Sunday, January 31, 2010

Empty School Bags

My generation of school goers was characterized by heavy bags. I remember many articles in newspapers which focused on reducing the weight on the shoulders. It was considered the Ministry of Education’s job to help this burden. The solution instead lay elsewhere – in technology!

But books and copies offered exciting time. At the start of a new year, fresh copies and books used to be bought and diligently covered with brown paper and plastic paper. A special cupboard was assigned to books with labels put to divide it into different sections. A sketch pen was used to put the name of the subject on the width side of the copies for instant recognition. Then each night bags were packed according to the next day time table. I remember the anxiety and that fear which used to strike when the wanted notebooks could not be found – may be given to a friend or when there was a sudden realization that some homework given had not been done.

But now, all that is set to get over. The advent of Kindles, iPads or the more local Pi’s is set to change the students – not only at school but at all levels study. School Bags will now carry a digital reader to store all the syllabus books and a digital notepad – to take notes.

There will be no need to pack bags at night, waste cupboard space, fear of losing copies full of notes right at the end of the year with exams approaching. It will also be easier – it actually already is to just copy the homework from a friend.

The only thing that will perhaps not change will be the tiffin box which will still offer a suspense of what has been packed, with a hope that there is maggi inside.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Foggy Drives

Returning from work..Night time.. Dense Fog… Headlights on low beam.. Can’t see more than few meters ahead…Slow Music… Heater is on… Trust your instincts and carry on..

Want to keep driving urge to hit the highway.. the practical mind comes forth… calls you idiot.. turns the wheel in the opposite direction..

Not a soul on road…Misty settings...Seems like a dream sequence from a movie.. Suddenly the mist clears…the destination beckons… Dream Over.. reality time…

Social Media and Social Change

First of all what is social Change?
Simply put, it is a collective change in the behavior of a large group of people which is different from a tradition, trend or a way of working of a system.
To narrow the definition we can say that the change is more libertarian – a more open minded society – open to changes, new ideas and not stuck in ancient beliefs – just following what has been going on and scoffing at what is not in line with that. It can concern anything – religion, politics, movies, business - everything that affects and modifies our daily life!
In no way, I say that those ancient beliefs and ideas are wrong or out of date. There are many examples where we can learn from the past. In religion, for example, going to a religious place, reciting/singing hymns (or listening to it) has been an ancient tradition. It was primarily an exercise of stress relief or a kind of meditation. But now going there has been made kind of compulsory, leading people to believe that if they don’t God will not be happy and his wrath will befall upon you.
The basic point here is that there was a reason to things which became ingrained in traditions and slowly people mindlessly started following it. The need is to know the Why behind it and if ‘Why’ is not relevant then being open to change.
All matters of Social Change will always start with a Why!!
Why should I be only an engineer?
Why shouldn’t I leave my job and be an entrepreneur?
Why can’t the government make public a detailed statement of account of its sources of income and expenditure?
Why is a scene in a movie with a person riding a horse banned or what is the problem with Savita Bhabhi?
Why can’t the government not punish who deserve it or who by acting in certain ways, with certain (un-understandable to common man) motives disrupt the daily lives of people.

Again, the focus here is only on the change in thought process and knowing that there is another person who thinks the same way. What can be done, How it can be done? – The action will be an after effect.
So now can Social Media of today lead to Social change.
I believe it certainly can - the main reason being the viral nature of it. Thoughts, views, observations get transmitted quickly over it that it beats the traditional - the literal word of mouth. Take Twitter for example. The option of retweeting ensures that 1 message will reach multiple people and the fact that it is being retweeted means that it is acceptable and people agree on it and are at par with the thoughts.
It further helps in opinions getting formed, sharpened and being known. Influencers like people from popular media get their thoughts easily transmitted. And more importantly, these ideas are challenged – many times with valid arguments. It also ensures that much more relevant problems and news will be able to reach the people who matter and who are in a position to take it to masses where mediums like twitter wont.
The best deal is that people who are stuck in the old form of beliefs with their stick to traditions and no change policy are NOT there on social media. Of course, how can they accept this wide world that continuously generates new thoughts and messages? As a result, with a majority of libertarians who are active here, the ideas being generated and transmitted are of that nature as well. And thus is in perfect sync with the social change defined above.
Once a good number of us are in line, then there can be a time of action. Then we can ask the authorities on where our taxes go or as Chetan Bhagat points out – even change the governments. After all many of us go voting believing that each and every vote matters and I can change the fate of nation with that one vote – which is clearly a farce. We can change only if 20 million of us vote similarly.
And what can be the medium to channel a similar thought for 20 million people - obviously a place where they all are present, where they hear, listen and observe. The Facebooks, twitters of today and may be something more focused to this task tomorrow!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Conflict

