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Monday, September 10, 2007

Flipside of corporate honeymoon

I resigned from my current job couple of weeks back and that began my 30 day notice period otherwise known as corporate honeymoon.

During this period no one asks you what time you come in, what time you leave, since typically there is a handover involved you dump a lot of the work on the new guy. In mycase since my team is in a mess, there is no replacement for me and thus there is no handover involved (there is no work either).

Now a lot of people enjoy this period, why wouldn't one. You have no responsibilities and no deliverables and you still get paid! However, I have been wanting to get out of this place sooner and not because I am very eager to join my new job but I am finding the environment very frustrating and choking to be honest and this is not necessarily due to the fault of anyone - things just automatically would play themselves out this way.

The reasons for my frustration are straightforward - the very same people who would go out of their way for knowing what i thought or felt now no longer talk to you (don't blame them, they don't need to talk to me), the work I did and which was valued uptill now (apparently i must say now) is no longer acknowledged - they don't need too.

And partly this is my fault. I genuinely cared for my team and the work that we did. Now I am no longer part of it. In fact I am on my out to another firm (and team) which technically is a competitor. But I still want everyone to treat me as if I am still a part of my erstwhile team. That can't happen - no one has anything against me personally, this is purely professional stuff and I can appreciate their view point. It's just that I am taking time in gulping down the 'real world' consequences of my actions.

And it's not as if people are behaving strangely at a personal level. No, at a personal level I still mingle with everyone, we go out for lunch together. Will have a farewell party and I (and them) would be sad to see me part - but that is purely at a personal level.

I will get used to it the next time I am in this situation - but then again I won't be in that situation. I am much more likely to be on a gardening leave (yeah cutting grass on my lawn)! However at present I have to get through the last few days here, take a break and then I am live at Nariman Point!

That's it for now...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Free trade and Stephen Covey

I find it surprising that people who otherwise are in favor of free markets go in defensive mode when it comes to free trade. I have interacted with quite a few people (who are well educated) who support markets and competition but when it comes to trade some how their nationalist feelings get activated and they go into protective mode.

In my view this arises due to a mistrust and a narrow view of trade. Somehow buying goods from a foreign country is bad but selling goods to them is good. Somehow an Ambani making crores more is considered preferable to a Walmart making a few crores - what difference does it make to ordinary Indians on whether Walmart makes money or Reliance or Mittal or Tatas or Birlas?

In my view this mindset can be explained from an analogy borrowed from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People In that he had argued that humans have 3 states of being - dependence, independence and interdependence with each being a higher/more effective state of being as compared to its predecessor state.

The fact that at a personal level, interdependence is a higher level as compared to dependence or independence is fairly trivial and easily acceptable to everyone the problem comes when you extend it to countries and trade.

Interdependence is at the heart of free trade and most people miss this point. They look at trade purely from a narrow dependence vs independence angle (completely missing the interdependence angle). If you are not independent then you are dependent is how most people view things and hence they chase self sufficiency. Self sufficiency is a mirage and a costly one at that...

There is no point chasing self sufficiency just for the heck of it - not even in food or oil. We should stop viewing America or Europe from the old imperialist angle and be proud of the fact that they are also dependent on us just as we are dependent on them - making us interdependent and intensify our interdependedness...

That's if for now...

Sports vs Soaps

I have always considered myself as being a more 'intellectual' or 'forward' person due to my dislike for Soaps and preference for Sports as a choice of viewing on television. But is that really the case?

My arguments for my views has always been that sports is more action packed, its uncertain - so more excitement, it is a test of skill of the players and so on...

But when I think about it - ultimately both soaps and sports are designed for entertainment. Sports in fact is increasingly getting more and more entertainment oriented rather than skill oriented - 20/20 cricket for example. Skill etc is incidental.

Further these days soaps are also full of uncertainty with the directors responding (playing) to their audience views/expectations.

I am amazed to see how dramatic turns a particular soap takes just when everyone was expecting things to play out in a certain manner. It is this ability of the directors to change the script and respond to viewer fatigue that keeps interest in soaps going. In a lot of cases these soaps are more interesting than a boring one dayer between Australia and India wherein the result is a forgone conclusion or those boring F1 races when Schumi was winning 80% of the races from start to end.

I believe this superiority complex that i have is just my mental construct than anything tangible. The key take away for me from this discussion is to put things in perspective and not to mentally degrade the intelligence of people who are very much into soaps vis-a-vis sports.

That's it for now...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Our educational rat race

This is going to be my shortest post till date.

