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.
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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 !!!
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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.
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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.
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Why did I call destiny a demanding friend…?
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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.

Capitalism rescued the Chilean miners…?

October 17, 2010

The private company that owned the mine was admittedly so broke that it neither had the equipment nor the millions of dollars needed to rescue the miners that got trapped half mile down below.

If those miners had been trapped like this 25 years ago anywhere on earth, they would be dead. What happened over the past 25 years that meant the difference between life and death for those men?

Short answer: the Center Rock drill bit.

This is the miracle bit that drilled down to the trapped miners. Center Rock Inc. a private company in Berlin, Pa with just 74 employees. The drill’s rig came from Schramm Inc. in West Chester, Pa. Seeing the disaster, Center Rock’s president, Brandon Fisher, called the Chileans to offer his drill. Chile accepted. The miners are alive.

Longer answer: The Center Rock drill, heretofore not featured on websites like Engadget or Gizmodo, is in fact a piece of tough technology developed by a small company in it for-the-money, for profit. That’s why they innovated down-the-hole hammer drilling. If they make money, they can do more innovation.

This profit = innovation dynamic was everywhere at that Chilean mine. The high-strength cable winding around the big wheel atop that simple rig is from Germany. Japan supplied the super-flexible, fiber-optic communications cable that linked the miners to the world above.

Samsung of South Korea supplied a cellphone that has its own projector. Jeffrey Gabbay, the founder of Cupron Inc. in Richmond, Va., supplied socks made with copper fiber that consumed foot bacteria, and minimized odor and infection.

So my ex-boss has been vindicated. He often asked “Do you know what is the 11th commandment..?” Before we could be through with our blinking, he replies “Profit” !!!

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.”

Be a problem creator

July 17, 2010

Given a choice people would resist a shift from their comfort zones. They live with a feeling that the status quo has everything they want from life and why alter it so long as they are at peace with it. It makes people keep at doing stuff they’ve been doing for years together and at the end of it, define it as their career. It has clearly not been their bidding. It happened to them by default. Let’s call them `the chancers’.

A great majority of careerists are chancers. I’ve talked to some of my own friends belonging to that set and have found most of them unhappy over where they wound up. Many tried to switch careers midway, but it’s a cruel world out there that didn’t let them veer off the course because they got labeled already. “You were an accountant for the last 20 years, now how can we trust you with marketing” – is the refrain. They go try again and nothing happens. But then bills have to be paid and they are forced to stick with the soul-sucking career they’ve gotten into.

So what should they do to get around it…? First off, they should create a problem before they can solve it. Recognize that you are cut for something different and you won’t settle short. Settling for the status quo is easy, but it bleeds you from inside. Make it your mission to get to where your heart is. Work towards it. Use your weekends and workday evenings to talk to people who are in the field of your choice and get to know its intricacies, finding out ways to “get in”. But the best method is to start freelancing, go blog your views on it. Take on the mighty and the frivolous, but make sure you have solid arguments that stand out. When I say freelancing, I really mean it in a literal sense. Do it for free for a few guys and make them see how good you are at it. You may not make money initially, but you are building referrals and even track record in a small way. Use it to your advantage until the moment of reckoning finally arrives. It will.

Most importantly, never give up, never compromise. Go after it. Get it.

This is real stay put

March 23, 2010

Where else, from The Onion

“In the summer of 1980, MIT graduates Donald Faber and Peter Haberle moved into an empty two-car garage and started work building their first ever personal home computer. Almost 30 years later, what began as a humble two-man operation has since grown into an even more humble, even more cramped computer company, based out of an even smaller single-car garage.”

That’s what you call staying put, really 🙂

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.

“When I get better at…..

February 23, 2010

I was reading this nice post by Marshal Goldsmith in the HBR blog.

Marshal talks about a curious test developed by his friend Dr.Nathaniel Branden to study change in personality traits. Branden simply challenges his customers to pick the one behavior pattern for personal change that will make the biggest difference.

“This is how he helps people decide whether change is worth it: Five to eight people sit around a table, and each person selects one practice to change. One person begins the exercise by saying: “When I get better at…” and completes the sentence by mentioning one benefit that will accompany this change. For example, one person may say: “When I get better at being open to differing opinions, I will hear more great ideas.”

