How's my Luck now?

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

Location: India

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I am short of topics to write on these days. This term has proceeded in a very routine, unextraordinary manner so far. This is not to say that it is not interesting. On the contrary, this term might perhaps be the most enjoyable so far (I think I say this for every succeeding term :) ). There are a lot of competitions, contests, online games, etc. going on in the B-school world currently. I am myself participating in a clutch of competitions (four, to be precise). Besides this, on the three days of the week that are very light on classes, I pick good English movies to watch (there is no dearth of them on the LAN here). There is a library book that I got with great enthusiasm, but has been lying unread. So as usual, there is a lot to do in limited time.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A history lesson - Take 2

Eight months after I last visited Lucknow's three main attractions - the Bada and Chhota Imambara-s and the Residency - I visited them again today with my friends, who were visiting them for the first time. I must say that I enjoyed the trip as much as I had enjoyed it the first time. Those buildings, and the scenes of old Lucknow city, do inspire visions of how Lucknow must have been like a century and a half (and more) ago. The magnificence of the Bada Imambara and its labyrinth (which we tried out this time, with much handholding by the guide); the ingenuity of the Bauli (step-well); the profusion of chandeliers in the Chhota Imambara; and the ruins of the Residency, inspiring, at once, respect for British resilience, sadness for those who lost their lives over five months of oppressive battle on both sides (but particularly, the young Britishers who lie buried in a foreign land now), understanding of how opulently and comfortably the British lived - all these were worth experiencing again. I also learned that the building of the labyrinth was not intentional, but arose out of uncoordinated work by the poor labourers (for whom Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula had ordered the building of it, as relief work in a famine). This time, we also visited the Art Gallery near the Chhota Imambara, which had full-length portraits of the major Nawabs of Awadh, including Asaf-ud-Daula, Mohammed Ali Shah, Saadat Ali Khan and Wajid Ali Shah. Each of them had the quality that as one moved across the painting from one side to another, some part of the painting - the eyes, the shoes, the leg, etc. - seemed to keep turning towards you all the time. It was clever work. Small pleasures, like eating a faaludaa at Hazratganj, sweetened a day well spent. Hearing a few sentences of excellent Urdu was also nice.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A theme for the term

Somewhat coincidentally, four of the seven subjects I have selected in this term together form a theme - one of exploring the very basis of a business enterprise and investigating the 'deep determinants' of the growth of both a business in particular, and an economy in general. A course in strategy called Applied Theories in Strategy and Competition deals with various theories which try to establish a basis for the existence of the firm and the managerial actions carried out. Corporate Restructuring and Mergers & Acquisitions look at the basis of growth strategies of firms and particular ways in which such growth may be achieved, from a financial and strategic point of view, respectively. Finally, Business Environment looks at the fundamental forces in the environment of a business enterprise which affect its managerial actions.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

'Only the Paranoid Survive'

I just completed this book written by former Intel Chairman Andrew Grove (HarperCollins, 1996). The sub-title of the book says: 'How to exploit the crisis points that challenge every company and career'. Accordingly, this book is about change and its management by companies and individuals. But this is not the everyday change that businesses encounter that Grove is talking about. This, in his words, is '10X' change - some force(s) governing the business has intensified by an order of magnitude. How an adaptive organization can be built to navigate through such fundamental changes is the subject of the book.

The book is written in conversational language, with very little jargon. Grove uses Porter's Five Forces framework and adds a sixth force to it - the bargaining power of 'complementors', i.e. businesses complementary to your own and which have interests similar to your own. The 10X change can occur in one or more of these forces and this brings the organization to a strategic inflection point - a term coined by Grove which has since gained currency. This inflection point is a period of time when a business is in the midst of a heavy transition, and at the end of it, the business may decline never to rise again, or reach an entirely new level of growth, depending on how it manages the transition.

