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Archive for the ‘Problem Solving’ Category

Weeks ago, my daughter visiting from US brought a small device.

It was a night lamp. With a motion sensor!

Peel off the cover on its back and stick it to the wall and you’re on. As simple as that.

So when it finds someone walking, it lights up the way.

And thoughtfully it comes in pairs.

Useful to help the old, for example, when they get up in the night sleepy-eyed to go to toilet. One device for the way up and another for return, especially when there is a bend.

Costs some $25 to $30.

Here’s a simple device that makes tending a wee bit easier and life safer for the old. Am sure there must be other uses too.

But it’ll be years before it’s made in this country, if at all.

It’s nothing new – the concept and the opportunity of putting electronics and miniaturization to help in daily life for some strange reason never captured the fancy of young engineers and entrepreneurs in this country. And with it a huge potential for employment for self and others.

What happened years ago comes to mind. I had a long daily commute from Chembur to workplace in Seepz. At one point in Ghatkopar, our vehicle would tee off into the road through Asalpha. After plodding through heavy traffic for a few kilometers unsuspectingly, we would find the road blocked – merrily dug up by the authorities or some utility company.  What else but to trace back to the point and take a long detour losing precious time in the busy morning hours. Why couldn’t they tell us about it in time? A communication problem amenable to some simple solution with electronics. Of course, in absence of anything else, a placard with an announcement would have served the purpose.

The arrival of and the revolution brought in by pagers and later mobile devices elsewhere in the world failed miserably to ignite any kind of similar innovation in this land.

This is not limited only to the field of communication. Consider this simple but dire need: Until recently we did not have a reliable and inexpensive way of timely switching on and off of pumps drawing water from the municipal mains to storage tanks atop apartments. The guy on duty would turn on the pump, go goofing about and return ‘aaraamse’ from his chai and gossip and switch it off but not before the floors and adjacent parts of the road had been washed clean by the overflowing water. Even today in times when water is scarce, installing these devices are not mandated by corporations to plug wastage!! A small opportunity to create a market place for electronics and its supply chain missed 😦

Areas like entertainment electronics, avionics, computers…are ‘to dhoor ki bhat’.

With a huge population, increased urbanization, improved standard of living and the burgeoning need for a range of services, possibilities of tapping into electronics are mind-boggling.

But we won’t – it’ll all come from China or Taiwan while our youth bitch and moan, blame the government for the ills or in some parts of the country turn into professional protesters available to politicians for hire! Or, turn into programmers!

To heck with sensors, devices, prime-movers, iot…as long as we have those dumb guys in China churning them out…

Is it because tinkering with things is essentially not part of our dna? We make poor engineers with hardware? Of course we always made pots and beads, as archaeological digs reveal. No questions.

So much for leadership in education, enterprise and nation building:-(

End

PS: Have no idea how ISRO and a few organizations in defense and private sectors pull along amidst such a dismal ecosystem. Just as it’s a wonder how those magnificent temple edifices in the south and elsewhere were constructed – did China supply them too? Kidding 🙂

This time I’m not kidding. At the risk of appearing quixotic, may I suggest for every software professional of ours US employs directly or indirectly, we employ/import a technician, engineer or an entrepreneur from that country to the extent BOP allows. This will give us a kick-start in real engineering capabilities with hardware and establishing a nourishing ecosystem we are unable to set up on our own.

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In my long career in hi-tech, there were two HR chief’s I was fortunate to observe from close quarters though their tenures were short. Both ladies, early in their career, graduates from TISS. In the years that followed we went different ways. But I continued to measure the HR chiefs I encountered subsequently and they all fell short by lengths in comparison.

This post is about one of them, U.

Passing out from TISS, she joined the org as an Executive Assistant (EA) to the Big Boss – not sure if this was her first job in the industry. Several months later she was sent to the Division dealing in hi-tech and also the most profitable of the many in the brick-and-mortar company as the HR chief, essentially a one-woman team.

A hurricane on the move, only benign.  Some saw her as a very useful ally and others, an overbearing youngster, often going beyond her brief running smack into know-all senior line-managers.

Was she ‘successful’ in the traditional sense? I don’t know, for, can’t recall her being feted in public as such in her short stay. During which time, all the same, some magic she had wrought, I thought. 

What did she do?

