Thursday, December 02, 2004

Life goes on...

Somewhere around this time of the year... For last few years, I start counting the days...

It struck me this evening, that just seven years back on this day, we had landed in Mumbai - less out of hope and more to confirm... We had parked ourselves at Abhijit and Nandini's place, and had stayed for almost a week (Geeta used to tell stories to Jojo and Fenny - and had made some "magic rings" for Jojo...)

...I still carry that image of amazement on doctor's face, when she found that a person can actually walk and look "healthy" in the 4th stage (actually, the person registering her had asked us to bring the patient!!;)... The slide actually started only after 14th - after NHRC...

...two days from now, Bitti will be carrying the School Flag on her school's Sports Day - the date when we got our first appointment at the Tata Memorial... 20 years back, on the same day, I had passed Bhopal station (just a day after the Union Carbide tragedy) which marked my move to Hyderabad...

...some day at the end of this month, I will also go to take a class, with the memory of requesting and bringing the bank manager home to get some documents signed (my own imagery of that day was of closing one more 'window')...

In the last one year or so, I have lost some more of those who were part of my journey across decades - Shumona, Goel Sa'b, Woozy...

... And so the life goes on...

I guess/realise that in another 10-20 years, most of those who were part of my history (including myself) will not be here anymore... In some ways, the feeling of "having played my innings" is quite satisfying also....

... Which, in a way, makes life and relationships so very cherishable (and 'givable')... it feels good to know that there are others - with similar intensity and purpose - who will come and occupy the space and time... at least for some time

Yes, perhaps we are all specks and sparks in this vastness of life-in-progress... but...

...but so what!!!... Actually, it does not matter!!!

Life - not life - goes one

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Innovations in The Bottom of Pyramid

I came across this news item from BBC - and just when I am reading through CK Prahlad's Book Fortune at the Bottom of Pyramid. Put in juxtaposition, the two create a curious mix!!!

On the one hand, it is humorous, and reminded me of the story of how farmers in Haryana used washing machine for churning milk. On the other hand, it also highlights, how the meaning of a product can drastically change when it moves into a new reality.... am not sure if the contemporary management/business framework is attuned to the other reality of the BOP.

but anyway... read on...

Farmers tackle pests with colas
By Alok Prakash Putul in Raipur

Story from BBC NEWS

For farmers in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh it is cheaper than pesticides and gets the job done just as well. The product? Pepsi or Coca-Cola.

Agricultural scientists give them some backing - they say the high sugar content of the drinks can make them effective in combating pests.

Unsurprisingly, Pepsi and Coca-Cola strongly disagree, saying there is nothing in the drinks that can be used in pest control.

Farmers in the Durg, Rajnandgaon and Dhamtari districts of Chhattisgarh say they have successfully used Pepsi and Coke to protect their rice plantations against pests.

It is a trend that has been seen in other parts of India, with farmers also using Indian brands of colas. The practice of using soft drinks in lieu of pesticides, which are 10 times more expensive, is gaining so much popularity that sales of the drinks have increased drastically in remote villages.

Farmers say the use of pesticides costs them 70 rupees ($1.50) an acre. By comparison, if they mix a bottle of Pepsi or Coke with water and spray it on the crop it costs 55-60 rupees less per acre.

Old practice
Agricultural specialist Devendra Sharma says farmers are mistaken in thinking that the drinks are the same as pesticides. He says the drinks are effectively sugar syrups and when they are poured on crops they attract ants which in turn feed on the larva of insects.

Mr Sharma says using sugar syrup for pest control is not a new practice. "Jaggery made from sugar cane has been used commonly for pest control on many occasions. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are being used to achieve the same result," he says.

Fellow scientist, Sanket Thakur, has a different explanation: "All that is happening is that plants get a direct supply of carbohydrates and sugar which in turn boosts the plants' immunity and the plantation on the whole ends up yielding a better crop."

Vikas Kocchar, regional manager for public affairs and communications of Coca-Cola, says claims that the drink can be used as a pesticide have no scientific backing.

