Category Archives: Human Psychology

The Metaphor of Bicycle Thieves

Cycle, a Marathi film, is a story that unfolds in Bhugaon, a village in Konkan, Maharashtra, circa 1948. The protagonist is Keshav who is an astrologer whom people consulted mostly in times of distress. Keshav provided guidance about his client’s future by studying his horoscope. Quite often if the client were to be in financial distress, Keshav not only used to offer his services pro-bono but also partake of a meal with them. Being a kind and noble soul, Keshav had earned respect and goodwill in his community.

His grandfather, Gopalkrishna was an Ayurvedic doctor who was equally respected for medication and treatment of his patients. A British army officer, one such beneficiary of the doctor’s treatment; gifted Gopalkrishna his cycle while leaving India. Gopalkrishna during his final days bequeathed the cycle, distinct in its bright yellow colour, to his grandson Keshav, the protagonist of the story. 

The imported cycle was a rarity in Bhugaon, and Keshav was proud and possessive of it. Once when Keshav and his family go to watch a Marathi play, his cycle is stolen by two petty thieves, Vitthal and Tukaram. The next day, while riding in the adjoining village, the cycle develops a flat tyre. They go to the puncture shop for repairs, the shop owner recognizes the cycle and its original owner. To avoid any confusion, the thieves claim they are Keshav’s cousins and Keshav has lent the bicycle to them for a few days. Believing them, the shop owner refuses to take any fees for the repairs. On the contrary, he hands over ₹6 to the ‘cousins’ which he owed Keshav. Wherever these two thieves go, they were treated with exceptional hospitality, whether with meals, tea/coffee, or even with an overnight stay. At a school, they were invited as the chief guests, to deliver a motivational address to the students. With each passing day and with such touching incidents their conscience starts pricking. Initially, it was the fear of getting caught; but now it was the affection and love triggering guilt and shame.

In the meanwhile, Keshav was stricken with grief. The only thought which haunted him was why did he lose the cycle and how he can recover it. His wife entreats him to consult an astrologer who says, “Keshav, do you really feel I can tell you the whereabouts of your stolen cycle? People do not expect to hear the truth, but need consolation and encouragement about a brighter tomorrow when they seek counsel from an astrologer.”

While returning home, Keshav realized his approach as a soothsayer with his clients was no different. More than an astrologer, he was a psychologist, a counsellor telling people with encouraging advice like: this time is not right for youthis too shall pass, don’t get emotionally involved with things, do your best and leave the rest, handover your burden to the Almighty, he will take care of you, etc. 

Lost in his thoughts he came across a ramshackle house, walls cracked, valuables scattered all over and the rooftop blown over by a cyclone. To his surprise, he found the house owner quite composed. When Keshav enquires about the tragedy, the house owner says, “Last year when I was going through difficult times; I came to you for guidance, I still remember what you said then, don’t get stuck with things.” It was a moment of revelation for Keshav and his attachment towards his cycle. As a Zen master says ‘when my hut got burnt, I had a clear picture of the moon.’

Bicycle Thief by Vittorio Di Sica was released in 1948. Italy had gone through severe hardship post World War II and was plagued by recession, inflation, and a high rate of unemployment. The protagonist of the film is Antonio Ritchie, an unemployed youth for the last two years. After considerable struggle, he manages to get a job to paste cinema posters on poles and walls. Having a bicycle was a prime requisite for the job. Antonio manages to convince his quarrelsome but loving wife Maria to sell the bedsheets she received as a gift during their marriage, in order to purchase the bicycle. Now Antonio is all set to start his job with a bang. Within a short time, on the very first day itself, his bicycle gets stolen. Antonio is frustrated, runs from pillar to post, at last manages to trace his bicycle and nab the thief. However, nobody believes him, neither the people around, nor the police. And, for lack of evidence, Antonio is not able to regain his bicycle.

As he was walking along with Bruno, his 8-year-old son, he sees a bicycle parked alongside a wall. Antonio’s instincts get the better of him, and he attempts to steal it. To his misfortune, he gets caught and is given a sound thrashing. Bruno intervenes and saves his father from the matter getting worse. More than the thrashing, Antonio is hurt that he has cut a sorry figure before his son. On that fateful day, having lost his job, his bicycle, and his self-esteem before his son, Antonio was in total despair while returning home. Bruno while following his dad, picks up his father’s crumpled hat lying on the road; cleans and straightens it, and with a smile puts it on his father. 

Even though Bicycle Thieves by Sica was made in 1948, and Prakash Kunte’s Cycle in 2017, both films depict life in the late 40s. Italy went through the ravages of World War II, whereas India did not. The thief who stole Antonio’s cycle may have had his own compulsion, like Antonio who tried following suit.

The act of stealing a bicycle is shown from a different perspective, of how attachment to worldly things creates pain, of the pricking of their conscience, that makes Vitthal and Tukaram return the bicycle back in the village, even though not required. Keshav realizes his faith in the Almighty. He returns home with his retrieved bicycle, and he now keeps it afar. In his courtyard, he sees another bicycle. His family members and friends congratulate him for recovering the cycle. While touching the mudguard, he sees the yellow paint is wet. Everyone wants Keshav to be happy. The bicycle was just an excuse to make him happy.

One film discusses the inherent goodness, while the other is about the helplessness of people, which may be an outcome of their prevailing circumstances. Can we be judgemental about what is right and what is wrong? In a way, it is a story for all of us, where someone steals our idea or improves upon our original idea and does not give us credit for the original. In between black and white, there are multiple shades of grey. If you steal from one source, it is theft; if you steal from multiple sources, it is plagiarism or research. ‘Bicycle’ is just a metaphor!


  1. Bicycle Thieves: Is a 1948 Italian neorealist film directed by Vittoria De Sica. Considered as one of the Top 10 All-Time great films; it had  a major influence on Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
  2. Cycle: Is a 2018 Marathi film directed by Prakash Kunte written by Aditi Moghe and produced by Sangram Surve and Amar Pandit and was screened at Cannes Film Festival

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Socratic Method of Inquiry: The Difference between Knowledge and Wisdom

Socrates was a Greek philosopher (470BC-399BC) in Athens. He did not author any texts, but his disciple, Plato captured his thoughts in the Dialogue

The Socratic method of inquiry was a method of deep questioning which he used to have with his students on topics like beauty, justice, virtue, etc. He never gave direct answers to his questions but expected his students to figure out their own answers. 

Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, worshipping false gods, and not worshipping the state religion. A 100-member jury was arranged to pass a verdict on his crimes. After a day-long trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death by administering hemlock, a poison. Socrates was told that he could be pardoned, provided he expressed an apology for his deeds. However, he refused to beg for his life on the following grounds:

– This is my life.

– If I had to stop doing what I am doing, I might as well stop living.

– Who knows? Death may not be so bad, as I have no idea of death.

– I am 71 and may not live much longer.

The Oracle of Delphi has delivered hundred-odd injunctions, inscribed on the temple walls, which include: ‘nothing in excess’ and ‘know thyself.’ One of the famous quotes ascribed to Socrates is: ‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’

How is this relevant to us? Most of the decisions; be it the type of education, the place to settle, the choice of spouse or career, are often not taken consciously but are either dictated by parents, society, or the circumstances. When we review the decisions, it inspires us to reconsider our most firmly held beliefs. It may also help us to appreciate other’s viewpoints. 

