Friday, August 22, 2014

Of Dragons and Dragon Boating!

Today is one of those many days when I decide to get back to writing. I have not gotten to do much of writing in the recent past, other than the boring business case justifications and recommendations at office. So, I do not exactly know how much of creativity is left in me. Nonetheless, getting back to it :)

So, this is the second time I moved countries since the last blog, and I have come to call Singapore my new home. To be honest, I thought the 25 square-km island, which is a one-city-country was a bit cold for me in the initial days. Not that I blame the place but I guess that's the way of life here. People are too busy to notice your existence, always rushing and preoccupied with their own respective businesses.

My first few days on this little island was busy settling-in, getting comfortable with my not so fancy but super expensive house (oh yes, Indians have a terrible habit of converting everything back to Indian Rupees and complain how expensive everything is!), trying to figure out my way to get set in terms of my own routine. And the routine was: at-office-working, at-gym-working-out, back-home-to-crash and back-to-office-again. 

One of those days when I was performing my usual ritual of working out at the office gym, I was approached by someone who was familiar enough to exchange a smile but unfamiliar for me to strike a conversation: 

"Hey there, you are pretty regular at the gym and I see you are quite fit, why don't you come and try rowing with us?"

These words sounded so refreshing to me, as I had lost all hopes of making new friends or meeting new people by then (I did try getting hooked onto the meet-up groups/other forms of networking groups but some of them were too much of a closed-group already or too crazy for my own good or I was simply not lucky enough to find the right kind of people). By then, I had heard enough about the dragon boat team at office, had seen some mailers floating around as they keep winning races all the time :)

I decided to give it a shot and went and checked over the internal portal for the details; In the meantime one other friend had met another dragon boater and told them that they should try reaching me as I might be interested. Okay, so I joined my first training that Sunday afternoon.

The ignorant me thought its going to be an upper body affair and my arms are going to be muscular etc., only to discover that rowing is a complete body workout, its starts from your legs kicking to exert an upthrust that transmit the energy to pull waters, and the rowing motion is really generated by your core's twist; the only thing your arms do is to lock the paddle in place and dig it into the water. Alright, I realize that's too much technical details, let me stop at that :)

Apart from all the physical workout and getting fitter business, I love it for another important reason! I have made some really good friends, the people I hang out that most, in this dear city! I want to go running, or swimming, or shopping, or a relaxed dinner, or just chill out for a coffee, I have friends and great company, thanks to the dragon boat team!

This is the time I realized the power of an affinity network, the way it could help someone's assimilation in a new country, be the ecosystem and support in every which way. I am so glad I am a part of dragon boating, it definitely feels great to learn a new sport and have a sense of belonging to a good community of friends!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

New found love!

Please meet Bubble, the new addition to cheer up my life!



Thursday, April 21, 2011

The paradigm of pleasing!

Sometimes it makes me wonder why do we do many things that we do today.

In the corporate world, companies put in a lot of effort towards keeping their customers happy so that they can retain them. Employees want to please their boss so that they get a good rating in their performance appraisals. Organizations work to keep their employees happy so that the company fairs well in the employee satisfaction surveys or be called the best place to work. We can go on citing many more examples like these.

In personal lives, we go that one step beyond and throw more surprises to the people around us. Husband gifts his wife diamonds on her birthday to keep her delighted. Parents buy the child anything that it would ask for so that the child is happy. Similarly, many more.

By now, you would have guessed where I am inching towards. On one hand is nice to know that people are being valued for, as to what their likes are while the on other hand it makes me wonder if we are using some tactics to attain something easier than the normal route.

If we rewind back a few years, there was no such effort made. We all had certain discipline and certain system in place and that's about it. No special effort was taken to please or delight people. Things were taken at face value and people were objective about their dealings. Companies did not budget huge sums of money on customer retention or acquisition. People did not go out of the way to delight their spouses or surprise their children. It is a paradigm shift in the way we think and the way we work.

Is it a healthy sign that we are evolving a culture of keeping others happy? Or, is this a shortcut to glory by keeping others pleased?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Side-effects of an MBA!

Dedicated
To all my fellow-MBAs
and
aspiring MBAs

Its been a while since I wrote. Obviously, I do not have a PTM (Primary Target Market to put in MBA terms) for my blog but I write for myself. It is to keep alive my zeal for writing and a means express myself. Of late, I really have not been writing as much as I should be. The last 8 months of MBA away from the country has changed my world completely. Needless to say, the time-crunch associated with the demanding schedule of a B-School.