Anupam Verma, Pepsi sales manager in Chhattisgarh, says sales figures in rural areas of the state have increased by 20%. But he adds: "If there was any truth in these claims then we would rather be selling our product as a pesticide rather than soft drinks. "There is more money in selling pesticides than in selling soft drinks. Their claim smacks of lies. At best it is idle natter."

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Open Source Bazaar Model of Terrorism

A few months back, I had made a posting here about the Clash of Paradigms. This theme of Paradigms in Collision - the Centralised vs. the Network - was also the subject of one of the issues of Alternative Perspective Newsletter last month.

Today, I found this very interesting posting on John Robb's Blog Global Guerillas, which uses Eric Raymond's open source model (The Cathedral and the Bazaar) to understand the Fourth Generation warfare - the insurgency, guerilla warfare, terrorism, etc. - as being enacted in Iraq. To quote:

"A major difference between the guerrilla war we are fighting in Iraq and previous insurgencies is its lack of center of gravity as we commonly understand it (an ideology/party, ethnic independence, etc. or hierarchy). The real center of gravity in Iraq is a bazaar of violence. This bazaar is where a combination of local and global "hot" money is funding a diverse set of groups, each with their own methods of operation and motivations. Groups engage in co-opetition to share resources, intelligence, and funds.... A bazaar of violence is a hallmark of global guerrilla warfare. When a state collapses, as it did in Iraq, global guerrillas quickly arrive with money and violence. Through this funding, terrorist violence, and infrastructure disruption; global guerrillas create conditions ripe for the establishment of a bazaar of violence. In essence, the bazaar is an emergent property of global guerrilla operations within a failed or collapsed state. Once established, it builds on itself and creates a dynamic that is almost impossible to disrupt."

In another piece, Robb, describes the tactics of this Open Source Bazaar:

  • "Release early and often. Try new forms of attacks against different types of targets early and often. Don’t wait for a perfect plan.

  • Given a large enough pool of co-developers, any difficult problem will be seen as obvious by someone, and solved. Eventually some participant of the bazaar will find a way to disrupt a particularly difficult target. All you need to do is copy the process they used.

  • Your co-developers (beta-testers) are your most valuable resource. The other guerrilla networks in the bazaar are your most valuable allies. They will innovate on your plans, swarm on weaknesses you identify, and protect you by creating system noise.

  • Recognize good ideas from your co-developers. Simple attacks that have immediate and far-reaching impact should be adopted.

  • Perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away (simplicity). The easier the attack is, the more easily it will be adopted. Complexity prevents swarming that both amplifies and protects.

  • Tools are often used in unexpected ways. An attack method can often find reuse in unexpected ways."
  • Saturday, September 11, 2004

    Why "War on Terror" Can Never Be Won?

    Even George W Bush acknowledged that in one of the interviews last week!

    ...but my reason for thinking so is different - The phrase "War on Terror" is about as meaningful as War on "Shock and Awe"... Terror/Terrorism is a tactics, not the enemy - and therefore, one cannot really fight it...

    I came across this interesting compilation on History of Terrorism, which also shows how terror has been used as a tactics across time and geography:

    * Terrorism, the use or threat of violence to create fear, has a long history. In the first century, the Zealots, a Jewish religious sect, fanatically fought against Roman rule. An extremist group of Zealots, called the Sicarii (which means "dagger men"), used terrorist tactics to resist Roman rule in what is now Israel. They assassinated not only Romans but also Jews believed to be cooperating with the Romans.

  • In 11th- and 12th-century Iran, the Assassins, a radical group of Ismailis (a sect of Shiite Muslims), attacked leader's throughout the Middle East. Even the most powerful enemies of the Assassins risked sudden death. The founder of the Assassins was Hasan ibn al-Sabbah. In 1090, he and a band of followers seized a mountain fortress in Iran known as Alamut. From Alamut, Hasan sent out secret agents to kill his enemies. Hasan became known as the "Old Man on the Mountain".

