change education as well. This is what a couple of Reliance’s senior management people said about training, “We have tied up with a leading business management institution to train young. recruits.” We said : “Teach them in six months what the IIM fellows learn in two years. That is the foundation of our thrust into learning and training. The traditional concept of trainees for mechanical skills doesn’t work in Reliance. No one gets put out for six months to attend some fancy course after which he can be expected to come back and experiment with his ideas. Our concept of training is one day off to study and returning the following day to apply that to the running of the plant.”

This is the training or coaching approach of learning as opposed to teaching which would probably suit the learning style of many if not most students as a lot of people are inclined towards kinesthetic while doing a kind of learning which has been elaborately covered in my previous articles. Here also supply may create its own demand just the way T20 cricket has proved to be hugely successful in the last one year but one cannot know unless one tries but then, who educates the educationists?