He sat outside the door of his small two room house and stared directly at the setting sun and couldn’t help comparing his life with it. Both were nearing their end and everyday were in a conflict.
Far away army bunkers and watch towers were casting long shadows. It had not always been like this. Born on the other side of the barbed wire, not too far though, he remembered running around the open, unhindered fields without a care in the world, lying down in the open at night and playing in the mud when it rained. But then there was a conflict, he never knew why. The same grounds - his beloved fields were raped repeatedly in front of his own eyes. The result was an undesired, illegitimate child – some called it simply the fence and the others Border.
The conflict took away everything. He had to mature early – the only school of the village which was walking distance earlier was too far away now. Every day became a struggle when running from pillar to post to save whatever remained of his fields. He recalled the delight, the enthusiasm and fervor with which people had celebrated on that special day. There was also a speech he heard on radio and its various translations later. ‘Tryst with destiny’ they called it. Reliving those moments helped in times when he had to stand in queues, wait for the babus to ignore pleas to let him be on his fields. The short stature didn’t help either – it became too easy to overlook him. His walk was like a joker in circus, whole body swaying from side to side as he walked. The dense growth of beard helped hide his thoughts – and pains. They were visible only through the light brown, intense eyes. But who was bothered to look in the eyes of a 5 feet joker.
His son’s voice broke his spell. Thinking about the past seemed more pleasant. His struggle to get the fields back was still on but the energy seemed to wane away now. But the hope was still there in his eyes. His son had then sought to renew the effort. The prospect of getting his fields back made him happy but not the approach that the son sought. The rebellion streak that was absent in the father had caught attention of some people.
He didn’t approve of the path chosen. The belief n the voice in the radio was still there – the passion and the love for the nation it had evoked was fondly remembered and cherished. He would never do something that would be unapproved by what that voice stood for. The time will come – the belief in the system was intact. But in a corner of his heart, there was also that fear that time taken may not be too long. He wanted to run on his own fields one more time and to die lying down there, peacefully staring at the stars. May be his son would be successful.
But after many years, his son had suddenly appeared today – on the run. The dream had gone awry and he needed a place to hide. Only his father could help. The same short height and joker like walk once people made fun of had become respectful - may be pitiful and believable when the beard turned grey and then white.
Again he was jolted back from the past. The sun had set and it was dark now. He had been summoned to the police station for an enquiry about his son. They had got news that he was in the area.
It was Hope against the Belief. Today, with his son accepting defeat the Hope had died. For the belief to survive he would have to confess about his son’s whereabouts.
At the police station, the officer had his usual questions but like everybody he didn’t bother to look into the eyes - Eyes of the 5 foot joker, which always revealed the truth.
He walked back slowly to his house having done what his son did – killed. Today, the beliefs had died too.
He took out a pot of mud from his trunk - saved from his fields. Its smell was invigorating. But today he took it to the roof and spread it out there. Then he stretched his small body over it and lay back staring at the stars. It was strangely peaceful.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Year Resolution

I didn’t have any last year. Just hoped that it should be a good one. It was an amazing one. I can easily call it the most amazing one till now – full of ups and downs. It really went to real extremes this year – a roller coaster year… a year of crests and troughs.

Well, I am not in a mood to fret over the bygones – a lesson learnt in 2009. Let’s focus on the one to come and start with the (in)famous new year resolution.

It is not a long list that I have in mind right now. Only one – reducing the net addiction. Possible? The year end will tell. But with things spilling over from computer to internet on mobile too, something definitely needs to be done!!

So how to go about it and what should be the metrics of reduction in the net addiction. Quite simply, a control on time spent on the web!

To detail it further, 2 main things need to be done.

1.  No frequent checking of mails, twitter and facebook

    How to do it?

    -       Not keeping all the tabs open. The college time is over – the time when there was a new mail every 5 minutes. It was important to check them because there were some where there was the most important information on lecture cancellation and you wanted to be the first one to know and tell others, gaining some good wishes from them for telling them the good news.

    -       Switching off the alarm sound on Tweetdeck – already done.

    2. Keeping a designated time for reading blogs/news/articles etc.

      This is a tough – very tough thing to do. But that itself is the challenge.

      Ego:Now… time to plan the timetable for mail checks…

      Alter Ego: Damn!!! What are you doing? What for? Plan something else.. Make a new resolution. You will not be able to do..

      Ego: Shut Up Shut Up… Take out the diary and write it….

      And the fight continues….