  • The word terrorism first came into use during the French Revolution (1789-1799). In 1793, the Jacobins, a group led primarily by Maximilien Robespierre, seized control of France and adopted a policy of ruthless violence against their opponents. The period of Jacobin rule became known as the Reign of Terror, in which thousands of people were executed by guillotine, including Louis XVI, the King of France, and his wife, Marie Antoinette. (She's the one who never said, "Let them eat cake!") In a 47 day period, more than 1,376 people were executed. In 1794. Robespierre found himself under the blade of the guillotine. He was executed by members of his own party by order of the National Convention, the assembly that took over the governing of France after, the monarchy was overturned.

  • The United States, a relatively young country, has its own history of terrorism. After the Civil War (1861-1865), Ku Klux Klan members terrorized blacks, Jews, and other groups they deemed inferior. Sometimes Klan members burned crosses on victims' lawns; at other times Klan members brutalized or killed people. At its height in the 1920s, the Klan had more than two million members. Today the group has only a few thousand members.

  • French Revolution. The French revolution lasted from 1789 to 1799. The revolution began on July 14, 1789, when a group of Parisians stormed the Bastille, a French fortress. These people, mostly peasants, captured the Bastille and tore it down. A new legislative assembly was formed in 1791. In December of 1792, King Louis XVI was brought to trial, and on January 21, 1793, he was executed for treason. After the King's death, a Committee of Public Safety took over rule of France, controlling local governments and the armed forces. The committee governed during a period of time known as the "Reign of Terror." During this time, the committee declared a policy of terror against any potential enemies. From September 1793 to July 1794, nearly 1,400 people were sent to the guillotine in Paris alone. Most historians say that the Revolution ended on Nov. 9, 1799, when Napoleon Bonaparte seized the government.
  • Tuesday, August 24, 2004

    Profits from Poverty

    CK Prahlad is getting it wrong again (last time was when he sang euologies for Enron in Leading the Change). His new thesis, described in his book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (read the article), focuses on the 4-5bn people on earth who subsist on less than $2/day - or the $13trillion market!

    With all noble intentions, CKP argues that this mass should be viewed not as victims or a burden, but as value-driven consumers, whose life can be made better, if large corporations design and focus their offerings to them, change their life-styles, and even help them with micro-credits to enable them to consume the goodies of life.

    There are three biases which jar me, and which actually permeate the whole contemporary management literature:

    1. that masses are primarily consumers, and not producers. Thus, their life becomes better, if they get to consume more, and not if they produce more. Compare Lijjat and, say, any biscuit manufacturer which targets the rural market - both focus on BOP, but with very different concepts of "making life better."

    2. how much profit you make is more important than how you make that profit. CKP, like most management theorists, does not differentiate profits generated from, for example, selling more cigarretes/coke/candies, from those generated from selling milk/medicines/education.... I mean, a more profitable Playboy or mafia does not really make them more value-adding than maybe less profitable Amul, does it?

    3. wealth-creation is same as making profits. Somehow, in management literature and theories, the concept of wealth has got reduced to just money. Rest - e.g., the community or the environment - have just become resources which need to be "exploited"...

    but, well... some companies, even with their profit-motives, would end up, more by default than by design, creating wealth for people they serve. Two examples which come to mind are ITC e-Choupal, which not only is a channel for sales, but also for procurement of farmers' produce and for disseminating information; and Reliance Infocomm, which targetted the BOP profitably, but has also enabled people in that segment to be more productive...

    Monday, August 23, 2004

    The Two Paradigms: The Child Soldier & Army Soldier

    Sometime back I had made a posting on this blog, how the current global conflicts (from "Civilized World" vs. Al-Qaida to RIAA vs. P2P) are all manifestations of a clash of two competing paradigms.

    Today, while reading this news-item in Telegraph, this idea of "the clash of paradigms" became more visible:

    Struggling to lift a Kalashnikov, a 12-year-old with the Mahdi army militia said he could do anything in battle except fly a helicopter.

    "Last night I fired a rocket-propelled grenade against a tank," he said. "The Americans are weak. They fight for money and status and squeal like pigs when they die.

    "But we will kill the unbelievers because faith is the most powerful weapon."

    The boy called himself Moqtada, styled after the rebel cleric whose ranks he joined a month ago having travelled to Najaf from the Shia slum of Sadr City in Baghdad. He said that he hopes for a glorious death.

