Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Humans still beat machines by a mile (or more)

June 3, 2015

There is this constant spiel on how robots can uptake human jobs in the not so distant future. I had my own reservations about that. I for one, had always compared the natural evolution of human processes. For example, we may be writing far less after the invention of typewriter and word processor, but we do write with our mind as often as ever. May be the Input / output medium may not be a piece of paper with a pen, it’s still the organic human mind at work. Advanced robotics or Artificial Intelligence can all come. But to replace our good old neural network that collates and compiles our thinking, they have to go miles.  They need to develop the equivalent of emotion and sense. They need to smell a flower and call it by a name. That, isn’t going to be easy.

So with that basic framework, I chanced upon Marc Andreesen’s post.  He had squared it all up and with illustrations.  Please do read it if you want to get rid of your lump-of-labor inhibition.


Languages of a lesser God…?

July 11, 2013

Recently the Union Government has conceded classical status to Malayalam.  Malayalam is indeed a great language, no doubt.

But one question bothered me quite a bit… Which language is not…?

I checked the definition of `Classic’ and the consensus seems to be “Belonging to the highest rank or class, having lasting significance or worth”.  By that standard, almost every language irrespective of the popularity of its following or  the number that use or speak it can be safely regarded as classical because language in essence is nothing but a certain ethnic culture in an aural capsule.

While I was ruminating such abstract arguments, serendipity led me to this wonderful critique on the subject by Sunil Menon of Outlook.  There were these lines that I read, re-read and marveled at –

“Why should the law consecrate unequal status anyway..? Scr­­­ipt is an accident of history, a technological artefact; writing a special subset, not the source code. (Tulu and Malaya­lam once partook of the same script before one lapsed back into ‘nature’ and the other fash­ioned itself as an epitome of literacy.) On what grounds do you keep out script-less langua­ges that possess a rich lode of, say, epic poetry from the roll of honor—besides saying you are blinded by the cult of the book..? This is the nub of it. Our attitudes to literacy show this. Ever wondered why literacy is always a “mission”, bringing “enlightenment”? We have uncritically adopted the metaphors of colonial-era eva­ngelists, so that modern literacy is built on a grain on inverted self-loathing that transmits not just knowledge but self-loathing itself. That’s why education now equals de-racination; it distances its victim from traditional cultures. This breeds an anxiety that finds solace only in chauvini­stic affirmations, or tokenisms like the status of a language. It’s this whole complex loop of attitudes that comes to roost here.”

That’s quite some thunder.  Hope it triggers some serious re-think in the corridors that matter.


Why my walks are no longer a leggy march

March 12, 2013

Not sure if my walks have made me lighter or pushed down my blood sugar levels, but they have begun to add a lot of meaning to my existence. The long, solitary walks are such a pleasurable experience that I just can’t miss them even for a day.  Agreed since I had always preferred solitude to inane company but then the walks are indeed a world apart. I remember keeping my circle of friends limited on purpose so that I had fewer influencers to my decisions. That linearity of decision making process made it easy for me to readily own up their outcomes, both good and bad.  The buck just stopped with me and I love that.

I take the usual, boring route for my walk in this ever busy city. Staying bang in the middle of a city, I have no fallback to a quieter walking track.  Everywhere it is crowded and noisy.  Rather than getting used to it, I think the years of acquiescence have trained me to blank out the sights and drown the noises, at will.  No big deal that – I turn on the volume of my inner chatter and stay attentive to its machinations. The walk is no longer a leggy march, it becomes a sequential soliloquy or a series of well stringed Q&A. Way more funnier than having a friend to chat with.

The conversations begin and end with my conscious being as I delve deep into my grail. The observer, the listener and the talker in me is my own micro-conscious being, except that it becomes the macro during these walks.  That’s how all things around me vanish, all sounds get drowned.  The experience is bliss, for want of a better word.  But there is one problem, I fail to pick up from where I had left off the previous day.  So I thought I should pen them to keep track and here I go with my post # 1.

Go put your best foot forward, founder…!

July 10, 2012

Most often startup entrepreneurs wonder how big businesses get built even as they can’t get theirs past the gate.  My business brings me up close with several puzzled startup founders to whom I often relate this Forest analogy. Think of any business as an ecosystem, like a forest, and track the company’s growth from its small beginnings to large-scale maturity. In addition, the forest analogy gives us insight into the process of organizational renewal — a challenge that faces many big businesses even today.

The natural development of a forest, or forest succession begins in an open patch of land that provides equal access to sun and rain. Its initial colonizers are migrants, weeds, and wandering animals that spread seeds. These colonizers are the entrepreneurs of the ecosystem. They are attracted by the ready availability of small-scale resources and the absence of competition, a combination that enables everything to grow like crazy.