  • In all her thought and action, org’s interest was the first and foremost, possibly the only preoccupation, I suspected. Yet, not wearing it on her sleeve.
  • Abs fearless, she thought nothing of taking up issues with and questioning pet theories of the senior executives until satisfactory closure. Of course this was possible because she sought and got the crucial support of the Big Boss, all credit to him. In this regard, perhaps her earlier stint as his EA helped.
  • Though young, she had the maturity to go for the doors that were open to her rather than bang her head against walls that wouldn’t budge (some seniors). She could live well with both kinds.
  • Most part of her time she was out sitting one-on-one with employees. Like with the bosses, she would mix her praises with provocations to get them spill out their guts, all work-related of course. She would herself address many of those problems by offering solutions, work-around’s or through counselling with, yes, subsequent follow-up’s. And the more complex issues would be taken to their bosses. If you’re not happy, why are you working here still…? OrWhy are you still doing the same work you did over the last two years? Aren’t you good for anything else? Or Why are you not getting promoted? Not doing good, eh? are not unusual in the provoking sessions which, to be sure, did not end in destructive fire-works. Her disarming and bonafide ways let her get away. These sessions revealed the swirling under-currents and provided useful inputs to the manager, otherwise impossible to get. And she would take points-of-view from the boss back to the employee. Yes, playing politics it was, but constructively. Issues often got fixed before too late.  Of course the bosses too had their sessions with her.
  • She would play it likewise with peers running their feuds to the detriment of the org.
  • She was no cat’s paw nor did she play favorites. Nor cowed by heavy-weights.
  • A high-energy person with an infectious enthusiasm in a team, also good to talk to when chips were down.
  • In her own role she was constantly wanting to do more. I remember going with her for campus recruitment of trainee-engineers. After watching me a few times from the side-lines, things came to a point when she carried on with the technical interviews all by herself rendering me superfluous!

That’s what a capable and empowered HR can deliver. Want to settle for less?

Neither the land nor the heavens would ever be the same after her premature and unfortunate transition a few days ago – she was one to stir up the stew wherever she went for the larger good.

RIP, U.

End

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This is about the sage Viswamitra (V) requesting King Dasharatha (D) for his young son’s (aged 12 years or less), help to conduct a sacrifice successfully – he expects two demons to disrupt the ritual with their usual fiendish antics. The sage gives the reason for his request: on the eve of performing the sacrifice, he does not want to lose control of his mind and curse the demons all the way to their hell (through such outbursts, sages often lose their power gained after enduring practice of austere tapas).

It is described essentially in Sarga 19 of Bala Kanda in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

The source used for this analysis is here.

In the 21 verses contained in this Sarga, the sage makes 13 statements (five of them are compound with two parts) as under exactly in the same sequence, reproduced verbatim from the source:

  1. Born in an illustrious lineage and initiated by sage Vasishta, this way (of speaking) befits you.
  2. Take a decision and be truthful to your promise.
  3. Rama is valiant, young and true to his prowess.
  4. (a) Protected by me and (b) by his own divine power, Rama is capable of destroying even those demons causing impediments to the sacrifice.
  5. (a) I will confer upon him, without doubt, a lot of blessings for his well-being (b) by which he will attain fame in all the three worlds.
  6. Both of them (Maricha and Subahu) will not be able to withstand Rama in any way. Rama, and Rama alone, is capable of destroying them.
  7. Proud of their strength, the two wicked demons have been noosed by Yama, the god of death. O tiger among kings they are no match for the mahathmana Rama.
  8. (a) O king, it is not proper for you to hesitate because of your paternal affection. (b) You need to know that both the rakshasas will perish. This, I assure you.
  9. (a) I know Rama who is a great soul, true to his prowess and (b) also Vasishta of great luster and these other sages who have been steadfast in asceticism also know.
  10. O king of kings, if you are seeking the benefits of righteousness, great everlasting fame in this world, it is fit and proper to give Rama to me.
  11. Kakustha, if your counselors and all other sages headed by Vasishta give their consent, then only you may relieve Rama.
  12. (a) You should spare your dear son, the lotus-eyed Rama, (b) impartial and detached, (a) for ten nights.
  13. Dasharatha, descendant of Raghu, act in such a manner that the time for my sacrifice is not delayed. Do not indulge in grief. Prosperity to you”

After speaking these words charged with dharma and artha the great sage resplendent Viswamitra fell silent. 

