Category Archives: Human Psychology

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, rajan@paradigm-info.com,

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.

Meta Talk: The Art of Reading Between the Lines

A couch potato father while watching TV admonished his son, “Ajay, it is high time you should start with your home-work. Watching TV will do you no good.”

S: Dad, do you mean what you say.?

F: Certainly, I say what I mean.

S: Does it mean that I see  what I eat is the same as I eat what I see?

Meta-Talk ( based on Meta-Talk : Guide to Hidden Meanings in Conversations by Gerard Nierenberg & Henry H Calero) connotes the hidden or the real meaning behind what we communicate; also called as reading between the lines. Cliché are the worn-out words or phrases which are normally used when people are either lazy or not imaginative in conveying the right meaning. Some examples of the divergence between what people say and what they mean are discussed below:

False Modesty: A friend of mine, a HR manager is a regular at the conference, training circuit. He ensures to take his pictures during the events, like being at the lectern, receiving bouquets, or in a panel discussion. The linkedin post invariably starts with the phrase: I have been humbled by receiving the certificate, bouquet, getting the best performance rating etc. The other day I saw a speaker at a raised platform, stretching his arms to the fullest, shouting at the top of his voice and saying, “I am not boasting but, in my humble opinion etc?” Rest assured these phrases indicate that they are simply bragging about themselves. That is false modesty.

Incidentally & BTW: These words are used to introduce a statement. The intent may be to convey just by chance I happen to think. They are generally used by shy people not sure of themselves. However as a cliché, both words may indicate that the speaker wants to say something very important catching the listener off-guard. E.g. Husband says, “Incidentally I have to go to Delhi for an urgent meeting.” Or a lady telling a friend, “ BTW do you know Shruti is opting for a divorce.”

Alternatively  the words can be also used to mislead the listener in believing  the message to be unimportant or of a routine nature.

Sales manager saying to his executive, “BTW Suresh, the credit for this Rs. 50L order shall be going to Ramesh as he has generated the lead.”

I’ll Do my best/I’ll Try: Patient,” Doctor, what are my chances?” Dr “ I’ll do my best.” Meaning there is no hope.

Manager: “You have reached hardly 50% of your target. I want you to meet your targets come what may.”

Executive: “ I’ll do my best.” This may  mean the executive cannot do anything better. When he says I’ll try, it indicates que sera sera. (whatever will be,will be) Both the manager and the subordinate after the meeting feel they have discharged their duties to the best of their abilities.

We and they: Generally these words look quite simple. But sometimes the meta talk may reveal the biases and prejudices we carry about a community. Sudhir Toro, a friend of mine is a liberal thinker. Once while discussing the Bangla Desi migrants issue, he put up whats app post about how Bangla Desh is performing well in terms of economic indicators like unemployment rate, GDP growth etc. Considering the data, the migrant issue might have been blown out of proportion. A group member responded ‘So why don’t you go there?’ Can you see the metatalk in the word there?

‘Why do they oppose CAA and NRC? We are vegetarians but they eat anything. They are not supposed to drink water from our wells.’ Can you see the alienation between we and they?

Using We instead of I: The General Manager tells the assistant manager during the performance appraisal, “We have decided that you do not have the desired skill set for promoting you to the next level.” By using we, the GM has achieved the following purposes.

  1. Apportion the responsibility: The GM would like to soften the blow by saying the decision was taken primarily by the MD but in consultation with the GM
  2. Increasing the distance: The distance between the appraisee and decision maker has increased thus preventing the former in reaching the latter.

Only: According to Sigmund Freud, there are several repressed thoughts and images in the subconscious mind (be it sexual or otherwise) which may try to force their way in the conscious mind. Denial of the entry is achieved by using different processes, one of them being the word only. E.g. if a person were to have a worst nightmare which he may not like to enter his conscious mind, he will say, “It was only a dream.”

A slick salesman selling a beautiful dress may  say, “ Ma’am, it costs only Rs. 2,995,  “conveying a message it is NOT EXPENSIVE.

Adrian and John  were two devout Christians who had missed observing the fast on Good Friday,  the most solemn religious fasting day for the Christians.  When asked for atonement, the pastor asked, “ Adrian, what do you like the most?” “Sharing the marital bed with my wife.” Said Adrian. “In that case, sleep in the other bedroom for the next four weeks” said the pastor. When asked a similar question, John replied, “Pastor, it is smoking my favourite cigar”, Pastor said ,” In that case refrain from  smoking cigars for the next four weeks.”

