Category Archives: Management

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.

A Forgotten Hero or an Ungrateful Nation?

On 24th June 1991, three days after swearing-in as the Prime Minister, Prannoy Roy from NDTV while interviewing P.V. Narasimha Rao (PVN) asked him, “Hon. Prime Minister, the country is going through a major financial crisis, you are heading a minority government. You are not in the pink of health. How are you going to manage?” After a long pause, PVN, using Bismarck’s famous quote, replied, “Politics, is the art of the possible.”

PVN took oath as the Prime Minister three days earlier. For 37 of the 44 years since independence, the country was ruled by the first family of Indian politics: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira, and Rajiv Gandhi. Barring Lal Bahadur Shastri (and Gulzarilal Nanda as an Interim PM) the Congress party handed over the baton of Prime Ministership to someone outside the Gandhi-Nehru family.

Was he the party’s first choice to be fielded as the prime ministerial candidate? The Congress coterie wanted to have Sonia Gandhi to fill the slot. Already undergoing a tremendous shock of the untimely death of her husband and with the security of her children being her major concern, 

Sonia declined the offer. Shankar Dayal Sharma, the then Vice President was the next choice who declined on health grounds. The ambitious Arjun Singh and Sharad Pawar could not muster enough support. The mantle felt on PVN only because the party leadership felt he may not last long, give or take one year! It was more of a stop-gap arrangement.

Let alone a strong lobby behind him, PVN did not even have good friends in the Congress party. The man who had no friends did not have strong enemies either, which incidentally turned out to be a plus point in his being considered for the PM’s post. Some external events also were favourable for PVN. The elections in the northern states were over before 21st May, the day of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination; while the southern states were scheduled to vote later. The post-assassination sympathy wave helped Congress clinch142 seats out of 227 MPs from South India. Arjun Singh, one of the main contenders from Madhya Pradesh lost his claim due to the poor numbers of Congress MPs in the North. Sharad Pawar could get support from only 38 MPs from Maharashtra. For the first time, the country was to have a PM from the south. Thus, it was by accident, and a quirk of events; and not by design that PVN became the PM. His failing health was also in his favour, as his party did not expect him to complete the full five-year term.

Foreign Exchange Crisis: In June 1991, the Indian Govt had foreign exchange reserves which were sufficient for barely 3 weeks. With the fiscal deficit running at 8.2%, and the internal debt being 5.6 % of GDP, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The TEAM: 

During the previous 10 years, PVN did not have any inclination towards economic issues. One thing he realized was that the economic problem, being complex and serious, a competent person must be installed as the Finance Minister. I. G. Patel, the former RBI Governor was the first choice, but when he declined, the mantle fell on Dr. Manmohan Singh. Singh was an eminent economist, and he had worked with the United Nations, been an RBI Governor, a Chief Economic Advisor, and the Head of the Planning Commission over separate tenures. A team of competent ministers and bureaucrats were put in place, which included, among others, Naresh Chandra as Cabinet Secretary, Amarnath Verma as Principal Secretary, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and others. 

Crucial Decisions: 

To overcome the serious economic challenges, the minority govt. had to take some quick short-term decisions. One such decision was to pledge the country’s entire gold reserves, while another was the devaluation of the rupee. The long-term decisions included the New Industrial Policy. 

  • Pledging of Gold:

To save the country from bankruptcy, the government had no choice but to pledge gold from its reserves. In the first phase, it was pledged through the State Bank of India on 4th July. In subsequent phases, it was done directly by RBI on 7th, 11th, and 18th July. Overall, 46.91 metric tonnes of gold was pledged to the Bank of England. On 10th July the media received the news. As usual, there was a hue and cry in parliament. Dr. Manmohan Singh explained that it was a fait accompli, and the decision was taken with due diligence and positive intent. However, in the international markets, India’s credibility rose, as financial institutions felt the country was making serious course corrections. That month, India received a loan of USD 221 Million.

  • Rupee Devaluation: 

Apart from the fiscal mismanagement by previous governments, the foreign exchange reserves were getting depleted due to the Gulf war. Saddam Hussein had attacked Kuwait, and the rising oil prices coupled with reduced remittances from overseas Indians started showing a strain on the foreign exchange front. 

Inadequate exports were the other major reason. The exchange rate of $1= Rs. 17.90 was not only high, but it also did not reflect the market reality. Indian products and services were expensive in the international market, thus affecting export earnings. This anomaly needed an immediate correction. 