Circa 1975, a British Manager from GKW (Guest Keen Williams) was visiting a premier Engineering and Research Institute in Bombay (now Mumbai) to interview and select Graduate Engineer Trainees (GETs). Seven candidates from the metallurgy dept were shortlisted. For the group discussion (GD), the topic was the future of cricket in India. The GD was quite animated, the students striking off each other’s arguments with ease. After the GD was over, the interviews commenced. The manager asked the first candidate, “how much phosphorous is there in phosphor-bronze?” The student thought for a few seconds and replied it was 25%. “That is the correct answer. Thank you very much. Can you send the next candidate please?” requested the manager. After coming out, his friends asked him about the interview. The candidate replied that not only was the question a simple one, but by fluke, the answer of 25%, had turned out correct. 

The second candidate was called in and was asked the same question. Lo and behold, the student answered with the same aplomb. After leaving the interview room, the students ridiculed the interviewer for his inadequacy in not asking tough questions, vis-à-vis the IQ level of the students and the brand of their institute.

The story continued in a similar fashion for all of the seven candidates. After the interviews were over, the manager called all the candidates inside and said, “young men, during the group discussion, you were vehemently proposing your viewpoint without either considering or listening to the others’ viewpoint. Our company believes in teamwork. You belong to one of India’s premium engineering colleges. However, even after living with the same group for five years, you do not have any concern for other’s viewpoints. How will you perform in our company with such an attitude? To each of you, I asked a question on phosphor-bronze. You may be knowing a lot of things in life even otherwise. 

However, no person can know and need to know everything. I thought at least one of you would say ‘I do not know.’ Yet, all of you gave me the standard answer of 25%. By the way, phosphor-bronze is a member of the family of copper alloys. It is composed of copper that is alloyed with 0.5-11% of tin and has phosphorous in the range of 0.01-0.35%.I was not expecting a perfect answer, and a closer approximation to the actual value would have sufficed. Even if one amongst you were to express his ignorance, I would have recruited him. I am afraid I am not able to select any of you.”

Socrates made a clear distinction between knowledge and wisdom. A knowledgeable person maybe knowing things; however, he may act foolish as he may be too confident in what he knows. A wise person, on the contrary, cannot act foolish as he knows his limitations. He knows what he does not know. 

Due to his unconventional ways of self-exploration, Socrates was considered a wise man. An elderly gentleman in Athens once said, “no one is wiser than Socrates.” Rather than getting carried away by such flattery, Socrates’ analysis of the above statement was: Either all are as dumb or as knowledgeable as Socrates.

Conventional education aims at stuffing the students’ minds with information; whereas Socrates’ method of deep questioning helps develop critical thinking to question our belief system and assumptions; and so, it helps us understand the statement: ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’ leading towards the wisdom: ‘to know what one does not know.’ 

The profound statement Socrates made was, “the one thing I know is that I know nothing.” This was not out of humility, but it was an expression of reality.

Job, Career or a Calling?

“My daughter nowadays is a bit depressed. Despite doing an M.Sc. in biotechnology, she is not getting a package like her friends in the IT sector,” said my friend Dilip. The approach to work can be described in the following three categories:

  1. Job – People engage in work primarily to earn money. Work is a means to an end.
  2. Career– Apart from money, they are keen to climb the higher echelons in the workplace, get promoted, and achieve higher designations.
  3. Calling – People are driven by the work itself, and work becomes an integral part of their life. Yet, they are not workaholics, and they find fulfilment in work which is an end in itself.

The above approaches lead to three kinds of growth structures:  Logarithmic Growth, Exponential Growth, and Sinusoidal- Exponential growth.

  1. Logarithmic Growth: Here the growth in the initial phase of a job is quite fast, and it slowly reduces over a period of time. When someone joins a job at a very high salary, it may be quite difficult to achieve commensurate growth in the subsequent years.

This is represented by a logarithmic function of 2 where the growth from 1 to 2 years will be similar to the growth from 2-4 years or 4-8 or 8-16 years. ( Fig.1)

2. Exponential Growth: There are some jobs or professions which may not be that attractive initially from a financial perspective, as are jobs in teaching or research. Here the person may have to wait for a long time to see the end of the tunnel. In the article ‘Making of an Expert’ in HBR, Anders Ericsson, Michele Pretula, and Edward Cokely propose that to achieve significant expertise a person needs to spend around 10,000 hours of systematic practise. There are considerable efforts to master the domain and sometimes even to overcome bureaucratic hurdles.  Examples of two eminent engineers are discussed below. ( Fig.2)

How a Chance Encounter with the NCL Director Changed his career:

In 1966, Raghunath Mashelkar completed his B.E. (Chemical Engg.) from the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), and he had several offers from US and Canadian Universities for post-graduate studies. However, he was impressed with the work of Dr. Manmohan Sharma and decided to do a Ph.D. under him. He completed his Ph. D. in 3 years, and in 1969, with a meagre allowance of ₹10,000 per year, he developed a process of bubble columns which was at one-tenth the cost of international technology. Later, he did some pioneering work in rheology (a branch of physics that deals with deformation and flow of matter) at Salfer Institute. Subsequently, he held a lecturer’s post in Chemical Engineering at a US university.

While in London Velayurthi Nayadumma of National Chemical Laboratories (NCL) called him for a meeting with his director B.D. Tilak and told him the country needed a bright scientist like him. Mashelkar dropped the idea of going to USA and joined NCL, Pune at a Salary of ₹2100.

NCL was doing a consulting project with Indian Organic Chemical Industries Limited (IOCL) Manali, Chennai. IOCL was producing polyester yarn with a bought-out technology from a German Company. IOCL was a given the know-how but not the know-why. The production process, though fast (around 1km/min), was creating intermittent problems. For testing purposes, NCL had applied for a license to import a piece of testing equipment called ‘Weissenberg Rheogoniometer.’  Due to foreign exchange constraints, the proposal was rejected by the government.

Mashelkar and his team devised an innovative way of mathematical modelling and virtual simulation of the production process and IOCL was subsequently able to improve the productivity of its plant.

This simulation technology was not only an alternative but was also considerably cheaper vis-à-vis the conventional technology. Later on, NCL was able to sell this to overseas clients; and the technology flow was reversed. Mashelkar fondly remembers his guide, Dr. Sharma, who used to say, ‘for research, brains are more important than infrastructure.’

Honoured with a Padma Vibhushan, and 44 honorary doctorates, Raghunath Mashelkar was quite influential in revoking US patents on Basmati and Turmeric.

Problem Solving with Available Resources:

After completing his B.E. (Mech.) from VJTI, Anil Kakodkar joined BARC in 1964, as a trainee engineer. He reported to Mr. Subramaniam who said to him, “we have a metallizing gun which has not been used for a long time, and is hence not functional; can you repair it?” Anil said he could and to do so, he asked for a helper, a foreman, and a tradesman. Mr. Subramaniam declined.

The metallizing gun was used for coating aluminium oxide, zirconium oxide, ceramics on desired substrates. After seven days the young engineer was able to make the gun functional. Mr. Subramanian said, “I wanted you to solve the problem by yourself and I am happy you could do it.”

After the nuclear blast in Pokhran in 1974, India became an outcast and could get neither the critical components nor the relevant technology from abroad. Getting even steel tubes from the USA was banned. Under his leadership, BARC developed indigenous technology to overcome the sanctions and thus made India’s peaceful nuclear program a success.

