Monday, December 20, 2010

Social sciences are NOT pseudo sciences.

We would have heard jokes about one armed economists, 7 economists in a room with 8 opinions etc. We are flooded with books on management, leadership, economics, psychology etc-many of which profess starkly contrasting views. The layperson may be forgiven for thinking that the authors are like the 6 blind men of Hindustan-each seeing the subject from his own limited perspective. But this is precisely the point. There is no other way to study a social science.

As aptly mentioned in Robert Murphy'sbook "Lessons for the Young Economist"
Most professionals in the social sciences think that the same method the “scientific method”—should be used in their fields as well . However, the problem is that, quite literally, the objects of their study have minds of their own . It has proved fiendishly difficult to come up with a set of concise laws that accurately predict the behavior of people in various circumstances . In the social sciences, especially economics, things are so much more complicated that in many cases it is simply impossible to perform a truly controlled experiment
In Plain English, that means that things depend on the context, research is a GUIDE to action
and not the recipe in itself

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is Management only like cooking?

This post is NOT to insult either managers or cooks-both are competent professionals. The reason the thought occurred is that there are similarities between the 2 professions as follows
  • Recipes are taught not when to use them:-Cooks learn recipes and decide whether to use them. Similarly, managers learn theories and decide where to use them
  • Contextual variations are must:-Like how a cook varies his recipe according to the guest's tastes, the manager has his own 'seasoning'/'modification' to the routine theory
  • Success breeds a new recipe:-Super star cooks bring out their own recipe books/open culinary schools/restaurants.Similarly, managers become lecturers, speakers, writers to propagate the theory they feel brought them to the top
  • Success at the top is mainly due to OTHER factors:-A good cook rises as he can master the art of cooking. But to remain at the top, he builds a good team, manages finances of his own joint etc. The same I think applies to managers.
For this post, I was inspired by a book 'Naked Management Games'( which is a superb read. The interesting portions from that book are reproduced below
business than its would-be scientists suggest, more closely allied to cooking than any other human activity. Like cooking, it rests On a degree of Organization and on adequate resources. But just as no two chefs run their kitchens the same way, so no two managements are the same, even if they all went to the same business (or cooking) school. You can teach the rudiments of cooking, as of management, but you cannot make a great cook or a great manager.

In both activities, you ignore fundamentals at grave risk —but sometimes succeed. In both, science can be extremely useful but is no substitute for the art itself. In both, inspired amateurs can outdo professionals. In both, perfection is rarely achieved, and failure is more common than the customers realize. In both, practitioners don't need recipes that detail timing down to the last second, ingredients to the last fraction of an ounce, and procedures down to the Just flick of the wrist; they need reliable maxims, instructive anecdotes, and no dogmatism

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why are our pillars of Indian democracy rotten?

Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and Media. These four pillars were hoped to safeguard democracy via an implicit doctrine of seperation of powers. Of late, anti national elements(criminals, the corrupt, terrorists and traitors) are slowly annexing the nation.

Every election, the campaign spending only goes along with the proportion of those with criminaL cases filed against them. I agree that politically motivated cases would make up a fair proportion of that,. But even excluding that, what accounts for the rags to riches story of our politicans? Unlike entreprenuers, no one questions our netas for an account of their riches; or even how does their wealth double/triple after a term in power.

The Constitution hoped that the Legislature would keep a check on the Executive with the Judiciary overseeing both. The media was bestowed freedom of speech to act as a moral guardian. 60 years after independence, what is the scene?

Coalition Governments rule with diminished majorities thus being held ransom to the coalition partners. The Congress forced a minister to resign over conflict of interest in the IPL; yet a coalition minister with multi billion dollar scams in his ministry was allowed to continue after his party boss said he's being persecuted as he is a "Scheduled caste". The Opposition prefers to call bandhs and hold press conferences rather than do the boring work of turning up in Parliament and questioning the Government.

The Executive and Judiciary are largely good but are bogged down with excess work, crumbling infrastructure and political interference. The Media is more concerned with "Consumer Connect initiatives","Response Connect Initiatives", "Ad sense" to deceive the reader that the ads he's reading is news. Exceptions are "Hindu", "Mint","Hindustan Times" but their market share is minuscle on a pan India basis.