Within 10 days of assuming office, on 1st July, the Indian Rupee was devalued against the US Dollar, Japanese Yen, Deutsche Mark, and the British Pound by 7-9%. The second devaluation was scheduled for 3rd July. The opposition, including the communists, were staunch critics of devaluation. There was stiff resistance in the ruling dispensation too. Devaluation was perceived as affecting the self-esteem of the country, as well as the government being in collusion with ‘capitalist’ institutions like IMF, World Bank, etc. PVN was under tremendous pressure and informed Dr. Manmohan Singh to stop the second one. When the finance minister contacted C. Rangarajan, the Governor of RBI, the latter said the decision has already been taken by 9 am. The horse was unbolted. To make the bitter truth palatable, the devaluation was renamed as exchange rate correction. The stock markets bounced back with full vigour and the economy started showing signs of recovery. By 1992, the INR exchange rate to the USD moved from 17.9 to 24.5. Subsidy for exports was cut, and to improve exports EXIM scrips were introduced, wherein exporters would get concessions for importing specific goods. This policy framework was done by Montek Singh Ahluwalia and P. Chidambaram, and the decision for this was taken within a day by PVN. 

  • The New Industrial Policy: 

Another major decision was the New industrial Policy which was crucial to economic recovery. PVN had kept the industries portfolio with him. Dr. Manmohan Singh wanted to present the New Industrial Policy as a part of the budget. However, the bureaucrats in the Industries ministry wanted the policy to be presented separately. Sensing that it will be faced with stiff opposition in the parliament, PVN played a smart game. His deputy, P.J. Kurien, (the State Minister of Industries) after the zero hour, requested the speaker of the Lok Sabha to permit him to place the New Industrial Policy before the house. A crucial document that paved the way for liberalization, scrapping the MRTPC act and the license Raj, was presented without much fanfare or debate. The chief architect, PVN did not utter a single word during the presentation. (He who knows does not speakHe who speaks does not know… Lao Tzu) 

Expert committees were formed to introduce fundamental changes in enabling sustained and accelerated growth in the economy. Raja Chelliah led a committee for Tax reforms, and M. Narasimham a committee for Banking Reforms. Their recommendations were accepted; tax rates were rationalized and private banks were allowed to function. 

Allowing private players to enter the banking sector was another major decision. Under normal circumstances, there would have been long debates challenging such a major decision. After all, any major change attracts a great deal of resistance. A great leader can spot an opportunity in a problem. The country was going through tumultuous times after the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992. As BJP was cornered, no party was in the mood to rock the boat. The banking sector was opened to ICICI, HDFC, AXIS, and other banks without much fanfare or debate. In 1993 the aviation sector was opened, and in 1994 the new Telecom policy was launched, paving the way for a mobile revolution. 

When he took over as the PM in June 1991, the country had foreign exchange reserves equivalent to Rs. 3000 Crores. While addressing the nation from the Red Fort on Independence Day in 1994, PVN proudly announced that this figure had reached Rs. 51,000 Crores and the country had averted a major financial crisis. 

Aristotle’s characteristics of Greek tragic heroes mention them as being virtuous, long-suffering, and having a tragic flaw. PVN was a polyglot with fluency in 10 languages. With his sharp intellect, he could fathom problems from multiple perspectives. He appointed competent ministers and bureaucrats to handle complex issues. If needed, he took quick decisions, be it the Rupee devaluation, or the New Industrial Policy. What looked impossible, a Herculean task, he achieved through the dictum, ‘politics is the art of the possible.’

He had to face monumental challenges: here was a man who had formed a government without a majority, there was no real support from within his party which had elected him as a leader, he had no cordial relationship with the first family, and opposition parties were baying for his blood with a series of no-confidence motions. He was aging, and at 70, he was suffering from diabetes, blood pressure, and had undergone a bypass surgery a year before he took over as the PM. He had to suffer it all alone. 

One of the tragic flaws that he could not resolve was the dilemma of accepting the diktats of the first family (unlike his protégé who succeeded him much later) or being a total rebel to walk his path.

Pamulparti Venkata Narasimha Rao passed away on 23rd December 2004. No other person within a short span of five years has brought in such sweeping reforms in the country. Forget the opposition parties, the Congress party disowned him. It was ensured that his corpse was neither brought to the Congress Party Head Office nor cremated in Delhi, and sadly, neither was any monument constructed in the capital for this great leader. The humiliation did not part him even in his death.

References

  1. Raoparv – Prashant Dixit
  2. To the Brink and Back, India’s 1991 Story – Jairam Ramesh
  3. 1991, How PV Narasimha Rao made History- Sanjay Baru
  4. Wikipedia 

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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!

How To read A Book- The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading – By Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren

Mark Twain once said, “A person who does not read good books is no different from a person who cannot read them.” In this age of information overload where what’s app, blogs, magazines and newspapers are vying to catch the reader’s attention are we more knowledgeable and wiser than our ancestors? Most of us would reply in the affirmative. We may have more information of things around us but more knowledgeable may be a bit debatable.

