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Showing posts from 2006

About 2006 : A Season of Realizations

As I sat down - I am having a long christmas holiday like everyone - and started thinking what I learnt in 2006, both from public events and my private life, I realised it has been an unique year. Many things I realized, not just because they happened now - most probably because I came face to face with reality now.

Things like:

Monetarism: Milton Friedman died, therefore focusing minds on his legacy and thoughts. Also, interestingly, the house price led boom continued in UK, though it slowed a bit in US. But Bank of England's refusal to raise interest rates significantly pointed a potential danger in the way things are working now, post-Friedman. Alan Greenspan allowed the dotcom bubble to form and bust - causing misery for common men. The current czars also taking the same route, this time with house prices fueled by easy credit, and if and when it bursts and interest rates goes up to a rational level, lots of people will get hurt. and, then comes the eye opener, globalisation and…

War, war, war

The recent theory among those who know is that democratic countries dont fight wars with one another. Really?

Well, my history may be weak, but it is not about history. It is more about political science - about what you call a democratic country. Also, about statistics - score keepers are not always engaged in sports fields. There are other things too, but let's keep the big thing until later in the discussion.

So, if you really start tabulating, you may not find a democratic country attacking another in recent history. Well, yes, count out the Greek City States, they were different types, and there were no newspapers [or electronic media]. Also, dont talk about remote islands and Africa and Asia - you dont know which is a democracy and which is not.

Yes, at the outset, it looks like a credible theory. Not set in stone like the free market monetarist staff, a bit woozy-fuzzy like Bible, but will pass. So, Britain wont fight an war with America, or France, or Italy. Germany .. well, …

About 2006 : 1

2006 is over. Well, almost – though terrorists, geniuses and newspapers don’t sleep, or at least don’t have Christmas holidays. We may still have a bomb in London, a cloned man [or woman – but they are more difficult to clone] or a new big fad, to end the year. But, for me – I am looking forward to a nice week’s lay-off, and the year for me is over.

A terrible year for me, personally! I lost my mother, the person I loved most and who influenced me most. No other achievement could erase that pain. While I recount, I could not make myself to think of a happy moment. There were lots of personal milestones, yes, but none registered with happiness – the great sorrow overrode my soul and inserted a tear in every moment that I lived.

So, what happens at 00:00:01am on 1st January 2007? Nothing – I wouldn’t forget a thing. It will be one moment versus my whole life, that way. But, it will be a new start, a new me – an endeavour again, without a guide this time.

But, before that, I wanted to post …

Nudges, Banter and Amnesia

When Gandhi was shot, a point was proved. Violence is better, more powerful than non-violence. Did he not say – Hey Ram – his final, poignant realization of this ever-so-apparent truth?

There were many such moments in history. Many things were proved. As if these apparent truths needed any witness or proof. Like, human beings are animals. They do better with violence than non-violence. They thrive in war rather than peace. They are selfish beings. They innovate, because they are greedy. They are thieves and rapists, and only an ever-increasing police force can keep them in control. They are naturally amoral, so they must be taught religion in schools and at the courts to be kept in line.

Did I question any of that? Not a chance. In fact, we are living at the highest stage of civilisation – one of conformance – and this is supposed a last a thousand years. Thousand years – no, probably more – last time we heard of a thousand year civilisation, those guys were a little too rash.

Nowadays, …

A History of Cut-and-Run

A western power finds itself in a ‘situation’. Their forces and administrators are running a country which is increasingly rebellious, and the rule, unpopular. The rulers' first response was to resort to the ancient rule of the Roman empire – divide and rule – and set the communities against one another. It did work for some time, too. But then it stopped working! Rather, there is now the added hassle of keeping peace within communities to have things going. Costs of occupation now outweighs the benefits. Everyday, the poor, dangerous country looks less and less appetising to its civilised administrators.

Besides, there is a resource crunch too. The ruling country has been involved in too many wars - not many fine young men of the 'expendable' variety are available to man the front lines. It is becoming difficult to use the natives, and the local army is increasingly against the occupation.

The public opinion at home is also turning nasty. First, the belligerent leader ke…

The Trial in Baghdad

There was a trial in Baghdad,

And a President was on the dock,

He shouted, we are for humanity,

While body counts sored, and vultures flocked!