Some days later, Adrian’s wife enters his bedroom. Startled Adrian says,” Honey, it’s ONLY the third day. We have still a long way to go.” To which the wife replies, “ Adrian, I came here ONLY to tell you that John is smoking a cigar.”  You may notice the degree of denial in the above. What they said and what they meant or the intent  was different.

But: But is a conjunction used to connect two or more clauses.  However it may negate the original meaning. E.g. an executive telling his manager, ”Sorry, I could not reach the office in time, but I was stuck in traffic.” Son telling his father, “I want to go to the gym daily but it is quite far”. Or a waiter telling the customer, “Sorry for the delay in serving you, but there are too may orders.”

By using but, the apology rather than sounding authentic now looks fake and a justification. What is justified as a reason may be perceived as an excuse. One suggestion is to use and instead of but. Better still, say sorry and give no justification.

Dr Sandor Feldman in his work Mannerisms in Speech and Gestures says that people often consciously or unconsciously conceal what they genuinely want to say using Meta-Talk.

So next time whenever you are using words like only, incidentally, BTW, but, or phrases like in my humble opinion, I am not boasting etc. be careful, you are actually conveying  something different than what is being said!

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘ What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I cannot hear what you say.’

Rajan Parulekar, rajan@paradigm-info.com,

 

On Humility

While working for a company called Toshniwal in Mumbai around 4 decades back, my boss narrated a story of his friend’s son, Ajay who had returned from US for vacation. Ajay a young guy in his late 20s, had completed his MBA from an Ivy league school and was working for a Wall street company then.  Ajay had gone to Bombay House to meet his school mate. It was around lunch time and Ajay’s friend was out on a client visit. As Ajay was waiting in the lobby, an old man looked at him and asked,” hey young man, whom are you waiting for?” Ajay gave the details. “Till he comes, you may come to my cabin.” Ajay followed suit. Half an hour later his friend turned up went to a nearby restaurant.

Over lunch when the friend asked what was the topic of discussion, Ajay replied,” When he came to know about my background, he asked about my opinion on  India and the Indian economy, I shared  my thoughts on the real problems ailing our country.”  By the way who was that old man?” The friend replied, “Ajay, he was JRD Tata. You should have thought twice before giving your advice to such a man!”

I was narrating this incident to a stranger while waiting for a local train in Vile Parle station. He shared an interesting personal experience. He used to wait at Asiatic bus stop at around 6 pm which was near Eros cinema at Churchgate station in Mumbai. Every day while standing in the bus queue, he used to notice a car which used to stop just 10 feet way from the bus stop and the first person in the queue used to get in the car.  It was a bit surprising; the same car every day, but the person who boarded was different. One day this man decided to solve this mystery and left the previous two buses to be the first in the queue when the car was to arrive. He got onto the front seat. The person in the backseat was JRD Tata reading his newspaper. The driver used to drop JRD at his residence in Peddar Road via Chowpatty & Wilson college. The empty front seat was getting filled up for that routine journey.

Sudha Murthy while working as a trainee engineer in TELCO (now Tata Motors) narrates an incident when she was waiting for Narayan Murthy in the lobby of Bombay House after office hours. JRD waited along with her till NRN arrived. Young Sudha Murthy still recollects the anxiety she felt when she was with this grand old man.  Sudha Murthy was to put in her papers when NRN and his team were to start Infosys. She happened to run into JRD once again. When she told him about the new company, JRD said, “All the best for your new venture, beyond profits think of building a great institution which can be also used for the social good.” Such simple and yet profound message has left deep impact on the work Infosys foundation has been carrying out.

Two years back Ratan Tata was to be felicitated with Lifetime Award for contribution towards philanthropy by Prince Charles at the Buckingham Palace. Ratan Tata declined to attend the function as his dog was not keeping well.

Dr Albert Schweitzer was on his new hospital project at Lambarene at Gabon in Africa. One afternoon, while on the rooftop he asked a young passer-by to help him lift the tiles on to the roof. The young African said, “I am an intellectual, I do not do such menial work.” Schweitzer replied, “I also struggled to be like you but could not succeed.”  Albert Schweitzer though from Alsace in France did phenomenal work for the poor and the downtrodden in Africa. He established hospitals for the lepers.  He had PhDs in Philosophy, Theology and then on Bach Music. He has around 25 books to his credit including one on Indian Philosophy.