Late Dr. Gopal Valecha was an Industrial Psychologist and a renowned trainer. While attending his training program in 1997 he narrated an interesting anecdote. After completing his Ph. D. at Iowa State University his guide asked him what can Gopal term as his major accomplishment? He said that from then onwards he can put ‘Dr.’ behind his name. His guide replied, “More than that you will understand how to read a book.” I found that statement a bit weird but around 7 years later I could understand the significance of that statement. Not that I did my Ph. D. but came across a book titled How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren.

It was first published in 1940 and later on got translated into French, German, Swedish, Spanish and Italian.  After reading this classic of 426 pages, I was shocked to know my limitations in reading. Montaigne speaks of “an abecedarian ignorance that precedes knowledge and a Doctoral ignorance that comes after it.” The first is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their ABCs cannot read at all. The second is the ignorance of those who have misread many books. One of the errors is to assume that to be widely read and well read are the same thing. The book is divided into four parts:

Part I – The Dimensions of Reading: This covers the first two levels of reading viz. the Elementary Reading and the Inspectional Reading. Elementary reading is more to do with grammar, syntax, sentence construction etc. which is generally covered in school.

Inspectional Reading involves skimming or pre-reading. This will help you decide whether you really want to read a book, and whether it requires analytical reading. Time being the major constraint and a number of books needing your attention, inspectional reading helps you make that critical decision. Inspectional reading should not involve more than 15-20 mins. It includes reading the blurb, the preface, and scanning the book to see illustrations, tables to get an overall feel of the book.

Part II – The Third Level of Reading: The Analytical Reading is the complete and thorough reading which requires maximum effort. Inspectional reading is the best option when you have limited time, whereas analytical reading is apt when you have adequate time. Francis Bacon once remarked, “most of the books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and a few to be thoroughly chewed and digested.” Remember analytical reading is primarily for the sake of understanding.

Ponder over a title to understand the classification. A title as well as the subtitle conveys vital information about the book.  A group of 25 reasonably well-read people were asked to name the book which shot Charles Darwin to fame.  Darwin is known for his Theory of Evolution and the participants guessed the book as The Origin of the Species. Having not read the book, they assumed that the book must be about the development of human species. Actually, the title of the book is The Origin of Species and discusses the proliferation of the natural world of the great number of plants and animals from a small number of species.

The evolution of human race from apes has been covered by Darwin in The Descent of Man. Title  and preface are generally ignored by the readers  as they are  perceived being insignificant from the angle of classifying a book.

Part III – Approaches to Different Kinds of Reading: This part contains seven chapters which include reading of practical books, imaginative literature, history, Science and Mathematics, Philosophy and social sciences. One chapter is devoted for reading of stories, plays and poems.

Part IV – Fourth Level of Reading, The Syntopical Reading: When you are carrying out a research on a topic and know very well that one book is not sufficient, you need to refer a number of books on the same topic or related topics. You can either devise a bibliography of the number of titles available on the subject or scan few books at random.

Let us say your research topic is: Have the economic reforms really benefitted the country? In such a case you need to refer books not only from economists like Getting India Back on Tracks by Bibek Debroy, An Uncertain Glory by Jean Dreze etc. but also the biographies of Narasimha Rao and Dr. Manmohan Singh. The other purpose is you need to look at different perspectives of the topic. You may read the complete book or you may read only the specific topic. In case of syntopical reading, the emphasis is more on the reader’s priority than on the book.

To enhance the reading competency, a reading list of 150 books has been recommended which include works of Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Essays of Francis Bacon, Voltaire, novels like Don Quixote, Karl Marx’s Das Capital etc. Exercise and tests to understand the four levels of reading are also provided. The book provides intellectual satisfaction on the pleasures of reading.

 

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,

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!

 

Difference between Convincing & Con-Vincing

Soumyajeet Mohanty ran Edu Solutions,  an educational consultancy service in Bhubaneswar Odisha. Initially he started Sunrise Coaching Solutions providing tuition to engineering students. As the venture did not yield much returns, he ‘moved up the value chain’ by providing  ( fake) admissions to students wishing to get into medical colleges. Continue reading

Do Sales Incentives necessarily Improve the Margins?

One of our clients in Pune had invited me to diagnose the problem of their poor margins. When I asked the VP-Sales he said,” We are facing this problem for the last three years, so last year we have launched an attractive incentive scheme, but still it is not producing results.”

Most of the sales managers intuitively feel that incentives lead to higher margins.  However the research carried out by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester and Adam Grant at Wharton say that the effectiveness of motivation varies with the task.  There are two types of tasks:  Algorithmic and Heuristic tasks. Continue reading

Volition & Motivation: The Gap between Doing and Knowing

Most of us feel that attending a motivational program will help people achieve the individual and organizational goals. Kurt Lewin and Narziss Ach have made pioneering contribution in the field of motivation. Lewin was known for his field theory as well freezing and unfreezing  concepts in changing the human behaviour and believed that motivation and volition are the same. Narziss Ach  treated motivation and volition differently.

Volition happens at three levels: Continue reading