These are the problems but what are the solutions? Personal integrity in all walks of life is the way forward. We cannot change the system without changing ourselves first.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The similarity between Marketing and Religon

Marketing has a lot in common with traditional religious practices:

  • The truth is hidden from view- for example latent brands.
  • Your reward lies in the hereafter- for example insurance for your family!!, charity!!
  • True happiness in only available to the initiated, the "insiders."- for example, premium and exclusive offers for discerning customers!!
  • Everyday reality is a sham, a waste of time, an illusion- for example an advt asking you to think beyond your shackles of this world
  • We are all defective, our personal experiences have no legitimacy without the validation of priests.- for example sponsors, expert opinion, using Sachin/ Sharukh in ads

What is in a name?Ask Indian Cos?

Shakespeare's quote would have us believe that it is the substance that matters over mere shape or appearance. This is similar to the substance over form principle in accounting where you record the transaction as per the economic reality and not merely as per legal nomenclature. Law has also taken this stand with the concept of removing the corporate veil to help the Income Tax authorities and for other purposes.

But, our Indian companies seem to believe in this strongly. Where else would you see a sugar company have the name of an engineering company- for example Triveni Engineering? Or a financial services company have the name "Vakrangee Software"?

I could go on and on, but I think the point is clear. Such names are quite misleading to any lay person. Any person who goes on the basis of a hot stock tip will not know the truth. SEBI should wake up and delist such companies- or at least have them, change their names to reflect their substance

Unity is Strength-really?

Right from the Air India strike to banks, autos, we have seen it all. One can almost predict that a PSU strike will be timed with long extended weekends/ successive holidays. The Govt will as usual condone it and sanction them bonuses and hike their DA, while the customer watches helplessly.

The power behind these strikes is the union(s) which every now and then need to flex their muscles. After all, their importance is realised then. The unions which were set up for a noble cause of 'promoting worker's unity and cordial employer-employee relationships' have only partly achieved their goal. They have ensured pay-but not performance. Bonus-but not dedication.
Gandhi and other proponents of the unions would surely be turning in their grave if they saw the present state of affairs- where people like Datta Samant used the workers as a cats paw tp achieve their political ends.

In Kerala, even debt collectors and private sector bank employees- have formed their own unions. Closer home, we have the Central Railway SC/ST employeed union!. I can understand organisation based unions but caste based unions!. Anyway, this is why the industries choose to produce/ manufacture in Baddi and Vapi where contract labour relieves their employee headache. Here of course, the loser is the contact labourer who gets underpaid- but then, why would the Mumbai unions care?

Its a dog's life

While reading the 2007 budget speech, I noticed the import subsidy on dog food. Then, it had sparked a lot of good natured(and some bad natured) ribaldy that the FM cared more for dogs/cats than for the common man. One of our better known MP's has been quoted to say that 'yeh kutta billi ka budget hai'. The Mumbai HC recently advised societies to adopt a stray dog each- for security reasons!. With this much of news prominence, though this country is not going to the dogs(or cats!) as yet, a dog is still quite lucky.

If it is born to a pet, it is gifted away or sold to happy recipent families. If it is born on the streets, then also it lives. Some members of our nation love to feed our stray canine friends daily- even if there are more pressing matters elsewhere. Many South Mumbai residents consider it a badge of pride to be an 'animal lover', and indulge in armchair criticizm of the dog control measures. They mind paying parking, suffering load shedding and consider themselves above the rest of us, but have no hesitation to condemn their suburban Mumbaikars to a dog's life of barking noise, bite, droppings and fear. Dogs nowadays get moved down less often then people sleeping on the pavements. So, Man's best friend does have it good nowadays.

Do these loaded words deceive YOU?

Open any national daily( apart from the TOI- more on that later) and you invariably see coverage of certain socio-economic- political issues like inflation. poverty, SEZ, reservations, criminalisation of politics, black money etc- this list could fill an whole blog. While the coverage itself is mostly unbiased, what is a burning concern is WORDS. Yes, you read that right.

We read words like "worker", " backward" " small" " justice" " freedom" " poor" all twisted out of context. Who would imagine for example that for BPL purposes, poverty is about Rs 25000/ year, but for creamy layer of OBC reservation- it is Rs 2,50,000/ year.

Similarly, people who have never done a day's honest labour in their lives- like social workers and politicians- claim to represent the working class. My question is- Who is a worker? A daily wage person or an IIT/IIM salaried employee?