But he must shout, for the TV,

Though he knew his time is past,

He fought an unjust war, and must get punished,

While newsreaders chattered, the dice was cast.


We knew the outcome, still we waited,

For justice to take its course, as they say,

Our senses held in balance, and our values, at ransom,

Till the president’s judgement day.

Today's Quote

While Faith, rather like Love, must involve factual knowledge, it is not reducible to it.

Terry Eagleton – Reviewing Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion

Read the full review at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html

Francis Fukuyama and America at the crossroads

A must-read review of the latest book from Francis Fukuyama

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n19/holm01_.html

Lessons I never learnt

Reflection time, yet again! I suspect I suffer from these periodic depressions because I see time is running out for me, and I am getting older, without achieving much with my life. Don’t get me wrong – it is not about money – I don’t feel insecure in the least, but this is more about ‘what’s the point’ feeling, a soul-search on why I am doing what I am doing, perhaps very typical, mid-career blue.

In any case, today, when I was midst of one bout of depression, and coincidentally was blessed with a longish and solitary train journey, I started thinking about my grandfather. If I rate people who have influenced my life, he will come up on the top. And, today, I was thinking about the lessons I should have learnt from him, but never did – at least till today’s train journey.

Lesson 1: Work’s worth
He had a long life, but he never retired. He was never employed, either. Starting up at an early age in a business set up by his father, he attended office till he was 85 and got paralysed after …

The Problem of George : Technology in Marketing

This year’s British Association of Advancement of Science’s annual conference in Norwich is an unlikely event of interest for marketing man, but a significant new prototype was being presented. Known as George, this is a conversational Artificial Intelligence [AI] system, designed for a contact centre environment, which can handle customer calls and log responses.

What is new about this system, reported, is that this one can track emotions, slangs and jokes. It can monitor the caller’s mood from the tone of voice and the use of words, and effectively escalate the call to a more specialised human agent in case it is not able to answer the query or the caller is getting annoyed. The system is designed to be adaptive too – learning from every call it could not handle, which it monitors and prepares itself with a response for next occasion.

The benefits of such systems are rather obvious. These systems, if effective, can effectively handle the first level customer interaction and can handle…

Today's Wisdom

Indifference will be the downfall of mankind, but who cares?

Advertising in The Age of Choice

I have been watching and talking a lot about the music industry recently. My interest is more business than musical – I see exciting news about the industry hitting the press everyday. I know this has now reached a Point of Inflection, a time when all the established rules of the industry change, and to survive all players must change the way they do business.

Incidentally, it is also ‘all change’ in another industry – Advertising! Advertising is dying, say experts. Maurice Saatchi gave this speech bemoaning the death of his old friend, advertising. Al Ries’ latest book is titled ‘The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR’. The industry is abuzz with debate, discussing quick fixes, back-to-basics solutions, and new age ideas.

At the first glance, again, it appears to be a technology-driven destruction. Yes, it certainly is – the media overload has diminished the return on advertising spend, and direct to heart ways of reaching an individual through search advertising has started delive…

FDI in Education : Comment

I saw a news item on Rediff.com that the Indian Commerce Ministry has recently recommended allowing 100% FDI in education. http://in.rediff.com/money/2006/sep/14spec.htm

Already a Danish company has come forward with the proposal of building 200 playschools across the country. Also, there are proposals from MIT, Georgia Tech and other American universities for building Greenfield campuses in India. Sadly, the left parties and the HRD Ministry is opposing the proposal. Here is what I posted as a reaction :


I am disappointed to see this news. I have a strong feeling that Arjun Singh is the wrong man, and he needs to be moved. He has a mindset of the last century, and is completely out of sync with the modern world. He is anti-meritocratic, as his penchant for various kinds of controls and reservations show, and the education system he wants to build will be only good in producing babus [in line with the good old specifications of the British Raj].

The FDI in education will be needed to let…

The Legacy of Tony Blair

While the British Press and British Public are busying themselves at this time with the departure of Tony Blair, a debate is already raging about the legacy he is going to leave behind.