Considered as one of the most significant persons of the 20th Century, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1952 for the exceptional humanitarian work in Africa. When the Swedish Academy sent him telegram to grace the award function, he expressed his inability to receive the award that year as his hospital work was in full swing and felt that the long journey from Gabon to Sweden may affect his work, He received it later in 1954.

H W. Fowler (1858-1933) and his younger brother Frank published a book called as The King’s English in 1906 and The Dictionary of Modern English Usage (MEU) in 1926. The books have become a de-facto standard in the English-speaking community for the right word usage. MEU suggests an apt usage of a word with guidelines in avoiding jargon, e.g. During the second world war, Winston Churchill said to the Director of Military Intelligence, “Why do you write the word Intensive here?  You should be using Intense instead. For clarity refer the Fowler’s Modern English Usage.”

Fowler the lexicographer who worked on MEU for two decades was known for his spartan simplicity. Clarendon Press oversaw publishing and printing his works. The secretary of Clarendon wrote to him offering him the wages of a servant in addition to his remuneration.

It was the month of November, Fowler was 68 then living in London. His message to the secretary read:

Quote

My half an hour from 7 to 7.30 am was spent in:

  1. Two-mile run along the road &
  2. Swim in my next—door neighbour’s pond, exactly as some 48 years ago. That I am still in condition for such freaks; I attribute to having had for nearly 30 years no servants to reduce me to a sedentary and all-literary existence. And now you seem to say: Let us give you a servant and the means of slow suicide and quick lexicography. Not I know it: I must go my slow way.

 

Rahul Dravid was the chief guest at the annual gathering of Design for Change in Ahmedabad. The students asked him: What makes you nervous:

RD: Would it be OK If I say it is my wife?

What is your greatest fear?

RD: In my dreams I feel I have forgotten how to bat. And when I wake up realize that that dream has come true.

What is unique about you?

RD: I can bat well but so can many others. So, there is nothing unique about me.

What is common between all these great people with a high level of competence and intelligence but the humility of not wearing it up on their sleeves? Be it JRD., Ratan Tata, Schweitzer, Fowler or Rahul Dravid? I think it includes active listening, thought clarity, a great sense of self-deprecating humour (sometimes black too). Shakespeare described Brutus as ‘his life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up to the world and say, this was a Man!’ Genuine humility may be an essential quality towards becoming one.

Sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate between genuine and pseudo-humility. it cannot be deciphered from the body language or what one says. E.g. When a question is asked, both the idiot and the master smile. The idiot smiles as he has not understood the question, the master smiles as he has understood the futility of the question.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

Chogyam

Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa is a collection of his talks delivered at Boulder Colorado in 70s. On the main path of spirituality (which is supposed to lead us away from suffering and towards enlightenment) there are a number of sidetracks, bylanes which hoodwink us in believing that we are on the right track. The author calls such misleading tracks as Spiritual Materialism.The book delineates the bylanes first and then takes us to the main path. One such bylane  is the belief that  an external entity like a book, a discourse is going to help us towards salvation. A Guru  will provide us answers for all our problems. You download your problems on your Guru and he will take care of you. The process of initiation into spirituality clears the road towards enlightenment is also one such misconception. A master once told his new disciple after the initiation process; remember, wearing a robe does not make you enlightened and if you are enlightened you do not need a robe.

The author says that a true Guru actually does not give you answers but helps you look into yourself ; the frustration, the anxieties and guides you in facing and penetrating them. Most of the activities  that are carried out on the path of Spiritual Materialism like chanting a mantra or a Sutra or thinking about the  positives and eschewing the negatives may help us feel better but it may not lead us towards  self-realization. In fact most of such activities are nothing but ego-enhancing tricks played by the mind.  We may watch endless youtube videos, read multiple books and listen to a number of audiobooks but unless and until we realize that knowledge like gold, has to be burned, hammered and beaten before wearing as an ornament. Now it becomes your wisdom, otherwise it is just a downloaded information of others. On this line I remember Carl Rogers’ statement that most of the cognitive knowledge is useless.

