How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Name:
Location: India

Thursday, December 23, 2004

End-term exams

The end-term exams for the second term began today. We had two exams today - Economics-II and Designing Work Organizations. I couldn't write the first one as well as I would have liked to, which is now becoming the rule rather than the exception. The latter was an open-class-notes exam and went off well. Tomorrow we have Operations Mgmt.-II. Four days to go for second term to get over. This term has gone off really fast.

'Swades'

This past Sunday our gang stole a few hours from extremely hectic schedules to go to the city and watch 'Swades' - the new film directed by Ashutosh Gowariker (of 'Lagaan' fame). We watched in a hall called 'Shubham', located near Kaiser Bagh. Lucknow cinemas look very dilapidated from the outside, but they are quite decent inside. The seats here were very narrow, though, and not as good as in 'Novelty'.

The film stars Shah Rukh Khan (Mohan Bhargava) - an NRI working for NASA as Project Manager, Global Precipitation Management (nice title :) ). He is deep into managing a project launching a new weather satellite, when he remembers the daayi maa of his childhood, who had brought him up till age 17 after his parents' death. He feels a desire to immediately come back to India and meet her. He takes a leave and comes to Delhi, where he runs across the debutante heroine Gayatri Joshi (Geeta), who actually shows him the (wrong) way to Charanpur, the UP village where the daayi maa now lives.
SRK reaches there in a huge caravan (mobile home) and finds that Geeta is actually his childhood friend who now lives with daayi. She is a graduate from Delhi, but for reasons of principle, teaches in the village school. Many characters of the village are introduced and SRK is shown to be getting gradually more interested in the matters of the village, while he does his NASA work remotely from a laptop in his caravan.
Typical village issues (rampant casteism, neglect of girls' education, poverty, non-availability of electricity, etc.) are shown. Although Geeta's comments and attitude lead SRK to talk reforms in the village, his views are not exactly appreciated by the panchayat. Finally, he undertakes a micro-hydel power project with a turbine and villagers' help and succeeds heroically.
The story of the micro-hydel power project is based on a true story of two US-based NRIs who came back to India and carried this out in a village. They are duly acknowledged in the credits.

On the plus side, we have the restrained tenor of the film. Gowariker doesn't go over the top, by the standards of Hindi films. The performances are a definite plus. I liked SRK's acting after a long time (almost the first time after 'Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa'). But Gayatri Joshi's performance was even more impressive - she acted the smart teacher excellently, and never once was she cowed down by the presence of SRK.
Also on the plus side is A. R. Rahman's music (with good lyrics, too). Udit Narayan has done a superb job in the singing department. He has struck a great rapport with ARR who seems to bring out the best in him. I particularly liked the songs 'ye taaraa, vo taaraa' and 'pal pal hai bhaarii' (set in a Ramlila).

On the negative side is the length of the movie - three-and-a-quarter hours is a bit too much. Many parts of the film also remind one distinctly of B. R. Chopra's 'Naya Daur' (minus the socialist message). Also, the resistance of the villagers is not shown very realistically, I think. Drastic reforms might easily lead to lynching of the reformers in UP.

Our return journey was made complicated by the inauguration of a new Scientific Convention Centre in the city, for which Atal Behari Vajpayee and the CM, Mulayam Singh Yadav were to come. After a lot of wasted time, we finally made it back to the institute.

Indian ethos in Management - Part II

Getting a chance to write after a few more hectic days.

The second session by Prof. Chakraborty was on 'Stress and its Management'. Throughout the 2-hour session, he gave relevant examples including personal examples that made the session more interesting.
He began with saying that on a recent visit to a Kolkata bookstore, when he was browsing the Management section of the store, he noticed that the maximum number of books were those that had the word 'risk' in their titles. His point was that stress has become endemic today.
He said that the Western approach of stressing individual rights was not an ideal one. 'Rights are divisive, duties are cohesive'. If each one fights for his rights, conflicts arise. Indian society had been built up on duties, not rights. If each one realizes and does his/her duty, the rights of everyone would be fulfilled automatically.

Coming back to stress, he said that we need to differentiate between 'stress' (an energy dissipator) and 'challenge' (an energy stimulator). How could one avoid/overcome stress:
1. by preventing a challenge from degenerating into stress, and
2. by overcoming stress and pulling out of it with effort
He underlined the importance of the Bhagwad Gita as a practical book on stress management using a small case of an Indian (Gujarati) businessman who had turned to the Gita for relieving stress built up in his career, in which he had dealt with two major corporate turnarounds, and was being asked to handle another.