Creation requires destruction: Look for openings on disturbed ground — turbulent markets where information is scarce and navigation is unclear. What economists call market failures, entrepreneurs call opportunities.  This is what made me quit my job and start out on my own.

Never worry about the big businesses that look unbeatable. Look at the destructive close of a mature forest’s cycle to get a grip on this point. A forest fire ends the climax phase. The older tall trees, as they age, drop their lower branches on the ground and are also vulnerable to attack by bugs as they turn into standing firewood or the fuel. As the fuel builds and the forest becomes more tightly connected, fire becomes inevitable, culminating in conflagrations aided by parched land, dry grass and absence of fire tenders. Smug organizations have the weakest disaster management systems which a nimble startup can exploit to the hilt.

What if there is a forest with with great fire fighting systems…?  Many fledgling founders had asked me. My own analysis tells me forests need fire. Fire tests the system and breaks down the tall hierarchies (old trees) that monopolize the resources, recycling them into nutrients. Indeed, fire marks the completion of one cycle for the forest. It creates the open patches that attract the entrepreneurs. It makes way for variety to reenter the system, both in the form of the seeds and weeds and in the creation of multi-aged stands of the dominant species. Such an ecosystem is once again loosely connected because resources can flow through it in many ways. It is no longer vulnerable to being wiped out by a single event, and the perpetual cycle of forest succession begins again.

Go put your best foot forward.  Period.



Only the chosen one wins…!

May 25, 2012

Never ask “Why is it happening to me…?”

Instead, say “I am the chosen one…!”

Life situations are meant to be accepted than questioned. It is so because not everything is in our control. We can only play with the cards that we are dealt. Still at the first whiff of trouble, we grumble “But, why me?” As if it’s ok if someone else were to go through hell. Let’s call it the loser’s camp.

Every life situation presents itself over a course of time, seemingly not always in a rational, cause-to-effect sequence. That’s when we say things happen at random, future is uncertain etc. But I strongly suspect everything happens with a definitive cause and effect relationship except that we can’t possibly relate every effect to its rightful cause. I may catch fever, but it takes even a trained Doctor to run several tests, try out a few drugs before he could detect the exact cause, diagnose the nature of the ailment and prescribe the right drug. In such unquantifiable situations, the members of the loser’s camp settle for the puzzled pitch “Why is it happening to me…?”

In this camp, people refuse to go about their lives as usual after having asked that “question”.   A sense of resignation slowly takes over as they lose interest in almost everything.   That momentary wallow in self-pity drowns them and those around as well.  They give in to their destiny so readily instead of coming to terms with it or exploring ways to get out of it.  Curiously, asking that question “Why Me” automatically “shifts the blame” to someone or something else besides us for the situation we are in.  It allows us to pass on the responsibility to own up and fix things and makes us a bit less sadder.   Not many realize that the `blame shift’ gets us only a temporary reprieve, without alleviating the misery.   It qualifies us as `escapists’ or `shirkers’ – big time.

Being a shirker – how does that help or pacify us over a seemingly hopeless situation, is a much larger question. We shirk because we delude that we didn’t ask for the misery,  so are no longer responsible to fix it. Things have reached a dead end as far as we are concerned and now it’s somebody else’s problem to find a solution.  We somehow wish it fades as it had come about, by the natural turn of events and with passage of time.  The reprieve that we momentarily experience does not originate from lessened pain, but comes from our delusion that we can `rest easy’ ( now that the blame has shifted).  It gets us the very “rest entitlement” that we have been seeking out.

Can we get any more absurd with our reasoning…?  Never.

Logically, every problem ends only with finding a solution, not by palming it off to someone else.  If you are hungry, it is not enough if someone else eats.  When we face a life problem, it is for us to solve.  If shirking from it calms us down, it shows absence of initiative and drive that is badly needed to get out of the hole.

That brings us to the opposite camp that loves to look at every problem in the eye and deal with it as if (s)he is the chosen one.  Let’s call it the Winners’ Camp.  Anyone who is able to face up to a problem can meet it mid-way and solve it to his/her advantage.  That’s why it is important to think “I am the chosen one”  instead of  asking “Why Me”.  When you do that, you are playing to win by elevating yourself to a higher realm of awareness, rising above every one else to own up, face the problem and crack it.   You are being responsible.  It is emphatic and makes a statement,  instead of  faking a question.  By owning up, you are not whining or even attempting to shift the blame.   You see your affliction clearly and get down to work to get rid of it.   You are courageous and you know how to regain your composure quickly.  You get back up to walk each time you fall down.  Success never eludes you if you play to win.  That’s exactly what you just did by affirming “I am the chosen one”.