Another dimension of Spiritual Materialism is a misplaced sense of humour. Some people feel that humour is a roadblock on the path of spirituality and are serious all the time. Others try to be funny likewise. As Buddha has said, an extreme of an error is another error. Both the situations, where one is  trying to be serious and the other trying to be funny are equally ridiculous. A truly evolved person sees both sides of a situation and thus takes an aerial view. It involves seeing the basic irony of the juxtaposition of extremes so that one is not caught taking them seriously. Thus there are rare chances a truly spiritual person taking extreme views.

After discussing the sidetracks the author discusses about the main paths of surrendering, the four noble truths and the most important concept of Shunyata ( emptiness)

 

This book has been my companion for the last four years. It was never on any best-seller list. There are no anecdotes, no jokes, no one-liners, no quotations from eminent people at the beginning of each chapter, not even any endorsements from celebrities.  It does not even try to impress you. It simply states the truth as it is.  Just sample this:

The conventional concept of enlightenment is that you aim for a higher level of consciousness from a lower level by silencing the thoughts. For some, the targetted goals may  include understanding past lives, predict future, becoming one with supreme consciousness etc. Compare this with what the author says. The journey of enlightenment is not that that you go up but you fall down, Every day you fall down to such an extent that you hit the rock bottom that you cannot fall down further. And what is this act of falling down? It is to see through your negativities; be it anger, jealousy, frustrations, pain, the games you play.  It does not mean that you detest such negativities but simply acknowledge them as a part of you being human. And then you start accepting others as they are. And when you hit the ground, you become a sane person, you know how to make a cup of tea with simplicity and precision, how to communicate with others in a non-judgmental way. And that is enlightenment. The first approach is an ego-boosting activity ( spiritual materialism) where one wants to achieve a goal of becoming extraordinary like the  celebrity who struggles hard in life to become one and then wears dark glasses to remain incognito. In the second instance it is to become thoroughly ordinary, the right path towards self-realization. As someone has said one of the most ordinary things in life is to become extraordinary.

Jijibisha:The Will to Live- The Story of Manoranjan Byapari

What  do you expect the future of a boy who had a pathetic childhood, no schooling, a painful adulthood with petty jobs, who  was in and out of prisons for petty crimes? The odds are very high of such a person amounting to anything significant in life.

His parents were migrant labourers from erstwhile East Pakistan who migrated to West Bengal during partition. He was a toddler at a refugee camp in south  24 Parganas then. His sister died of starvation and father was ruined by gastric ulcer.

He worked as a dishwasher in a tea stall, pulling cycle rickshaw, daily wage worker and a caretaker in a Chhatisgarh crematorium. Last 20 years he has worked as a cook in a ramshackle hostel in Kolkata for the hearing impaired.

In the early 70s when the Naxalbari movement was at its peak, he used to take part in protests and quite often he was beaten, tortured and put behind bars. He used to be frequently arrested under the charges of arson, looting, bombing and attempt to murder. He was sent to Alipore and Presidency Jails a number of times.

Manoranjan Byapari is no trader of entertainment but a personification of pain.

All these years, the only thing that was simmering in him was anger against the unjust establishment. One day while in jail one of the inmates said to him,” Getting angry at others may not solve your problem. From this window can you see the sapling on the rooftop of National Library? If it can survive in concrete, you too can find something worth living in this prison. Find a purpose in life.” That day Manoranjan started learning Bangla alphabets on the walls and floor of the prison; first with dust and stones and then with chalk. Two years in prison, he  was able to read and write Bangla fluently. When he came out, he started reading voraciously whatever he laid his hands on.

Throughout the day he used to pull a cycle rickshaw sometimes as long as 16 hours. The spare time while waiting for the passengers was devoted for his new passion of reading. A word called jijibisha from a story caught his attention. He could not decipher the meaning He asked a number of passengers but no one could answer him properly. One day a passenger, an old lady answered his query saying the word jijibisha meant a will to live. Finding something exceptional in the rickshaw puller, the lady  scribbled  her name and her home address on a piece of paper and asked Manoranjan to meet her later.  After the lady alighted, he  took out the novel underneath the seat. It was Agnigarbha by Mahasweta Devi, ( Jnanpith Award winner, Political activist and writer of books – Hazar Chaurashir Maa, Rudali etc.) the same lady who was in the rickshaw a few minutes before.

