BOOK REVIEW: Don’t sprint the Marathon

 

Price: 199 INR

Author: V. Raghunathan

Taking real life situations, mapping into a model and deriving some interesting observations is something comes natural to author Raghunathan. In his first book ‘Games Indians play’, he gave a very good perspective by mapping behavior of Indians to Game theory. In his second book he tried a similar approach by taking a different approach into our educational system and how parents are reacting by putting unnecessary pressure into children. Being a parent of two year old, I am able to very well connect with the points mentioned in this book.

The author starts deriving basics for his argument by comparing Sprint Vs Marathon running. In the world of athletics, they follow two entirely different approaches for preparing aspiring runners. The former is all about strength, energy, rush of speed, visible progress with main focus towards the end, whereas later is all about stamina, mental toughness, persistence and competing with self. Life, if at all can be compared, can be done only with marathon running. Also, assuming the fact that every individual has a career span of 30 years, it makes all the more sense for comparing it with marathon, than sprint.

Cut to education! As middle class parents with lot of ambitions and aspirations, most of us tend to put pressure on kids for making them as ‘someone’ in life. In this mad rush for the so called success or rat-race, middle class parents prepare their kids well as sprint runners, who may not achieve excellence in the marathon called life. By not allowing children to grow at their own pace by understanding their strengths, will eventually set the children for failure when life throws different set of challenges at them. The commonly perceived notion of ‘success’ will not mean anything in the long run.

In order to substantiate his viewpoint, author refers to so many real life examples where multiple individuals (ex: MD & CEO of GMR infrastructure) who were not so great during their school time but eventually achieved excellence by taking a long term view of life and focusing on their real interest and passion. While he is not disagreeing to the fact that doing well during school and getting admission into top college does mean getting a good ‘start’ do the life. However it will not guarantee a great ‘finish’ which is what life is all about. He also states that there is enough number of opportunities in all fields for people having the right set of skills and attitude.

In practical, I could connect very well with that he has mentioned in this book. Providing costly education has become a fad these days where nobody bothers about the quality or what exactly the kid gets out of it. Children have become man made instruments, thro’ which parents can achieve their own dreams which they couldn’t due to many constraints they faced during their childhood. Because of this approach, most of the people end up choosing careers that is not suiting their own strength and passion, which is resulting failure in life. This is also one of the main reasons whey ‘excellence’ it not achieved in many of the fields.

Overall I found this book is very relevant in the current context of India. In some ways it is sending messages in the similar lines of ‘Taare Zameen par’ and ‘Three idiots’. I would strongly recommend this book for professionals, parents and to some extent teenage children to put things into perspective.

What is your work culture?

The concept of ‘work culture’ becomes important when any organization goes global. This very topic becomes all the more interesting when I look into Indian tech companies. Before getting into details, let me lay down two major type of work cultures (Eastern & Western) and their underlying philosophy.

Eastern Vs Western work culture
Eastern Vs Western work culture

It is also important to understand that work culture is primarily derived from the societal architecture of that particular country or geography, where the organization has its origin. For example, US is known for creating innovative stuff (ex: iPhone from Apple), ranging from cars to music players, whereas organizations from countries like Korea (ex: Samsung Galaxy) is known for optimizing and making them cost effective. Free thinking oriented western approach helps in creating new products, whereas discipline oriented eastern approach helps in optimizing the product in terms of cost, quality, time-to-market etc. If we look little deeply these are strengths ‘by design’, derived from the way how the society functions.

The fun begins when these technology companies (both from east and west) open their offshore/captive organizations in India primarily to leverage the low-cost talent. India is very different both from east and west where we don’t have a work culture of our own. The first generation public sector organizations still follow the same old hierarchy oriented system and second generation manufacturing organizations have somehow able to create a work culture aligned with Indian society. But for folks working in technology companies the experience varies from one organization to other, depending on the origin of parent organization.