Anil Kakodkar remembers the metallizing gun incident fondly. It helped him develop his passion, and listen to his true calling. He took over as the Director of BARC (1996-2000), and later as the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

The hallmark of exponential growth is that the person works in the same or related domain, and develops exceptional expertise with a steady and systematic career progression.

3. Sinusoidal-Exponential Growth: Unlike the first two growth structures, this type of growth is quite random. When you watch such a person, you may not be able to figure out whether there is a proper career path.( Fig. 3)  An example to illustrate: Rakesh was a student who was at the bottom of the class scoring around 40-45%. After 10th he opted for commerce but had to drop out after the 12th Standard.

Rakesh did a series of sundry jobs from selling vacuum cleaners, books, to working in grocery stores, and even as a waiter in a restaurant. Tired of working for others, he started driving a taxi. Within a few years, he got into the transport business, and after almost 20 years of struggle, he now owns a pan-India transport business worth around ₹100 crores. I happened to run into him at Churchgate in Mumbai three years back. He invited me over dinner to a five-star hotel. Being nostalgic, we were reminiscing the good old school days, the teachers, and our friends. One such schoolmate was a friend called Shivanand, who was the school topper, a merit lister, who opted to become a Chartered Accountant (which he had happened to clear at the first attempt). We were in awe of his intelligence and hard work.

I asked, “Rakesh, by the way, do you remember Shivanand, the school topper? I am told he is also in Mumbai. He must have reached the pinnacle of his career. Why didn’t you invite him too?”

After a long pause, he said, “You are right. He has reached his pinnacle. He is working with our group for the last five years, and last year he was promoted as the CFO. I would have liked him to join us over dinner, but being the financial year-end, he is busy managing the books of accounts.”

I asked, “Rakesh, can you understand the finer nuances of the balance sheet and P&L statement like a professional CA?”

Rakesh said, “I need not, but then how do you think I have brought the company to a level of ₹100 Crores in the last 10 years?” He continued, “Whenever he comes to me with any financial statement and I express a doubt for any specific expenditure; while giving his explanation I do not look at the figures. I look at him to see whether he is bluffing or hiding crucial information. If I feel he is bluffing, I have a choice to get it cross-verified through external sources, paying nominal fees. Remember, whether one is in the business of transport or hospitality, ultimately all of us are in the people business. I may not be able to read the balance sheet fluently, but I do read people with ease.”

For Shivanand, it was a logarithmic growth; whereas in the case of Rakesh, whether his working in unrelated fields or dabbling in a variety of businesses may look random or sinusoidal in the short-term; in retrospect, it is exponential growth. With every venture, even if one were to fail, there is a learning of what one should do or not do. With this, Rakesh moved on to a higher point on the exponential curve. By connecting the dots, one can see the method in the madness.

In short, logarithmic growth is to play safely in the comfort zone, where the love of lucre (package/CTC) is the main driver. With exponential growth, it is the pursuit of a career with a true calling. In the case of sinusoidal-exponential growth, it is to figure out one’s life by trial and error, thereby detecting a sense of purpose.

According to an American organisational psychologist, Amy Wrzesniewski, it is not the work, but our attitude towards work that makes the fundamental difference whether one finds life meaningful or not. It has nothing to do with qualifications, designations, or CTC. A nurse may enjoy working for a calling, while an MBA graduate with a 10X salary may find his job boring.

Are you working in a job, a career, or are you working for a true calling? If so, which growth curve, do you belong to?

Is it the logarithmic, exponential, or sinusoidal-exponential growth structure?

None of these growth structures are inherently good or bad per se. The choice one makes  at any junctures of life may be either one’s own or can be conditioned by the peer pressure, the societal norms, the economic constraints or a stroke of serendipity as in Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar’s case. Whatever the case may be, at this moment as Dr. Wayne Dyer said, ‘You are the sum total of all your choices!’

P.S. : The above article is an abridged version of the session conducted by the writer at the bimonthly forum: Know Thyself – An Inquiry into the significance of Living conducted every 1st and 3rd Sunday at 1100 HRS ( IST) on Zoom.

Ethically Speaking

“Wishing you many happy returns on your sixtieth birthday,” so saying, I called my friend, Mahesh. He replied, “Rajan thanks for the greetings, but to be frank, my birthday is on 5th December and not today, on 2nd April. For the purpose of saving one academic year, this date of 02nd April was indicated by my father on my school admission form.” The above is not an isolated event, it happened frequently.

During the Chemistry lab period in the PUC days, there were experiments on identifying an element defined by sequence; by performing the dry test, wet test, and then the confirmatory tests. The demonstrator used to tell us ‘during exams, don’t waste time on the first two tests; go straight to the confirmatory test, and if you get time, do the previous ones. Bypassing the system with false birth certificates or taking short cuts was the name of the game.

Engineering Drawing was one of the time-consuming subjects in college. Unlike the CAD/ CAM environment today, where designs are made on computers, we had to make elaborate engineering drawings. Each assignment made on an A2/A3 drawing sheet needed an elaborate setup of a drawing board, mini drafter, T-square, compass, divider, set square, etc. It used to take around 2-3 hours to complete an assignment. The practise of GT (Glass Tracing) among hostelites was quite common. The GT procedure was simple. An assignment completed by a sincere student was glass traced by other students. A table lamp was kept in a bucket covered with a glass sheet; the blank sheet was aligned over the completed sheet. The lit lamp helped the student trace the original and the assignment could be completed in no time. The general consensus among the student fraternity was that the guy who took all the effort to complete the drawing in the 1st angle, 3rd angle, and a sectional view, was an idiot, while the people who copied it in one-fifth the time were intelligent and smart.

In one humorous instance, one guy was so ‘meticulous’ that apart from tracing the drawing, he copied the name and the roll number of the original student! The scene is no different today, for several agencies offer ready-made projects for engineering students for a fee.

A certain lecturer used to share with his colleagues, his life-long ambition of becoming a Vice-Chancellor (VC) of a university. Over a while, he moved up the hierarchy of senior lecturer, reader, and finally became a professor. A post for a VC was advertised in the papers. He applied but came to know that, more than merit, caste and money played an important role in the recruitment for this position. He managed to raise around Rs 3 crores for this, yet he was shocked to see the post eventually going to the highest bidder.

Much later, an advertisement appeared for another VCs post. This time, he knew the crucial role of politicians and middlemen. He developed contacts, moved heaven and earth to raise around Rs. 5 crores; despite being questioned by his friends, from an ethics and ROI perspective. The attempt for this second time to the post also eluded him. He committed suicide later.

I used to believe that such respectable positions need not be advertised but were filled by selecting eminent people with exceptional credentials. As Nirad Chowdhury wrote in the Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, an Indian’s faith in a bribe is infinite and unshakable. It is an infallible remedy for all workday inconveniences.