    Compare this belief-driven warrier to those who opt for a career as a soldier. If one reads monetary benefits, educational facilties, healthcare and timeoff, which The site describes to attract "job applicants", it becomes so easy to understand the two different worlds - each with its own motivations, expectations, understanding of what the war is all about, etc. - from which the two sides of Iraq-War III are coming from (I used the term "Iraq-War III" because the last one got over a year back!)

    One can also see parallels in the two "worlds" in which warring parties (e.g., Windows vs. Linux; World Economic Forum vs. the grass-root movements, etc.) live...

    Saturday, August 14, 2004

    Yeh Mera India!

    Eight years back in 1996, on this very day – 15th August – the then Prime Minister, HP Deve Gowda delivered the traditional Independence Day Address to the Nation from the Red Fort. Like his previous eight predecessors in last 49 years, he delivered this traditional speech in the ‘national’ language – Hindi.

    There was a change, though - Deve Gowda hailed from Karnataka, and did not know or understood Hindi – and so, his Hindi speech had to be written in his native Kannada script… and was telecasted across the nation to an audience, more than 60% of whom also did not understand Hindi!!!

    Yeh Mera India! ….

    …where else in the world – but in India -can this happen?!!… the Chief Executive of a nation makes an address in a language which he does not understand, and to a people who also do not know that language!!!… (the 1961 census reported 1549 “mother tongues”!!!)

    In my mind, that fascinating, but much neglected, event in the 49th year of the history of India is also the metaphor of what India is:

    …its diversity weaved into a unity, a myth which became (is becoming?) a reality… the belief in a ‘concept’ of India which perhaps exists (and is taking roots) only in the minds of its people, a contradiction which is internally consistent… a belief, which is simultaneously ridiculous and sincere.

    … Or the only oxymoron encapsulated in a single word – India!!

    It seems so easy to say now that “India” became independent on August 15th, 1947… almost a trite statement in any history book.

    But it always seemed a miracle, actually…. that we have something called “India”…

    India is perhaps the only country in the world, where we have 18 scheduled “official” languages (and some 2,200 dialects) – and yet not one single language which everyone shares and can use to converse with others….

    So how does this nation exist as an entity, when its members can’t even understand each other’s language?…

    (And just to mention the obvious: though English is often touted as the cosmopolitan uniting language, but even then… as one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world, barely 30mn – or 3% - of Indian population can really speak, write and read English… in rest of the India, English is Hinglish: roadside dhabas who put up sign-boards announcing “Snakes served here”, or liquor shops where “Child Bear” is available, etc…. that’s how you can find “snacks” to have with your “chilled beer”!! )

    Almost – or perhaps more than – a hundred years back, when Gopal Krishna Gokhle and Justice Ranade described India as a “Nation-in-Making”, I guess this is what must have been in their mind… that India is a process, a state of mind, and not an entity…

    It is so easy to talk about “India” now – and know what one is referring to – but back in 1947, it must have been a faith-based shot in the mystical dark….

    In 1957 – 10 years after “India” became “independent” - a research team from Jamia Milia did a survey across 4 north-central states of India, covering 150 villages. The findings:

  • around 10% people did not know – after 10 years of “independence” – that the British no longer ruled the country; and,

  • about 17-18% did not know the name of their own country!!! – of course they knew “Bharat” aka India (since they had heard people shouting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”), but they did not know what this “Bharat” was.

    If a common message, understanding, language, communication network, etc., is what is needed to unite and create a common identity as a nation, this is what we had around that time in mid-50s:

  • 1.5mn radios for a population of 400mn

  • a circulation of 3mn newspapers for 400mn people (of which only 18% could read and write)

  • 40k “community village radios” for 500k villages

  • 80% of Indians lived at least 20 miles far from motorable roads

  • 0.4mn telephones for 400mn people… etc.

    And yet, now, we do have a “Bharat”, which people know about and understand (even if it is not the same as the “India” which “shines”)…. At least we know what we are talking about….

    …which is a miracle of sorts!

    There were other miracles as well in the journey of this “Nation-in-Making”:

  • Just till a few months before August, 1947, 40% of the land mass belonged to 562 princely states – each with its own rules, customs – and even currency.