His first piece of writing, Rickshaw Chalai (I pull a rickshaw ) was published in Mahasweta Devi’s journal Bartika.

His autobiography Ittibrittey Chandal Jibon when translated into English, spread his fame beyond West Bengal and he was invited to Jaipur Lit Festival. He has to his credit 17 books over the last 40 years of his toil and has received number of awards which include West Bengal Sahitya Academy, Ravindra Smriti Puraskar, Gateway Litfest Writer of the year, Hindu Award for Non-Fiction among others. His writing focusses on the marginalized sections of the society  be it the sex workers, daily wage labourers, beggars etc with whom he has one-one interactions. His writing is authentic as he is able to empathise with his protagonists. In one of his interviews he says:

Quote

I too have worked very hard to progress step-by-step. I would labour throughout the day and then sit down with pen and paper at night. My body would droop with fatigue. My guts would twist like burnt cobra in hunger, but I would keep writing page after page ignoring all the pain.

Unquote

Ray Bradbury in his book Zen in the Art of Writing says, If you have to write with passion you need to have something original, something authentic to say. His philosophy is, “Every morning I jump out of bed and hit a landmine, that landmine is me; it explodes. After the explosion,  I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

Manoranjan Byapari was born a Chandal,  considered as among the lowest in Shudra caste and he says that you just cannot get out of what your birth has assigned you irrespective of your achievements. His autobiography Interrogating a Chandal Life – Autobiography of a Dalit  won him a number of accolades. However the elite Bhadralok literati still shuns him. Even after being a writer for 20 years he was struggling to get a decent job and had to work as a cook in a shanty  hostel.  It speaks volumes about the Hindu caste-based hierarchy.  He says, “I write because I cannot kill.”

 

Putting your best foot forward- Does it work all the time?

As a startup founder, if you were to make a presentation to your potential investors, with an opening slide: Few Reasons why you should NOT Invest in our Company, what would be the outcome? You would sum it up as nothing but a disaster!

Rufus Groscom and Alisa Volkman started a company in the US called Babble which was an online magazine with blog network. The company had positioned on the new paradigm of parenting by  challenging  the dominant parental clichés. In 2009 when they approached for the Venture Capital (VC) funding, their first slide was:  Five reasons why not to invest in Babble. They received a $3.3 Mn funding.

Looks a bit counterintuitive! Isn’t it? Normally the convention is to highlight your strengths which works well when your target audience is either neutral or has a positive disposition towards your offerings. But does a typical investor look upon you in a similar way?

Just imagine when you say that you have a ‘killer idea’ and that you will reach your breakeven in the first year and  will scale up to 20x revenue in the next two years what must be going on in the investors’ mind? Rather than getting impressed, a conventional sales pitch is normally looked down with scepticism. The investor is also operating from a position of strength which is due to the funds at his disposal as well as the number of ‘killer ideas’ he has encountered in the past.  Psychologically he is tuned to find out the follies in your sales pitch. What happens when you take a counterintuitive approach of focussing on your weaknesses?

  1. You create Trust: When you put your cards on the table you look vulnerable which makes you look trustworthy. Your investor feels that if you are speaking about something wrong, there might be a lot of things you may be doing right. You are perceived with a positive intent. In the conventional sales pitch, the intent is perceived as getting the funding by hook or by crook! (for details refer Trust: The Difference that Creates the Difference, from Contextual Selling)
  2. You look smart: You may speak about your strengths but if they are hyped the investor may feel you are beating your own trumpets. However, when you critique yourself, you may be perceived as smart.

Teresa Amabile, professor of Business administration at the Harvard Business School conducted an experiment on how a writer is perceived by her audiences. A sample of a New York Times book review was taken. The book review which was primarily of a complimentary nature was modified with a critical tone; major part of the content remaining the same. Minor modifications were made from inspiring to uninspiring, tremendous impact to negligible impact etc.

People rated the ‘critical’ reviewer 14% more intelligent and having 16% greater literary expertise vis-à-vis the ‘complimentary’ reviewer. After all an amateur can appreciate art but only a professional can critique it!

  1. Objections are Pre-empted: There are two groups who have been given a task of identifying reasons for being happy.  Group A has to list three reasons whereas group B has to list for 12 reasons. Which group according to you should be happier between the two? Most of us would opt for group B.