      Why I am an Atheist - I

      Definition: a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods

      It was this autobiographical piece by Bhagat Singh ( that started my mental turbulence- of questioning the beliefs.

      Bhagat Singh was a superbly clear minded person who could put what he thought about his atheism so eloquently in words. I am still trying and this is an attempt in putting tough thoughts in words.

      Some of these thoughts and ideas would, of course, be borrowed from what Bhagat Singh wrote.

      One reason is that belief in God leads to an association with a religion. And religion is something that leads to biases. In Mumbai, when we went out to find a house on rent, the point of religion came up many times. If you are of a particular set of religion, then only you can rent the house.


      Are the others not the sons/daughters of the so called GOD?

      And needless to say we have been witness to so many incidents where the division of INDIANS on basis of religion has been exploited. Religion makes boundaries around the lives of people. A bhakt of Hanumaan has to go to Mandir every Tuesday. He reads Hanuman Chalisa every day. A Sikh has his own rituals – may be reading Japuji Sahib every morning. The ritual is good intentioned – so that people read it, understand it and may be follow the learning in their lives.

      But do they understand what they read? How many people try to follow it? It has become what it is - a ritual that has to be done so that the Gods are pleased each morning.

      So my first step to atheism start here – reading a religious book or praying each morning. Why not read a good motivational book or some article on positive thinking instead?

      HR is not all Gass

      An Oil Depot, though a part of a gargantuan organization, is a small company in itself. We have our own set of customers, our own products, a separate finance department and an operations department. Products are the different types of fuels. The team which is responsible for filling these products in Tanks and dispatching them can be called an operations department. The Supply and Distribution(S&D) Deptt gets daily orders from customers and assigns tank trucks to meet the demands on a daily basis.

      For the past few days I have been shuttling between the two departments of my office – the client facing S&D and the operations. And I can clearly see how susceptible they are to conflict.

      S&D has to cater to the demand of all the customers – from the next door retail outlets to the far flung, many times inaccessible parts of the crown state of India. Sitting in an S&D room means non-stop phone calls, people barging in through to know the status of their demands. You cannot turn them away as the product is an essential good.

      Coming to the operations part. Filling of Tank Trucks (TT) as directed by the S&D is just the basic requirement. In addition to providing the right fuel with right quality and quantity, operations also has to take care of the safety aspect as we are dealing with a highly inflammable product here. It has to take care that the TTs have all the safety fittings on, the drivers and helpers who are filling the product are doing so in a safe fashion. And add to that the normal operational hazards of dealing with erratic behaviors of both man and machine.

      Now this creates a potential Mahabharat type situation.

      For example, a customer is pressuring the S&D to dispatch the product at the earliest.

      But while filling of the TT, one of the following occurs:

      -       The loading mechanism goes out of order for some reason in the middle of the filling


      -       The less educated worker makes does not follow the safe filling procedure and has to be reprimanded so that he does not repeat the mistake. (old school methods)


      -       There is some deficiency in the Truck for which it is not safe to fill it with the product

      In any of the situations above, there will be delays in meeting the customer demands.

      Primarily no one is at fault and are doing their job but it creates a conflicting situations where there will be fingers pointed at each other.

      This is at a much smaller scale. I am sure big organizations face this conflict at larger levels.

      So what is the solution to avoid such conflicts. One classic solution which we generally used to write in the MBA exams was Job Rotation - people involved in both the jobs be rotated so that each other can understand the pain points of other.

      But it has other associated problems of handling the ego conflicts and the human resistance to change.

      The point is that all problems at the end involve Humans or in other words are HR problems. May be the HR subjects in MBA courses need to be marketed well to students – after all that is what they need to know the most!!

      Idiotic Ideas !!

      3 idiots, the latest buzz in town is also getting released on You Tube, though some 8 – 10 weeks later. Raju Hirani, the director says that people are anyways going to download the movie from the internet, why not earn some revenues from it. I think this is an excellent idea.

      Many people will still prefer going the free way – downloading from torrents or getting it from friends. But there will be some who won’t mind spending a few bucks getting it “legally”. Human mentality is at work. If it is really cheap vs free, people will have tendency to go for the real cheap because it frees them from the guilt of piracy. It is something similar to what Chetan Bhagat books did a few years back. Everyone used to get the pirated books to get them cheap. E.g. a Rs 300 book is easily available for anything between Rs 80 – 120 at any roadside vendor. By pricing the book at 100 bucks (which now has become a trend with new authors), people went in for the original because it was real cheap. Why not buy an original for 100 rather than a duplicate for may be Rs 60 – 70 and be guilt free.

