IITs Trolled

IIT Troll Featured Image

Have had enough of people treating the IITs (and the IIMs) as something sacred that cannot be touched. Fanaticism of any kind is unwanted, and after seeing this meme at www.iitbakar.com, decided to do something about it.

IITs Trolled - by deswal.org

IITs Trolled – by deswal.org

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Reservations in Higher Education – Why I think they’re required

Reservation in Higher Education

We hear a lot of passionate debate against reservations based on caste in higher education in India. However, there must be some logic to reservations except vote-bank politics. Here is my attempt at listing a few of those reasons, and why I believe such reservations are necessary in our country.

Why reservations based on caste, and not other forms of affirmative action, especially, reservations based on economic status?

Simply because implementing and maintaining any other forms of affirmative action are way too expensive and would require too many formalities, paperwork, administration, etc, something that is impossible given India’s size and population. And these other forms of affirmative action come with their own intrinsic drawbacks. So in the present case, reservations based on caste are the most effective, cost-efficient form of affirmative action available to India.

As for reservations based on economic status, there are many problems here, a few of which are:

  1. To implement a successful reservation policy based on economic status, the government will have to come up with that very important annual or monthly income (lets call it point x), which would demarcate the economically backward and the economically well off. If point x is too high, it would include way too many people, and those at the bottom will lose out. If point x is too low, a lot many people will be left out and this also can lead to widespread resentment. Also, many of the downtrodden are daily wage earners. Which means they have no regular annual, monthly or even weekly income .So deciding upon point x itself is a difficult task which requires considerable beforehand study.
  2. Now lets suppose that point x has been agreed upon. The number of people who will hide their incomes to get their earnings down to point x, would reduce to nothing the governments efforts at curbing non payment of income tax.
  3. Another issue that arises out of this particular situation is that not many of the down trodden will be able to complete the formalities and acquire the documents to prove their disadvantaged economic status. Very few in India’s vast hinterlands have the know-how to complete complex government forms, specially those relating to incomes and expenditure. Such a predicament would be an open invitation to touts and other unscrupulous elements, opening avenues for them to swoop in and take money from already poor families, just to make sure they qualify as economically backward.
  4. Studies have shown that slightly increased monetary resources do not guarantee the stop of discriminatory behaviour against a backward caste individual. This is especially true for scheduled castes. The maladies affecting our society have their roots in hundreds of years of constant discrimination and denial of resources, and these cannot be tackled so easily. So in this case also, the Government of India (GoI) will have to decide that income after which discrimination stops.

The fallacies of ‘Reservations undermine Merit’.

Most opponents of the reservations policy believe that it cuts down merit and propagates mediocrity, as it passes over those who have scored higher in an examination, for the reserved category who have scored lower. The problem here is that the anti-reservationists mistakenly equate the number of marks scored, to the level of merit.

Simply put, the examination system prevalent in our country in no way measures merit. It is only a screening tool which is used since it would be impossible to administer any other form of screening given the size of the students applying. And because of that it is endorsed by the society and the government as being legitimate. It is also well known that entrance tests do not test intelligence or ability in the subject, but only an aptitude for a certain type of questions.

  1. In a pool of applicants, the number of meritorious can never be pre-determined or pre-decided. But in all institutions today, that is exactly what is happening. For instance say the IITs have 14000 seats. Which means, according to the IITs, there are only 14000 students meritorious enough to occupy these seats, from the almost 3 lakh who apply for the JEE. Most educators, professors, etc. agree that the top 20,000 to 30,000 will have the know-how to suitably understand and apply what is taught in the IITs, but they can’t make it, sometimes purely due to luck.
  2. Common sense dictates that drawing upon a wider social base increases the diversity and the quality of institutions of higher studies. Having students from a small section of society results in a “frogs in a pond” situation. Recognizing this fact, the worlds best universities like Cambridge, Oxford and Stanford strive to introduce as much diversity as possible on their campuses by actively encouraging foreign students.

Mark Galanter, in his book “Competing Equalities: Law and Backward Classes in India” spoke of three kinds of resources to produce results in competitive exams:

  1. economic resources (for prior education, training, materials, freedom from work, etc)
  2. social and cultural resources (network of contacts, confidence, guidance and advice, information, etc)
  3. inbuilt ability and hardwork

When anti-reservationists say that merit alone should be the criteria for admission to institutions of higher education, they mean that economic and cultural resources are not important, but it is differences in ability that has resulted in Hindu Upper Caste students dominating the higher education campuses of our country. The biggest counter to this argument is that these same upper caste students decide to enroll for ‘coaching’, instead relying solely on their ‘merit’, ability and hardwork to get through the examination.

In relation to the above paragraph, I’d like to present a situation that misses most of us, in spite of being right in our face. The student groups of the IITs and IIMs of our country show a strong regional bias towards urban areas with lots of “coaching institutes.” This fact is also evident from the ads that the coaching institutes place in the papers trumpeting the number of their ‘successes.’ The coaching institutes try to provide the first two resources required to enter these institutions viz. economic and social:

a) Economic – By providing study materials, coaching and training. Also, many IIT-JEE training institutes have tie ups with nearby schools, by which the students can enroll with the school but are not required to attend classes, as the school knows that these students are bound to do well in the +2 exams. This takes care of the ‘freedom from work’ point.

b) Social – If one goes through the coaching institute ads appearing on national dailies, it will be apparent  that even the faculty with their MSc and BTech. degrees from IITs and other top engineering colleges are being used as an advertising tool. Why? Because through their degrees and qualifications, the institute is promising the social resources viz. the instructor’s network of contacts, guidance, experience, advice and information.