  • In a country with 83% rural population, dependent on agriculture, 70% of the cultivated land was owned by handful of landlords and moneylenders.

  • We adapted “jana gana mana…” as the national anthem – a song written as a salutation to the “Bharat Bhagya Vidhata” - King George the V of England on the occasion of his visit in 1911.

  • We even adapted a name – India… a name given by non-native imperial forces to refer to the land on this side of river Indus (which does not flow through modern India!)

    etc. etc….

    … and yet, now we have an “India” to talk about…

    … and to be proud of:

  • In 1947, we had a population of 30crore and 15% literacy. Today we have more than a billion population and around 50% literacy. In real numbers, India, in a span of two generations, created a literate mass almost one-and-a-half times the size of current US population.

  • Back then, we depended on PL-480 wheat aid, (and the Prime Minister of India appealed to the nation to keep fast for one evening a week – so that the hungry could be fed)… today we are a food-surplus country.

  • From a country with just 7 engineering colleges (2200 students), 9 agriculture colleges (3000 students) and less than 10 medical colleges in 1947 – now we can be proud of having the 2nd or 3rd largest technically qualified manpower in the world.

  • India is among the 3 countries in the world, which built its own super-computer– and among the 6 which developed its own indigenous space technology.

  • In spite of its diversity, dissensions and communal conflicts, the democracy, and the culture of assimilation, survives – a “Hindu” nation elects an “Italian” to become the Prime Minister, who refuses, but in turn proposes a minority representative (a Sikh) for the post, and gets an OK from another Minority (Muslim) representative of the society, who is the President of this country.
    etc. etc….

    It has been a long journey, and we have come a long way…

    …and yet India still remains a “Nation-In-Making”… a contradiction in its own way..

  • In a food-surplus country, approx. 5—7 farmers commit suicide every day due to poverty…

  • The top 10% of the society own 48% of the nation’s assets – while the bottom 10% own just 1%…

  • The 90% of “unorganized” labor force do not feature in the statistics – and therefore, have no rights…

  • The financial capital of the country also boasts of housing the largest slum of Asia…

  • The market goes down – and loses thousands of crores in value – when the country democratically elects a new governments

  • The Super-Malls come up along with the slums….

    … as India enters its 58th year as an “independent” sovereign nation (hopefully, we will mentally retire from being a colonial country in a year), one realizes that we all live in our own “India”… that there are many Indias - each different, and yet connected – and open to assimilate these differences and contradictions…

    …perhaps that is what makes it such a fascinating place…
    well, …Yeh Mera India!! – this is my India:
    or try:

    A Very Happy Independence Day to You!

  • Friday, July 23, 2004

    My Road to Harsud

    Since last few years, whenever I came across any news item of the Narmada Project, it has always made me uncomfortable...

    This week when I read yet another report - The Road to Harsud by Arundhati Roy - the 700 year old town in MP which will be submerged, and its people left rootless, for the "larger good"...

    ....I thought I might as well write this down:

    It was back in 1982-83, when I was working in NPC. We had got a project to estimate the number of villages which will be submerged, and people displaced, as a part of the project feasibility report for the Narmda Dam Project. We had a very small role: visit a small area near Indore, find out the numbers, and collate them and submit the report.

    Narmada Sagar Dam had seemed a distant and impersonal - almost an imaginary - reality then, and in any case, this work would get us some "consultancy" revenue. Two of us were given the task, and we visited these places. We did a "sample survey" of villages - i.e., visited a few representative areas and villages, and made guestimates for the entire population of villages in that area. What I also recall is that there were no updated official records of population available - the 1981 Census results had not yet got published - but the report with "figures and facts" had to be submitted...

    ... we did what seemed a reasonable exercise in making educated estimates: we talked to the Gram Pradhan, the VLWs (Villege Level Workers), the BDO (Block Development Officers), etc. - cross-checked their estimates as much as we could.

    These were 10 hectic hot days of travelling on loaded buses, bullock carts, and even walking a few miles through difficult terrains.

    At the end of the project, we could churn out a report, which we felt had a high accuracy level in the reported figure (even though there was no way to verify them) - and the NPC sent the Consultancy Report with the bill.