There are two types causes of stress:
1. External causes, which are essentially uncontrollable
2. Internal causes, which include egoism, ambition, selfishness, greed, unethicality and competitive mentality - all of which are controllable. He dwelt on each of these in some detail, showing, for example, how ambition can be remodeled in a way to avoid it becoming a stress-causer, and quoting Swami Vivekananda in saying that 'competition was entirely unnecessary to (human) evolution'.
At this point, a lot of questions were raised by the class, and though he did deal with each one of them, I was not fully satisfied with the answers, because they seemed dogmatic to me.

Finally, he proposed a 5-point experiential module for stress management, to be practised daily, which is as follows:
1. Begin a process of interiorization ('antarmukhita'). The theme of the module is that stress is being caused in the outside world, and so its cure is to sit by yourself and take in one's external world
2. Practise mindful deep breathing
3. Practise brain stilling, shut out the outside world and concentrate inwards
4. Now, mentally, open up upwards - "from 'vyaktichetanaa' to 'vishvachetanaa' "
5. Concentrate and identify with the Higher Self in the cave of the heart ('hridayguhaa').

All in all, a fruitful experience which, if nothing else, reawakened that desire in me to read more of our ancient philosophy.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Indian ethos in Management - Part I

A few days ago, we had a three-hour session on 'Indian Ethos in Management' taken by Prof. S. K. Chakraborty, who had come here from Kolkata. This was an adjunct to our course 'Designing Work Organisations'. Prof. Chakraborty has been the Director of the Centre for Human Values at IIM, Calcutta, and is a stalwart in this area. He has authored more than 20 books in this area. He is quite elderly and looked frail, but his voice had a wonderful ring to it, and his oratory was superb.
The session was divided into two parts - a 1-hour first session and a 2-hour second session. I will describe the first session in this post:

Coming into the class, he quite dramatically took the shawl he was wearing on his shoulder and draped it on the computer monitor, saying, "Sorry, I am allergic to all this new technology!".
He started off straight away and said that the major source of conflict in the lives of Indians today was that we were trying to superimpose Western culture on our Indian selves, and it was not a good fit.
This session's theme was 'The Notion of Self'. The Self, he said, existed at two levels: the lower self or the brute self, which was deficit-driven, and therefore constantly pursuing something that was missing - fame, power, money, appreciation, etc. And the Higher Self, or the Transcendent Self, which was always a witness ('saakshii'). Using quotes from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and others, he explained how to identify one's Higher Self (although it is really 'manaso_agocharam' or 'incomprehensible to words and minds') and the approach toward realizing it. Only through recognizing and realizing one's Higher Self could one become 'puurNa'. When one thus becomes 'svayamsampuurNa', the result is generosity and nobility - 'qualities in short supply today'. One then graduates from a 'vyaavahaarik vyaktitva' to a 'paramaarthik vyaktitva'.
Through the story of the musk deer which runs and runs, and eventually dies of exhaustion in search of the sweet smell which is really lying in its own navel, he illustrated the two levels of learning: 'aparaavidyaa' and 'paraavidyaa'. In this context, he quoted Swami Vivekananda: 'Education is the realization of the perfection already in man'.

He ended the session with a quote from Adi Shankar's 'aatmashaTakam' - 'The Song of the Self'.



Zero visibility

For the last 2-3 days, extremely heavy fog sets in from dusk and is pierced by sunlight only by around 11-11.30am the next morning. Visibility is totally impaired. I even found breathing a bit difficult in the fog, not being used to it. Today, it is not settling down, it is pouring like rain, making the ground wet. A peculiar acrid smell accompanies the fog (not there today, however), so that one feels as if the fog is not 'clean' or 'pure' - more like smog. But I don't know the real source of that smell.

Today, when our gang was going on our after-dinner walk, we found that fog settling among the trees had a very eerie effect. And passing by the temple (which was dark), it really seemed like a scene straight from a horror/thriller movie. This was just the spark we needed. Thereafter, for almost 45 minutes, we thought about scripting a thriller movie (actually, a comedy in which each of us would have roles :) ), and shooting it here in the fog. I thought we had a pretty taut storyline, only some songs and fight sequences needed to be added to make it complete :).

Submission time again

Days have been immensely rushed and nights shortened these past few days, as it's submission time again. Once again, those last-minute realizations of something having been left incomplete or undone are coming up and there is a frantic rush to complete them. A lot of class hours too have taken their toll this week. Because of this, I am not able to write a couple of pieces that I want to. I will write at least one of them later today, as we become free from submissions.