It’s easy to see these 13 statements fitting into a well-structured script planned by the sage V as under, set roughly in the same sequence:

  • Starts with two praises of D, (1 and 2) for him to live up?
  • Next, first mention (3) is made, rather simply, of Rama’s prowess and, not so startlingly in passing, about his divine power in 4(b) (also the word ‘mahathmana’ in 7?).
  • Follows up talking about his personal support to stand by Rama in 4(a) and 5(a).
  • Names and belittles the enemies for reassurance vis-a-vis Rama’s ability in 6, 7, 8(b) and 9(a).
  • Time to bring more pressure and ‘carrots’ for D to oblige in 5(b), 8(a), 10, 12(b) and 13.
  • Rounds up defining the duration of his demand for Rama’s assistance in 12(a) and also
  • Drawing support from other unassailable sources including his ‘arch rival’ sage Vasishta to buttress his assessment of Rama in 9(b) and 11.

Could it be better, you think?

Now for another interesting perspective: Going by the count (not by relative strengths) of the statements, it adds up to (each statement in full counts for one and part of a compound statement, half):  

  • So for D to be persuaded, there are 2 praises and 3.5 of pressures and
    ‘carrots’ for a total of 5.5 out of 13.
  • V’s personal support (‘his skin in the game’) assured for Rama makes up for 1 out of 13.
  • On Rama’s prowess, said matter-of-factly, it is 4.5 directly coming from him and another 1.5 of vouchsafing support from others for a total of 6 out of 13 on assessment of Rama’s abilities to meet the challenge.
  • Specifying duration of V’s demand is 0.5 out of 13.

Is that a good balance?

Some observations:

The sage’s assessment of Rama’s prowess is based more on his
insight than any precedent display. Nothing is said by the sage about Rama’s
equipment, no mention is made of specific astra-shastra’s
(weapons w/wo mantra’s) in Rama’s quiver – perhaps unnecessary, premature or
even inappropriate?

Rising above the family-pulls, Valmiki ends the Sarga with

‘Having listened to those auspicious words of Viswamitra, the king among kings, (Dasaratha) experienced intense grief out of fear. He became despondent.’

How could the words inducing fear and despondency in the virtuous other be considered as auspicious? Simply because the killing of those two demons – the sage had enough insight Rama would accomplish it despite being too young – was necessary (directly or otherwise) for the good of the kingdom at large, besides V himself gaining from it. Here’s a cardinal principle of well-being of a society, said not in so many words: the call of dharma is more powerful and must be heeded to than the tug of one’s heart-strings should there ever be a conflict. The same is asserted without ambiguity in different ways in statements: 8(a), 10, 12(b) and 13. This comes to us in age when the principle is made to stand on its head, when parents amass wealth brazenly thru misdeeds for themselves and, more so, their children. Or, clouded by affection, they’re guilty failing to check adharmic acts of omission and commission of their near and dear.

Interestingly the phrase ‘lotus-eyed Rama’ in statement 12(a) is unimaginably double-edged!! How? The ready explanation is: Poets often compare beautiful eyes like those of Rama to lotus flowers in bloom. No surprises there. Now to the not-so-ready: Just as a lotus folds itself up in the night and come night, the young Rama goes off to sleep peacefully. And that is exactly when the demons become hyperactive. Is it fair to the sleepy young boy to be thrown against demons when they are in their elements?

End

PS: The source is responsible for the translation of the
original verses, included here verbatim and not for the rest of the content in
the post. The interpretation of ‘lotus-eyed Rama’ comes from here.
Image from flipkart.

So you know to hurl the brickbats at whom:-}  

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There was a story posted here sometime ago how one man successfully turned around a murky vitiated ambiance in an org with some ordinary common-sense ideas.

Here comes another story how a dark horse turned around a loser into a shining paragon of performance! Of course his ways were different and very interesting with applicability far beyond in org dynamics, public institutions, government of the land…A war of a different kind.

Read on:

<<an extract>>

On a blustery October day in 1987, a herd of prominent Wall Street investors and stock analysts gathered in the ballroom of a posh Manhattan hotel. They were there to meet the new CEO of the Aluminum Company of America—or Alcoa, as it was known—a corporation that, for nearly a century, had manufactured everything from the foil that wraps Hershey’s Kisses and the metal in Coca-Cola cans to the bolts that hold satellites together.