      Moreover, it also helps in creating a buzz which is especially useful for a new movie. Say the movie is available for download for Rs 100, one who downloads it will definitely put it up on twitter, facebook etc encouraging the circle of friends to go for it.

      One potential problem can be the payment on the internet. Many people are still wary of internet payments and many users will be of the age group who may not possess bank accounts or credit cards.

      I am eagerly waiting to see how this strategy of 3 idiots goes through!!

      MBA & Politics

      Rahul Gandhi yesterday won the CNN-IBN politician of the year.

      Well, I think he is a good example and a case for the MBAisation of politics.

      Politicians traditionally have been people who have risen from the root level, understanding people and their problems and then getting their support and votes to get elected. And while they were at it, many didn’t get enough time to get a full education.

      Then there are technocrats, young (mostly), highly educated, having and open to new ideas who want to change things work. Many times they have been charged with not able to understand the basic problems of people at a very basic level.

      Rahul Gandhi is doing something similar to a FMCG marketing job for a MBA. A young management trainee out of a high profile institute is put on a sales training in different parts of the country where he travels deep into the heartland, understanding the basics of consumers – who they are, what they want, how they behave etc. They are highly educated and talented; they understand the macro side of things very well. And by undergoing this kind of training, they get the micro picture as well. And after that they are as comfortable giving a presentation to a CEO or talking to a paan walah in a small town.

      May be such kind of training programs can be designed in politics as well. Different political parties can come for campus placements, pick up bright people from across the fields – doctors, engineers, MBAs, Accountants and then put them into a training to a point where they are at ease giving a joint statement with a country head or addressing a rally in villages.

      Free Education

      Seth Godin recently came out with a e-book which is available for ‘free’ download. According to him it’s all about spreading the idea. In one of the interviews on music piracy, Palash Sen of Euphoria said that he didn’t have a problem with piracy as long it is helping his work to get to people. If people really like your work then it will help your brand to grow and there can be plenty of alternative channels to make money out of it.

      Can the same logic be applied to education too?

      Currently we have MBA preparation centers, Engineering coaching centers, GMAT and GRE book who provide you material for preparation at enormous costs. How about some company providing books, question papers,  podcasts of lectures – all free of cost. But what can be the source of income for them? That is a food for thought !!

      It can be easily applied to schools and colleges where free material can be provided on the net. There have been some arguments that this will lead to students not attending classes. But I think attending classes has a direct correlation to the quality of the teacher. If the classes are great, no one would trade it for mere notes.

      As one of the articles on a similar debate says:
      “The value of a college education has never been entirely about the content of the classes. People go to college to make connections with ambitious peers and eminent professors, for the social life, for the facilities and, of course, for the credential. The exclusivity of an elite education is a great part of its value, and the fact that anyone can click through a Harvard biology class online is unlikely to change that.”

      Friday, January 08, 2010

      Rekindling the Future

      Few moments have passed in the past 3 years when there was a laptop in front without it being plugged into the vast cloud of internet. But the last 5 months were exactly opposite. Getting an internet connection here in Jammu was a project in itself. But, as they say everything has a brighter side. Lack of connectivity on the laptop meant getting GPRS activated on the mobile.

      Once I was a net addict and now I became a mobile net addict. With laptop, you still had times – travelling, in the class or in general where there was no wi-fi available. But with that small piece in hand and it being connected to the world meant the addiction was waiting to happen.

      So now after around 5 months on surfing through the mobile, I am having trouble concentrating on the big screen of the laptop when it has been finally found purpose. Checking mail on the mobile is much easier, though replying back is not (It can be made easy if you have a qwerty keypad. But can’t complain much as I am using a high(est) end mobile phone that too given for free by Lalit, which also had a major role to play for my mobile-net addiction given its huge screen).

      Recently, I have also been reading books on mobile. Well !! From paper to laptop to mobile. With the emergence of Kindle (and some other e-readers), a debate has been sparked on what is better – a traditional book or reading on some e-reader like Kindle.

      Well most of the arguments in favor of books have been emotional – that smell, filling up the racks with a rainbow of collection, getting cosy with a book in a corner with a cup of coffee on a lazy Sunday etc etc.

      Yes those things make you nostalgic and difficult to toss the books aside. But thinking rationally, for me, books always meant less concentration. It is easy to lose track after some time, especially if you are reading a tough book.

      I read books on speed reading and am still struggling to reach the enormous reading speeds which these books make you dream about.

      I find it much easier to read swiftly on a mobile or on a laptop – without any speed reading guides.

      Though I am yet to experience Kindle but I am pretty sure that I will like it. The only problem that remains is that of High prices. As of now, it is out of reach but that is the best thing about technology. I am sure it will be ‘pocketable’ in no time.