I resolved to myself to break that behavior and get back to doing things which I enjoy doing. A good point to start with is to write about what my last few months of MBA has done to me! The number of management theories, the frameworks, the analysis mechanisms and the management best practices you learn are sometimes detrimental to your normal cognitive process aka common sense.

This post might be a slight exaggeration in some cases and subtle in some others. Never mind, just enjoy the post for the heck of it!

Side effect number 1 - head reeling with numbers

Now, whenever I go out, I cant just stick to the purpose of my going out. I tend to look out for other things in the angst of keeping my eyes and ears open. Even if I to a super market, I immediately put a number against the size of the store, count the number of people working there, how they are assigned tasks, what does the supervisor do, body language and enthusiasm of their employees, the idle time, how often they replenish their inventory on the shelf, which are the brands displayed prominently and which others are given the back-seat, how many advertisements are displayed, order of arrangement, gauge their fixed costs, extrapolate the sales volume, turnover etc. And in the mind make a judgement whether the business is profitable or not. All of this in the 15-20 mins of my shopping experience there!

From my previous paragraph, you would have guessed how much of logical judgements and arithmetic would be churning in my head even in a supposed to be mindless shopping experience. That too, from someone who is not greatly fond of numbers! Once upon a time, I hated number-crunching and 8 months into an MBA, I have come in terms of realization that I cant do away with them but to make friends with numbers and work in harmony. LOL!

Side effect number 2 - critic, critic, critic!

There is this new critic in me who is always screaming and telling me to look through things. "Stop taking things at their face-value" it yells! I stopped believing in brands. The little amount of marketing I have learnt is enough to tell me to strip brands naked and value them for the substance and not their image. For some of the products I was extremely loyal to, I am beginning to get seconds thoughts. I really don't know if it is good or bad!

Side effect number 3 - Viewpoint!

Now with that myopic satisfaction and vision of having learnt business models and process, the different industries and their benchmarks, success stories and failures, leadership and strategies, I think I have shaped up my own world-view and developed a viewpoint for everything. I can speak about anything and everything under the sun. That too with the conviction that my point is my point, right or not, I ought to have it. But honestly, can you develop a random viewpoint for any random thing, randomly? Phew!!!

Side effect number 4 - Cost Vs benefit

This is the worst of them all. With the number bug bitten and the nervous system tuned to send wrong signals affecting the actions, I behave strangely. I tend to assign a number against every damn thing, even if it is an emotion. Certain things I have never done before have suddenly become a part of my normal behavior. Let me give you an example. If I were to go to India, first question is how much is the flight fare? Next is low long am I going to stay there? Third, how many people am I going to meet? Then, agenda of meeting? Important? Urgent? Alternatives? etc., etc., The older me would not have done it. If I feel like going home, I just go. The overall effect now: I am abnormal!

Side effect number 5 - It depends!

After going through the entire rigmarole and ritual of MBA, having learnt to do a lot of reflection and analysis, the answer that all B-school grads give for any question, at any point in time, at any place is "It depends"! Now, don't ask me why. If you want an answer to it, take an MBA course yourself. LOL!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Values!

Value is something which is spoken multiple contexts, by multiple people. An organization would have created a value system for their employees, clients, suppliers and other stake holders. A marketing team in the organization would have value proposition for their customers of their specific products. A school would instill value education to its pupils. Individuals hold values dearest to them and hold them high all through their lives.

This broader scope of values, makes it difficult for us to understand the underlying commonality. So what are these values? Asking some basic questions will help us appreciate them better.

How do we define values for ourselves?

There could be multiple definitions of values. But my favorite definition is - A value is something which is a reflection of an individual's or an organization's or an entity's personal integrity. It is the reflection of an internal self which will not be compromised to an external force.

How do we choose values?

There are multiple interpretations of choosing a value. Here is a broad definition of the process of choosing a value. Firstly a value is something that is freely chosen. Secondly, the choice made must be from a list of alternatives. Thirdly, the consequence of choosing a particular alternative should be considered and then choice be made. A predecessor to this process is value ranking where the individual examines, ranks, prioritizes and then makes a choiceful decision.

Why are certain values close to our heart?

The sum total of values of all the individuals in this world could account up to a zillion. But then people do not choose values or hold them dear to their heart just because everyone else around them is doing so. There are certain values which the individuals cherish. It is these set of values that the individual feel proud of, when they posses it. They affirm their choice publicly.