Now, to acquire this kind of help and guidance, one requires money. Money that the majority of the backward class don’t have.

So, the situation in brief is, to get into an institution I need 3 very important resources (lets call them a, b and c). This institution is funded to a large extent by the tax payer, which includes the backward castes.  Two of these three resources (a and b) have nothing to do with ‘merit’ or ability. I take care of resource c myself, and I go out and buy resources a and b. The government recognizes that the backward castes have been discriminated against for a long period of time, and consequently are not in a position to buy or acquire resources a and b. To counter this, it provides the backward castes with positive discriminatory action.

That is when I rail against these government measures, calling them unfair and saying that the only resource needed to gain admission is resource c (hardwork and ability). By this I imply that the backward castes could not secure admission because they do not possess resource c, en masse, and it is the Hindu UC, a mere 35% (approximate) of the population, who possess this ability and ‘merit’.

As is clear from the above paragraphs, the argument, ‘reservations undermine merit’, has no factual standing at all.

The ‘Creamy Layer’ Issue

The Creamy Layer don’t deserve any form of affirmative action whatsoever. Everyone knows that they have benefitted enough from the reservations policy, and through their continued presence, are now usurping much needed seats/resources, which were originally earmarked for the really backward sections of their own castes.

Here I shall try to explain the reason behind the GoI’s continued decision to include the creamy layer in the reservations policy. Like I had written in one of the earlier points, it has been found that social discrimination does not stop against a backward caste individual even when he/she acquires wealth and resources. That’s why it is difficult for the GoI to come up with a rigid framework or set of rules which identifies when a backward caste person belongs to the creamy layer of that caste.

This problem in urban areas is not so great. Social discrimination here is not so rampant, in fact, its very subdued. Consequently, its very easy to identify a ‘creamy layer’ person. But in the rural areas of India, the situation is not so simple. Discrimination is still rampant, with the latest example being a lower caste mother and daughter who were paraded naked, raped and then murdered in cold blood, by an upper caste mob. Reports said that this was because of a land dispute.

For the GoI, not including the creamy layer can turn out to be a very dangerous issue itself, and including them is seen as the easy way out by any political party in power.

Reservations and politics

Any party which successfully promotes the reservations policy as its own, will score a virtual home run in terms of vote counts. And no opposition will let that happen. Take the current situation for example. The BJP doesn’t openly and vociferously oppose Arjun Singh’s and the Congress’s moves. But, it is a well known fact that protests such as the AIIMS protest need an influential managing force or power organising it. A power that can guarantee these protesting students their safety from the police and other law enforcement authorities, in spite of the disruptions that they were causing.

In the same manner, the last BJP government, through Murli Manohar Joshi, wanted to introduce more seats in the IIMs. Though this step should have been taken for all institutes of higher education, targeting the IIMs focused media attention on it. Even though the Congress and other parties never openly opposed the move, yet the amount of coverage, protests, etc. could not have been random, unrelated happenings.

The use of the reservation policy by the politicians, has unfortunately, made it stink in the eyes of the urban middle class, just as anything that is associated with politicians. So much so, that reservations are just seen as a vote gathering stunt, all at the cost of the general category.

(I had written this long ago in June 2008 at my old blog. Reposting because I think it’s still relevant.)

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What Hooters and Apple Genius Bars can teach us about Customer Service

hooters-girls34

Once upon a time I wanted to get in to MICA. After receiving an interview call, I decided to look up some alumni. Out of the many I sent friend requests to, only Siddharth Soni replied. We’ve been friends ever since.

Siddharth recently wrote a blog post asking “How much should customer service guys be paid?“. In the post, Sid says that marketing and sales professionals attract customers to a business but it is the customer service people who actually “fulfill the promise” and therefore, they deserve to be paid equally well. Here, he’s not talking of Customer Service as the guys at the call centre, but anyone engaged in the “delivery of the promise”. This could mean the lady at the front desk, the Relationship Manager at the bank or even the aircraft pilot.

My answer to “How much should a customer service person be paid?” is, “it depends“. What does it depend on? How integral is the Customer Service to the Customer Value Proposition.

Let me explain. You go to a small family owned restaurant close to your place for a quick meal. It’s a slow Tuesday afternoon and the owner says that no waiters are available, so it’s “self service”. Will you be disappointed and expect to pay less? I don’t think so. It’s more like “Fine, I’ll get my own grub from the counter, no issues”.

Hooters

Now, let’s say you walk in to a Hooters and management informs you that there are no Girls available and it’s self-service. Would you expect to pay less?

Hooters Girls

These women aren't available to wait on you. Please serve yourself.

I would, because the Hooters Girls are an integral part of the experience at Hooters restaurant. In fact, for them, I’m ready to pay a premium price on the food. Why is this so? Because the value being promised by Hooters as stated in their Mission Statement is

We are committed to providing an environment of employee growth and development so that we can provide every guest a unique, entertaining dining experience in a fun and casual atmosphere delivered by attractive, vivacious Hooters Girls while making positive contributions to the communities in which we live.

As you can see, no Hooters Girls = “No complete value” as promised by them. My point is this, if the Customer Service (CS) being provided is an integral or a large part of the promised value, then the CS professionals will be paid relatively well. For example – in Management Consulting, the greatest amount of value is provided by consultants so they’re very highly paid. Take banks, where the highest paid professionals are the investment bankers that give awesome returns to investors.

Let’s get back to Siddharth.

