Headline bingo: this one’s a winner

Now I am a discerning news reader, but there are times when my self-control slips, and the mouse-wielding hand is guided by the eyes to the crass and vulgar. I am glad to report that some headline writer in the ToI family has come up with the winning formula, capturing centuries of human breeding and social selection. Combine the desi male tendency for lecherousness with desi aspirations, and you have a winning combination. The only other word that could have finished out the headline was “BMW”. It’s all there. I’m telling you!

The winner of the screaming headline of the year goes to “Munni & Sheila seize sizzle IIMA classroom“. Need I say more?

I had excited visions of said ladies actually taking over one of my classrooms (CR-1 for Section A) for an impromptu performance. I can imagine Yogi’s bathroom songs would go well with the performance, as will the desktop drumming that everyone in India is an expert at. Now to add to the mix, one could imagine that lecherous male hooting would be replaced by orderly tempo shouts and announcements of random quizzes, as behooves IIMA’s students and their future glory. Rapturous hoots of “Munni ka tempo high hai” are met with equal gusto from the Sheila camp’s “Sheila ki le li, zig zag zig zag”, (WIMWI folks- I KNOW why it’s “ki”). Wait, remember the Prof who took his shoes and watch off for every class? We could have his shoes stolen by the class clown, and somehow the class could be dancing around a pair of marketing prof shoes to the beat of his stolen watch! Yes, yes, yes! Sheila ji, Munni ji, please bring it on! The sizzle, the steak.

Puerile fantasies aside, the actual article was interesting, but not quite Sheila/Munni material. Why the world needs to know that there’s a class on contemporary Indian films…I don’t know. But, hey!, the diversion was worth the time.

Link here. Nothing exciting in the article, really, but the headline was a winner.

ymMBA: Today’s special

Series of posts titled “Your movie MBA”, where we’re using famous hindi movie lines to make management gyan more approachable. So you thought you couldn’t learn anything from a David Dhawan-Kader Khan movie. Yep, you’re right! Unless you count that bit about the blood clot.

Of all the outrageous comedy movie settings I can recall, there could be none more moronic than Kader Khan’s greedy landlord in “Mujhse Shaadi Karogi” where the running gag is that Kader Khan has a mysterious blood clot in his brain. Everyday he wakes up, the clot shifts to another part of his brain, stopping the flow of sensory information from another part of his brain. One day he wakes up deaf, while another he is blind, mute, mad, and so on. Being that the clot is inside Kader Khan’s brain, the people around him cannot tell what’s broken that day, and find it enormously inconvenient to interact with him.So this guy walks up to him and starts talking, only to realize a 5 minute monologue later that “Aaj Bahre Hain” (today’s special: deaf). How much damage can this do to a guy’s social life, especially in the era before facebook? Kader Khan comes up with a unique device to improve his social interactions- he uses a white board to announce his “malady of the day”. As you’ll see in the screen grab below, the board of the day says “Aaj Andhe Hain” (today’s special: blindness). This eases things tremendously. Now visitors can alter their communication style based on what’s missing that day. You walk up to the man, read up the special, and choose to communicate accordingly. QED.

Go to the 5:17s mark for the sequence.

And you’re still wondering, what the!? What could possibly be the practical use of this wisdom? You’ve got this golden nugget from me, and yet you are unable to encash it, or tuck it away in some cranny in your brain to use it later. All this wisdom, and nowhere to put it to use…let me tell you something. Top secret. Come closer so I can whisper it into you ear.

Psst…the company you work for has a brain clot too.

Sometimes its Aaj Green Hain, (Today’s special: Green), while other times its Aaj High Growth Hain. You never know where the clot has hit the company, and what’s the fad of the month. If you read the company wrong, you’re still talking green while the company has woken up overnight to the joys of profitable growth, or global integration, or, I don’t know, saving the african rhino.

Do yourself and your company a favor- Get with the program, people! Go and figure out what your company’s fad is today.

Once you find out, put it on the white board to let everyone know today’s special.

ymMBA: Dog of Dance

Series of posts titled “Your movie MBA”, where we’re using famous hindi movie lines to make management gyan more approachable. Today’s theme-customer segmentation! The source material is illegal phone-taps, so reader discretion advised.

Follows this base post. And oh! This is fictionalized.

In the wake of 2010’s 2G scandal in India, newspaper offices have become used to receiving strange packets with USB memory sticks full of illicitly recorded telephone conversation. One such package arrived at our doorstep yesterday, marked simply “Gabriel’s Dogs, 1994“. Our curiosity piqued, we plugged in the USB drive to hear the inner workings of the IT industry in its infancy. The year was 1994, and this was a recording of a conversation between Virendra, VipInTa Technologies’ founder, and Haema, the company’s relationship manager with Gabriel Electric. Haema, as readers will recall, later became (in)famous as a corporate lobbyist and her other phone recordings have already been made public. It appears that Haema’s calls were being tapped much earlier in her career as well. This was one of the recordings. The uncut transcript is below.