Why do values change time to time, for the same person?

Choosing values and living up to the ideals of these values is a continuous process. As individuals grow and mature, educate and experience, relocate and Value choices have to be assessed and re assessed. Chosen and re chosen. It can never have the same depth, meaning and direction throughout one's lifetime.

What makes a value a value?

In simple terms a value is chosen, prized and acted upon. Anything that is chosen and prized but not acted is not a value or something that is prized and acted but not consciously chosen is not a value. These are partially formed values or value indicators but not values. Other important differentiators is that a value must be stated publicly and should enhance the overall development of emotional and spiritual well-being.

All the values that individuals, enterprises, organizations possess go through this process consciously or unconsciously which makes them what they are!


Monday, December 27, 2010

Working in a Team - How to get it right?

The way we define work and work places has taken a significant amount of transformation over a period of years. Working as individuals in isolation has changed face to working in teams at tandem. Business organizations spend a lot of time, effort and money in getting the most talented workforce. But then, did organizations get it right, with their workforce getting tasks accomplished as team? It is a million dollar question, to which most of us do not have a strong affirmative answer yet. All of us, are still working towards creating a perfectly cohesive teams to build great work places.

Alright, so how do we get this right? To understand how to get it right, it is essential to understand how do we get it wrong in the first place. There are 'five dysfunctions of a team' which are more dangerous than the most dangerous pathogens attacks. They are interrelated to each other like and even if one goes wrong, cause destruction to the workplace harmony!

Absence of trust

It is universally acclaimed that the basis for any successful relationship is the element of trust. The same holds good for workplace relationships. Contrary to the classical definition of trust, absence of trust is actually the dysfunction of individuals not being genuinely open to one another about one's mistakes, misconceptions and weaknesses. It is the understanding and acceptance of one simple fact which could set everything straight. Everyone has vulnerabilities, which need to be accepted and acknowledged. Once this is in place, all inhibitions are shed and establish that there is no reason to be protective or careful about self. This leads to the building of more open, accepting and accommodating teams.

Fear of Conflict

Like in case of any relationship, to be genuine and build on the foundations of trust, both sides of the coin are essential - acceptance and conflict. Conflict in this context means healthy and effective engagement of multiple viewpoints. Conflicts are thought to be best avoided in workplaces as they are viewed as destructive to the smooth functioning of a team. But the reality is that, conflicting ideas and healthy debate bring in excellent outcomes to work. They must be encouraged and not avoided. A point to ponder here is that conflict here means, conflict of concepts and ideas , individuals and personalities. The moment an individual is comfortable in being expressive and taking different view points objectively, the team as a whole is one step closer to their target of being the perfectly cohesive team.

Lack of Commitment

Age old myths - that consensus in decisions is important to the team's functioning and the team has to be predictable. In the event of seeking consensus, teams delay decisions and hunts for every bit of data that will make every individual agree. The fact of the matter is that a complete buy-in from every individual is not possible. Also, to be predictable as a team, a certainty in decisions is needed. In the seek of certainty, decisions a made no matter they are right or wrong. In the process of achieving consensus and certainty, the fundamental objective of creating clarity and priority for the entire team is lost. Aligning the team to a common goal is sidelined. Commitment (as a team and not individual) is lost.

Avoidance of Accountability

The very reason that team members tend to avoid interpersonal discomfort leads to holding themselves from having difficult conversations. This stops them from wholehearted commit in the team effort. It is imperative that individuals goals do not align with team goals. Members tend to lower expectations on each other and eventually, there is hesitation to hold one another accountable.

Inattention to Results

This is the ultimate dysfunction of a team. Other than obvious results like that financial goals, sales targets or shareholder profits, there are less obvious but more important goals the team must pay attention too namely, team status and individual status. Being a part of a team is merely not sufficient. Self-preservation in a group is not constructive. Both of these cause ripples in the greater good of the team, the attention and progress towards collective results.

There are multiple tools and techniques by which organizations can overcome these functions but the first step is understanding the dysfunctions. This understanding and admittance itself takes us one step closer to our goal - harmonious working teams!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Diversity in Workplace

The number of organizations that are transnational are increasing in the Business World today. With increasing translational nature, there is an increase in the diversity of the workforce. We find people from different ages, cultures, ethnicity, so on and so forth. Given this differences, each organization wants to created a Diversity-Sensitive and Inclusive work environment. To achieve this stature, organizations must understand the demographics of their workforce.