Norbert Schwarz (Professor, Department of Psychology, University of California) in his article Ease of retrieval as information has given an interesting example on Availability Heuristics.  Also called as availability bias, it refers to the mental short cuts that come to people’s mind while evaluating and solving a problem. Group A may think the reasons of happiness can be attributed to spouse, children and the career. The available answers which were quick to find makes them happy. Group B may explore possibilities beyond the first three which may include vacation, hobbies etc. but may find it hard to reach the magical number of 12 and they start questioning themselves whether they are happy in the first place or not. So, the counterintuitive answer is A.

Looking at the Startup founder’s admission about his challenges the investor now has to struggle hard to find out new problems (as those have been already pre-empted in the first slide) and he concludes that the startup’ s problems are not that significant!

Coming back to the Babble story, a few years later Rufus and Alisa approached Disney for a takeover. The opening slide was:  Why you should NOT buy Babble? And the reasons included

  1. Poor user engagement,
  2. Only 3-page views per visit
  3. despite being a parenting website 40% of posts were from celebrities etc…

Disney bought Babble for $40 Mn.

A note of caution: Aspects like technology model, IP, revenue stream, scaling, breakeven, competition, manpower cost, future disruption etc are going to be equally important and the presenter needs to be focusing on the strengths too. The article only wishes to point out that speaking about the negatives may be also relevant at appropriate times!

Rajan Parulekar, rajan@paradigm-info.com

Personal Growth Companion by D.M. Silveira

Circa 2002, while visiting the IIM Bangalore library, I came across a book titled Personal Growth Companion (PGC) by DM Silveira. PGC addressed the  dilemmas faced by people and takes them through a simple process of self-assessment which paves the way for new awareness of capabilities and potential. Some of the chapter titles were: Have you met yourself recently, what is your paradigm? Do people feel good about you? It is not a typical self-help or a how-to book telling you about success or a millionaire mindset but more on introspection and reflection. It helps you through the limitations of psychological categories and transcends scientific classifications, a few sample questions to illustrate the point:

On Busyness: Am I caught in a hurry? What am I trying to tell myself and others through my tearing hurry? Is it tied with my ego? Do I lack an inner focus and am I hurrying as a compensation?

On creativity: Is my life over-organized and repetitive? Does the routine enslave me? How much of novelty and surprise is there in my life?

The elaborate questionnaire was more on reflection rather than pigeonholing you into a category like introvert, extrovert etc.  The book was written in a simple yet a profound manner.  I got literally hooked into it. I carried the book while on a trek in the Sandakphu-Phalut range of the eastern Himalayas (near Darjeeling) and the book truly lived upto its title. By the time I returned to Bangalore, I was so impressed by the book, I penned a book review. The Sunday Supplement editor of Deccan Herald replied that it could not be published as the paper had a policy of putting up the reviews of books published in the current year. PGC was published in 1996. I searched for PGC in a number of bookshops but could not succeed. In retrospect, I felt relieved the review was not published considering the unavailability of the book.

DM Silveira, the author was living in Vashi, New Mumbai. I called him over phone and asked him whether I can buy a copy of the book from him. He said, “I am happy to note you liked Companion but I have to express my apologies. I publish only one edition of my book. And the only copy is on my dining table.” That statement revealed DM’s (as he preferred to be addressed) paradigm about the triviality of success and ephemerality of phrases like ‘Million copies sold,‘ #1 on New York  Times Best Sellers List’ etc.  There were no celebrity endorsements on PGC either.

Curiosity had the better part of me. I decided to meet him at his home in Vashi. A fair, slim and bespectacled person around six feet tall with a cheerful disposition was indeed much different than my expectations.

I also came to know that DM had to his credit a book called Human Resource Development. It was acknowledged as a scholarly work and was appreciated by the practising HR professionals then. Once he narrated an interesting anecdote. Reserve Bank of India had placed an order for 200 copies. DM used to publish his books under his own company called Classic Publishers Pvt Ltd. which was based in Kandivali Mumbai. DM along with his son Nikhil had been to the RBI for delivering the consignment. As DM was carrying the boxes on his shoulder, Nikhil said,”Dad, you are the author of this book, you are not supposed to carry the boxes on your shoulders to the stores. Let me take it.”