Haema: Veeru, this is me. I know it’s late…sorry…but I need to talk with you urgently ya!

Virendra: Haan bol! Did you get any sleep? Those crazy guys at Gabriel have made me completely sleepless. I don’t know why we have to do this renegotiation tamasha every year. Why don’t they bloody ask for our first-borns and right arm as well? Buggers!

Haema: No ya! I didn’t get much sleep either. I was working with Balu on the financials. If we give Gabriel’s guys any more discount, we will make no money on the deal at all. Balu is furious, and I am ready to give up now. It’s your company, ya!, you tell me what you want to do!

Virendra: Arrey…we gave them a discount last year as well. They keep coming back every year to arm-twist. Tu aisa kar, you tell them that you’re not able to reach me. Let them give us some more time.

Haema: What are you saying Veeru? This is our largest client, and they are negotiating with all the other desi companies. I can’t just go and tell them I can’t reach you. Tell something else…should I just give the discount, and we will try to be better prepared next year?

Virendra: Basanti..<audio garbled>

Haema: Hellow?! What did you say?

Virendra: <muffled audio> Basa…ton ke saam…<muffled audio>

Haema: Can you repeat? Your voice is cutting off…Hellow?! Should I call back?

Virendra: Basanti, in kutton ke saamne mat naachna! <translated: Don’t dance for these dogs>

<Editor’s note> Customer segmentation is a very important part of a company’s strategy. Not all clients are alike, and some clients are not worth having. VipInTa had run into a very big problem- their biggest customer, Gabriel Electric, was now a problem client. Gabriel’s men routinely came down to India to ask for discounts, and the relationship had become toxic. Veeru had to decide whether to continue to give discount to the single client that gave them 40% of revenues, or to walk away and take their chances with other more profitable clients. They chose to walk away, and the rest is history. The company still doesn’t do any business with Gabriel’s men, but happens to make the most profits in the industry. Those who danced for Gabriel’s negotiators have had to sell their companies for a deep discount. (Non-fictionalized version of the story here at #19). (Non-fictionalized reference to a company that likes dancing for Gabriel is here. They sold the company in early 2011, at a fraction of the valuation of the other companies in their industry. Cheap clients make poor business partners!).

Not all customers are alike. Learn to pick well. That’s your bollywood line for the day.

Basanti, in kutton ke saamne mat nachna! Can there be a more iconic bollywood line? For those who slept through the 1970s, the line is from Sholay, and involved Hema Malini (as Basanti) and Dharmendra’s character-Veeru. Veeru is strapped to a pole, and the arch-villain Gabbar’s henchmen have asked Basanti to dance on shards of broker glass as a life-line to save her boyfriend Veeru. Incensed, Veeru is asking Basanti not to dance. She does. He lives. Happy Ending, bollywood ishtyle.

ymMBA: Empowerment and initiative

This is in the series of posts titled “Your movie MBA”, where we’re using famous hindi movie lines to make management wisdom more approachable. The opening post is here.

We have all come across people in our professional life who go above and beyond the brief and deliver that truly “Wow!” experience. People who don’t refer to their job descriptions every day, but go do whatever it takes to get the job done. The “Can do”  people. They don’t need direction, go out on a limb, have distinct personalities, and create their own momentum. The A players. The goto guys. The movers and shakers. The “buck stops here” heroes. You know the type.

Are you one?

Unfortunately, most people in corporate situations are far removed from this ideal. They find themselves under-empowered, at the mercy of forces outside themselves, and desperately in need of coffee and carrots to get their job done. They have excuses for answers, and hyperlinks for results (ask him, tell her, don’t look at me!). The buck passers. So who’s to blame? Is there a simple way to check if we’re in this rut, and what to do to get out of it?

The movie “Khosla Ka Ghosla” is a fantastic comedy about underdogs who con a Conman. The capital C Conman is a land-shark, and has stolen the underdogs’ land. The underdogs enlist the help of a drama troupe to create an elaborate ruse about a wealthy NRI who needs to sell his land to the Conman. To get access to the Conman, the drama company must first get through the Conman’s underling, a lowly property broker. In their first meeting, the drama company must convince the broker of their wealth and power, and the actor playing the role delivers brilliantly with a 5-word question that I propose must be embossed in gold and adorn the desks of all self-respecting professionals. He asks, “Aap broker hain ya party?” (Are you a BROKER or a PARTY). The insinuation being that no one wants to deal with a middle-man, a broker or an underling. No business discussions are real unless the opposite party is a PARTY- someone who has the authority to make decisions, take risks and is accountable for results.