…Packing off on holidays…!

April 18, 2012

…So, it’s holiday season for the family.  We have zeroed in on Club Mahindra’s floating cottages on the Ashtamudi backwaters in Kerala to spend our next seven days starting Saturday, the 21st April.  Hope to do some live blogging from my holiday destination too, since it’s my own way of unwinding…The waters, the breeze, the ambience and the cooing birds (hope they are there aplenty) should form a nice backdrop to stir the connoisseur and the casual writer in me.

But right now, it’s not exactly about the vacation.  It’s the anxiety of packing as I keep adding to my check list. Camera charged ? Check. Cell phone chargers packed in..?  Check.  Food coupons carried..?  Check. Swimsuits..?  Check. Cash and Credit cards..? Check.  This is the trouble if you are not just a holiday freak, but are hell bent on giving the family a great time.  If my daughter creases her forehead even once ( ” Papa, we forgot the chargers home, I can’t text my friends..!), it’s enough to screw the holiday fun.  I see them happy and I am thrilled to bits.

What’s adding to the tension is my ever vigilant wife who is taking the flight only on the D day.  Normally if she travels with us, I don’t have to worry about these chores. That’s been her department ever since we got married and my task was simple – Just look ahead to the vacation…Period.

Thank you, Meenakshi…Haven’t said that in a long time…Have I…?

Destiny – a key to success (Speech for my daughter series)

November 11, 2010

Destiny (or Fate) refers briefly to an event or a course of events that will inevitably happen in future.
Many believers buy the theory that no matter how systematically we plan our affairs, the end result is determined by the randomness of destiny. Be it in topping the class test or winning a Formula One car race, fate plays a major role. You could be a hard-working student with straight A’s in class tests, yet your answer sheets could be misplaced. The car tyres of a well trained and experienced Formula One motorist with an all-win track record could as well burst, costing him the race !!!
Success – when seen as an outcome is closely linked to destiny. But does that really mean we should thump down our creative instincts and surrender to destiny completely…? Should the student stop working hard at his subjects…? Can that Formula One motorist pull out of his training regimen and bank on his luck to win the next race…? That could be disastrous.
The difference lies in our perception of the sequence of events that is in our control and those that are not. Destiny, by its very nature is not entirely within our control to manipulate. We shouldn’t waste time figuring out how destiny will shape our future. As we all know, besides destiny, there is always an element of predictability, a cause and effect relationship in all things we do that are directly influenced by our efforts. If you buy the right ticket, reach the airport early and board the plane headed for New York, you don’t land in Khandahar unless you are hijacked. In effect, it means destiny to a significant extent is controllable. It could be a seen as a “demanding friend” and not always an arrogant big brother.
Why did I call destiny a demanding friend…?
If everything is pre-determined, living beings need not be endowed with the fine powers of creative thinking. Just as the course of a natural event like a sun-rise and sun-set, we need only wake up each morning, leave things to destiny and go back to bed at night – a clear no-brainer. Had that been the intent, why have we been gifted with a brain that is wired to think, plan and execute…? If we know to swim we control our destiny by not drowning even if the boat we are in springs a leak. I can say with conviction that destiny is not some omnipotent external engine, it is just a cog in our wheel. It resides within us and depends on us to do our part of the job so that it can take over and play its role to perfection. It is demanding to the point that we use our brains and do what is within our control so that like a true friend, it can influence the outcome by taking care of what is beyond us.

And success, like someone said is not a destination, it’s a journey. We should keep striving hard, the destiny will play its role and we could end up as victors in all that we set out to do.

The moral quicksand

October 13, 2010

Worst moments of life sometimes are not so personal. Journalists documenting a war, rebellion or such crisis may hate to see suffering, but that’s precisely what makes a good copy. Here’s Paul Reyes of NYT on the constant conflict of personal values with career imperatives that quietly consumes and sucks you into the quicksand of minding business other than one’s own. He covered the mortgage crisis since it blew up in 2007 and had to enter several houses deserted by vanquished owners, looking up letters and images that conveyed deep sentiments and personal anguish, not without riding a guilt-trip of gut wrenching invasion of privacy that was never intended.