The bottom line is this – Are people are really productive? For example flexible, open and responsibility oriented western work culture is perceived as a ‘cool place’ to work in India. Based on my personal experience I have seen very high level of misuse. The so called ‘flexibility’ is misinterpreted as ‘doing less work’ and openness is misinterpreted as ‘can ask anything to anybody’. I see such behavior creating a great damage in the long run as the cost advantage already started evaporating over the years now.  On the other side we are not as disciplined as eastern organizations. When policies are imposed, people started cribbing from all the ends.

This leads to another interesting question – What exactly is going to be the value addition from Indian product organizations in the long run, beyond cost? If neither innovation not discipline is our core strength, how long it can sustain? How long we can sing the song of ‘software engineering processes’ and derive sustainable advantage out of it?

Indian Independence – Gandhi way!

India, my mother will be celebrating her 64th Independence Day tomorrow. As an adherent fan of Gandhi, I thought of writing this post which might help fellow Indians to understand the thinking process of Mahatma. Also, I am seeing lot of half-backed information floating around Gandhi and his non-violent movement in the media. After watching movies like ‘Rang De Basanti’ and ‘Black Wednesday’ our yuppie Indians feel taking a gun and shooting down the enemy is the best way to solve India’s current problems. They also feel Gandhi has failed to plant such thinking process among Indians during our long fought freedom struggle against the British. There is a strong argument that India would have been a different (read it as better) country if we would have taken the approach suggested by Subhash Chandra Bose or Bhagat Singh. As a proud Indian I cannot even think of sacrifices made by these great leaders. However, had our forefathers followed that approach, not sure if India would exist in its present form. Let me put forward my perspectives in support of Gandhi and his way of achieving Independence.

India – Is it a country?

It is very easy to forget what we have studied in History text-books. Before British occupied, demographically there was no concept of a country called India.  Previously to the British (during 18th century) it was Mughal Empire primarily ruling Northern part of India.  Under no king or dynasty the whole real-estate came under a single ruler. Added to that, long debated topic of ‘Aryan (North Indians) Vs Dravidian (South Indians)’ was making the India equation even more complex. How can we think of getting independence to such a diversified country with has so many different languages, customs, history, food habits and ideologies? In its 3000 years of history it was never ruled under a single king, even though the idea of ‘Greater India’ (or Akand Bharat) is a concept even today.

The crux of Gandhi’s thinking process lies here. He clearly understood the diversity of India along with its challenges. He got real taste of this diversity when he spent good 22 years (1893-1914) of his life in South Africa, fighting for immigrant Indians against the British rule over there. Slowly and steadily he launched protest against the British by bringing Indians under one common umbrella called non-violence. It was not only the political war against the British, but also an internal war fought within him, where he transformed himself from a lawyer to an inspirational leader.  With so much of difference among Indians, if he would have chosen to equip them with arms, it might have resulted in the British leaving India sooner than 1947. At the same time, India would not have remained a single country by now.

On contrary, the 1857 first war of Independence never had such thinking process behind it. It was triggered by Hindu and Muslim soldiers whose emotions were tampered when their rifle were greased with pork and beef fat. It was never an organized war of political independence and the concept of united India was not even a concept during that time frame.

Resurgence of Indian national congress

The Indian National Congress was founded by Octavian Hume in 1885. The original idea for creating it was to obtaining a greater share in government for educated Indians, which was primarily restricted to elite class (read it as upper caste) of people, who were nothing short of British, but  in the form of Indians. This scene changed when Gandhi took over as the president of INC after coming back from South Africa. He used Congress as a strong political organization by including everybody. It doesn’t matter if an individual is Rich or poor, North or South Indian, Men or Women, upper or lower caste, Hindu or Muslim, every individual can be part of INC, thereby fuelling Indian nationalism as the topmost priority. Every normal individual felt they are part of a movement, lead by a common man with extremely high amount of determination and compassion. It was the first time ever the whole nation got united under one single ideology, where Gandhi played a significant role.