Siddharth runs Mississippi Earrings, an online/offline store dedicated to earrings. As you’ll notice, earrings are products while all my previous examples have been of service based businesses. How much value then, can CS offer when customers are walking in for a product?

Apple Genius Bar - Image Courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/waynedixon/

To answer this, I would like to draw your attention, dear reader, to Apple’s Genius Bars. A Genius Bar is essentially a tech support centre inside every Apple Retail store where highly trained “Geniuses” help customers with any problems they might have. Quoting this Wall Street Journal article, stores have sales associates that are taught an unusual sales philosophy: not to sell, but rather to help customers solve problems.

“Your job is to understand all of your customers’ needs—some of which they may not even realize they have,” one training manual says

And the result: Customer Growth Partners says that Best Buy makes about 1% profit margin (before taxes and excluding online sales), while Needham & Co. reports that Apple makes 26.9% profit margin from its stores.

Can Siddharth do the same with Customer Service at Mississippi Earrings? I think he can. In my opinion, the two most important steps are

  1. Train his staff extensively on the products available, the latest fashions, the different segments of customers who walk in and make sure they’re super helpful when it comes to giving advice about selecting earrings based on event, dress, personality, budget, use, etc.
  2. Communicate the availability of this extra value to the customers.
Now, the CS guys will be providing increased value to the customer,  consequently, driving up customer satisfaction (sometimes even delight), repeat walk-ins, retention and lifetime value of each patron to Mississippi Earrings. In this case, I agree, Customer Service professionals should be paid as much as or even more than marketing or sales people.

At the end of it all, it isn’t about Customer Service, Marketing or Sales or whatever. It’s about who’s making the paying customer walk-in. Marketing and Sales guys do that since it’s their Job Description. A just-another-CS person doesn’t do that. An exceptional CS person becomes a reason for customers to walk back in, just to hear his opinion or tap upon his knowledge.

Dear reader, if you feel this isn’t correct or have examples that go against what’s written in this post, please do put that down in the comments. I’d love to have a conversation with you on the same.

Why Flipkart rejected me after the Job Interview

Flipkart

A few months ago, I interviewed with Flipkart for a job. They threw me out after the second (and final) round of interviews.

I was really hoping to get through, and to shore up my candidature I decided to create a show-and-tell before the d-day. It was some work/project and even a small little speech that I had done/gave-earlier which clearly (or so I thought) demonstrated that I neatly fit in with the skill-set required and their culture.

A day before that, I ran my “show-and-tell” through with a friend, who said “Dude, my dad has interviewed thousands of candidates for the Indian Armed Forces and he once told me: more than trying to sell yourself, just answer the interviewer’s questions well and you’ll get through”.

I ignored his advice and went in with guns blazing. Asked the interviewer if I could show him the stuff as soon as I stepped in to the room. He agreed and patiently listened to me go on and on for about 5 minutes. Then he asked a few questions and finally went through my CV.

I was through to the second round. Emboldened, I decide on an encore. Again, went in firing from the hips and again, the person on the other side of the table listened patiently. He asked a lot of questions, which I thought I answered well. I stepped out happy and expecting a job offer.

That’s where the cute bit ends. They rejected me and I received feedback that “he seemed to be desperate”.

After the initial bouts of depression, I had my usual tonic of a drunken night out and lots of blabbering to uninterested friends.

When my head cleared, I thought about it. For your benefit dear reader (and as a reminder to future ‘me’), here’s what I think I did wrong:

I was trying to make a sale and not really answering the questions the interviewer had in their minds. 

Now I’m sure you’ll realize that this approach could have worked in some other situation, however, at the end of the day the interviewer was looking for a solution to a problem he had. His organization requires a role filled and he was tasked with finding the right person. Questions about the same are swirling in his mind when I walk in and start making a sales pitch that nowhere addressed the issues he was facing.

Edit on 11th April, 2012: After seeing the comments on http://therodinhoods.com/profiles/blogs/why-flipkart-rejected-me-after-the-job-interview, have decided to explain exactly what happened.

The profile on offer was Business Development. That is legacy designation (because initially, all Flipkart work meant Biz Dev) for Category Managers of various categories  like Books, Computers, Cameras, Gaming, etc. I went in with my laptop and started off by showing the following

  1. Web designing & coding – showed him a hand coded & designed (Notepad + Corel Draw mostly) functioning website I’d made for our startup with non-Flash Javascript animation
  2. Sales – explained how we raised angel funding for our second startup and the role I played
  3. UI Design – showed some of the design work I’d done for website, college mags and events
  4. Culture: Customer Focus/Obsession (Flipkart is crazy about this, and I agree with them) – a blog post written long ago where I exhort that Understanding Consumer Behaviour should be the most important of MBA teachings
  5. Culture: Teamwork – showed a video recording of a speech I gave after our team won a college sports tourney. In the recording, I repeatedly talk about teamwork and how as a cohesive unit we beat much stronger teams who fell in disarray.

Then I gave him three business ideas that Flipkart might be able to implement. This was because I still believe that one is supposed to provide value; be it to the customer, the employer or whoever is paying you cash. I thought I’d display that I came prepared with three things that might work.

  1. Idea One: Using FK’s customer service division to take feedback from customers by outbound calling. Suppose Nokia launches a new phone (let’s call it E100) and it knows that E100 sales on FK are considerable, so Nokia pays Flipkart to have its Customer Service Execs call people who’ve bought an E100 from FK after a month or so and take feedback. In it’s essence, it’s market research after a product is out in the market
  2. Idea Two: Self publishing of books by authors. See details on this Techcrunch article by James Altucher –  http://techcrunch.com/2012/01/28/why-every-entrepreneur-should-self-publish-a-book/
  3. Idea Three: Ok, I forgot this one.