Not many men, even Prime Ministers or leaders of countries, can claim the position to leave a legacy. But, despite many shortcomings that he may have had, Tony Blair is one of those rare individuals who indeed can make the claim, having led Britain and the modern world to a ‘point of inflection’ in its history.

Also, it must be mentioned, legacies can not be judged at such a close range, except speculatively, as they are, by definition, meant for the posterity, and manifest themselves over a number of years. However, such speculations, at times, are worth indulging in, as in case of Mr. Blair’s, because this may impact our individual lives and the way we choose to live them in future.

Also, to be fair, it must be stated that judging a legacy is not judging a man, as legacies are seen in the context of the…

McKinsey Survey of Global Executive Confidence

The confidence of executives in the global economy has fallen significantly in the past three months, according to a McKinsey survey.
Executives in India reported the biggest decrease: nearly 28 percent.
Yet they and a slim plurality of executives around the world still plan to hire additional employees in the next six months.
Highlights from the McKinsey Global Survey of Executive Confidence paints a rather gloomier picture this year, compared to the one 6 months ago. The fall in confidence is common worldwide, though in relative terms it is the highest in India. I shall see this more as a reflection of the worldwide trend than an independent development, and note that this is only in relative terms, 73% of Indian executives surveyed intend to expand their labour force in the next 6 months, highest worldwide, elsewhere in the same survey.

The fact that 2007 may turn out to be gloomier than 2006 can be ascribed to an old disease, inflation : the beast raises its head once again after a…

Jairam Ramesh

A very endearing portrait of Jairam Ramesh as the Minister of State for Commerce in today’s Business Standard – reproduced in Rediff here http://in.rediff.com/money/2006/sep/04spec2.htm

We knew Jairam Ramesh for his sharp wit and analysis on TV, but here is a lot of common sense and what one would call ‘vision’. This is exceptional, as politicians are rarely concerned with things that don’t make big news, and do not usually concern themselves with fundamental ideas.

Contrast this approach with the State Industrial Promotion bureaus and the Chief Ministers who travel around the world scouting for foreign investment. In my opinion, they sell their states short and attempt to get investment with concessions they will never make to the ‘little guys’. They also rarely concern themselves with infrastructure – why this idea of an international airport in the Northern Bengal never came up on the State’s agenda?

I would strongly believe that foreign investment, unless it concerns a transfer of te…

The Road Travelled

Our age has somehow become very similar to the time a century ago, when everything seemed permanent, civilisation reached a new height, and one could think – life will go on like this.

There are several reasons for this confidence. Several doomsday predictions failed to materialise. Soviet Union crumbled like a toy-house. Millennium Bug never arrived. The empire of money could expand into newer territories; even the Communist China was purchasable. Many of the fears that essentially created the defensive liberalism of the west seemed overdone.

Isn’t that very similar to the world early in the 20th century, when the centre of progress was firmly in Europe, Sciences and Arts were making unimaginable progress, morality seemed well defined and there was, all around, a sense of permanence. Everyone would have thought the European wars are over, and socialism, only a marginal force. The world seemed to have stabilized.

Had I lived in Britain those days, I would have now planned my career the …

Giving up Planning

I just gave up on – planning.

It is absurd. It’s alright as long as you do it as a play, but it does not remain playful too long.

I remember, I never planned when I was sane, when I was in college and had no time, when I loved every moment of my existence. I started planning as I got hurled into a windowless office, and wishing every moment about the day when I can get out. That madness got me into planning.

I don’t mean that I never thought about future before I got stuck in an office. That would have been irresponsible. But I never planned, I dreamt – of playing cricket in Eden Gardens, of writing a great novel, of making my mother immensely proud, of seeing my eternally cynical teachers startled by my success – sort of. I could not have planned for these. So, I dreamt.