What is independence?

Even today, most of us feel war of Independence was launched against British to gain political freedom, which was not the only agenda for Gandhi. With its long history, India has embraced certain practices (like sati & untouchability) where a majority of the sector of population consisting ladies and lower case Hindus were denied basic human rights. Added to that, un-imaginable division between Hindus and Muslims was growing over centuries together. Gandhi’s idea was to use the political fight as a vehicle to bring ladies, lower-caste and Muslims to the mainstream. It was not only for the external battle with the British but also for the internal battle we have been facing in the name of caste, creed, gender and race. Put in software professional’s lingo – Gandhi attempted to lead one of the most complex system integration projects ever done in human history. Today all the issues he had thought of solving not solved in its true sense, but definitely huge progress has happened over the past 64 years. Also in my opinion this was the weakness and strength of Gandhi. While his inclusive and compassionate approach needs to be appreciated to a larger extent, he tried to solve too many problems in too short time.

Constitutional democracy

In its 3000 plus years of long history, India was always ruled by multiple forms of rulers which consists of  Mughal, British, Dutch, French, Portuguese  and a bunch of local rulers. The land was ruled by their heirs for generations together. The concept having a constitution and democratic governance was one of the top contributions which came is as a logical next step of inclusive approach that Gandhi had taken. Of course many other great leaders contributed to creating and implementing the constitution.  Even today we are still evolving where changes are applied whenever there is a strong case.

Closing words

When India got its independence in 1947, most of the political commentators around the world commented as an ‘artificial country’, which would break in no time. It’s been 64 years; we are existing together as a country itself is a miracle. There might have been issues and problems because of which we might not have become a developed nation in the similar lines of Singapore, Malaysia and many other Western countries. But think about it – those countries never had such a complex, unique, diversified set of people with a 3000 plus years of history occupying 2.3% of the land in the planet. Today, the success (if you want to call it) of India is not in its economic reforms, fast growing consumers, educated knowledge workers or its vibrant stock market. In my opinion it is the fact that we are existing as a country together in one form. The root of this result came from this simple, half-naked yet powerful man called Gandhi. It is time for us to think, reflect and understand the ‘Gandhi way’ of Independence and take pride in what we have done in the past 64 years.

Jai Hind!

Education: State Vs Central board

Its time to talk about education!

I grew up in a small town, educated in state board , in regional medium (Tamil) of instruction. Apart from my studies, all I knew was about something called ‘English medium’, where subjects were taught in English and those students boasted as if they knew many things. Acronums like JEE, AIEEE, CBSE, ICSE were totally unheard until I went to do my Engineering. These days I am discussing schooling related topics with my friends and family, so that I can make a better choice for my little one. However I am not sure if there is anything called ‘better’ choice? Will it make any difference at all?

Based on my discussion folks fed me with following data – In (Karnataka) state board is relatively easy to score marks (in terms of percentage), thereby having a better chance of making into good state colleges. However it is completely rote based, will not provide room to grow analytical/application thinking. In case of central (ICSE/CBSE) boards, it is totally opposite – getting marks is difficult, but it is comparitively make analytical thinking better. Also by taking up central sylabbus one has a better chance of cracking national level competitive examinations like JEE. But there is also a risk, where getting lower marks in central board, means ending up in mid/lower tier colleges in the state.