Academicians have used the terms ethics and morality interchangeably. Some people think that morality is personal and normative whereas ethics indicates the standards of good and bad as decided by community settings. It can be also looked at from a perspective of means and the ends. People have their own yardsticks in justifying their actions. As Robert Pirsig writes in the Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good – need we ask anyone to tell us these things? The three examples to illustrate the point are:

  1. Ratan Tata used to say, “Why should I spend time with bureaucrats in Delhi? They are supposed to do their work and I am supposed to do mine.” On the other hand, (the late) Dhirubhai Ambani had a different take. “You offer naivedya to God while visiting a temple. Why not deal with bureaucrats on a similar line?”
  2. The Karnataka Vidhana Soudha has an inscription on its façade: ‘Government’s work is God’s Work.’  I overheard a babu saying, “Anyway it is God’s work. Why should I?”
  3. A departmental store was run by two partners for 30 years. The 2nd generation was to take over the business. The first partner’s son who had passed out from an elite management institute asked his father, “We have learned all the aspects of running a business, the one topic I am not clear is about ethics. Can you elaborate on the same? The father explained, “it is quite elementary. Imagine a lady buys a dress for Rs. 1000 and while paying at the billing counter she inadvertently pays Rs, 2000. Now my son, the question of ethics comes, should we tell our partner or not.”

My niece Rupali Patil teaches in an upmarket public school in Whitefield, Bengaluru. She narrated some interesting anecdotes while conducting on-line examinations. The students are asked to keep the laptop at a specific angle to ensure they do not look at any material on their lap while writing answers. Parents are requested not to walk around or prompt the students while answering the question papers. Some parents have written papers themselves. One audacious father dared to sit underneath the table and prompt the answers. When asked how it was detected, I gleaned that the student used to normally score 10 out of 50, but scored 40 in that exam; he subsequently boasted to his friends how his father had helped him.

While websites like are used to ensure that students do not lose their focus on the screen, or use the second browser to get answers, by looking down; ingenious means are used to work around the system.

The school being in Whitefield, Bengaluru the following conjectures were thought of:

  1. Considering the location and the school fees, is it safe to assume that a majority of student’s families belong to the upper middle class, well-educated with Graduate/Post Graduate degrees?
  2. Is it safe to assume that the parents are working in renowned MNCs (Indian or International) with well-established guidelines on Vision, Mission, Values, and Ethics policies?  If so, should there be a divergence in behaviour between the professional life of a manager vis-à-vis that of a parent?

Education can be perceived as an end to realize one’s potential, or it can be simply a means to get a job in earning a livelihood. The former makes us look holistically at life, whereas the latter makes it transactional. Philosopher Immanuel Kant says that a rational human being is an end in himself and not a means to achieve something. When our attitude and behaviour are oriented towards means, quality becomes the main casualty.

Abraham Lincoln in his letter to his son’s headmaster wrote:

“Teach him if you can that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found.In school teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat.Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong!”

On a personal note, now when I call my friends, with trepidation I first ask “Before wishing you birthday greetings, is today your actual or official birthday?”

We set our own standards: “Jahaan hum khade rahtey hain; wahin se kataar shuru hoti hai!” – Wherever I (honorific) stand, the queue starts from there!.

Jai ho ‘Atmanirbhar’ Bharat!


  1. Welcome to a world-class university education : M. Gautam Machiah, Deccan Herald, November 15, 2020
  2. Some midterm answer scripts leave teachers stumped: The Hindu, November 26, 2020
  3.  Image:

Use These Masks with Discretion!

“Will you be giving us a certificate for the Stress Management program?” I was perplexed by this question from several participants, more so when it was to be a two-hour online session. To one of them, a lecturer, I asked “Why are you so keen on having a certificate? Do you think it will help you manage your stress?” She replied, “It looks good on my CV.”

I have been attending the 10-day Vipassana and Satipatthana courses since 1986 and till date neither the participants have asked for, nor has the Vipassana International Academy felt like giving away the certificates; the Vipassana program had a greater impact on my life than my formal education, that too without any certification. Mark Twain said, “I did not prevent my school from getting me educated.”

The conventional masks, the N95 and its variants are used as a prevention against COVID-19… and then there are credential masks comprising of academic credentials and professional achievements.

Credentials, certifications etc. have their validity and relevance to set benchmarks, SOPs, etc. and need to be adhered to while selecting a candidate or a vendor. Essential in professional life, they may indicate a person’s potential, not necessarily his accomplishments. There is a problem with too much emphasis on credentials.

There are two types of errors people tend to make either about themselves or of others.

With a degree or certification from the right type of institute, one feels competent. People also tend to judge others’competence with the same type of masks. The media also adds to the credential mask hype by taking out the rating surveys. I wonder whether it is for the potential customers (the students) or for the vendors (the institutes). It may be for both.

Quite often we tend to equate a person with the credential mask one wears and it may lead to errors like the examples below:  

  1. Vinod Mehta was one of India’s most influential editors with publications like The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post and Outlook. He barely scraped through with a third-class degree in B.A. He said while recruiting a copy editor, “I always make it a point not to recruit a copy editor based on his/her marks in English literature as I myself did not score good marks in English at any level.”

The problem with the masks is that after some time we fall in love with the masks which are our credentials, be it the degree, the CTC, the designation or our possessions. It starts in childhood with marks and without awareness the ‘r’ in marks gets transformed into an ‘s,’ other alphabets remaining the same. As Nirad Chaudhary says, “Marks are a stark reminder of India’s slavish colonial past and a pointer to being an academically third-class country.” (Nirad C Chaudhary – Thy Hand Great Anarch, 1987)

Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis – The father of Indian Statistics told Pandit Nehru that if the marks based evaluation on the legacy of Macaulay system were not to be scrapped, India would degenerate into a world of toppers sans any skills to survive in a competitive world.

Credentials are certainly important in professional life but what happens if they are applied at a personal level too? Shweta, 28, with an MBA Finance working in a bank is looking for an alliance. As her CTC is Rs. 12 lakhs, her expectation is that of a groom, (apart from a PG degree) with a minimum CTC of Rs. 15 lakhs. Now if a candidate is switching from a job of Rs. 12 lakhs to Rs. 15 lakhs that is fine, but can the same yardstick be applied to one’s personal life? What happens if the husband were to lose his job after marriage or if he were to start his business with uncertain income for the first few years?

Imagine a scenario where the guy, a Software Engineer from a MNC gets engaged to a lady, a Program Manager working in a local company. Based on his higher CTC, he tells his fiancée: “Based on your performance you will be promoted to the position of a wife in six months,” to which she responds: “Your people skills are under review. Post-marriage you shall undergo training for 2 years and based on your performance, your eligibility for fatherhood shall be considered.”

Can a conventional yardstick of evaluating a person on his credentials lead to an error in judgement? Rahul Sankritayan, considered as the Father of Indian Travelogue literature, was never considered fit to teach at any Indian University as he did not even finish matriculation. The University of Leningrad appointed him as a Professor of Indology and neighbouring Sri Lanka appointed him as a Professor Emeritus at Colombo University and permanent head of faculty of Buddhism Studies and Pali. It was Nehru who intervened and bent the rules for this polyglot and polymath genius.

Quite often our perceptions create our reality. Having attended a week-long program at Harvard or IIM, some executives put that in prominence on their LinkedIn profile creating a perception of a full-time program. (After all marketing, advertising and branding are nothing but creating perceptions and illusions!) As long as we are aware that it is the requirement of a role and that prevarication of the truth is the same as a lie – that is fine.

When you go for a job interview or a sales call meeting with your client, you need to be well dressed, focus on your strength, and say the best things about yourself, the company and your product range. Sometime during job interview when you are asked about your weaknesses, executives project them in such a way that they are perceived as strengths. Some candidates tell me, “One of my weaknesses is that I work too hard and am not able to devote time to my family,” or “I am a taskmaster focussed on numbers all the time and not being able to focus on my hobbies.” The irony is you can see the real person beneath such masks.