DM started his career as a clerk in Goa Secretariat in late 60s. His boss coaxed him to go to Mumbai for completing his graduation and explore better career opportunities. Working part-time as a journalist he completed his graduation in literature. One day I asked him about his journey of authorship, he said he decided to write full-time and live in Pune for an year. He said,” Rajan it was  a tough call. Actually India Today had offered me the number 2 position, but then I insisted on #1 position. But then Aroon Purie ( founder of India Today) did not find the idea too interesting and so I am here.” For some time I thought he was pulling up a fast one on me or a case of sour grapes. The second possibility was difficult to digest for a person who earlier was the editor of magazines like Newsmag, Onlooker and later on for a newspaper called Free Press Journal.

DM was the one who coaxed me into writing a book while cautioning it to be a painful process.

Whether in person or on a mail his opening sentence used to be ‘Patrao kosso assa, chennagiddiraa? ( meaning bossy, how are you, all well, smattering of Konkani, Portuguese, and Kannada) He connected me with Union Bank of School of Management in Bangalore where I conducted a number of lectures for the executive MBA program. His recommendation to clients used to open doors with a number of corporate clients for me.

For few years while in Delhi, he used to publish a yearly book of facts called India Book. DM, writer of great books, editor of FPJ and other magazines, Gold Medallist in Masters in English Literature from Bombay University was truly a humble man.  He had no qualms interacting with a much younger and inexperienced person like me. He used to be in his elements while sharing interesting anecdotes about Piloo Modi, LK Advani  etc

On 31th March 2009 he passed away due to a massive heart attack, while brushing his teeth; just shy of two weeks of his 60th Birthday on 16th April. It is said little knowledge makes one arrogant, a little more makes one reasonable and the final knowledge makes one truly humble. DM, the maverick, belonged to that rare but a truly humble creed!

 

Lust for Life- The Story of Vincent Van Gogh

The year was 1986 , when I was working with Larsen and Toubro,my colleague Amrit Gangar (now  a noted film critic and a scholar)  said, ”Rajan, this craze for MBA is a pure hype. If you really want to know what life or passion is;then you should read this book, Lust for Life.” He handed me a copy of the book which was more than a decade old, worn out yellowish tinged paper with a semi torn cover. The first impression being the worst impression, the book literally remained unopened for six months in a corner of my book shelf in Goregaon Mumbai.

One day I had to leave for Mysore for an official trip from Mumbai. As a junior executive, I was entitled for train travel. Being an unplanned last minute Journey, I could not get a confirmed ticket. I had to opt for a general compartment. (Tatkal quota did not exist then.) The journey from Mumbai to Mysore was of 24 hours. By happenstance I picked this book. and literally got hooked into it. By the time I reached Mysore, I had completed the 500+ pages book; oblivious of  the cacophony and the discomfort of a typical second class general compartment.  And then I recollected the adage: Don’t judge the book by its cover (or the lack of it)!

I narrated this incidence to my friend Dr. Vally D’Souza,  ( Ph. D. in Botany) with whom I used to travel in the mornings from Goregaon to Churchgate in the 8.50 local. Dr. Vally who borrowed the book used to work in a company in Flora Fountain then.  At Churchgate station we parted ways for our offices.

The next day I asked him, “How did you find the book?” He said, ”The  book was so mesmerizing that while passing through Azad Maidan, I dropped the idea of going to office. I finished reading it lying on a bench using my briefcase as a pillow; returned home taking the 6.13 Borivali slow local.”

Lust for Life by Irving Stone is a fictionalized biography of Vincent Van Gogh the Dutch post-impressionist painter considered as the most influential figures in western art. He lived a short life of 37 years. Without a formal background in painting, he developed a passion for this art and in the last decade of his life  created 2100 art-works which include 860 oil paintings. He did not earn a single penny throughout his life and was ably supported by his younger brother Theo while Vincent was painting with a passion. However some of the most expensive paintings are credited to him, The Portrait of Dr. Gachet being one of them was sold for US$82.5 Million in 1990.

Irving stone: was a native and a budding playwright from San Francisco who went to Paris in 1926  intending to write plays. By happenstance, he came across an exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh and was truly fascinated by his work. After returning to New York, he started doing his research not for writing a novel but merely to understand Van Gogh. At one stage  Van Gogh possessed him so much  that at midnight the author  used to wakeup and write the dialogues between the brothers.