Leaving the boards & marks apart, I am having more fundamental questions about our education system. I know these questions are not easy to answer, but let me line them up as follows:

  1. Why there are so many boards, with different standards and evaluation procedures? Shouldn’t we have a common sylabbus across the country, where things are done in a uniformed manner? Even today there are not many ICSE/CBSE schools in smaller towns, thereby not providing them to have a fair chance in national level entrance examinations.
  2. Recently Tamilnadu government attempted to do this unification by removing state and matriculation sylabbus by coming up with a uniform school system. However thanks to the recent government change (from DMK to ADMK), it has taken a nasty route, where even today they are not sure which sylabbus to follow. Its been two weeks since schools  re-opened in the state, still my nephew (in 9th standard) didn’t get his text books, reason being schools don’t know which one to follow. Why should we allow education becoming a toy in hands of politicians? Shouldn’t it be governed by an independent body like election commission?
  3. Where and how are we taking care of the passion part? Thanks to the current situation, we seem to be pushing anyone and everyone into Engineering, so that they can get a high paying software job. This resulting in people who are not so passionate about the technolgy entering the industry, which will create a long term problem both for individual and industry as a whole. Why are we are not giving enough importance to arts, science and commerce? Why there is a common thinking of measuring success only in terms of salary he/she gets?
  4. While we are very happy to see movies like ‘Taare Zameen par’ and ‘Three idiots’, how many parents today are even making an attempt to understanding their kids and helping them choose their career/education, depending on his/her interest?

I am more than happy to hear your views/thoughts on this topic.

Piracy – Demanding innovation?

The problem of piracy is omnipresent in emerging countries like India. If you walk though any major street in Bangalore you can see the obvious examples of piracy sales which include books, movie CDs, games and software. Global organizations see this as a problem. In my opinion, piracy is another opportunity which needs innovation to open up new market opportunities. This long debated, controversial item is very much part of life in a country like India. When a much hyped movie hits the box-office, the pirated version in form of DVD, can be bought off the streets at a throw away price within few days. Copyright is taken for granted, even though there are laws to prevent this issue. It might look simple to look at, but piracy has become an organized industry in India.

Piracy
Piracy in India

The software piracy rate is growing at double digit rate especially in the operating systems domain. Purchasing original version of Windows is almost unheard, as most PC vendors install pirated version by default. Security precautions and patch mechanisms that Microsoft applies are overridden by even smarter ideas. There are multiple questions and arguments can be applied to this: Are we are not giving due importance to original versions? Is it the way we are wired? Should the regulatory systems be blamed? Are we bad people? Not necessarily. The answer is simple — we are not ready to pay for anything upfront if it costs more than we can afford. In a country with per capita income is about 35,000 rupees, how can we expect anyone to pay 10% to purchase the original version of Windows or 1% to purchase original version of a book? At the same time we cannot ask the educated elite of the urban population to buy the original version because they have more disposable income. They constitute only 2% population, who also tend to go with the trend. Even if they buy original versions, it cannot be a viable business proportion for organizations.

In a different perspective, in my opinion piracy is another form of an opportunity, which needs innovative methods to address. More piracy means people want a particular product desperately, which serves their need. Just because they cannot afford or got used to it, piracy takes the center stage. Innovation in terms of pricing, business model & offering need to be applied. The focus should be given on how to make things easily affordable by taking ‘micro-consumers to micro-payments’ model. Let us take the example of Indian mobile service provides. They have pre-paid plans for as low as five rupees (micro-payment), which work out for a daily eager (micro-consumer). Now companies like Tata DoCoMo have innovated even further by offering one second pulse, which is much different from minute based rates. With the sheer scale in sales, mobile service provides are getting their profits. In fact India is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. If the rate plans are in thousands, it would have been used only by the elite resulting in a very smaller market.

Similar approach should be taken for other businesses like book publishing (on-demand customized prints at affordable prices), software (subscription model bundled with technical support & upgrade) and on-demand digital movies (finding out alternative delivery and recovery models using upcoming technologies like DTH). The cost of it should be as low as a customer what a customer pays for a pirated version. Then only it can make a viable business proposition. Organizations need to develop deeper knowledge of the nature of customers than educating the customers about piracy. Understanding customers and their needs has been successfully done in some businesses (like mobile service providers mentioned above) but there is still a huge market waiting to be tapped across industries demanding ‘customer centric’  innovation.