But can these masks really help us when we go through tough times or an existential crisis? A well-dressed successful CEO once visited a Zen master to address his personal anguish and frustration. He started his corporate jargon focussing on his strengths. The Zen Master asked him whether he is ready for a cup of tea. As the Zen master was pouring tea in the cup, the CEO went on sharing his success stories ad infinitum and ad nauseam. The Zen master went on urging him to talk more. The CEO being in his element, never realized that the cup was full, still the master continued pouring; and tea overflowing in the saucer. The CEO could take it no longer when he saw tea dripping on the ground. Unable to control his irritation, the CEO said, “Master, this is terrible. If you cannot pour tea into the cup properly, how can you solve my problems?” The master replied, “You are like this overflowing cup with your achievements and miseries. Unless you empty your cup and let go of your mask, there is no possibility of a profound change.”

A N95 or Credential mask is essential when we are away from home and interacting with strangers, customers, vendors or colleagues. It is easier to take off a regular mask when we are back home. With Work from Home (WFH) becoming the new normal, several executives find it difficult to let go of the credential mask in a personal capacity. An emotionally intelligent person is the one who takes his work seriously but not himself.

So just let go off the baggage, the credential mask… neatly summed up by this poem.

Guy In the Glass

When you get what you want and you struggle for pelf

and the world makes you king for a day,

then go to the mirror and look at yourself

and see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your mother, your father or wife

whose judgment upon you must pass,

but the man, whose verdict counts most in your life

is the one staring back from the glass

He’s the fellow to be pleased

never mind all the rest.

For he’s with you right to the end,

and you’ve passed your most difficult test

if the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,

and think you’re a wonderful guy,

but the guy in the glass says you’re only a bum

if you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world,

down the highway of years,

and take pats on the back as you pass.

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

if you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

– Anonymous

Never judge a book by its cover or a person by his mask!

Have you found your niche?

“Charles, you care for nothing but shooting dogs and rats; you will be a disgrace to not only yourself but to your family too.” This was a father’s prophecy about his son. The father wanted his son to be a doctor like him. Charles entered Edinburgh University for medicine at his father’s behest, found it unattractive, later joined Cambridge, and earned an undistinguished bachelor’s degree in theology. He had no firm idea what to do. Charles was an aimless youth at 22. He wanted to do something different. He loved flora and fauna but did not know whether that love could be transformed into a livelihood.

Captain Fitzroy on his ship HMS Beagle was looking out for a naturalist. Charles asked for his father’s permission. His father refused but with a caveat, “If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go on the discovery, I shall give my consent.” Neither the father, nor the captain were ready to grant permission to Charles.

There are two approaches of developing one’s career, the conventional approach and the niche-based approach.

  1. The conventional way of selecting a profession for self or for others is primarily decided by the demand for that profession, coupled with tangibles like salary and perks. No wonder Medicine, Engineering and MBAs among others make the cut.
  2. A niche-driven approach on the other hand is decided by differentiating oneself from the crowd by focussing on a niche . It is defined as a comfortable or a suitable position in life or employment. Alternatively, it also means a shallow recess especially in a wall to display something of value – a statue or other ornament. (please refer the image). Let us see what happened to Charles, the aimless youth discussed earlier?

When Charles approached Captain Fitzroy, the physiognomist in Captain Fitzroy said, “I doubt anyone having a nose like yours can possess sufficient energy and determination for the long voyage.”

His uncle drove thirty miles to convince Charles’ father to grant him permission to undertake the assignment on HMS Beagle as a naturalist.

The Beagle Voyage which included the circumnavigation of globe would be the making of the 22 year-old Darwin. Five years of physical hardship of mental rigour imprisoned within the ship’s walls, offset by the wide-open opportunities in the Brazilian jungles and the Andes Mountains, were to Darwin an eye opener in finding his muse. It took him 22 years to publish his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection in The Origin of Species.

Is it necessary to be a school or a college topper or those in the top percentile rankings to find one’s niche? Quite often the converse is true as ‘brilliant’ students have the best choices in selecting the conventional options in career and institution.

What can happen when one selects a career in a conventional way but is at the bottom of a pyramid in a specific career stream? Getting a job may look easy but one may be competing with a very large number of aspirants. For example: Rakesh had scored 100/100 in Sanskrit in SSLC. Having felt he had a flair for Sanskrit he decided to pursue his college education in that direction. He completed his BA in Sanskrit from Ruia College in Mumbai.

At this juncture he had two choices in further studies – to continue his studies in Sanskrit or look out for a qualification which is marketable in the job market. He decided to pursue a MBA in Finance instead. After spending around Rs. 8 lakhs in fees itself what can be the likely scenario when he passes out two years later?

For a person who wishes to do a M. Tech in Structural Engineering, a minimum qualification of B.E Civil is necessary. Likewise for a M.S. in surgery, a basic qualification of MBBS is mandatory. So, when a person pursues a MBA in Finance with Sanskrit as graduation the basic competency level expected of the student is that of Class 12th, as a MBA is agnostic to one’s field of graduation.

Conventional wisdom says that one has a wide range of job opportunities after doing a MBA. The opportunities are large but so is the competition. Annually about 360,000 students graduate from 4000 B-Schools of which 61% are unemployable due to skill gaps and low work experience.

Keeping those depressing numbers aside, can Rakesh compete with students from Premier Institutes or those with Engineering and Commerce backgrounds? It is not impossible, but it is a Herculean task.

What would happen if he were to pursue Sanskrit for his PG? In the absence of clear data let us assume that the number of students opting for Sanskrit may be 1% of MBA students that is around 3600. For Rakesh it would have been much easier to be in the 95th percentile after his MA and in the 99th percentile with a Ph.D. A lot of research happens in Sanskrit in US and German universities. By differentiating himself and finding a niche, Rakesh could have had a sense of purpose too.

From a financial perspective too, the cost of pursuing a MA in Sanskrit would have been at less than 10% the cost of a MBA. In case of a Ph.D. he could have explored UGC fellowships or opportunities in US or German universities where considerable research in Sanskrit is possible.

An example of a niche-based career is of my friend, Christopher Jayakaran who passed PUC, third class in 1962. With hardly any worthwhile career options, his father’s friend suggested him to take up a course in Geology. He completed his M.Sc in Geology at Presidency College in Madras by topping in the University. He worked for an NGO called ‘Action for Food Production’ for 7 years and for more than 25 years in different countries in Africa which include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone etc. He is an eminent Hydrogeologist and a Paleontologist. His Tamil book In Search of Ancestors which is on evolution of man based on fossil evidence has run into six editions.

Why are people in general wary of pursuing niche fields?

  1. Obsession for Security: Education is normally pursued in order to get a job. The market demand is thought of. In the post-covid world there is no security either in a job or in one’s qualifications per se.
  2. Managerial Aspirations: Indians in general prefer to have a managerial title early in their career sacrificing expertise in a specific domain.

How to find your niche?

Around 30 years back, I came across an excellent concept in finding ones niche, based on cybernetic principles which was on identifying one’s core competency and focusing on a specific niche where the strength can be leveraged to maximum extent.

Werner Brandes was a German MBA Graduate who was working in a consulting firm but did not have career growth in spite of working hard in that organization for more than 10 years. He was unable to get good offers elsewhere. He was a mediocre student throughout his academic life and passed out from a tier-3 B-school.