These dreams appear less absurd than my plans. For a start, I was not trying to run away from the present when I dreamt, I loved it – all of it – its lightness, its temporariness, and its possibilities. I was logical in …

Story Based Learning

Consider this story that appeared today:

New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) has ditched traditional classroom-based learning for a story-based approach to teaching fire safety to its 20,000 or so staff. The new Story-based Learning Objects (StoBLs™), delivered via e-learning, have been developed by the global e-learning producer, Tata Interactive Systems (TIS) - and have generated strongly positive reactions from managers and thousands of learners at NYP. Staff trained via the classroom-based courses had consistently demonstrated levels of comprehension and retention which were lower than desired. One reason suggested for this was that the training was presented only in terms of steps and rules, without the application of the principles in a real-world situation. "Basically, the content didn't relate closely enough to the audience's daily experiences," said TIS's Chaitanya Hakkaladadi. "NYP, like many hospitals, has a recurring training requirement related …

Lessons from Kotler's Seminar in Mumbai [Business Standard/ Reproduced in Rediff.com]

Lesson 1: R&D must be market-ready
Kotler had a poser for his audience. His question: "If you were the chief marketing officer of your organisation, who would you prefer to be close to? The CEO, CFO, CIO (chief information officer) or the CRO (chief research officer)?" There was no single opinion, so Kotler decided to have the final say. He would have had it, anyways.
According to Kotler, the CMO needs to be close to everybody from the CEO to the CRO. Typically, the CFO does not see logic in investing behind brands because he is not close to marketing. And, there is an 80 per cent failure rate in new products.
"The R&D is farthest away from customers, hence they often get it wrong," he explained. Now, even in research-focused organisations like IT giant Microsoft, "marketing has become the front door and their new product success rate has become higher".
Lesson 2: Number-crunching is more than just calculating market shares
"In B-schools most stud…

NIIT & Element K : Analyst Views

Analyst Review: NIIT and Element K Consummate the Perfect Marriage

By Doug Harward, Founder and CEO of TrainingOutsourcing.com

On July 27, global learning services provider NIIT, headquartered in New Delhi, India announced that it had acquired Rochester, N.Y. based Element K. Combined the companies will have more than 3,000 employees throughout the world with revenues in excess of US $250 million. Instead of terming this an acquisition, I like to view it more as the perfect marriage of two complementary organizations. The union of the two companies has the ability to become one of the most powerful companies in the corporate and educational marketplace.
This is the second merger this year among "Top 20 Companies in the Training Outsourcing Industry" and definitely the most significant in terms of global reach. In June, ACS announced it was acquiring Ernst and Young's Intellinex Learning Services division. Although each deal has great importance to the industry, the NIIT - …

The Exciting Future of Music

From Rediff.com : On the Future of Music Distribution

Zinedine Zidane's seeing red in the final of the football World Cup has inspired a chart-topping song in France. The song is called, you guessed it, Head-Butt (or rather, Coup de Boule in French).

The reggae-ish song, which was reportedly composed in 30 minutes and posted on the Internet by a music producer trio, goes: 'Zidane a frappe, la Coupe on l'a ratee (Zidane struck, we blew the cup).'
Reports in most major newspapers of the world say the song is playing everywhere in France and being downloaded in the thousands from the Internet.

Warner Music France has bought the song from composers Franck Lascombes, S├ębastien Lipszyc and Emmanuel Lipszyc, who wrote the song out of the depression that hit them and all of France after their football captain's head-butt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi blew France's hopes of being champions of the world.

Reportedly, the trio sent the song to friends over the Internet a…

End of History?

Have we reached the End of History, or it starts all over again?

For generations, men [and women] have always proclaimed the end of history. Like us, they felt that they have reached the apex of human civilization, at least in terms of the social organisation. It has always been assumed that technology will progress, more and more wealth will be created, new frontiers of knowledge will be explored and new powers will emerge, but essentially the human civilization will go on in its current form.

So thought the Romans, and the subsequent empires after them. Many thinkers thought so, Hegel most notably [who is thought to have invented the modern term], Marx in a different sense [as he thought of a future society which will be the end] and more recent neo-cons [influenced by Francis Fukuyama, who ended up writing the thesis].

But, as all of us know, while the end of history appeared to have arrived at many junctures, subsequent generations always found out that this was a foolish thought. Th…

Games-Based Learning : The Hot New Area of Learning

This month’s e-learning network meeting covered a very interesting topic – Serious Games [or, Games-based Learning].

