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Showing posts from February, 2011

1/100: In Praise of Work

Physical work is liberating.

We have spent the last 200 years, that is the period since industrial revolution, demeaning physical work. Before the industrial revolution, physical work was seen as the source of all value mankind could produce. The wonders of farming, celebrated by the French Physiocrats, were there for all to see: Man's physical labour making nature yield life sustaining produce. But, since the Industrial revolution, this changed. First, people were seen as mere resources, eligible for only a meagre subsistence pay and less than amenable living conditions, who must 'man' the machines and just that. The magic of physical work was gone. The workers became mere cogs, as celebrated in Charlie Chaplin's The Modern Times. Then, started the man-machine competition: For the same work. Machines were taking away not just the glory of physical work, but physical work itself. The heroes of this age were men who could beat the machines, people like John Henry or Sta…

Conversations and Resources

For an organization, conversations are more important than resources.

This is not meant to proclaim that one can go without the resources, physical and financial, that an operation needs. But, resources can't create a sustainable competitive advantage for an organization, because they can always be acquired by a wealthier rival. Conversations, however, are difficult to generate, and often, far more difficult to replicate even if your competitor is rich.

Conversations, remember, are ideas plus connections. Conversations need context. More importantly, conversations need humility, an acknowledgement that one can't go it alone. Today, while we live in a resource rich world, but where humility is in short supply and often, organizations are locked in a resource-based thinking trap.

This is a paradox. Richer one is, possessions are more important. But possessions often come in the way of conversations. Conversations happen when one is out to connect, not to hoard. Besides, conversatio…

A New 100 Days: All Change Please

I am back into 100 day plans. I love them. Indeed, I grew up in India during its various five year plans, and time-restricted plans are therefore in my blood. But there is nothing socialist about the propensity to plan; on the contrary, these are my exercises in fantasy. But whether fantasy or not, these 100 day plans give me focus that I so badly need, and allows me to achieve something in the end. It worked for me before, and I am hopeful that this will work for me now.

Truth be told, I need a bit of a restart. While I have achieved some of the things I intended in the last nine months, but I have lost a bit of momentum in the last couple of months. My brother's untimely death is one of the reasons: It completely unsettled me and left me feeling desperately lonely. Various 'work in progress' items at work add to this feeling: There are things which I wished to complete sooner, but some must invariably wait for some time more. Some of this also pertains to my aspirations, …

About Organizational Politics

Usually, politics is a negative word these days. Gone are those times when politics was a liberating force, a way of thinking and doing things for ascendant middle classes (and later still, for working classes), something that led to freedom and progress. Now, this means manipulative behaviour, something that one should not do. This negativity is nowhere more pronounced than in business literature.

The reason for this is the rational roots of business thinking. We must remember that management as a discipline was created out of the great industrial organizations of United States and Europe in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century. The roots of business education lie in the economics and organizational science departments in North America, with great rationalist thinkers like Herbert Simon etc. The founding assumption of management as a discipline is that everyone, at least most people, would act in a rational way, with an enlightened self interest. There is little room to hav…

Arguments with Myself: Bystander's Options

There are three wars of civilization in play last week.

First, let's call it the war of St Valentine. If we thought the debate was settled, on the eve of Valentine's Day, the discussion how romantic love undermines a society resurfaced. For example, Malaysian police monitored the hotels in provinces to ensure that nothing wrong is going on. In the extreme form, in India, a young boy of seventeen got killed because he was seen walking with a girl, his sister, on the the day. Young versus the old, it seems to be the theme. The conservatives of various hues usually portray their action as a fight against Western cultural imperialism, but increasingly, this has a local flavour. The women who sent out undergarments to the home of a Hindu fundamentalist leader after he instigated violence against couples seen in the parks etc, were not prompted by Western media of any sort, but their own sense of dignity and freedom.

Second, let's call it the end of Caliphets of Mubarak and Ben Al…

The Trouble With Creativity

Creativity is all good, should be good. One can claim, with ample justification, that creativity of people is the main reason for progress. If everyone was just satisfied with what they got in life, and never explored the edges, we shall be no better than we were a few hundred years back; even, we would be at the same state we were a million year back.

Yet, creativity isn't mainstream. People are afraid of creativity some times. Indeed, because it invariably challenges the status quo, but there is more to the fear of creativity. I would argue some of this is due to the insistence that the usual rules don't apply to creative pursuits.

One can argue it shouldn't. Usual is boring. This is probably correct, but we live our lives 'usually' - like eating, drinking etc. Some rules therefore must be followed. Grabbing others' food isn't acceptable, and similarly, being responsible to oneself and to others must apply to everyone too.