The conventional wisdom of competing with others was not giving any results (like the example of Rakesh discussed above). His work profile was mapped for 15 different competencies. Werner was below average in all save one, which was on Industry Setup in rural areas. When Werner was pointed out that this was his niche. He asked, “How can I get a job with such a small niche?” He was advised to start his own consulting in this field and as he was in the top 5% of this ultra-specialized area of business consulting, slowly he was perceived as an expert in this field. Business started growing. Being a sunrise sector wherever the data was not available, his customers helped him in providing the necessary details.

Fascinated by this counterintuitive concept, I launched a program called Strategy for Quantum Growth. After 4-5 programs I had to withdraw as most of the participants did not want a long-term strategy but a new job which paid them 3-5K more.

One crucial difference between the conventional and the niche-based strategy is the type of growth. In case of the former it is logarithmic growth – where it is easier to get a good well-paying job immediately after graduation but after a few years the growth may taper off. In case of niche areas there is a considerable struggle initially but after a few years when the market perceives you as specialist, the growth becomes truly phenomenal and is termed as exponential growth. ( Please refer the graphs below) You are considered as a pioneer and get a first-mover advantage.


Conventional Approach                                                         Niche-Based Approach

Whether in business, profession or a job; there are some who go on competing  against  a vast majority in a commoditized market as if running on a treadmill and getting exhausted. On the contrary, the likes of  Christopher, Werner Brandes or Charles Darwin though not brilliant in their school days in the conventional sense were able to find their niche. Have you found yours?

Two roads diverged in a wood and I…and  I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost.

Virtues of Boredom

How do you conclude whether you have liked a training program or not? The trainer may be highly knowledgeable but if he is not able to engage the audience; the feedback is considered to be negative confirming you have not liked the training program.  The different techniques trainers employ to engage the audience include ice breakers, fun session, individual and group activities , case studies, role plays,  exercises etc. Particularly during the post-lunch or the graveyard session, the relevance of  activities becomes very critical. With a sense of humour coupled with interesting videos, all the stakeholders viz. the participants, the HR manager and the trainer feel happy. Such programs are relevant for topics like sales, negotiation, team building, communication etc. for conceptual understanding and are called as pragmatic programs.

Imagine a training program where there is absolutely no  audience engagement; be it the ice breakers, videos, or group activities. To add insult to the injury, the trainer talks in a drab monotonous tone; session after session. He will ask you to watch your breath and after a few days to watch sensations on your body. Your constant companion during the sessions may be boredom. And if this is not sufficient, the trainer does not even bother to take a feedback at the program conclusion.  Let us call such programs as the reflective type. Would there be any takers for such type of programs vis-à-vis the pragmatic programs discussed earlier?

I have been conducting the conventional pragmatic programs on Sales, Negotiation, Emotional Intelligence etc. for corporate clients since 1995. However the program which contributed immensely to my personal growth was Vipassana, a ten-day course in noble silence, a program of the reflective type. The essential difference between pragmatic and the reflective type is the way boredom is perceived. In case of the former, boredom is treated as a ‘bad’ or as an unwanted emotion and has to be done away with at all costs. In case of the latter (like sensitivity training ) it is treated as a valuable emotion in knowing oneself.

If you watch your mind, you will observe three types of thoughts which are:

  1. Pleasant Thoughts: These include the positive thoughts indicating happiness, success, achievement, pleasant memories etc.
  2. Painful Thoughts: These include undesirable situations like losing a job or an order leading to anxiety, anger, uncertainty etc.
  3. Neutral Thoughts: Beyond the pleasant and painful thoughts, the majority of thoughts are neutral which do not produce any emotions boredom being the major one. Human beings are programmed to chase the pleasant thoughts, run away from the painful thoughts and ignore the neutral thoughts. It is estimated that hardly 10% of the thoughts belong to the pleasant and the painful category and the balance 90% to the last category.

So the moment a feeling of boredom arises,  people generally start looking at WhatsApp,  switch the TV channel, hardly realizing that it is akin to running on a treadmill either chasing a pleasant thought or running away from a painful one and in turn getting exhausted being at the same place.

Like any other positive emotion like happiness, joy, contentment or the ‘negative’ emotions like anger, fear, jealousy; boredom has its own validity. It can make you reinvent yourself, look within and also become creative. Doris Lessing an eminent writer and Nobel Winner in Literature says, ”If you really want to do something fundamental in life; you should embrace solitude and boredom to such an extent that they engulf you.” Pablo Picasso, the great sculptor and painter says, “without solitude no great work is possible.” Beyond developing creativity, utter boredom can also lead a person to self-actualization. (Refer to the Award winning speech by the writer titled The Purpose of Life: )

Those of you who have watched serials like Buniyad, Hum Log, Ramayan Or Yeh Jo Hai Jindagi in the late 80s will realize that the serials were not exceptional per se. Apart from a reasonably good content, one of the major reasons for their popularity was the audience’s threshold to boredom was much higher then( Doordarshan being the only choice) vis-à-vis the current times. Would you agree that with  1000+ TV  channels clubbed with internet related options like youtube, Netflix, Amazon prime etc. our threshold to boredom has come down significantly?

Can boredom help us to be more creative? While watching a Hindi movie on Netflix or Amazon prime, the moment a song sequence appears; there is a tendency to fast-forward due to our antipathy to boredom. How to deal with such a boring situation?

Think of a Hindi movie song  where the hero is carrying the corpulent heroine in his lap or on his  back and ponder over  the possibility  that the shot might have taken at least 10-15 retakes including a full day of shooting. Just visualize the fatigue and exhaustion the hero might have undergone! On similar lines when they were rolling down the hill or drenching in the rains think of the likely spinal injuries or the possibility of catching a flu.

When the hero is running around trees or performing weird postures ( a la Govinda and Karishma )in a group  of 100 extras dancing to the tune of the choreographer; simply mute the audio; you will start enjoying the scene in a hilarious way. You may also develop compassion for the hero and the heroine and realize what Buddha meant by his first noble truth that life is suffering.

Anyone while dating has undertaken such exercises to coax and cajole his sweetheart in real life?  And then you start looking at the song sequence symbolizing  the utter meaninglessness of  life as conveyed in a play called Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.

It is a tragicomedy that focuses on the meaninglessness of life. It centres around two tramps waiting for someone called Godot. We are not told who or what Godot is – a man or a God who will solve all their problems; a change in their circumstances; or death. The tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, do not know who Godot is either. They meet each day near a tree and wait, experiencing cold, hunger and pain. They try to distract themselves from the endless wait by arguing over trivial things; sleeping; chatting with the only two passersby – Lucky and Pozzo.  Each night, a boy arrives to tell them that Godot will again not be coming that day but will surely come the next day.

In the end, the reader or spectator suspects that Godot represents the emptiness that the writer sees at the centre of human existence. Like the tramps, we go through life, waiting for we don’t know what. We pass the time in work and other activities; and we continue to wait; for Godot.

When we fast-forward a song sequence; we are trying to avoid boredom (like Vladimir and Estragon) hoping to complete the movie faster in spite of the predictable climax of the hero and heroine getting married against all odds and living happily ever after! (which may be a myth after all!) Instead, why not embrace boredom and start enjoying the inane song? Boredom may also lead you from the temporal to the eternal aspects of life and you start enjoying the present moment! The pragmatic programs may help you earn a living, the reflective ones- the so called boring ones may help you realize who you are! Both of them have their own validity.