(read on below the video …post abhi baaki hai mere dost)

Go to the 1:55s mark for the sequence.

So do yourself a favor and ask yourself this question- “In what I do, am I a BROKER or a PARTY“? Am I just acting on behalf of others, have no real decision making authority, and have no stake in the outcome? Am I just making excuses for my performance. Do I blame others for what’s going on around me? If that’s the case, why should anyone respect me professionally…I’m just a broker, no!? A broker that has no skin in the game, no real value addition, no accountability and no reason to be part of any decisions. Am I just a broker? Do I want to be one?

Ask yourself, How can I become a PARTY instead? How can I take more accountability for the bottomline. How can I bring the locus of control back to me? How do I exude can-do confidence in my dealings, proud of my rights, aware of my duties and ready to take all the risks and rewards in this transaction? How can I stop slouching and start standing up for what I believe in?

Don’t be a broker. Take charge! Be the PARTY!

You have my permission!

Your Movie MBA: Bring us your dialogs

Keen to revitalize our flagging blogging enterprise, we have come up with a uniquely desi formula. We will use iconic movie dialogs from hindi movies to deliver management gyan. In what we hope will be seen retrospectively as a brilliant marketing move that sparked international frenzy and fandom, we will use this platform to advance dubious management insights based on famous movie lines.

That’s the plot, or the twist in the plot. Mogambo, khush hua?!

We could choose hollywood lines as well as bollywood, but our desi hearts are etched deepest in hindi. Nary an NRI meeting is consummated until someone brings forth a gem from deep inside. Who can reject the cultural significance of “Mere paas Ma hai“, or “Jaani, yeh bachchon ke khelne ki cheez nahi hai“, or even “Kitne Aadmi thhey“? Who amongst us has not used the line “Thoda khao thoda phenko” to explain to their host why the excess pulaoo at the party must be thrown away?



Broker ya Party?

Basanti, in kutton ke saamne mat nachna

Aaj Andhe Hain

All things must pass…fads and fashions explained visually

Been traveling the last few weeks, and forgot to post this fantastic infographic.

The WashingtonPost had a great online article about how electronic items track on their way from gee-wiz to junk. The infographic shows clearly how fads start, stall, decay and die! Added bonus is the story of Moore’s law at work in terms of falling prices of items as volume ramps up.

Link to WaPo article.

As proof, look at the sales of  “standard cellphones” which start off as being expensive and exclusive, and with the reduction in prices, slowly gain volume until the late 90s, when suddenly the market explodes and the sales volumes grow 10x in the next 10 years, while prices continue to come down. Eventually gravity catches up in 2007, and the market starts climbing down from it’s peak, never to return. Corded phones didn’t have such an explosive rise, and didn’t have such an explosive fall either.

Today’s hottest category is smartphones, but the smart money is already able to see that this will eventually boil over as well. What I found interesting was that there was no other *new*category of devices that can displace them in the near future- this means that the  smartphone category may not fall off a cliff, but may plateau.

10-year-rule The other sexy take-away for me was that all this talk of overnight innovation and success is not borne out by data. Very clearly, all these categories existed (see other charts on the link) for at least 10 years before they exploded. There was an interesting WSJ editorial a couple of weeks ago about how Steve Jobs’ genius was not his marketing savvy or finicky product design, which were both great attributes, but his slowness to respond to the market. The ipod entered the MP3 player market when the market was already mature. That meant that Apple did not have to create market, just transform it.


The power of 35%

Its the mathematical magic of compounded growth.  35% growth, year-on-year, for 10 years – and your revenues are up 20 times from where you are today.  For a 5 cr company, it means that you’ll be reaching the coveted 100 Cr number.

Too often we get consumed by the magnitude of the target.  For a 5 Cr company, a 100 Cr number seems unattainable.  But if you look at it as 35% annual growth, it’s a little less intimidating (especially if you’re a start-up, or if you’re in a high growth market).

Simplify your life, focus on the 35%.

Facebook spam profiles revisited: the plot thickens

One of the most enduring posts on this blog has been my post on facebook spam. When I wrote the post last year I was cautious enough to not name names, and to leave the obvious conclusion unstated- that some person had made fake profiles using pretty women’s photos. That post has been at the top of this blog’s most visited posts, for whatever reason!

Over the new year’s break, I revisited the story to see what’s going on. It was time something interesting happened. My patience was rewarded! Before you read further, (1) please read my previous post, (2) google “anupama kumar”, and (3) look up Namita Uppal on facebook, making to sure to scan through her “wall”. Come back when you’re ready.