What did the interviewer say after all this?

Ok fine Siddharth, now let’s talk about e-commerce in India.

That right there was when I realized I had answered none of the questions in his mind. And this was reinforced when after discussing e-commerce in-depth, he switched to “supply chain”.

You see, dear reader, he didn’t give a damn about me knowing web dev, ui design or any of the other yada yada I was telling him about. He has far better people already handling those jobs. He wanted someone who understood online sales, e-commerce and “supply chain”, the primary differentiator through which Flipkart provides its customers the service that has made it famous.

Once again, we drill down to the basics here: Two ears and one mouth. I should have listened first and then spoken :-)

Two Minute Guide to an Awesome Professional & Personal Life

awesome

So here it is, the 2 minute guide to having an awesome professional and personal life. Simple stuff that I’ve come across on various blogs and websites. Almost all of it is research backed but I don’t remember the references. Will link to them as and when.

1) Professional – You know what’s the primary difference between an average professional and an exceptional one? Well, it ain’t the usual suspects of intelligence, IQ, EQ or networking skills. It is “taking initiatives that are aligned to organizational goals”. That right there is the one most important factor that distinguishes great performers from mediocre ones.

2) Marriage – Researchers don’t know what’s the best form of marriage (monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, etc) but what they do know is that the most stable, happy marriages are based on two correlated things: trust and honesty.

3) Happiness – Remember this and strive towards recreating this situation as many times as possible: happiness is being with people you love and who love you in return.

4) Love – Is basically your willingness to sacrifice stuff for someone else. Eg. sacrificing your time for that person, money, certain goals of yours and in extreme cases, even your life. The more two people are willing to sacrifice for each other (and know it), the happier and stronger they’ll feel when together.

5) Objects vs Experiences – Don’t buy consumer goods for the object itself, but buy stuff for the experiences they provide. To explain, don’t buy a tv because it’s an awesome tv with super blasting-surround-whirl-around sound, buy it because it’ll provide you moments with your friends/partner/kids/parents that you’ll later remember and cherish.

6) Being good at a certain task or activity – The key to being good at anything is practice. As much as you can. In fact, there’s already an accepted number of hours you need to practice something to become a world class expert, and that’s 10,000 hours.

The Trap of “Something for Everyone”

Safest Minimum

About a fortnight ago, around 14 of us went to a bar for drinks and dinner. Most were about to leave Kolkata in a day or two and this was one of those “we might never meet again” things.

At the end of the table where I was seated, the other constituents of the party were as below

And this is what happened: the three vegetarians started to decide what to eat. They went at it for a full 15 minutes while the rest of us waited for their group discussion to get over. Finally, they settled on “Mix-Veg and Dal Fry with Roti”. It was only then that the waiter, who was hovering on the sidelines, took the order and consequently, we had to wait about 21 minutes before we got our first round of drinks. The delay was a buzzkill but fine, there were lessons rife in this situation.

What I realized was that in an attempt to take into account the tastes of various different customers, they finally settled on something that had small bits of everything but didn’t fully target anyone (Mix Veg) and since they were trying to keep everyone’s tastes in mind, they did not decide on different stuff that was enjoyed individually, but had stepped down to something that was acceptable to all. It wasn’t about catering to preferences, but simply, meeting requirements.

Taking this to a business situation, it is of utmost importance to understand your target market segments completely and create products that cater to their specific tastes and usage. Sometimes it can be overdone, but I’d still err on the side of over-tailoring instead of over-generalizing.

When it comes to startups, many try to make products that are awesomely complete, which is where they make their first mistake. The better thing to do in most cases is to make a minimum viable product and then keep a short feedback loop with customers, which should guide further product development. What I am suggesting is the release-early-release-often model, for which a huge case already exists. Here’s a good post in support of the same.

Core of the Issue: How Love and Courage are the same thing

Love and Courage

One of the best things about being with some really smart people at IIFT was, pile them with strong beer and they’d be on their way unraveling the deeper meaning of life. On one particular occasion, the discussion turned to “What is love?”.

What I understand is: in their purest forms, love and courage are both “suppressing the basic instinct of self-preservation”. Let me explain.

Love – The most often celebrated form of love is a mother willing to face extreme danger and death, just to save her child.

What’s she doing here? Suppressing her instinct of self-preservation, for the sake of her child.

Another aspect is, a lot of lovers say this for each other “I’m even ready to die for him/her” (see this and this). This is usually accepted as the most you can do for another person.

Courage – The highest award for bravery given in the Indian Armed Forces is the Param Vir Chakra and it is awarded for “the most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self sacrifice, in the presence of the enemy, whether on land, at sea, or in the air.” Consider this; 14 of the 21 awardees have received it posthumously.

What’s my point here? It is that courage is celebrated because it is again, the suppressing of the instinct of self-preservation. In times of war, soldiers do this regularly while they go in to battle or take on situations with difficult odds.

The difference between Love & Courage – Love is when you are willing to suppress your instinct of self-preservation for someone whom you know, are close to & are fond of.

Courage is when you do the same, usually for someone you don’t know. Soldiers giving up their lives for their countrymen, strangers pushing someone out of the way of a moving vehicle and risking death themselves, etc.

The image on top is taken from hj-story.com. Please support him to make an awesome app by donating at www.indiegogo.com/HJ-Story-iPhone-App.