In conclusion, I would say piracy is another form of opportunity. But where is the innovation?

[MyBangalore] Link to original version of this Article

Innovation – Type 3 – Internal process [Case: Narayana Hrudayalaya]

The third part of our ‘ten part’ innovation series, we look at Narayana Hrudayalaya, founded by Dr. Devi Shetty. In a country where heart disease is prevalent and affordability is a challenge, Dr.Shetty’s organization is able to break the barrier of cost by innovating in the internal process. The cost advantage achieved is not by compromising the quality. After all everybody understand the value of human heart.

The word ‘process’ in most of the cases perceived as boring, procedure oriented and mundane set of procedures, thereby planting monotonous perception among professionals. On the contrary, having a robust process defined and executing around them can bring in life changing differences to organizations. Bangalore based Narayana Hrudayalaya has innovated on the very same area thereby making the cardiac healthcare affordable globally. Founded by renowned cardiologist Dr. Devi Shetty in the year 2001, this Bangalore based hospital has re-inventing the way cardiac healthcare is perceived around the globe.

In Narayana Hrudayalaya patients are charged flat $1500 (about 75000 rupees) for heart surgeries compared to $4500 (about 2,25,000 rupees) that other heart hospitals charge on average. These numbers get all the more interesting when it is compared with the US where an average heart surgery costs $45000 (about 22,50,000 rupees). Added to that Narayana Hrudayalaya has an innovative medical insurance scheme under which people who can’t afford to pay can be covered. The astonishing point to note here is low price doesn’t mean that the quality is compromised. It has amazing 95% success rate in heart surgeries and one of the well renowned hospitals for pediatric cardiac care. Ranging from Harvard business school to management guru C.K.Prahalad, has done case studies around this internal process innovation.

Narayana Hrudayalaya
Narayana Hrudayalaya

The first element of process innovation comes from what is known as ‘vertical’ approach towards specialization. Doctors here are highly specialized in cardiology, which means they can perform a specific aspect in a much better and faster than others with generic skills. This specialty helps Narayana Hrudayalaya to attract patients, motivated health-care professionals and donors. This is way different from what is popularly known as ‘multi specialty hospitals’ treating variety of diseases. If super specialization was the first element the second one is about deskilling few elements in the cardiac healthcare in such a way that is brings in drastic different in terms of time. Narayana Hrudayalaya has recruited women with high school education and trains them in taking echocardiograms of patients, which is performed by trained doctors generally. As they perform only this task day in and day out by acquiring a very specialized skill, unblocks doctors perform higher complex activities. With these innovations around internal processes, Narayana Hrudayalaya performs 23 cardiac surgeries per day compared with four to five performed by other major hospitals. This ‘high volume’ in turn helps them to grow the business by charging ‘low cost’ for their patients.

In order to have wider reach with patients, Narayana Hrudayalaya has partnered with ISRO to launch Telemedicine services. With the inception of the program, it has been implemented in the remote areas of north eastern states of Tripura, Nagaland and in south Indian state of Karnataka by connecting them using INSAT satellite. While ISRO provides the software, hardware and communication equipment as well as satellite bandwidth, the specialty hospitals provide the infrastructure, manpower and maintain the system. Thanks to this advanced technology the telemedicine network has grown into 165 hospitals.

The core idea of ‘affordable’ healthcare is made available to remote villages thanks to Narayana Hrudayala’s innovation around internal process. This innovation has resulted in overall profit margin of 19.5%, which offers viable and significant business proposition as well. This is one great example for ‘Business with a heart’.

Related links:

[Introduction to ten types of Innovation]
[Innovation – Type 1 – RangDe]
[Innovation – Type 2 – RedBus]

Third sex, Third class, Third world

Let us talk about ‘Hijras’, known as ‘chakka’, ‘ali’, ‘napunsak’ depending on the state/language you belong to.