Having said that, I know it is the …

Clay Shirky: Social Media Makes History

A School For Business 2.0

The project I am involved in, setting up a new Business school in East London, is at an interesting juncture. It is starting to become real. One can see the physical shape of it now, as we have now finalized the building and in the final stages of acquiring it and getting the planning permission. We can also see the concept - as contracts with university partners get signed and ideas are debated and partnerships solidify - and start thinking about the possibilities. In short, we are at that point of the start-up life cycle when everything looks full of possibilities.

This is also the time to search for a purpose. We started with some ideas of what we want to do - to set up a world class business school ready for the web 2.0 world - but now, we have to distill all of it and arrive at some understanding why we are doing it. I must clarify: This isn't about writing a tag line. That would be done eventually. Nor it is about doing something first time in the world. I had all those illus…

Arguments with Myself: Pandora's Gift

I always see the positive: This is one of my biggest negatives. I often miss the downside. This isn't lack of experience, as I shall rate myself above average in terms of perspective and long term thinking. But I often go wrong as I am so irreversibly optimistic about people.

For example, I believe that given an opportunity, anyone can almost do anything. I do believe attitudes can change, and everyone has something in them. In a way, that's my Hindu belief: Everyone has a bit of God in them. I shall also think that this comes from the way I grew up, with my self-made entrepreneur grandfather, who obviously believed that everyone can make it in life if they try.

In a way, the middle class lives on optimism, in the faith that it is possible to be happy. However trivial way this happiness is defined, a mortgaged house, a secure job, a devoted spouse, or a big enough car, as long as one belongs to middle class, being optimistic about their chances in life is an inalienable responsi…

Huffs and Puffs: New Media's Judgement Day

The feeling at the news of Huffington Post being sold to AOL is - sadness.

I have subscribed to Huffington Post for last couple of years. Every day, reading the daily update was my touching base with my left-liberal self. But, there was more: This was my commitment to the alternate news.

In a way, I don't trust big media for all its worth. After Al Jazeera, it is plain to see what they are up to. For example, the BBC and the CNN completely omitted the news of the protests in Kuwait, which was in a way the first among the Arab democratic movements, may be just slightly ahead of its time. My daily media consumption is Huffington Post and Al Jazeera, the left wing editorials coupled with irreverent reporting.

So, the sale of Huffington Post to AOL, which is only slightly better than its sale to Rupert Murdoch, feels like one relationship severed. There is no reason to feel that way, indeed: The Press Release says that it will remain business as usual, with full editorial independence fo…

Roles and People

I am contradicting myself. I sat through a business meeting only a few days back and proclaimed that instead of trying to fit people into roles, we should look at roles first and then find people, recruit from outside if necessary. That made perfect sense, and sounded nice. Everyone around the table agreed – as if this is quite obvious – and I felt good because I sounded business-like.




However, reflecting on this over the next few days, the statement does not appear as obvious as it did initially. The first problem is that the roles don’t exist but people do. However much we talk about competencies and job descriptions, that’s nothing other than a perception – a bunch of assumptions made by people other than the person doing the job about what doing the job means. Okay, I know about those soft scientific techniques of asking people around what their job needs, and creating the competency maps, but, indeed, people say what they think the job needs but not what they do.




The problem with m…

Britishness 101

I claim I can talk about what Britishness means with some sort of authority. It is always easier to talk about something seen from outside - I was not born British and only settled in Britain later in life - as, from that perspective, only the really distinguishable characteristics can be seen. For a nation, if Britain can be said to be one, it is a collection of people with individual characteristics from inside; from outside, the common eccentricities stand out and define the collective.

All this is very relevant after David Cameron let the penny drop now and said that Muslims in Britain must learn Britishness. Now, it will be his responsibility to explain what it is, and he should get cracking possibly after he finished explaining his last big concept - great society - to the public. One can indeed make light of his recent statement and say that he was only trying to please Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who recently said Multi-culturalism has failed in Germany. David Cameron…

The Question of Foreign Students

The British Immigration Minister delivered a speech on the forthcoming changes of the student visa system on the 1st February, and followed it up with a number of interviews on Television and Radio. This set of statements are intended to be justifications, of a policy direction already set. Considering that the Immigration Minister has said the same things before, and saying these now immediately as the Home Office's public consultation on the student visa system got over (the last date to respond was 31st January), the policy direction is already set.

From the tone of the statement, one would suspect that the government is trying hard to justify this set policy now. Earlier, this was about the election promise about curbing immigration. Now, as the government's policies are driving Britain into a quicksand of recession, and the unemployed figure is going past 2.5 million, it is natural for the immigration minister to justify his plans as if this is done to protect jobs. That&#…

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