Also, check out the other “Core of the Issue” posts

Realpolitik: Don’t ever be a Puppet

medical check up

Political Puppet: A politician or other political figure who is controlled by another (sometimes illegitimate or secret) person or party.

In my 25 years on our beautiful planet, whenever I have witnessed elections & politics in educational institutions, I’ve seen puppets come up. Interestingly, I’ve usually seen their downfall too.

Everything said and done, don’t ever be a puppet. It is one situation where you are almost certain to lose respect and credibility with no way of extricating yourself unscathed. Some of the reasons are:

  • In the minds of your peers and the voters, there will forever be doubt that you’re pushing someone else’s agenda and not taking decisions in the best interests of those you lead. Therefore, they stop trusting you.
  • There’s the thought in everyone’s mind that you’re not the best person for the job. If you had been, you should have won fair and square. This means your abilities are suspect before you’ve even started.
  • The group that has put you up will want its pound-of-flesh. Which means you’re actually constrained in how you work.
  • In a democratic setup, if there was a way to put you up, there almost certainly is a way to bring you down. The people who put you up will always use this as a way to control you.
  • Everyone makes mistakes. Yours will just be reason for people to remind you of how you got there.
  • And if you ever screw up royally, you’re alone. The peers will almost certainly fuck you, but most importantly, the person(s) who put you up will discard you like a used piece of toilet paper. Best of luck when that happens.

All in all, don’t ever be one. Rise on capabilities and not political maneuvering.

Life in Sherwood: Horsman Wing

To get started, Sherwood College is a boarding school located in Nainital, Uttranchal, India. The school started in 1869 by Robert Milman and has two wings: Horsman Wing (junior school, classes 3 to 5) and Dixon Wing (senior school, classes 6 to 12). In brief, Horsman Wing is where you are the protected little kiddies who look upto Dixon Wing in the same manner that a convict would look out of his cell at the free world. You are constantly brooded over by teachers, matrons and aayahs. Your every action is monitored and you don’t have many opportunities to do things that boarding schools are generally famous for. A bit of fighting, lots of tuck (goodies like biscuits, chocolates jam and tomato ketchup) followed by severe bouts of diarrhea. Sports are introduced early on (in my school before Sherwood, till class 7 you were only allowed to play carrom, ludo or chess maybe) and competition is cut throat (something that continues right till you pass out in class 12).

In Horsman Wing (‘horsy’ from now on), the first time you venture towards the small swimming pool, you expect lots of fun with splashing and screaming. Big blow to your expectations and happiness, the swimming coach is standing there with a 8 foot long stick shouting at a random kid to try and swim along the sides in an anti clockwise direction. The more adventurous and daring little brats were rewarded with a whack on the back, and all adventure and enthusiasm evaporated combined with an opening of the sphincter muscles. Of course, very rarely did one come to know about a boy peeing in the small pool, but going by the number of times I did it (mainly because I was didn’t want to miss out on the action by going to the toilets), I reckon 3 to 4 did it every time we were in there.

Horsy also involved a lot of fighting, some detective work (you tried to figure out who crapped in XYZ’s shoe in the night, and who ate ABC’s chocolates) and a lot of bickering over the most trivial of issues (I can say that only now, at the time they seemed to be of more importance than anything else on earth). The heroes and champs of the class would be those who were good at sports, seconded by the teachers’ favourites; these two groups invariable landed the plum jobs of class monitor and dorm monitor (positions of great importance, mind you, you got privy to staff politics, were allowed to come in late for dinner after locking the class rooms, and one word from you could earn an erring kid a sharp reprimand).

In class 5, our Math teacher, who was also the Junior School Headmistress, started a ‘Star Chart’. There was a big chart on the notice board with the entire class’s name written in alphabetical order, with space to put in the ‘stars’. If you did something good, like answered a difficult question, good behaviour or did your homework very well, you got a silver star. If you did something outstanding, like topped a difficult test, solved a problem which no one else could, or something similar, you got a much coveted gold star. Now the most important part, if you screwed up in class, you earned a black star. These would be awarded if you used used foul language (‘bloody’ was the foulest it got, and none knew what the word meant), if you scored poorly in a test, were caught talking or dreaming and couldn’t answer a question in class. Now, I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but the guy with the highest number of black stars in 1996 was me, with a grand total of 45 black stars. The nearest competitor, Rohit Yadav was on 43, and we left the rest of the field behind, the third highest being something like 21. The yellow star holders were, obviously, immaterial.

A tale involving Horsman Wing cannot be complete without ‘Smiley Man’. We never got to know his real name, but this particular gent had been coming to Sherwood for almost the past 20 years (a very conservative estimate). With him he brought a box which contained packets of daal, candy, various namkeens and his famous smile. We’d get pocket money (a princely sum of 10 rupees) twice a week and his arrival was always eagerly awaited by almost 120 little boys. The chappus, who were the teachers-ass-licker types looked forward to the ‘Fruit Man’ s visits. They’d buy a bunch of flowers and gift it to Ma’am XYZ, ensuring a place in her good books.

The day I joined Sherwood, I got the roll number that would identify me for the rest of my stay there. Your name is not as important as your roll number. It is what you are know as and I was ‘roll number 318’. Even today if someone were to shout out that phrase, I’d instinctively respond, just like you do when your name is called out in a large gathering. I also got allotted a house – Little John (L. J. for short), our colour was yellow. For the next eight years, I cheered for the the LJ cricket, atheletics, badminton teams and was part of the LJ football, hockey and table tennis teams. 