Monday, December 13, 2004

'Global' issues

MBAs are often accused of being bombastic and throwing around terminology that doesn't really mean anything when they actually don't know something. One can get to know the source of this tendency inside a B-school. There is so much terminology being thrown at you everyday that many students pick up those terms and start using them way out of context, where they were never meant to be used. And they also use these terms to try to get out of tight situations, where they are unaware of something. This tendency has been shown time and again in 'Dilbert'. The following part of the post is meant in a completely lighthearted way:

The term used here for 'beating about the bush' is 'globe'. A formal definition (which I just made up) follows:
Globe n. any glib talk that does not have any inherent meaning, is in no way related to the topic under discussion, or is brought up only as a filler of pauses in a conversation

The class (and every class and every batch) is 'globalized' (and becomes a 'global village' in a sense) in this way. Some are excellent at it and they speak nothing but globe. We have one fellow in class whose vocal tone changes noticeably when he globes :). When he starts speaking, we mutter to ourselves: 'ye aakaashvaani ka Lucknow kendra hai, ab aap XYZ se aaj ka globe suniye' :).
I once suggested that Shakespeare must have been an MBA student. Reason: his plays used to be staged at the 'Globe' Theatre in London :). I am also proposing to institute an award for the student with the best 'global' competencies: the Golden Globe award :).

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Reliance tussle

I have been following the Ambani viruddh Ambani tussle in Reliance with some interest.

One set of views I have is regarding the personalities of the two brothers, which seem totally different. While Anil Ambani comes across as a more suave, Gita-quoting, ethics-toting person, Mukesh Ambani seems much more brusque and ruthless. The latter resembles Dhirubhai much more than the former (at least it seems that way to me). But it is interesting to see that in all their writings, e-mails and announcements, it is Anil who invokes Dhirubhai's name more frequently, and always in reverential tones. Frankly speaking, it is difficult to associate corporate governance and ethics (invoked in almost every piece that Anil has written) with the Reliance Group. One may argue that Dhirubhai's tactics were a necessary evil in the time of the licence raj, but Reliance is still not free from controversy. Witness the Reliance Infocomm tactics of routing international calls as if they originated within the country. And political closeness with the likes of despicable people of the Samajwadi Party does not help much either.

Another thing that interests me is the complex investment structure and cross-holdings within industrial groups. The complexity of these holdings is very great in Reliance Industries, and it is beginning to become more complicated in Reliance Infocomm. My basic question is: What is the purpose of such complex investment structure? Maybe there are legitimate advantages to it in financial terms which I am not aware of. But as of now, they just seem to me to serve one purpose: obfuscation. Reading about them reminded me of a worldwide programming contest called 'The Obfuscated C code' contest, where the winner is a person who writes the most obfuscated C code to achieve some end, packing as much into every line of code as possible, using the flexible C constructs.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Macroeconomics

My favourite subject this term is, without doubt, Economics-II, which covers macroeconomics. The breadth of the subject and the great interplay of various forces resulting in profound outcomes is fascinating. I guess it's my quizzer's mindset which makes those subjects most interesting to me which have the largest scope, rather than the greatest depth. (This, of course, is not to say that macroeconomics has no depth). I intend to write something on this mindset and other issues shortly.
The term paper that we have to submit for the course is on the topic: 'Lessons in macroeconomic management from the East Asian crisis', and going through various research articles and websites on this topic has been a most interesting activity.
I don't understand the subject fully, though. Certain cause-and-effect patterns have completely escaped me and I am not sure whether I will be able to understand them in the future, but nevertheless...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

After-dinner walks

For the past few days, Samrat and I (and a few others as well today) have a walk after dinner which I find very helpful in getting insulated to the cold. From the relative warmth of the room, when one first steps outside, a strong chill is felt. But, after a good walk (with suitable protection against the cold), one feels invigorated.
But now I can guess where Talat Mahmood got the slight tremor in his voice. He must have been singing while roaming around in the Lucknow cold, shivering while singing :)).