I tried it with myself. I am way too impulsive and have both benefited and been beaten by it. So I said “When I get better at being less impulsive, my decisions will have a firmer footing.” The next I want to try out with my impatience to leave cash idle for long by saying “When I get better at sitting on cash, I’ll have enough left to monetize great opportunities”.

What did you say?

The pursuit of dreams

February 23, 2010

David Schwartz, the author of Magic of Thinking Big asserts “Successful people are not supermen. Success does not require a super-intellect. Nor is there anything mystical about success. And success isn’t based on luck … Believe Big.”

I can use a twist to that surmise.

Going after one’s belief ain’t easy. Have no illusions about it. The secret of actualizing belief is endurance. In Economics, they say “markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”. In essence it means there is a high likelihood of you going broke before your bets begin to pay off. The real deal is acquiring the capability to sustain yourselves while being “in the trenches”. That phase – figuring out how long before you get there – is crucial, when belief-morphing-into-reality is still a grindingly slow work-in-progress. Lasting it out without being crushed will be the real determinant.
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Busting the Beijing myth – It’s China after all!

February 11, 2010

William Fung, Li & Fung’s managing director of Li & Fung Ltd., a century-old Hong Kong–based sourcing company which manages a 40-economy sourcing network, calls his company’s recent record “flat-world success”. Excerpts from his interview –

“The existing measurements of trade are very much antiquated. When the president of the United States says, “We’re running a trade deficit with China,” he’s working off an erroneous base for measurement. The way we determine a product’s country of origin is based on something called “major transformation,” rather than value-added processes. If the major transformation is final assembly, and that occurs in China, the product will be said to be made in China and exported back to the U.S. — even if most of the value of that product is actually manufactured in the United States. In other words, under that system of measurement, the country that gets credit for making the item may not be the one that gets the majority of the economic benefits.

For example, look at a laptop today. Chances are that the monitor is made in Taiwan, the memory is from some plant in Penang, the assembly might be in China, but “Intel Inside” is the most expensive component. Because it’s assembled in China, they slap “Made in China” on it, and it becomes part of the U.S. trade deficit with China.”

I’ve often wondered why Chinese consumers make do with quality that sucks. The fact if one were to believe Mr.Fung goes like this.

“In China, there has always been a dichotomy between the industry that supplies the domestic markets and the industry that supplies exports, world-class products. If you were setting up a world-class factory in China, for example, you could set it up tax-free, but you couldn’t do so if it were for domestic products. Also, the export sector has been whipped into shape by companies like ours and customers around the world who demand compliance with rules or standards involving technology, speed of response, quality, health and safety, the environment, and other issues. The domestic side is not faced with the same compliance issues. So the hundreds of thousands of factories supplying the domestic market are generally of lower quality…. The big thing in China that will provide its next growth is to satisfy the local consumer by merging these two sectors…. Chinese consumers are like any other consumers; they just want the best product their money can buy, whether it’s from India or China or anyplace else.”

On its artificially depreciated currency –

“Everyone thinks China is such a juggernaut, but it has a serious weakness, one that reminds me of Japan in the 1970s and ’80s: a lot of production capacity, but no raw materials. China has some cotton but is still importing a lot from Pakistan and the United States. It has almost no wood. All the metals are imported. The only energy source China has in abundance is coal, which is highly polluting. China is very vulnerable, because it is subject to worldwide fluctuations in the prices of raw materials.”

“When the RMB [renminbi] appreciated [in 2005–07], China fell into a fairly uncompetitive situation. Now, China believes that it can be competitive if its industrial base, especially for exported goods, moves away from the high-cost coastal regions and into the interior. Until that happens, China is unlikely to let the renminbi appreciate, because doing so would put the country in a position of being vulnerable to changes in materials prices.”

Well, it may not be the complete picture. I can think of Chinese military might that’s quite formidable. No country would settle for cheap ammo for its armed forces. So it’s not all bad quality after all. But Mr. Fung’s contention seems plausible. I whisper “Trust, but verify”. It’s China, after all…!!!