Horsman Wing also made me an adept practitioner of the freestyle martial arts. I was constantly getting into fights and remember cutting open a classmate’s forehead by banging his face on the serrated edge of a large tin can. Knocking out another fellow (or at least he acted “knocked out”) got me my first “Yellow Card” in class 4. Three Yellow Cards = 1 Red Card = Explusion from the school.

A regular feature of the first year in school was diarrhea. It struck everyone and brought us to shame at one point or the other. My first “loosies” experience was basically a ninja attack. Went in the morning to the bogs to pee; farted while peeing, and there it was in my pyjamas. I had no idea why I’d just crapped my pants, specially since  the previous night, I’d felt none of the impending signs in the form of anal discomfort. Anyway, what was done was done, and now the most important job was to save face. So I walked back the most “normal walk” a seven year who has wet shit flowing down his thighs can walk. Once I got back to my dorm, I slyly took off the soiled stuff and tried to hide it in my dirty-clothes bag. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. If my memory serves me right, it was Saurabh Chawla, from two beds away, who smelt something shitty; saw the fugitive look on my face; put two and two together and made a mad dash to our Matron’s office. Asshole, it was okay if he’d just run and informed her, but for added effect he first shouted “Chee, Deswal has done kaka in his pyjama”. So there I was, standing next to my bed, adorned in shame, the entire dorm giving me the dirtiest looks that a collective of seven year olds can give, while I waited for the Matron to come.

She came, she smelt, she screwed her face in to a scowl, she pulled out her bamboo stick and used it to pick up the pyjama. Then she held it up, as if she were Sherlock Holmes who’d just found the final piece of the puzzle and was displaying it to the awestruck bystanders, and dumped the thing on the floor in front of my bed. I tell you, dear reader, I can feel the blood rush to my ears right now. The memory of that incident still makes me go red.

AND THEN THERE WAS THIS ONE TIME, WHEN THIS HAPPENED.

Yup, another bout of diarrhea. On this occasion, I knew it was coming. And this was right after lunch. So I ran to the Infirmary. Unfortunately, I still didn’t know what the loosies were actually called. So I told the Sister “my stomach’s hurting”. She gave me a pill and told me to gulp it down with water.

Dear reader, piece of advice: water does not induce immediate relief to a shaky anal opening, because water has no electrolytes. Therefore, don’t drink water when you’re fighting the crappy battle in public. 

Continuing with my tale of shit, well, I ran to the dorms from the Infirmary. I was wearing shorts. I lost the battle within seconds of ingesting the water. I left a trail of crap. Am going red right now. Seriously.

Core of the Issue: What is God?

what is god

Most of us have, at one time or the other, wondered about the existence of God. I did too, and this while I was in an autorickshaw on the way to college. A little pondering and methinks I’ve kind of got it.

God is a lack of information. You see, dear reader, you’ll find yourself taking the name of God most often when there is not enough information for you to confidently predict something. Examples, the outcome of a closely matched game, a big job interview, when you intend to propose a relationship to someone and you’re not sure how they’ll react, and so on and so forth.

Most of the Roman and Greek gods were the gods of something that wasn’t predictable. The god of war, of love, of agriculture, etc. I’m sure the same holds true for the others too. In case of the one-god religions, there was a SPOC (Em Bee A m/).

Now how did I stumble upon this little epiphany? I remembered that whenever I was in an aircraft and it was taking off, I could see people join their hands, close their eyes and mumble. Yet, no one ever does that when a train starts its journey. In the latter, the passengers are busy waving goodbye or chatting or arranging their stuff. Why does this happen? Because the variables in aircraft travel are far more than in train travel.

To validate my hypothesis, I did a quick dipstick survey of some friends and that confirmed it; they usually say a quick prayer when commencing air travel but never so when on rail. Another way to look at it is, a lot of the olden gods were about weather. Taking a personal example, Indian agricultural communities almost always have a prayer which is specially said for rain. However, that’s hardly ever used now. These days, you just switch on the TV and watch the weather forecasts.

Now, as we are able to gather and interpret increasing amounts of information in the world around us, will the usage of “God” reduce? Almost certainly. Will the usage of “God” come to a stop? No. There’s still way too much incomprehensible information floating around and some stuff just cannot be conclusively proven, like life-after-death.

This brings me to another point, should you trust/believe in God? One side of me says don’t rely too much on it. A strong “faith in God” means you might not have the incentive to control those variables of your life which you could if you tried hard enough, and which could lead to a much better standard of living for you.

The other side of me says you should, because believing that a greater force has your welfare in mind and is coordinating things so that life turns out well for you means you experience greater satisfaction with whatever you have, and worry less about the future.

Putting these two together, I’d say if you’re the ambitious kinds, say a quick prayer in the morning and then go out and get stuff done. If you’re just looking to be happy and are not really interested in the rat race, then yes, you should go to mountains, try meditation, maybe join the local chapter of your chosen religion and so on and so forth.

Edit: Greater minds have already covered the issue.

See http://biologos.org/questions/god-of-the-gaps and the image below.

Strategies for hitting on women a la BCG Matrix

I recently caught a good friend of mine sneaking in to the hostel at 3 AM in the morning. For the purposes of this post, let’s call him Aberle and only because it is a cool Austrian name. He was appropriately buzzed and was looking to tell someone the story of the night gone by. Being the good mate, I eagerly lent him both ears.