As you know already, this is close to my heart [I see a smile there – oh yes, I am not high on fidelity if you start counting how many things are close to my heart]. Not just because I play NationStates, or spent hours playing Brian Lara’s Cricket. Nor it is because I so deeply loved my stint setting up Neighbourhood Learning Centres back in 1996, when I was so deeply committed to the idea of teaching kids to play SIMCITY. For me, I did learn a lot through sports – while playing cricket or watching it or reading about it [Have you read ‘Never Say Die’?] – team play, discipline, commitment, character and presentation.

The presentations were based on a survey, where 50 large corporations across Europe were surveyed on their perception/ acceptance of the idea of games-based learning. The findings are, of course, suitably vague – most people say it is an interesting concept, …

All work and no play? The brave new world of strategy games

I have spent some time on Games in the last two weeks. Oh, no, I am not talking football – despite the media frenzy on World Cup now. Nor I am talking Cricket, though I do feel that India is doing better than expected in the West Indies.

The games I am talking about are virtual ones, and concern themselves with Politics and Business. So, this is about playing the Father of a Nation - you can choose what you want to be - a Lenin, a Nehru, a Mandella, or a Mobutu Sese Seko.

Consider this one to start with, Nation States. This is game about managing nations. Though at an elementary level, it throws at you political and administrative issues at a regular interval, and let you choose a response. Based on your response, the nation you are managing grows or declines, gets into war or prospers in peace. This also has regions – a thriving community of other nation-managers and the United Nation, where the nations compete for influence, and debate and vote on issues.

This is free and fun, you can …

'Anyone Can Do It'

Entertaining and Inspirational, May 30, 2006

This is two books blended into one [just like coffee] - one, the human story of building coffee republic, the soul searching of Sahar and Bobby after their father's death, the journey, the obstacles and goof-ups and all; the other, more like a business book, with 57 laws, advise and sample business plans etc. From the structure, it seemed that the authors wanted to make it the latter - a business advise book. I have, however, given a 5-star to the former, the human story.

Dont read it if you are just looking for how to start a business handbook. There are those free guides from Business Link which will do better. Not only that - once you read this book, you may start feeling that you got to be incredibly lucky and well-placed [read the comments about going without an income for two years in other reviews] to become an entrepreneur. That's not the morale of this story here, at all.

But if you are looking for a real story how people bui…

Entrepreneurship Notes: 3 Issues in Customer Service

Why do so many companies offer such bad customer service, when everyone knows better?

If you think of it, it is really amazing how bad things can be. I have worked with companies which preach the value of customer service all the time, but fail to deliver only too often. And, as a consumer, I am appalled by what I keep getting everyday – not from the start-ups but also from big companies – big enough to maintain customer support departments.

As an entrepreneur, one must know a solution. No one wants to offer bad customer service. So, how most companies end up offering such miserable services? I have heard people say that customers are at fault – they don’t read contracts, for example – but that is as dumb a statement as you can get. The real culprit here is that Marketing Director who devised such a ‘clever’ contract in the first place, so clever that the customers don’t read it.

Bad customer service usually catches up with the provider. We have seen big companies being shunned by custom…

Entrepreneurship Notes: 2 What's Wrong With Business Plans?

Did you know that 94.5% of all failed businesses globally lose the plot at the business planning stage?

Well, I did not know – I invented this statement. There is neither such statistics available, nor is such a survey possible. However, I got away asking this question to many business owners and executives. Some nodded in agreement, some argued [‘I thought it would be more’], some made a note in their writing pad and some said they saw this before – in a study, but they don’t exactly remember which one.

This is what is precisely wrong with Business Plans. Having lived through the experience [see why I failed in Netprotraining.com], I know the longer you live in this make-believe world of ‘Business Planning’, the more likely you are to lose the business.

So, what should the entrepreneur do? Go ahead without a business plan? Will the bank managers or investors be impressed?