Hijra
Hijra

There is very little understanding among educated, elite Indians about life of Hijra. We normally see them begging in trains by showing strange gestures, which is often not accepted according to our societal norms. Our media (be it print, broadcast or movies) project them as strange characters, mainly associated with unusual sexual activities. In northern part of India I understand they are called during marriages for giving dance performance. One of my school friends, a qualified physician was the first one to provide some insights into Hijras, thanks to his education and experience in working with a bunch of NGOs. Upon our further discussion, we felt how non-inclusive our society is. We may boast ourselves having a rich culture and heritage (popularly known as bharathiya sanskruti), but have a long way to go!

Hijras are born male, who converted themselves into female by getting rid of male genitals. While my doctor friend says the root cause is not to clear (one of the reason being their hormonal imbalance by birth), which eventually gives them a ‘feel’ that they are not male. In such cases, according to medical science, a three step gender conversion is a solution. First he should consult a psychiatrist who can either help him to come out of the ‘feeling’ of becoming a female or mentally prepare them for a gender conversion operation. If the gender conversion becomes inevitable, he need go through a complex operation which will physically remove male genitals followed by some more psychological counseling, thereby ensuring that he get used to the new gender. The third and most important aspect is to have a well defined legal system, which can help the converted individual to be treated as a female in the society. She (erstwhile he) is legally entitled to apply for jobs (as females), get married (leaving the fact that she cannot reproduce) and enjoy all the societal benefits.

In India,  none of the above mentioned process/system exist. When an individual get a ‘feeling’ of becoming a female there is absolutely nobody to provide any sort of support. Over a period of time, these folks starts hating their male physique. With obvious lack of support from family (Imagine what would happen to an individual when he goes to his parents and says ‘I don’t feel like a boy; I want to become a girl’) and society they are forced to desert their families and join Hijra community. Upon joining, they are assigned a mentor (known as ‘didi’) who will provide some initial orientation. In order to go thro’ emasculation process (known as ‘nirvana’) the newly joined Hijra has to accumulate necessary money, which they can only do by begging. Even if the Hijra is educated, he is forced into begging because nobody is ready to offer any sort of employment.

After accumulating necessary money (and with the help of didi), the new joined Hijra meets a ‘self appointed’ doctor who will do the emasculation. This process is legally not allowed in India, hence performed behind the doors without proper precaution. Such a risky process can even result in the Hijra’s death. After going thro’ the unbearable pain for months together, finally the Hijra gets rid of his male identity. Now they are formally inducted as a Hijra with few ceremonies done as a part of their community. While the Hijra can take a small sigh of relief for attaining ‘nirvana’, life becomes exceptionally difficult from here on.

Hijras are not accepted in our country as human beings; Nobody is ready to rent house or allow them to eat in  restaurant even if they are ready to pay; Nobody is ready to offer any sort of employment; No hospital will treat them for their illness; No official documents (like passport, drivers license, ration card etc..) will be provided to them; They are not entitled to vote; There is no legal system in place by which they can officially declare themselves as female; In summary Hijras are not given a ‘human being’ status. Thanks to the support from Hijra community, they somehow manage to get a place to live. However they have only two choices when it comes to profession – Begging or prostitution. That’s the very reason why we see them begging in trains.

The very fact that there is no system exists for Hijras shows the maturity of our society. We are absolutely fine to listen about Hijras in Mahabharatha (when Arjun takes the role of Hijra, during their exile period) or worship our lord in form of ‘Ardhanarishwar’ (where lord shiva takes 50% male and female form) and claim it is something superior. But in reality, the situation is pole apart where Hijras are given third class treatment. There are few positive changes (one of the Hijras contested and won election in UP, TN government has offered ration cards for Hijras etc..) but that is way too slow considering there are about one million Hijras in India. There might be small pockets of development happened in the country, thanks to globalization, but we are far from creating an inclusive society.

No wonder we are still called as ‘Third world’ country!