Documenting a foreclosure requires invasion of privacy—an embarrassment shared by the sheriff’s deputy, a trash-out crew, a journalist or photographer. Having spent the last couple of years writing about this crisis myself, I can say that the embarrassment never fades. The sentiment in letters and photographs long abandoned never evaporates completely, no matter how moldered. This sense of invasion, oddly paired with an uncomfortable intimacy, is part of the voyeuristic tension of documenting the homes that people leave behind—sometimes in a rush that scatters toys and trophies and love letters, sometimes with the kind of order and neatness that speaks to a stubborn pride.

Pride in nationality – A speech for my daughter

October 3, 2010

Pride is an emotion that relates to an overwhelming sense of personal glory and achievement. But if I had secured my nationality by birth – something in which I neither had any choice nor a conscious role to play, should I be feeling proud or is it just my good fortune? Guess it’s the latter. So for the time being, I shall just stop at being grateful to my parents for that ovarian lottery I got. I shall save my pride for that future moment in my life, when I truly feel I’ve done my bit to advance the cause of my motherland, in whatever little way I possibly could. To me, that should bring a sense of glory and personal achievement and that, I guess will make me feel proud to be an Indian.

So what’s that big future moment that I’m talking of…?

I shall get off the block with my sense of awareness. How well do I know my country, its people, their inadequacies and insecurities..? When I think of my country, honestly my direct perception is limited to the few people around my home, my school and a few places I’ve visited in the past. The rest of my knowledge about our country is from what I’ve gleaned from a profit obsessed media (for which everything is `breaking news’) or what I’ve inferred from reports by someone else. And then I also need to look inwards and size up my natural strengths and recognize my limitations. Identify domains where I can be of good use, to bring about a “real” difference to as many as I could within a finite time frame.

The great deeds done by our great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rani Lakshmi Bhai and so many others have given us a great history. But it’s the future that we have to be concerned with. I gather, our primary responsibility is to address the futuristic issues of how to live in an integrated world, a global village that overlooks all geographic boundaries and cultural inhibitions. We must preserve our culture by all means, but not to the extent of getting fanatical about it and refusing to acknowledge the benefits of adopting the proven best practices from others.

So I look across the world. I feel sad as we still find place amongst the countries of the “Third World”. I realize my big moment is around the corner, only if we could move up a few notches quickly and get listing under the “First World”… How did the first world countries get there…? Reasons are not far to seek. They had the right mix of individual enterprise, backed by government support, propelled by enormous political will. Of the three, Individual enterprise is something that is within our control. I take stock and look up our population data. India, has a population exceeding 1.1 billion, of which 60% are below 40 years. Stacked against most other countries where an ageing population constitutes the majority, we clearly enjoy a demographic dividend. It presents a perfect foil for us to demonstrate our individual enterprise and leverage the relative economic boom that we are currently witnessing, especially at a time when the most other developed nations are struggling to get rid of the adverse effect of the recent meltdown.

I am hopeful. The ball is rolling. CEOs of some of the Fortune-500 companies already are Indians. Indra Nooyi of Pepsico, Vikram Pandit of Citigroup, Shantanu Narayan of Adobe Systems, Lakshmi Mittal of Arcelor-Mittal, Ramani Iyer of Harford Financial to name a few. I can see the effect rubbing off on our enterprising young minds as many IIT and IIM graduates are starting up ventures on their own, brushing aside seven figure salaries offered by top global corporations. Now what remains is the government support to their initiatives like the Israelis do and get it propelled by political will. If that happens while I am still around, I shall be happiest to stand corrected and say “I am not just lucky to be Indian, I sure am proud about it.”

If I am not taking a decision, leave me alone

February 25, 2010

More often than not, I take quick decisions. Even I risk being impulsive. But there are some areas where I consider many parameters and conjure up arguments for and against and weigh each of them carefully. At times, I don’t decide at all. But I’ve noticed that my mental process is active in the background, adding in more and more arguments that strengthen some theories while rejecting others. I have a question now – does this structural mindset make me a good or bad decision maker? Should I change? If so, should I freeze up or ease up?

That’s what I call my comatose zone and while I am in one, I prefer solitude much to the chagrin of others that are impacted by that decision, even remotely. Some get vexed but retain calm not wanting to bother me. Others slightly adventurous dare to quiz what’s going on in my mind. What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is being suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice.

I do it all the time. I practice solitude. It opens up doors and windows of my mind, gives me new perceptions and clarity of thought. Fills me up with renewed energy and my imagination takes wings. Deep burrows in my mind are opened and treasures revealed. I think the great omission in human life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space, free from the outside pressures, which is the incubator of the spirit. It’s a nice feeling when the room is filled with air saturated with a bouquet of silence. Solitude helps me escape not from others, but from myself for I see in others a reflection of self. And heck, it never hurts to rest my body and mind for a while if that means revival of spirit and my creativity.