Having introduced this concept, Grove goes on to give numerous examples of industries which have experienced such inflection points. The recurring examples are those of Intel itself - the 10X intensification of competition from Japanese firms in the memory business, which transformed Intel from a memory chip vendor to a microprocessor firm; and the flaw in the Pentium processor's floating-point unit which made Intel take a fundamental relook at who its real customers are.

Grove then tries to explain how a business can realize when it is going through a strategic inflection point, and when it is experiencing non-fundamental change. When there is a fundamental change in your perception of who your key competitors are; or when the skills of your people suddenly seem inadequate or obsolete, it may indicate the presence of an inflection point. Realization of such change generally reaches top management last of all, and even then only if the lower-level managers and field personnel are allowed to speak their mind in the organization. Thus, many organizations find such change overwhelming.

From Intel's experience, Grove suggests that the first step for senior management to take after the realization of fundamental change dawns on them is to loosen control - 'let chaos reign'. Experimentation, trying out of alternative strategies, etc. should be encouraged. A stage will then be reached, when senior management will have to call a halt to unbridled experimentation - 'rein in chaos'. Now is the time for management to form a clear picture of what lies at the other end of the inflection point for the organization, and communicate this new strategic direction to the organization. Thus, a fine balance of top-down and bottom-up strategy formulation is required for businesses to successfully survive such major changes.

This is a slim book, easy to read, but with a compelling message. Its message goes out not just to companies and their management, but also to individuals, because individual careers often get a new turn in the face of such major changes in the organization.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More rain

Rain has been following me for the last week, like it did the Rain God in 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. It rained while I was at home; then, as I boarded the Delhi-Lucknow flight, a thunderstorm struck the Delhi airfield out of nowhere and the flight was delayed by an hour. And now, a cyclonic disturbance coming from the Bay of Bengal has struck Lucknow, after passing over MP. It is good for Lucknow, which has so far received less than 50% of its normal annual rainfall. But it makes the weather gloomy. A lot of people like such rainy and windy weather, but it makes me gloomy. I just don't like to turn on the tubelight at 5 in the evening. One has to make an effort to retain cheer in such weather. All the same, the first day at classes has gone off well and the next two days are extremely light.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Fifth gear

I am back from a week-long vacation for the penultimate term of the course. It promises to be gruelling, although perhaps less so than the fourth term.

The past week was not altogether happy for me, as the first three or four days were spent in overcoming one of the most severe stomach upsets (and consequent problems) I have ever had. In fact, I had reached home in a dazed state, having travelled the whole day without eating anything. So I was not much in the mood for watching movies - lately the interest that consumes most of the vacation. Instead, I read three excellent Gujarati books (two of them translated from Bengali) and the entire stock of Gujarati magazines accumulated during the three-month absence from home.

And I watched, with great satisfaction, as Australia tried and tried, but couldn't pull off a series-leveller, and England finally and deservedly lifted the Ashes. The end of an era in modern cricket, surely. Because of my ill-health, I couldn't watch the best of US Open tennis action, which happened late at night. Interestingly, the men's and women's tennis scene seem to have been interchanged of late. 7 or 8 ladies now seem equally capable of winning a given Grand Slam tournament, while (barring the French Open so far), Roger Federer winning the men's tournament is an inevitability. Unless real competitors like Safin (and not pretenders like Roddick or Hewitt) pull up their socks, Federer is going to stamp his greatness on the world of tennis unchallenged.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

That does it

As the last of my exams got over today, slightly more than an hour ago, I felt fatigued - both physically and mentally. The last two weeks have been draining, and when things don't go your way, the fatigue is compounded. So yet another exam has passed by with no sign of my doing very well. Again, the marks are unimportant, but the feeling of not having done well rankles. It has so happened that I have been unable to answer the tougher questions, and that does not boost confidence. But, I am not ending the term on a sour note here. In many ways, it has been an important term, laying the foundations of knowledge in vast fields spreading out afar.