What did you find? You found what was obvious a year ago! Some guy…most likely “Hassan Sayeed” (4) see him on facebook now in two glorious profiles one and two, has created fake profiles using model-quality-women’s photos, and is using social engineering to “Friend” more people. Then, he is using these drone profiles (really, drone profiles?! They should be called “queen bee profiles”) to drive traffic to his own facebook page for weight-loss products called Inches Off.

Very clever ploy, and one that most people find difficult to ignore!

Now imagine the plight of Ms. Anupama Kumar, mother, actress, model and now, unfortunately, identity-theft victim? She’s now posting on “Namita Uppal’s” wall to ask her to change her photo. One fake profile identified. Scores of other profiles to go!

Guest Post: Turning corporate mantras on their head

This is a guest from our friend, Aarti Shyamsunder. Aarti works for a large IT services company from their Mysore campus. She loves old movies, fine wine and long walks on the beach. No, seriously, she moved to Mysore because she could smell the surf from her high-rise apartment! She’s an industrial/organizational psychologist in an IT and business consulting organization. Her role involves working in leadership development, assessment and research. She lives and works in Mysore, India where she relocated about a year ago from the United States. Thanks for the post, Doc!


SARTNAM: Turning corporate mantras on their head

Recently, cooling my heels at Bangalore airport waiting for a (much-delayed) flight, I was casually eavesdropping on conversations happening around me. Bangalore being Bangalore, I was surrounded by mostly corporate types on business trips. Listening to the buzz of corporate jargon I was tempted to shout out “Bingo” every time someone said ‘synergy’ or ‘leverage’ or ‘strategic fit’!

It got me thinking about corporate mantras and how useful they are. Usually, clichés are clichés for a reason – because they apply (and appeal) to the lowest common denominator. However, is this true of all clichés, corporate mantras included? See what happens when we turn some of them upside down…

1.       “We reward innovation” – There’s tons of research around how creativity can be stifled by extrinsic rewards. Innovation is not something that can be incentivized (Bingo!) – it emerges from individuals and their context. What about innovating on the kinds of rewards we give instead? Money, hate to break it, dear HR department, isn’t everything.

2.       “Deliver today, innovate tomorrow” – This mantra focuses on delivering and living the not-so-romantic QSQT (Quarter Se Quarter Tak) life while postponing innovation. As if delivery and innovation need to be mutually exclusive. With the right culture, encouragement from leaders, resources and outlets for creativity, this needn’t be the case. Serendipity, as it turns out, is indeed too important to be left to chance and organizations that plan for this can be highly innovative and highly productive.

3.       “Profit is an opinion, cash is real” – From my limited understanding of this (I’m just a lowly psychologist, not a worldly-wise MBA J), it means that profits or earnings may not necessarily be visible to the world, but cash – in the form of shareholder dividends and such – is real and tangible. Now I’m thinking of good-old motivators like profit-sharing and gain-sharing (Bingo! Bingo!). Archaic and quaint though they may seem, they certainly seem(ed?) to work. In fact, one very successful formula calls for more and more variable pay based mainly on profit-sharing as one climbs the corporate ladder. This adds uncertainty to the monthly paycheck but also places accountability on senior leaders to be productive and profitable.  So profit can perhaps be made more real and tangible after all. As for cash – well, just like stupid, cash is as cash does.

4.       “Kiss up, kick down” – While this isn’t a corporate mantra organizations will actually endorse, sadly it’s often the way things work.  Telling the higher-ups what they want to hear regardless of how true it is stifles growth, and distances the masses. So does the command-and-control of said masses that goes with this culture. Now, think about kissing down and kicking up instead – nurturing talent and growing your employees, while questioning those above you and constantly challenging the status quo. If this sounds refreshing, perhaps it’s time for this mantra to be turned upside down!

So what time is it there (infographic)?

Do you know what time it is in London right now? New York? Wouldn’t you want a simple way of finding out when you can schedule that pesky conference call? You’ve come to the right post. (6ampacific? That’s America-centric, it appears).

Harvard Business Review published a fantastic (and flawed, more on that later) infographic that I will shamelessly reproduce for your convenience. As you see, the big brother of the business world – time-wise – is Mumbai. At 1pm IST (assuming people have come back from lunch at the Samovar, and assuming they don’t stick to the popular definition of Stretchable time), there are more countries working with India@1pm than at any other time in any other country.

Except San Francisco. San Francisco is asleep at 1pm IST. So, if you did try my advice, please don’t try this at my home. Call your friends in Portugal instead. They’re open when India is.

If conference calls were trunk roads, India would be Rome.

PS: What’s wrong with this graphic is that Singapore and LA have less time shown on the chart than other places. I swear we west coasters work just as hard. Promise!

Time time ki baat hai

Watch it, Eh!