    Now when I read these reports, of villages getting submerged, tens of thousands of people deprived of their land, roots, livelihood, self-identity (and sometimes even their family), I wonder at my own role - however small - in making this happen to them...

    I can justify by believing that I was in my 20s then, just a few years into my job, and did not understand the context of what I was doing; I was, after all, just doing my job...
    ... and then realise that this is exactly what the prisoners in Nuremberg Trials, and the wardens of Abu Ghraib had said: I was just doing my job...

    Friday, July 02, 2004

    The Clash of Paradigms

    It is fascinating, if one compares the variety of struggles taking place around the contemporary world - and find that underlying these the template is the same.

    In many ways, the current conflict between the "good" vs "evil" is a struggle between two paradigms, which is not just limited to the so-called "War on Terrorism" by the country which believe in, and stand by, the "Rule of Law".

    Compare also, for instance:

    • The conflict between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) vs. the P2P networks for downloading music
    • The elitist World Economic Forum and the networked World Socil Forum
    • The Coalition with its centralised command-and-control sturucture vs. the "Al-Queda" which is actually a network
    • The two models of software development (The Cathedral & and Baazar) seen in Windows vs Linux
    • MNCs vs Industrial Clusters
    • Monetary Systems based around a Central bank vs. Complementary Currencies (e.g. Ithaca Hours, Lets, Times Dollars, etc.)
    • Centralised Datawarehouses vs. Distributed Intelligence

    etc. etc.

    The two paradigms are the Centralised vs the Network - and interestingly one finds them confronting each other in a variety of domains simultaneously...

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    Media as a Business

    On one of the forums, we were having this discussion about how manistream media often misleads its readers. Someone countered, that since media is a business, it will "naturally" first focus on serving its masters/shareholders...

    The following is what came to my mind - thoroughly enjoyed writing this scenario:))

    "...should I believe the fanciful role of media/press as an "institution" which upholds/ protects the basics of the society - or be realistic and accept that it is just another "business" which takes care of its shareholders/masters by serving the more lucrative customer segment??

    While the former is what it was meant to be (a pretty archaic concept, actually), the latter - media as business - holds so much more potential to think and write about. I mean, if media is a business, it will really blossom if it really gets designated as a 'business'. The potential - and entertaining - ramifications will be immense:)... it will be great fun!!

    For instance, if media is designated as a business, it will surely ensure the transparency of motives behind a news, if not the transparency of contents. So:

    - since "news" will become a consumable "information" product, then like any other consumable item, it will become mandatory to describe its ingradients (like on a bottle of coke - how much sugar, caffein, etc.). So before actually watching/reading the news, we, the consumers, will know percentage-wise ingradients - facts, opinions, deceptions, sensationalism, etc. - the "news capsule" contains:0)... the media companies will be able to offer the customer (who is the king) a variety of choices, such as "low-facts/high-sensation" news or "customised-to-your-prejudices" news or "only-for-the-feeble-minded" news etc.

    - there will be no need to unnecessarily get constrained by factual details in generating the news (imagine the launch of a news media channel/newspaper: "Bringing To You, First Time In The World, "The Synthetic News"!!" - wow! what a breakthrough!!!)... and the regulatory authorities (e.g., FCC and Prasar Bharti, etc.) will be able to issue A/U/X kind of certificates (as they do for the movies) to news, e.g., "not recommended for secular/ activists/ republicans/democrats, etc." kind of certificate. There can also be disclaimers to news such as: "This presentation by Collin Powell to the UN Security Council is based on "intelligence" supplied by CIA/ Pentagon - any resemblence to reality is purely coincidental" etc. In fact, there can even be Statutary Warnings: "Watching this News Item is Injurious to your Pre-conceived Notions."