Similarly, " social justice" is often used to justify reservations. This misses out the point that not only those who were oppressed by caste system ( like SC's) get reservations, but also those who did not suffer that stigma do so- like ST's/ OBC's etc.

Also, to justify public display of affection/ porn like movies, people say that freedom is must. Yes, "freedom" is OK, as long as it does not affect freedom of other people to have uncontaminated minds.

As far as " small goes'" , the local kiranawala opposes Wal- Mart as he says that they will gobble him up. But so what? These small shop keepers evade income tax, and mostly do not pass on the service tax/ VAT they collect from customers. That is unjust enrichment, which perpetuates the poor-rich divide. Also, the income of these "small" vendors is inflation prone- unlike salaried income.

So, to allow atleast an informed debate on these issues- let us clarify the meaning of words used in a certain context. It would throw up some surprises.

What people say- and what they really mean.

Phrase/ word Meaning Example
Consultant- Agent -Real estate consultant
unemployed- Freelance consultant
Backward- In namsake- Backward caste
Public interest -My interest- File notings in RTI not disclosed due to public interest
national benefit- Helps votebank- Slum rehabilitation helps nation
Social Justice -Injustice otherwise- Reservations are for social justice
Public servant -who takes tips -Ministers are public servants
Restructuring -Sack people -Corporate restructuring
Rationalisation- Reduce -Rationalisation of taxes. staff
Service charges- Bribes/ Loot- Service charges in hotel bills
Revision -Hike- Revision of tariffs
People -Me -Walmart's entry/ cheap imports affects people Premium Costly Premium quality
Empowerment -for the camera- Companies want to empower their employees
detention: arrest
adult entertainment: porn
mature: old
Abroad, this means the jails Dept!
dental cream: Means paste
Quiz: In foreign text books, means question bank
assessment: Exam

So, you feel India's No.1 job is of an IIT/IIM grad? Read this Orkut expose!!

Salary & Govt. Concessions for a Member of Parliament (MP)

Monthly Salary : 12,000

Expense for Constitution per month : 10,000

Office expenditure per month : 14,000

Traveling concession (Rs. 8 per km) : 48,000 ( eg.For a visit from kerala to Delhi & return: 6000 km)

Daily DA TA during parliament meets : 500

Charge for 1 class (A/C) in train : Free (For any number of times) (All over India)

Charge for Business Class in flights : Free for 40 trips / year (With wife or P.A.)

Rent for MP hostel at Delhi : Free

Electricity costs at home : Free up to 50,000 units

Local phone call charge : Free up to 1,70,000 calls.

TOTAL expense for a MP per year : 32,00,000

TOTAL expense for 5 years : 1,60,00,000

For 534 MPs, the expense for 5 years : 8,54,40,00,000 (nearly 855 cores)

And they are elected by THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, by the largest democratic . process in the world, not intruded into the parliament on their own or by any qualification. This is how all our tax money is been swallowed and price hike on our regular commodities......

Are we responsible for the spread of beggars?

You can't miss them. Whether in rags, or ochre robes outside temples, or with a bowl, or with a car cleaning cloth at traffic signals, they are omnipresent. We usually ignore them- or at best drop a 50p/ 1 Re coin. Do we ever think of what happens after that?

Madhur Bhandarkar's movie " Traffic Signal" has potrayed the nexus between the underworld and the beggar mafia. These people even go to the extent of maiming children to graduate them into the begging industry. Besides, we have able bodied beggars who still prefer this work to sweating out a living.

Some of you may feel- so what- that's only a buck. Poor fellow can hardly live. What we forget is some of these poor fellows have bulging bank balances and posh houses, as per a Mumbai Mirror expose.

My views are that giving books to kids or food to beggars is OK, but not cash in any form. That may go to the mafia, or even worse- to buy drugs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Are "bleeding heart liberals" justified?

You probably know whom I'm referring to. The types who feed stray dogs, stand up for human rights(even of criminals), oppose police/military brutality. In short, the ones who support the underdog even against majority opinion.

Every time the State takes a beating in guerilla warfare(witness Dantewada, Maharashtra etc), there is a a temporary upswell of public support for the State. Critics are not welcome since they do not criticize the non State actors(the guerrillas). And why would they? The access to these areas would be cut-off for ever if they criticize the guerillas. And then, it is fashionable to criticize the State for everything.

I guess that the liberals would never condemm attacks against the State. Still, they are needed to monitor that the State does not turn against its own helpless citizens