This is results season (class XII results are out and class X results are out in a couple of days). Every year during this period I ponder over what our education system is doing to young brains. I wrote something last year (click here)

I am reading this book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman (just started but very interesting so far). Therein I came across this statement attributed to Howard Gardner which struck a chord with me. Mr. Gardner is (was?) a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education.

“…We should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them to identify their natural competencies and gifts and cultivate those. There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to succeed and many many different abilities that will help you get there.”

I think this is a very profound statement and one which we (especially we) need to take seriously. Given this benchmark, our education (rather exam or evaluation system) is in a very very pathetic state.

I think its time we step back and pull our future out from the rat race where every young brains go over text books 14-15 hours a day just to get 1 or 2 extra points.

I don’t see us producing too many original thinkers from in the current process. It’s high time; Our future is at stake here.

That’s it for now…

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How we systematically encourage corruption

This is a true account of the state of things in my native place. The Municipal corporation there has constructed a central shopping place and it leases out shops for long duration (100 years or so) for a very nominal rent (about 1% or so of true 'economic' rent). The original allotment happened a few years (maybe a few decades) back and the way the system works now is like this: A person who already has a shop there and wants to close down has to return the shop back to the municipal corporation or find some other person who wants to do business in that shop and get the lease transferred to him. Now, there is no transfer fee charged by the municipal corporation, the rent remains the same and the original owner is not 'supposed' to charge any transfer fee either.

Now, the right to occupy that shop for a few more decades for a very notional rent is a very valuable asset that existing shopkeepers have. They are supposed to transfer that right/asset free of cost. Hello... are we living in utopia?

Now transactions between existing and prospective shopkeepers do take place regularly. It is anybody's guess as to whether they actually happen as they are intended or there is money involved. I know for sure that money is involved. I don't think it takes too much intelligence to imagine that money is involved. And why should it not? Existing shopkeepers own a valuable right and they have every right to profit from it. I don't blame the shop keepers at all. They are acting 'rationally' in demanding a price for transferring their asset. All we are doing through well intentioned regulations is encourage corruption. People respond to incentives and if incentives are strong enough they will cheat, deceive or whatever...

Now, if the municipal corporation needs to stop this black money transactions, it has two simple options.

Firstly, it can start charging 'economic' rent for the shops, this will automatically reduce the transfer price of the asset.

Secondly, it can legally allow the transfer for monetary consideration. this will bring the under the table dealings out in the open and the state can collect taxes on the capital gains that accrue to transferor shopkeepers.

Either way, the state ends up gaining more money and there is no change to how business is conducted anyhow. So why not do it?

Two reasons again. Firstly, vested interests. The clerk, the officer in the municipal corporation who approve of the transfer have a power and given their knowledge of money involved, it allows them to earn a commission.

Secondly, this denial. Our political leaders suffer from this socialism ideals wherein they simply deny that 'market' would work in a certain way irrespective of rules against it if there are sufficiently strong incentives (Gambling is illegal, but we have gambling of more than billions of dollars on cricket alone).

Don't fight markets. Regulate them and allow them to prosper. The solutions generated in a market environment are more likely to be optimal than solutions reached in parliament or legislatures (I am a die hard free marketeer, you see!).

That's it for now...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

It's the PATH that matters not the LEVEL

What a miserable time to restart this blog.

I am very miserable these days. Haven't quite felt so miserable in quite a few years and I am wondering why.

Analyzing my situation carefully, if I had presented to myself my current situation (at least the broad contours of it) say six months back - i wouldn't have been delighted but wouldn't have been surprised. In fact I would have said this is exactly how I expect things to pan out and would have taken the situation on balance. If so, why am I so very miserable?

The answer lies in the path things take to reach their current level. It does not matter where things are, what matters more is how things got there. When as in my case, you get very close to realising something very important and you get pulled down at the last moment you get miserable - notwithstanding the fact that six months back you did not really expect to achieve that goal. That is not important. What is important is that you were taken up and up by the situation and then brought down. It is that emotional roller coaster that you've had makes one (and that has made me) miserable.

To completely change field, I have often wondered why were investors so miserable when markets crashed May-June last year or late February-early March this year. If the market came down from 14000 to 10000 - so what? The market is still up more than 3 times from its low a few years back - i would have thought if you were told in say June 05 that the market would be at 10000 in June 06, most people would have gladly taken that - in fact put more money in. Then why do you hear stories of 'blood on the street' etc. Again, its the path that matters.

So how do I get out of the misery I find myself in? Simple, by making my heart focus on the level and stop thinking about the path. Sounds simple ain't it? Yeah it does sound simple, I have been at it for the past few hours and it sounds like any other theory!

As they say, in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice - that's a whole different ball game!

That's it for now and it's good to be back!