Age Diversity

Today, we witness workplaces employing four different generations in tandem, namely the Depression Generation, Baby Boomers, Baby Bust Generation, Baby Boom-lets. In Asian context, organizations have still not reached this stage where all four generations work together.

The Depression Generation (Born between 1927 to 1946)

This is the Generation born during the Great Economic Depression. Also known as the World War II generation or the Cold War generation because of their generational markers. They are 45 Million in number. They are a patriotic generation, very conservative and sacrificing in nature. They have high work-ethic, they are on the retirement verge. But they are redefining retirement at workplace, they continue to work filling in for positions like low-skill work or part-time work. These are the areas where the younger generation gets their first experience. This leads to inter-generational conflict.

Baby Boom Generation (Born between 1947 to 1964)

This is the post world-war generation. They are 76 Million in number, almost double of the Depression generation. They are the largest generation in the workforce today, most of them are very successful. The markers of this generation are Vietnam war, civil rights movement, war on poverty and many more. They blame the depression generation for these problems. Unlike the Depression generation, they are idealistic, optimistic and liberal. They have good school education and are high profiled at work. Some of them are today's most successful entrepreneurs. They are pressed by the higher costs of educating their children and taking care of their elderly relatives today and also the need for saving for their retirement.

Baby Bust Generation (Born between 1965 to 1983)

Also called as generation-X, they are 66 million in number. They do not have huge or pronounced generational markers unlike their predecessors, the Baby Boomers. However, they witness the era where diseases like AIDS came into existence. They are also the generation which is marked by exposure to multiculturalism, advances in technology etc. They are a very diverse group but are pessimistic compared to Baby Boomers. They are the youngest to enter labor force. They have increased exposure to various cultures and are tech savvy. They are latchkey kids with both parents working. A significant characteristics of this generation is the decline of loyalty and commitment at workplace compared to the previous generations.

Baby Boom-let Generation (Born between 1984 to 2002)

This is the dot-com generation or the Generation Y. They are 75 million in number. They are a part of the information era of high-tech and fast-paced society. The problem with this generation is the difference between their basic education and skills needed at work due to half-life which grows shorter and shorter due to technological advances. They are used to the violence around them through difference means and it does not have a big impact as it does to the rest of the generations. They are sensitive and aware of the issues of the environment. They resemble the Depression generation by the characteristic of have and have-not society.

Culture Diversity

Cultures, subcultures, groups and individuals are classified from more tightly woven to loosely knit. This classification helps in distinguishing between thinking and behavior and also in characterizing each group. In general, the Cultural Continuum is divided into three namely Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Cultures based on the ethnicity. While Alpha and Beta are tightly woven, Gamma belongs to loosely knit. A Trans-cultural Manager needs to understand multiple cultures and its forms of behavior in order to appreciate his/her team better, to resolve conflicts and to motivate.

Alpha Cultures

They are like a woven basket that reflects function, beauty and meaning together. When the basket breaks, the its function is lost. Hence these cultures are fragile and vulnerable to destruction. They are closely attached to nature and its function. These are conservative cultures likes the native American, Africans, Latins and the Arabs. They are indigenous and live in Clans. They obey leaders and elders.

Beta Cultures

They are analogous to a Brocade, delicate and stylized. They have a set of values and traditions, handed down from generation to generation. These are transformational cultures and like the brocade, with high tensile strength. These cultures lay importance of values which are evolved and a part of the heritage. Most of the Asian cultures are Beta namely Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Thai et al. They live in evolved societies. They obey parents, teachers and managers.

Gamma Cultures

They are like the electronic chips connected on a circuit board. The details are abstract and upto the interpretations of the observer. These are culture which reflect the idea that change and newness are rules of life. Here, values are unknown and are meant to be negotiated. These are the new found cultures from the West and their colonies. They are transient groups and are more individualistic in nature. They follow science and learn from their mistakes.


Most often, at workplaces characterized by multiple cultural groups, communication barriers occur as the unspoken language of culture is not interpreted or misinterpreted. Hence Cultural sensitivity can easily be attained by means of knowing the background and value of the individual which reflects the unspoken self. However, a piece of warning is that individuals cannot be stereotyped based on their cultural backgrounds, a fair knowledge of the culture can only help in guessing the behavior in different situations and not the characteristics.