Food for thought

Last Saturday, we went to a restaurant called 'Cellar's' in the Gol Market area. The restaurant offers Mexican food. We had gone there for the novelty, and I found the food pretty good. I had a vegetable sizzler after a long time, and it was made very well. The place has a little cramped seating arrangement, but is definitely worth a visit once in a while.
Then on Sunday, we found a very typical North Indian winter meal in the mess - makke ki roti, sarson ka saag and gaajar ka halwa. All three very well-made.
Also, for the past few days, jaggery is kept in the mess, and again after a long time, I am having jaggery with meals.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Book review: 'Lateral marketing' - II

The Lateral Marketing Process:
So what's the process proposed by the authors? It's essentially the same as that proposed by de Bono, and simply consists of 3 steps:
1. Select a focus - choose an existing product or service for which we want to generate large incremental volume, and then decide on which level we want to apply the process:
a. at the market level (new targets, needs, occasions)
b. at the product level (make changes in the product, then seek a market for it)
c. at the rest-of-the-marketing-mix level (change only the pricing, promotion, or distribution strategies)
2. Generate a marketing gap - a most interesting exercise wherein you generate a lateral displacement from an existing idea. Essentially one may use one of 6 techniques to do this:
a. Substitution b. Inversion c. Exaggeration d. Elimination e. Reordering f. Combination
3. Make the connection to solve the gap - now think with normal, sequential logic to solve the gap created in step 2. The idea is now complete. What remains is to see whether it is feasible, which can be done using normal idea-screening and financial analysis methods.

An example would be in order to explain this:
Step 1: I choose cars as my product
Step 2: I apply Inversion and think of a 'car that won't run' (seems illogical at this stage)
Step 3: I now try to connect the gap created between a 'normal car' and a 'car that won't run'. What would be the utility of the latter? To learn the basics of driving, perhaps?
And thus is born the idea of driving simulators (or flight simulators, army scenario builders, for that matter).

The good points:
I found it an excellent book in most respects, highly readable. In particular, I liked the following:
1. Lucidity of language - usage of marketing jargon is quite low
2. Clarity of thought and structure
3. Large number of examples to prove the point that a method can be applied to generate creative concepts
4. Suitability for the layman - even if one is not interested in a marketing career, the fun element in the book ensures that one reads it fully. I enjoyed making displacements and connections in the given examples. It was like solving a puzzle.
5. The simplicity and workableness of the proposed process

The bad points:
Are there any? Just nitpicking, that's all:
1. The book could have expanded a bit more on the implementation process
2. One or two detailed case studies as appendices would have been great

Usage in the Indian context:
One may feel that the above methods need to be applied only to the more sophisticated markets of the West. But with globalization happening fast, it won't be very long before the Indian market shows characteristics similar to those of the West. In fact, the process has
already started. So, innovative companies can start applying such processes right now.
One may also use these processes to come up with innovative offerings for untapped or relatively untapped markets, like rural India.

Book review: 'Lateral marketing' - I

We have to prepare reviews of relevant books for Marketing class. Tomorrow is our group's turn and I will be reviewing 'Lateral Marketing' by Philip Kotler and Fernando Trias de Bes (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). Am putting up the review here:

Motivation:
The book's motivation lies in the changing marketing environment that most companies face, especially in more mature, developed markets. This environment is increasingly characterized by a spate of brands within any given category or sub-category, more fickle customer
preferences, shorter product life-cycles, hyperfragmented markets, etc. In the face of all this, how do you bring in innovative thinking in the marketing process? The repeated use of traditional (or vertical) thinking will only serve to fragment the markets further. Therefore,
you need to think out of the box. How to do that? That is the subject of the book.

Objective:
The main objective of the book is to construct a framework for 'lateral marketing' - a process for systematically developing breakthrough marketing ideas. For constructing this, the book heavily draws upon Edward de Bono's model of 'lateral thinking'. Indeed, Kotler dedicates the book to de Bono and other thinkers on creativity.

Structure:
As one can expect from Kotler, the book has been structured extremely well. The authors' clarity of thought comes through in the structure. Starting with the book's motivation, the authors go on to enumerate the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional marketing process.
The methods of creating innovations using traditional and the lateral marketing thinking are then shown (the latter using 11 different examples to give us a feel of how lateral marketing creates new markets or categories rather than segmenting existing markets further).
Finally, the major topic of the book - a formal method to do lateral marketing is detailed using lots of examples. The book ends with a brief comment on implementing such a process.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Old Hindi songs

Only in North India can you hear old Hindi songs on street corners and from passersby on the road. Even the students here listen to quite a bit of old Hindi songs. Although most of the 'old' songs nowadays are restricted to Kishore Kumar (on the male singer side), there are a few exceptions. Someone on the floor below mine is currently listening to Rafi's classic 'ham bekhudi men tum ko pukaare chale gaye'.
The Philips dealer's stall at Index also played old Rafi songs resung by Sonu Nigam. I heard 'nazar men bijli, ada men shole' which Sonu Nigam sang fairly well.
And I was most surprised to hear a not-so-common Mahendra Kapoor song being sung by the hostel sweeper a few days ago, the words of which escape me at the moment.