Not at all - A business plan is an extremely necessary component of the business, and will always remain so. However,…

Entrepreneurship Notes : 1 My Mistakes with Netprotraining.com

Now that my plans to get into a business soon have all but evaporated, I could manage to catch up with my reading on the subject of entrepreneurship. Whatever is its practical implication in my life, it is indeed stimulating. Surely, I was thoroughly entertained by Bobby and Sahar Hashemi’s Anyone Can Do It – their story of building Coffee Republic, or for that matter, by the engrossing piece on Sabeer Bhatia’s journey in The Nudist In The Late Shift. The good thing about these is that they are not empire-building stories, they don’t come with the super-human aura of Bill Gates, or the flamboyance of a Richard Branson [I also read Losing My Virginity in last few weeks], or the almost surreal presence of Steve Jobs. The Hashemis or Sabeer Bhatia come across as people like us, a bundle of aspirations, limitations, ‘lucky breaks’ and failures, and makes the subject of entrepreneurship a human story.

This also launched me into thinking about my brief flirtation with an entrepreneurship – m…

Poll Results in West Bengal

I saw a lot of messages on other message boards yesterday on why LF won this 7th term. The reasoning is widely varied - ranging from rigging [somewhat mute this time] to indoctrination of people of West Bengal.

I do think these armchair experts are in denial, they can not quite figure out why the LF can not be dislodged in WB. I never voted my local LF candidate, but was always of the opinion that rigging alone can not produce such a consistent majority over such a long period of time. As far as the 'indoctrination' theory is concerned, I take offence as this undermines the intelligence of the electorate, and has an 'anti-democratic' slant at the very least.

I would believe that the LF keeps winning because they are the best available alternative. They have delivered a consistent and stable administration, and have contributed in making lives better for a lot of people. They have also won two big strategic wars - first, when they were losing way in the midst of various c…

Google Trends

Have you checked out Google Trends yet?

This is the new service from Google, which allows you to see overall trends in usage of search terms, for regions, cities, languages – over a period of time.

Google Search, being what it is, an entry point to the world for most people online, is a powerful indicator of social trends. Meant for marketers, who can optimize their marketing campaigns [especially in terms of search engine marketing] – but this is a service which throws open an enormous possibility of social research. And, also, such things are also entertaining.

You can access the service at http://www.google.com/trends

Here are certain things that I learnt:

Searched on ‘Training’ and it seems most searches originate from Delhi, India.. trainers in Delhi, you seem to be a lucky lot.

‘University’ – 7 of top 10 places go to US cities, and the other three to India, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. Are you surprised?

‘Tower Bridge’ – I wanted to see how accurate this is, and 9 of top 10 places are in…

Life Beyond BPO

I must be wrong – I have been discouraging an old friend of mine to get into BPO business. I told him that in Fast Company’s list ‘5 jobs that won’t exist in 2010’, the jobs of Indian Call Centre worker ranks third. But, then, I saw him getting disappointed, and I backed off.

To be honest, I ended up encouraging him in the end, connecting him on Ryze and leading him to the Outsourcing forum, in case he manages to get a lead. But, yes, deep down my heart, I was not convinced that BPO is a good start-up opportunity anymore, if it ever was.

I am not exactly sounding sane, and I am conscious of that. But, I have my reasons, and I must try to make my point in the assumed privacy of my blog. So, here goes – my laundry list of reasons why someone planning to launch a business now should start thinking beyond BPO.

Reason 1: It isn’t easy

Providing Call Centre Support or Accounting etc isn’t easy. Remember, when you take on your US or UK clients’ order, it comes with a Service Level commitment wh…

Failed States Index 2006

For all the optimism about India’s economic progress, one must keep watching its back – the region seems to be entering an unstable, violent phase, next only to Central Africa in terms of its regional stability.

Why do I sound so grim? Look at the Fund For Peace Failed State Index for 2006 and you will discover almost all of India’s neighbours in Top 25 Failed States in the world. Pakistan at 9, Afghanistan at 10, Myanmar at 18, Bangladesh at 19, Nepal at 20 and Sri Lanka at 25 – do not paint a rosy picture of the region at all.

India itself is at 93, somewhat cosy, but slightly worse than Libya in some of parameters [OK – oil money, I agree!]. Bhutan at 39 also does not look too good – especially when citizens’ quality of life is the professed aim of the state over economic growth.

Does this index say much? Depending on where you stand politically, you may or may not attach great value to such studies. Fact, however, remains that the region IS indeed unstable. To get anywhere near Indi…

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