P.S. If you find this blog article boring, please rest assured it has served its purpose!

Relevance of Ambiguous Thinking in Challenging Times

In one of my webinars I posed the following questions:

To swim to and fro across the banks of a river; it takes a swimmer half an hour. What is the maximum number of rounds can he complete  in an 8 hour schedule by diving  into the same river?  Most of the participants responded with the answer as 16. Some considering the fatigue of the swimmer provided answers which ranged from 4-12. When it was pointed out that by the time the swimmer dives for the second time, a lot of water has already flown; and the river is no more the same. The swimmer can dive into the same river only once. After this explanation when the same question was asked once again, everyone responded the correct answer to be ONE.  (How obsessed we are with the correct answer!)  Then it was pointed out that it need not be one as it depends  on the frame of reference and the answers can vary from 1-16.

Welcome to the world of ambiguity which is defined as the quality of being open to more than one interpretation which is going to play an important role in the current situation.

Our education system does not encourage ambiguity and the intelligence of the students is correlated with the ability to give the right answers. This worked in a world which was relatively stable. In uncertain   times, there are no right answers but a range of operands which needs to be tried and tested. Whether the answer is right or wrong is not decided by the technique but by the result. Like in theory it is said that theory and practice are the same but in reality they are different.

The concept of Operant  Conditioning which was proposed by B.F.Skinner. When faced with a problematic situation, an organism retrieves a solution which has worked in the past. It is also called as a trial and error method.  When the problem becomes novel and complex, he tries a hierarchy of potential solutions, each becoming increasingly improbable. In the absence of complete solutions, he recombines potentially relevant operants to find a solution.

Pigeons and rats were made to acquire new behaviours by a phenomenon termed as operant conditioning. The hungry subjects were rewarded by food pellets  by pecking a disk or pressing a specific lever. By  working on a number of combinations, the subject could realize that the specific behaviour has resulted in a reward, which when repeated got reinforced and the subjects learnt a way of getting results.

In short, operant conditioning is nothing but a trial and error method where one does not have THE RIGHT ANSWER but goes on figuring out the approximately workable answer by incorporating ambiguity.

A simple exercise in developing ambiguity is to take a thought and a contrary one and ponder over the feasibility of both.

e.g. Life is not bad as you think. & Life is as bad as you think. Can you be comfortable with them both at the same time?

Which is the most fundamental of all the relationships? Is it of husband and wife? If so which is the most superficial one? Just think it over.

Multi- tasking helps improve your efficiency. Can you juxtapose this with multi- tasking may not help you do any work which needs deep thinking and focussed attention?

One needs to be comfortable with paradox of life called as the yin and the yang of Tao. Logical thinking, language are a part of life. But life is beyond them.

Ambiguous thinking is also associated with childhood upbringing. Some  parents feel that their children should not be exposed even to minor problems in life which in hindsight may prevent developing ambiguous thinking in future.

e.g. This incident happened in one of the upmarket gated communities.  It was around 8 am; father and his 10 year old son were walking towards the main gate. The father, a Vice President in a MNC was carrying his son’s school bag on his shoulder and adjusting a tie knot around his neck. Son was following his dad playing on his mobile lost in his own thoughts. As they approached the main gate, the father took out the tie and put it on his son. Both of them got into a chauffeur driven car.

There is only one thing worse than unhappy childhood and that is having a too-happy childhood – Poet Dylan Thomas

Dean Simonton ( Distinguished Professor of Psychology at University of California) in his book Origins of Genius states that children from too-happy childhood  have role models as their parents, elders and the teachers. Thus they become well adjusted to the system. They may become successful in terms of qualification, job, designation, material success etc but may not walk the road less travelled in becoming original thinkers. However children from deprived childhood have to look out much beyond the above repository. They have to figure out life on a daily basis thus increasing the number of role models which may include an adverse situation, kindness shown by a stranger, a book, or even a newspaper article. This act of figuring out in life, working by trial and error is what makes one comfortable with ambiguity which leads to creativity.

Janus is a Roman God which had two heads looking in opposite directions. Albert Rothenberg coined a term called as Janusian thinking which is similar of being comfortable with ambiguity.

Albert Einstein in one of his thought experiment said that if a man were to jump from a house rooftop and dropping an object simultaneously the object would be stationery in reference to the man but will be perceived  by an observer on ground as accelerating downwards by the gravitational pull.  Both the view points look contradictory; what matters is the point of reference.

Louis Pasteur was able to arrive at the principles of immunology in a similar manner. In one of his experiments some chicken were able to survive bacillus cholera. He injected  a new virulent culture in healthy chicken as well as the one survived. The healthy chicken died whereas the infected chicken survived. Pasteur came to the conclusion that chicken was diseased and non-diseased at the same time.

In 1801,Thomas Young demonstrated a revolutionary theory with a relatively simple experiment. Called as a double-slit experiment, he focussed a laser beam on a plate which had two parallel slits and the light passing through the slits was observed on a screen behind the plate. Alternate dark and bright bands were seen but it was also found to be observed individual particles at discrete points of the screen. Light can be both a particle as well as a wave as in quantum mechanics can be another example of ambiguous thinking.

This paradox is quite crucial in the current times. Physical  hygiene is very crucial and one should wash hands and face regularly. But can it negate the fact that number of bacteria on a square inch of human skin far outnumber the cells? Scientists have come to a conclusion that the human body is nothing but the agglomeration of billions of bacteria.

The theory of relativity, the wave-particle behaviour of light, or the immunology principle are an outcome of ambiguous thinking on the lines of swimmer jumping in the river with both answers of 1 and 16 being true at the same time.

Someone has defined a genius as the one who can hold two  contradictory thoughts in one’s mind at the same time and still be comfortable with them!

Rajan Parulekar ,  98450 14098

Reason and Excuse: The Crucial Difference

Amit, a participant who had attended my sales training program around four years back called me over phone two days back.

A: Sir, I am working for a small  Indian company selling Test and Measuring Instruments (TMI) What is the secret that our competitors, the giant multinational companies, go on consistently getting orders from customers beating us all the time? I know they have technically superior products. But are their sales engineers likewise?

I: Amit: such companies not only have a good product range but also have a systematic sales and a training process.

A: Now I understand why the salespeople from MNCs are so good.

I: But is that your real question? What is bothering you?

A: My main worry is, how do I improve my order booking performance? I am not sure of my job in these difficult times.

I: what is the reason?

A: I come from small town called Akola, working in a company which does not have a great brand. On top of that, our company does not spend much on training either. I am so passionate about attending training programs and learning new things.

I: You said you have attended my training program four years back. After attending did you ever felt like clarifying your doubts or getting new insights from the trainer?

A: No sir, I was extremely busy with my work.

I: Did you ever get time to refer to the course material?

A: No sir.

I: You said, your company does not believe in training, but you have attended my program.

A: Yes sir, that was an exception.

I: If I am not mistaken, along with the course material, I had presented a copy of my book Contextual Selling?

A: Yes Sir, I have started reading the book now. It is quite interesting.

I: After four years?

A: Now I am having some time. All these days there was absolutely no time.

I: Did you pay for the training program?

A: No sir, the training program was sponsored by the company, and the course material as well as the book was a part of it.

I: So you did not buy the book either!

A: Sir that is OK, being from a small town, I have an inherent disadvantage compared to my counterparts from competition who are from metros. They have all the exposure and opportunities.