Aberle had been invited out to “dinner and drinks” by a lady friend of his. They hit the usual Park Street spots like Olypub & Someplace Else for alcohol, had enough to “make us sway but not fall”, forgot all about dinner and then headed in the direction of Tantra with the intention of “having some fun”. Before going on further, I am obligated to clarify that their’s is a completely platonic relationship, therefore, kindly wipe that smirk off your face.

So we have a dude and his female friend entering a dance club together, each looking to find someone of the opposite sex to hookup with for the night. Aberle goes first, while the girl takes up position as wingman.

  1. Aberle spots hot 33+ lady standing with two firang friends. Aberle fancies himself a firang babe for the night.
  2. Wingman lady friend understands Aberle’s isharas and saunters over to the multinational trio, asks for a smoke and then indulges in small talk.
  3. Wingman friend is back and reports that lady is hot and her firang pals are bored with the men of Calcutta.
  4. Aberle puts on his appropriately sexy cute-boy smile, puffs up his chest and makes his move. Ten minutes down the line, the firang babes are still bored with the men of Calcutta and Aberle in his drunken stupor figures he probably still has a chance with the 33+ hot lady.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Aberle is tasked with attracting the immediate attention of a lady who’s clearly very experienced when it comes to handling males who’re on an alcohol trip.

He steps closer to her; she leans in with an ear, half hoping today’s youth have come up with some interesting pick up lines. And that’s when he says…

“You’re beautiful.”

Yup, of all the strategic options and all the tactical executions in the world, our man Aberle decides to play the “Classic” card with the corny execution.

But please, hear it in her own words:

“That’s really sweet, thank you. I’ve been through your age & phase long ago, and am not really looking for anything right now.”

This is when I fell off the bed laughing and Aberle got a little pissed off. After about five minutes, when our centres-of-gravity were back in the correct places, we sat and made a 2×2 matrix of the entire situation (yeah, we’re MBA candidates, remember? The world is a 2×2 matrix for us.) 

This is what we came up with

If this works for you, kindly leave a comment :)

If it doesn’t work for you, you might as well vent, so kindly leave a comment :)

How do you react to brands?

(Image courtesy The Brads, one of my favourite webcomics)

Have you ever felt like this after talking to a marketing professional, or after reading a report about the research done on brands, ads and social media campaigns?

Well, it happens to me all the time. Specially when someone comes up and says stuff like “urban, educated and socially connected consumers between 25 to 35 think we’re a very mature and trused brand”. This regular occurrence in MBA marketing classes, where there are lengthy presentations that discuss the clever ambush marketing tactics as executed by HUL against P&G or by Kingfisher against Jet, with GoAir jumping in on the fuckfest. These guys are the exact counterparts of the economists who love their graphs and mathematical equations for theories that have little proven use in the real world.

What’s the problem here? Just that ambush marketing isn’t about the consumer; it’s about tactical one-upmanship between marketers. How does the ad effect your target group, those who actually fly with your airline or buy your shampoo? Did anyone ask them what they thought or how it made them change their minds? In the end, these clever tricks end up in Internet meme dumps like ROFLIndia where people say “lolzzzz!! awesomest ad ever….kingfisher is still too expensive”.

A good laugh over the bullshit we peddle

Want to have a good laugh and at the same time, spend a few seconds of your life ruminating over the bullshit that we as a society are given to peddle?

Well then, check out the following two links

The first one is simply a marketing gimmick helping IIMC stay in the news. Anecdotal evidence suggests a sum total of zero students will actually give a rat’s ass about this pledge a few seconds after dutifully mouthing it. By the way, in this case, “anecdotal evidence” is the MBA jargon for the sniggers I saw when I asked four friends at IIMC about this pledge. Between TOI and me, I’d choose my small sample size and “almost-a-logical-fallacy” argument over the awesome journalism being splattered about by the fine folks at aforementioned newspaper.

The rat’s ass, as will be given by the kids at IIMC to their pledge of honesty.

Let’s look at the second link now, shall we? If ASSOCHAM seriously believes that 83% of MBAs prefer job profile over a hefty package, then the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India needs to have a hard look at its understanding of the “talent-in-pipeline” that shall be taking our country to greater capitalistic heights in the coming future.

Anyway, I’ve decided to be altruistic today and give away some deep insights for free. So here it is, the insider’s guide to what an Indian MBA actually wants

  1. Money – is important. The majority of us have worked pretty hard to crack those entrance procedures and after having beaten 45000+ other aspirants, taking up hefty loans to pay 11 lakh+ fees, meeting the stringent requirements of your organisation and then shifting to cities where the cost-of-living is quite simply, exorbitant, yes, we do expect remuneration.
  2. Make a bigger impact, faster – No one gets in to a top b-school in India without having some ambition in life. That’s why Group/General Management Profiles (GMPs) with relatively lesser pay are still super hot. We’re raring to go out there and get stuff done. Setup a framework for the same in your organisation and we’ll follow you like the rats did the Pied Piper.
  3. Opportunities to fail and learn – It’s the learning bit that totally snags us. The more varied, the better.

Oh, and if you want an example of people who got it right, go through this link about TAS.

Why our first startup failed

startup fail

Our first venture was a completely new experience for me. The three other founders had a fair bit of experience in setting up and running a business (13 years, 6 years and 3 years, in descending order) while I was the only fresher around. I guess my childish enthusiasm and general naiveté led them to christen me “Sid the Kid” but thankfully, they were nice enough to stop calling me that after some time.

The business model

The best engineering colleges are the ones with the best placements (stands true for MBA colleges too). Lots of times, a college is initially able to attract a recruiter (Infosys, TCS, Wipro, HCL, Accenture, IBM, etc) but since the students don’t perform in the recruitment process, the company might not take as many people as it was ready to.