Having sold more than a million copies with a 50th Anniversary edition, a film by the same name starring Kirk Douglas which had four Oscar Nominations, the going was not easy for Irving stone when his manuscript was ready by 1931. For three years he had to run from pillar to post. Seventeen publishers rejected the manuscript; most of them found the novel to be too insipid and boring. At last Longmans, Green and Company published the novel in 1934. And lo behold! it appeared in the New York Sunday Mirror bestseller list in just four days.

I thought Dr. Vally and I may have the unique distinction of completing this book in a day. Alas, I was wrong!  A number of readers have expressed likewise on the book reviews!

Irving Stone (1903-1989) was known for his fictionalized biographies which apart from Lust for Life include Agony and The Ecstasy  ( Michelangelo) , The Origin ( Charles Darwin) and The Passions of the Mind( Sigmund Freud). This year happens to be his 30th death anniversary, he passed away on 28th August 1989.

Rajan Parulekar|rajan@paradigm-info.com

What’s in a Name?

“Can you give me one ticket for Sri Balagangadhar Natha Swamiji Station, please?” I asked the booking window clerk at Peenya metro in Bangalore. The guy looking quite puzzled said, “ Can you repeat the name, please?” After going through that exercise once again, he said, “why don’t you say Hosahalli then?” I said I would have loved to do the same, but the govt changed the name to the present one.

Other  station names  on Bangalore metro are no different. They may not be that long but are indeed tongue twisters. There is Krantiveer Sangoli Rayanna Station, Nadaprabhu Kempegowda station, Bayappanahalli, Yelachenahalli, Goraguntepalya etc. of which the last one was earlier called as Yeshwanthpur Industry. But then the nearby station being Yeshwanthpur; wiser counsel of Namma Metro authorities prevailed to rename it as Goraguntepalya.

Should a name be simple or difficult to pronounce? Bangalore apart from being the capital of Karnataka happens to be the IT capital of India. There are people from different states as well as from different nationalities too. Once I saw a Japanese commuter struggling to pronounce Yelachenahalli while buying a ticket!

There were huge protests when the train announcements were made in Hindi and later on it was decided to have the same only in English and Kannada. There was hardly any murmur when the project was delayed by more than 4 years or the project cost escalated from Rs. 6000 crores to Rs. 14,000 crores for the green and purple lines. This phenomenon of sweating out the small stuff is not unique to Bangalore but happens elsewhere too. C. Northcote Parkinson, a renowned management guru once said that for a Nuclear Power plant in England, the sanction of additional  5 million pounds for an alternate design was passed in five minutes whereas the committee deliberated for almost   a week about the location of the cycle stand in the power plant. The former topic needed considerable level of technical competency whereas in case of the latter, every committee member had an opinion on the subject.

New York times once said that the greatest sex change operation was conducted in Mumbai a few years back when Victoria Terminus (VT) station was renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) It is  a marvellous structure  ( now declared as a UNESCO heritage site) the headquarters of Central Railway with 18 platforms and currently carrying millions of passengers every day. It took the architect William Stevens and his team, ten long years and the railway station which was completed  in 1888 was planned keeping the future traffic growth in mind. One wonders how could  the British team plan for such a mammoth station when the traffic might be just a miniscule then ( 150 years back) of what it is today? Is there any comparable station constructed in post-independence India? But then changing the name was far easier and more prestigious for the politicians. Some years down the line, the name was extended to Chhhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus ( CSTM). The day is not far off when it may be even called as Gobrahmin Pratipalak, Kshatriya Kulavatans  Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus ( GPKKCSMT) !!

Once a teacher was narrating a story to the class of 5th standard students on similar lines.  During a cricket match played on the school grounds, the  ball  fell into a nearby well. Ram, a fielder, while fetching the ball; fell in the well.  His friends shouted for help.  Luckily Ram was rescued. Next time, in a similar situation,  another student called Ardhanarinateshwara  Sivaramakrishan while fetching the ball meets the similar fate. His friends called for help but by the time his full name was pronounced, it was too late and unfortunately the boy gets  drowned.  Teacher asked Shyam the moral of the story. Shyam replied, “children with long names should never go near the well.”  Hope our politicians do not think on similar lines!

rajan.parulekar@yahoo.com