    - more entreprepreurial and innovative media companies will be able to make and supply customised news. Depending on customer choice, like the toppings on the pizza or concoctions at Starbuck, if one wants Iraq "liberated", you get it; if you want it "invaded" that is also in the menu;)... and even WMDs can be made to be found, if that is what the customer wants!!!... Other businesses (e.g., governments, etc.) will be able to sponsor the news (or even do co-branding), e.g., the whole world can be shown to survive only on Coke or Pepsi - Similarly, NGOs will need to sponsor (if they have money) the news that 2/3 of the mankind does not have drinking water... etc. etc.
    [the greatest advantage of this kind of arrangement will be that all these objections about the "integrity" of news media will become a non-issue;0)]

    - Just to complete the scenario, this whole thing can be facilitated by Ministry of Truth, which will give "1984 George Orwell Awards" to the most successful channels...

    ...Coming to think of it, much of this is already happening, though stealthily, since unnecessary moral/ regulatory restictions are being placed on the entrepreneurial spirit of the media companies...

    what we need is greater deregulation of the media industry, and let the market drive the media... "

    Monday, April 26, 2004

    An HR Recipe to "exploit" Human Resources??

    Someone sent me an HBR article "Good Guanxi Turns Bad" which describes how the Guanxi (Chinese tradition of doing business through personal connections) can be antithetical to Western firms' aims of doing business in China.

    What struck me was the recipe (of manipulation/ exploitation?), which the author offered in the article:

    To quote from the article:

    - "shift the emphasis of business from relationships to transactions"

    - "depersonalize sales and procurement process by instituting a team-based approach"

    - "reduce the chance that their connections would be used against the company"

    - "capitalize on the unique loyalty-building quality of kinship-type relationship."

    ...and all this under the guise of "companies must bring transparency to existing relationships, prevent conflict of interests from developing, and align employees' interests with their own."

    Sunday, April 04, 2004

    What Does Mainstream Media Sell? and to Whom?

    Though somewhat dissonant, I find this a more logical way of looking at the mainstream media, and the business model it follows.

    The conventional way of looking at media is that it serves a valuable social purpose in the free society. It frees the content - news, views, entertainment - to reach it to common man. One assumes also that this information, provided by media, helps the common man to make more informed decisions.

    But, often we tend to forget that media - specifically, the mainstream media - is also a business. It creates, packages and sells a service to its customers, and gets paid by them for the quality of service provided.

    It is this perspective which turns the conventional view of media on its head...

    ... most of us tend to believe - somewhat naively - that when we buy a magazine or a newspaper, or watch a TV channel, we are the customers, because we pay for it (even if nominally).

    We tend to ignore that the media revenues come, not from subscriptions paid by its readers/ audience, but from advertisements paid for by businesses.

    So, perhaps, a more rational way of looking at media should be like this: Media sells its subscribers/ audience/ spectators/ readers to its primary customers - the businesses, and gets paid for that service!!!

    Saturday, March 27, 2004

    Perspective on "Making a Difference"

    Yawar sent me the transcript of his speech to a group of children. It was a nice, coming from the heart speech, and one part which caught my attention was the narration of this story:

    ...Finally I want to close my speech by telling you another true story. This one is about a little boy and the famous writer Lauren Eisely. Lauren writes that he was on holiday by the sea side when one night there was a big storm. Very early next morning as he was walking on the beach he saw that among the debris of the storm were literally hundreds of starfish which had been thrown up on the sand the previous night.

    As he walked along, Lauren saw someone in the distance doing what looked to him, like a dance. The person was bending down and standing up and moving along as he did this. As Lauren neared him, he saw that it was a little boy who was picking up starfish from the beach and was throwing them back into the sea.

    Lauren was like me. A man of the world with a lot of education and life experience.

    He went up to the boy and asked, “What are you doing?”

    The boy said, “I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea so that they don’t die. They can’t move on the sand and if the sun comes out, they will dry out and die. So I am throwing them back so that they will live.”

    Lauren says, he laughed at this statement. He then proceeded to put things in ‘perspective’ for the boy...

    So Lauren said to him, “Look, do you realize that on this beach alone there are literally thousands of starfish? And then of course there are hundreds of beaches in the world, on which are thrown up millions of starfish in every storm. You are one kid, throwing one starfish into the sea! For God’s sake, what difference does it make?”

    The boy looked at Lauren; he looked at the starfish in his hand, he turned and threw it far into the waves and said to Lauren, “It made a difference to that one!