I: Out of the three legendary Khans in Bollywood, who have the advantage of lineage and pedigree?

A: Obviously it is Amir and Salman.

I: Anyone who did not have such an advantage while entering the industry?

A: I think it was a Shahrukh.

I: Any other examples you can think of who have made it big and carved out a niche?

A: Irrfan Khan, what a great actor he was!

I: Anybody beyond the Khans?

A: I think of Nawazuddin Siddiqi, Ayushman Khurana etc.

I: You said you belonged to a small town which was your main disadvantage. Can you think a of a cricketer from a small town and still made it big?

A: Is it Dhoni from Ranchi?

I: You are right. Which year did you complete your engineering?

A: In 2008.

I: Did you attend any training programs or self-development activities for the last 10 years?

A: No

I: Did anyone prevent you from attending such programs?

A: No. But I feel training the executives should be the responsibility of the company.

I: Why?

A: Ultimately it helps to reach the company goals.

I: Do you have monthly, quarterly, and annual targets?

A: Yes.

I: Do you deserve to get your commission, incentive or bonus (whatever is applicable) if you were to reach your targets?

A: Certainly

I: Do you feel good quality training can help you improve your sales. Negotiation and communication skills?

A: Yes.

I: Amit, in that case, can you see that you also need to take responsibility for your development.

A: I can see your point.

I: Let us look at a concept of Locus of Control.

Locus of control states that the degree of stress perceived by a person depends on the control (or the lack of it) that he/she has on the situation. The cause of the stressor may be seen as stable or unstable, global or specific, and internal or external.

1.Stable and Unstable causes are enduring and temporary, respectively. My competition is always going to have an upper hand is an example of stable interpretation.

2. Global and Specific causes are relevant to many events or to a single occasion, respectively. E.g. Competition products are technically superior, is an example of global interpretation.

3. Internal or External causes indicate personal characteristics and behaviors or the result of environmental forces, respectively. E.g. I feel inferior because I am from a small town and not trained is an example of internal representation.

The more stable and global the cause of a stressor seems, the more people feel and behave as though they are helpless. Likewise, the more internal the cause of a stressor seems, the worse people feel about themselves. Together, these feelings and behaviors contribute to a depressive reaction to the stressor. Let us look at an example:

It is not advisable to take either of the extreme positions (Global or Specific, Stable or Unstable etc.) but should be treated as a continuum where a combination of both can be thought of.

Test & Measuring Instruments (TMI) range consists of products like Oscilloscopes, Logic Analyzers, Protocol Analyzers, Signal Generators etc. TekEdge was considered as a market leader in TMI in general and Oscilloscopes in particular. There was a small company called Le Croy which had some unique offerings in Protocol Analyzers.  However the company was much smaller to TekEdge. Analogous to David Vs Goliath battle, the Le Croy engineers while making an offer used to intentionally keep their price low vis-à-vis TekEdge offer.

A new manager called Santosh wanted to question the Global paradigm of TekEdge being superior in all respects. To one of his clients, he quoted a price which was $1000 more than the competition. When the customer questioned Santosh’s logic, he said, “even though my competition is big in the overall TMI market, my company has a unique advantage in the niche Protocol Analysers segment which is tailormade to your application.  Santosh changed his paradigm from Global to Specific and was able to close the order with a premium.

Another example: consider a  case where a  guy’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he thinks that his love life is always in the dumps (i.e., a stable interpretation), that nobody really cares about him (i.e., a global interpretation), and that he must not be a dateable guy (i.e., an internal interpretation). Such an interpretation could contribute to a depressive reaction, such as him coming to the conclusion that he might as well not try because there is nothing he can do about it and that he is pretty much a lost cause.

I: I hope you might have understood the concept of Locus of Control and that your interpretation (of your competition, your company, customers and yourself) being stable, global & internal was causing you considerable stress. Would you agree with that?

A: Yes.

I: I shall ask you three simple questions, One, what was your original problem?

A: Sir, my original or the surface problem was: What makes the sales engineers from competition so successful?

I: What was the actual or the fundamental problem beneath the surface problem?

A: How should I improve my performance?

I: What is the root cause?

A: I am lazy. What I felt as genuine reasons were excuses. I need to take responsibility for my development.

As human beings we go on telling a number of lies to others, but rarely do we recognize the lies we tell ourselves!

Rajan Parulekar,,

The Unknown Tendulkar

He was neither a cricketing genius nor a renowned Marathi playwright.

He was born in 1909 in a poor family of a primary school teacher in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. After completing his B.A. at Elphinstone College, he went to Cambridge on a scholarship to pursue astronomy. Drawing inspiration from Gandhi and his Dandi Yatra, he dropped out of Cambridge, returned to India and joined the freedom movement.

On Pandit Nehru’s advice, he devoted 10 years of his life for the sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh. To earn his living, he started writing for newspapers. In his second attempt of further studies, he went to Gottingen University in Germany to study Aerospace Engineering. Nazis suspected his Communist antecedents and put him behind bars for a month. Then he moved to Paris. His fascination with Communism took him to Russia. For two and half years he studied photography in Russia. He survived on photography and writing for newspapers and magazines like Pravda, Izvestia and Kastyor. On his father’s death, he returned to India and was in and out of jail during the freedom movement for 20 months. Due to financial challenges, he approached Mahatma Gandhi and sought his permission in writing Gandhi’s biography. With 12 long years, moving across the country and in his impeccable English, he  completed the  8-Volume Biography: Mahatma – The Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The first volume covers his life from 1869 to 1920 and the last one from 1947 to 1948. First published in 1951, it had the foreword of Pandit Nehru who on this magnum opus of around 4000 pages said, “It brings together more facts and data about Gandhi than any book that I know. I consider these books to be of great value as a record  of the life of a man not only supreme in his generation, but also a period of India’s history which has intrinsic importance of its own.”

Apart from the above, some of his other books include 30 months in Russia, and  Gandhi in Champaran.   Once the director of Sahitya Academy wrote to him asking for his detailed resume. This person who had around 5000 pages to his authorship, did not have even 2 pages on himself. His response was: Deenanath Gopal Tendulkar, Born: 9th October 1909 at Ratnagiri, Education: BA ( Hons)

The biography brought international fame to  DG but he still remained the simple soul as he was, all along his life, in his half-sleeved khadi shirt, a khaki half pant, Kolhapuri chappals  a Shabnam on his shoulders, sauntering  at old book shops in flora fountain and other antique shops.

A group of people came to invite him as a Key- Note speaker for an important event. After entertaining them, he said,” I generally do not like to mix with people, I do not like to go on stage, and I do not like to be photographed or want my name appearing in the newspapers.” The organizers were taken aback. One of the visitors said, “we shall go back and tell our chief and then call you over phone.” He said,” My bungalow is named as Ekaant ( Solitude ) I do not even have a telephone.”


Journalist MJ Akbar narrates an incident quoting H Y Sharada Prasad, the media advisor to Indira Gandhi. DG was awarded Padma Bhushan during Rajendra Prasad’s tenure. He sent a telegram to the President saying he would prefer to have a watch instead of a piece of paper from the government. Needless to say, he received both.

Deenanath Gopal Tendulkar (1909 -1972) a great writer, a pioneer in documentary film making, a renowned international photographer, who incidentally never had his own photograph in his lifetime, whom Pandit Nehru used to invite him over dinner, Mahatma Gandhi used to do the proof reading for his writing, today is an unknown Tendulkar.