That’s where we came in. Our Placement Development Programme (PDP) would integrate in the colleges’ curriculum and faculty members would go to different colleges to deliver the session. The programme consisted of Aptitude (Mathematics and Logical Reasoning), language (English) and soft skills training (group discussion and personal interview). So, if we were working with ABCXYZ Institute of Technology, their class timetable had 2 slots (usually 4 hours) in the week where our company name was written and during that time, a faculty member would come and deliver the session.

The beauty of this model was that none of the faculty members were our full-time employees, they were consultants who went and delivered as and when required. Therefore, we really didn’t need a big office (in fact, it was a one room setup in one of the partner’s office) and most of our work was done through mobile phones and laptops.

The numbers matched up pretty well too. One faculty member on average was paid Rs. 500 per hour. For a 50 hour course, our charges would be about Rs. 2000 per student. If we worked with one large engineering college, they’d have 180 students sitting for placements from three branches of B.E. So revenues would be 180 x 2000 = 360000 minus 50 x 500 x 3 = 75000 (faculty fees) and let’s assume Rs. 75000 as cost of providing transport through taxi for some faculty members and other miscellaneous expenses, we’re left with 360000 – 150000 = Rs. 210000.

As you’ll realize, that’s not a bad amount for basically sending faculty members to colleges. And if you were to think scalability, two faculty members (English & Aptitude) taking a 2 hour session each per day in the same college (total 4 hours) can cover 5 colleges in one week. Even then, they’re working only 2 hours a day each. If they were to go to one of the areas where colleges are clustered in Jaipur (eg. Sitapura or Kukas) and give 3 sessions each, they could cover 3 colleges per day making it a total of 15 colleges per week. Let’s suppose this continues for 12 weeks so after 3 months, our company nets a cool 210000 x 15 = Rs. 31,50,000. Now consider that there isn’t a lack of teachers in Jaipur since it is one of India’s larger educational centres. In the end, you have enough number of teachers to be sent to enough number of colleges and quite a bit of money to be made.

Fair enough, so what went wrong?

Two things:

  1. We were lazy and did not move our butts as much as we should have
  2. We didn’t understand the colleges’ incentives until it was too late – The engineering colleges don’t really care that their students should be smart enough to handle the companies’ recruitment processes. They just care that they get placed. Anywhere, anyhow. Therefore, a college focuses primarily on the number of companies coming to campus and not preparation of the students. So more often than not, the concerned Training & Placement Officer (TPO) said to us “If you’re doing training for placements, why don’t you just go ahead and get these students placed”. They were ok with getting them placed anywhere in any kind of company as long as they were “placed from college”. That is really shady business to get in to.
  3. We got distracted – You get a bunch of smart people together under one roof and go out to the market looking for work, you’ll realize there’s no dearth of it. In such a situation, navigating the trade-off about how quickly can it be done, how easily can it be done, how much does it pay and do I want to continue doing this forever?, is crucial. We sucked at that. We worked with these guys (they just got arrested) developing a marketing management course for them and got one very crucial bit of learning out of the entire project: don’t ever work with MLM companies. However, in spite of the awesome life learning and all that cute bit, we had burnt up the meager amount of startup capital we had while executing their project and basically received fuckall for it.

Therefore, to sum up: Not working hard enough, not understanding your customer, losing focus and consequently running out of cash. As you’ll realize, dear reader, these 4 are deal-breakers big enough to kill any business organisation.

Core of the Issue: How Democracy leads to Corruption

corruption

About a day or so ago, I was with a group of friends and we were having a discussion on the topic “Corruption is the main outcome of democracy in India”. Corruption as an issue comes up almost every day in India, however, I’d never associated it with democracy in a cause-and-effect manner.

Corruption to me is power and wealth balancing each other out. For example, a government employee has the power to delay documentation and introduce red tape into any process under her/his direct control. Another person (businessman, professional, etc) wants his work to be done quicker, but only has wealth and not the power. In this situation, the government officer leverages his power to appropriate wealth, while the person who wants his work done will (in most cases) gladly hand over some cash to grease the wheels. So basically, those that have wealth try to buy more power, while those with power try to appropriate greater amounts of wealth.

Now what does this have to do with democracy? Initially, I thought democracy should be discouraging corruption. After all, a group of people elect a leader, who is then accountable to them. If he doesn’t perform or is given to under-the-table dealings, they put up someone else the next time around. Unfortunately dear reader, as nice as that sounds, that’s not how people work.

You see, it’s about power and wealth all over again. Wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few; according to this report, the top 1% of India’s adult population holds 15.9% of its wealth; the top 5% own 38.3% and the top 10% own 52.9%…..the bottom 20% hold just 1% of the country’s wealth.

The poorer masses only have numbers and voting rights, which they use to appropriate power, electing their own to the higher government echelons (which is also reason for the high incidence of caste politics in India).

Now this one elected minister is the SPOC (single-point-of-contact, I still am an MBA) for all those wealthy people and the power/wealth balancing that we spoke of earlier, ensues. Only this time it’s on a much larger scale. Why is this so? There could be many answers; stakes are much greater, all those who helped the person become a minster have to be compensated, being the SPOC the minister has to be paid an amount equivalent to all the various smaller people who would have to be paid off in the earlier situation, etc.

If you feel I might be incorrect in my analysis or may have missed out something, then, dear reader, kindly pen down your thoughts in the comments section below.