    Lauren writes, “I walked away and kept walking for a long time. Then I returned to the boy who was still there, picking up and throwing the starfish into the sea. I silently picked up a starfish and threw it into the sea. And we did this together for a long time.”

    Friday, March 05, 2004

    I liked this one from John Pilger's article:

    "When we speak of this in regard to totalitarian societies and dictatorships, we call it brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It’s a notion we almost never apply to our own societies. Let me give you an example. During the height of the cold war, a group of Soviet journalists were taken on an official tour of the United States. They watched TV; they read the newspapers; they listened to debates in Congress. To their astonishment, everything they heard was more or less the same. The news was the same. The opinions were the same, more or less. "How do you do it?" they asked their hosts. "In our country, to achieve this, we throw people in prison; we tear out their fingernails. Here, there’s none of that? What’s your secret?"

    The secret is that the question is almost never raised. Or if it is raised, it’s more than likely dismissed as coming from the margins: from voices far outside the boundaries of what I would call our ‘metropolitan conversation’, whose terms of reference, and limits, are fixed by the media at one level, and by the discourse or silence of scholarship at another level. Behind both is a presiding corporate and political power. "

    Thhis is a good example of how media decides the agenda of public discourse!!!

    Wednesday, February 25, 2004

    The Outcry against Outsourcing Jobs

    There is much debate about the implications of outsourcing: on US economy if it continues, and on other economies (e.g., India) if it banned.

    This is someting which I wrote to someone today:

    "...though noone says it, but the 'hulla' is not because jobs are being outsourced, but because it is the middle-class white-collor jobs which are being outsourced.

    US always outsourced blue-collor jobs (in fact, at present 10mn blue collor jobs are outsourced). There is also "insourcing" of jobs in US (6.4mn, in number), but these are also blue-collor jobs.

    But in US polity, blue-collor labour is not part of public discourse (being the only democracy in the world, where there is no labour representation in political party system). The unconscious ideology that labour party will be "leftist" (therefore communist), and "ballot access" restrictions ensure that blue-collor labour (for that matter all underdogs in the US society) does not get represented in political system.

    The new jobs, e.g., Walmart, which are being created are not white-color jobs (either blue collor or part-time).

    The caucuses and lobbies are run by middle-class and the rich. So this actually is a revolt by the middle-class against the rich. For the first time, the middle-class started getting the treatment which the blue-collor workers were getting since long.

    So, whatever The Economist or Jadish Bhagwati, or whoever, says, this issue will be a major issue in times to come - even beyond elections."....

    Monday, February 23, 2004

    Management Education vs. Management Literacy

    One more batch of MBA graduates is passing out now. And I was thinking about the learning that I have derived - in the process of teaching - during last couple of years or so... There are of course, many personal learnings, but on a conceptual level, one which became so obvious was the difference between literacy and education.

    A literate knows how to read and write, can add and substract, etc. But that's it. S/he may not necessarily know where and how to apply and leverage these skills. More importantly, s/he does not know the "meaning" of what s/he has learned - and therefore, is unable to stretch those skills to apply to other domains of living.

    If one is able to do these (apply skills to other domains of living, know the context/context of what one has learned, and is able to use what one has learned to make life's decisions, etc.), only then can one be caled educated (Ok, these are my definitions, but they do help to see the difference).

    In that sense, a large number of MBA graduates merely acquire "management literacy" - they know the latest terms, frameworks, formula, etc., but very, very few actually stretch themeselves to apply these to other domains (other than the quizzes and exams)... which is somewhat sad, given that most of them are bright people, and will be taking decisions which will affect others...

    One way to understand this situation is to believe that once people start working, they also learn to apply these skills, understand the context, etc., and so, become educated. But I don't think that lack of work-experience is the only rationale of this state-of-affairs. It has, in my understanding, something to do with the premium value (mainly in terms of its earning potential) which is given to the MBA degree, and which attracts a large number of people who are just looking for a nice lucrative job - and not towards becoming a professsional.
    Well, though I already have another blog - the alternativeperspective - I thought it may be interesting to start one more, which is of more general nature... so here we have, My Musings on life in general... and on nothing in particular