Alcoa’s founder had invented the process for smelting aluminum a century earlier, and since then the company had become one of the largest on earth. Many of the people in the audience had invested millions of dollars in Alcoa stock and had enjoyed a steady return. In the past year, however, investor grumblings started. Alcoa’s management had made misstep after misstep, unwisely trying to expand into new product lines while competitors stole customers and profits away. So there had been a palpable sense of relief when Alcoa’s board announced it was time for new leadership. That relief, though, turned to unease when the choice was announced: the new CEO would be a former government bureaucrat named Paul

O’Neill. Many on Wall Street had never heard of him. When Alcoa scheduled this meet and greet at the Manhattan ballroom, every major investor asked for an invitation.

A few minutes before noon, O’Neill took the stage. He was fifty-one years old, trim, and dressed in gray pinstripes and a red power tie. His hair was white and his posture military straight. He bounced up the steps and smiled warmly. He looked dignified, solid, confident. Like a chief executive.

Then he opened his mouth.

“I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he said. “Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work. Our safety record is better than the general American workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it’s not good enough. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”

The audience was confused. These meetings usually followed a predictable script: A new CEO would start with an introduction, make a faux self-deprecating joke—something about how he slept his way through Harvard Business School—then promise to boost profits and lower costs. Next would come an excoriation of taxes, business regulations, and sometimes, with a fervor that suggested firsthand experience in divorce court, lawyers. Finally, the speech would end with a blizzard of buzzwords—“synergy,” “rightsizing,” and “co-opetition”—at which point everyone could return to their offices, reassured that capitalism was safe for another day.

O’Neill hadn’t said anything about profits. He didn’t mention taxes. There was no talk of “using alignment to achieve a win-win synergistic market advantage.” For all anyone in the audience knew, given his talk of worker safety, O’Neill might be pro-regulation. Or, worse, a Democrat. It was a terrifying prospect.

“Now, before I go any further,” O’Neill said, “I want to point out the safety exits in this room.” He gestured to the rear of the ballroom. “There’s a couple of doors in the back, and in the unlikely event of a fire or other emergency, you should calmly walk out, go down the stairs to the lobby, and leave the building.”

Silence. The only noise was the hum of traffic through the windows. Safety? Fire exits? Was this a joke? One investor in the audience knew that O’Neill had been in Washington, D.C., during the sixties. Guy must have done a lot of drugs, he thought.

Eventually, someone raised a hand and asked about inventories in the aerospace division. Another asked about the company’s capital ratios.

“I’m not certain you heard me,” O’Neill said. “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.”

The investors in the room almost stampeded out the doors when the presentation ended.

One jogged to the lobby, found a pay phone, and called his twenty largest clients. “I said, ‘The board put a crazy hippie in charge and he’s going to kill the company,’ ” that investor told me. “I ordered them to sell their stock immediately, before everyone else in the room started calling their clients and telling them the same thing.“It was literally the worst piece of advice I gave in my entire career.”

Within a year of O’Neill’s speech, Alcoa’s profits would hit a record high. By the time O’Neill retired in 2000, the company’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived, and its market capitalization had risen by $27 billion. Someone who invested a million dollars in Alcoa on the day O’Neill was hired would have earned another million dollars in dividends while he headed the company, and the value of their stock would be five times bigger when he left.

<Impressed?>

So how did O’Neill make one of the largest, stodgiest, and most potentially dangerous companies into a profit machine and a bastion of safety?

By attacking one habit and then watching the changes ripple through the organization.

“I knew I had to transform Alcoa,” O’Neill told me. “But you can’t order people to change. That’s not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”

<end of extract>

Grab the book ‘The Power Of Habit” (2012) by Charles Duhigg and go to pages 97-109 to find out more on how the miracle was wrought. Of course there are many other interesting anecdotes too and theories in the book also worth perusing.

A copy of this book was available here for reading (copyright implications not known). The link does not work now. May be it is moved to a new site.

End

Source: pdfbooksinfo.blogspot.com and image from Amazon

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Like the doctor here.

When outside, I keep my eyes peeled looking for people doing things differently.

Apologies for the quality of the pics – this is as best as I could manage.

We all have heard of the anecdote how a consultant solved the problem of office goers waiting restlessly in the morning hours before a busy bank of lifts in a high-rise building. He got mirrors fixed outside the doors in the lobby and presto! The irritation abated. People liked to look at themselves in those mirrors while killing time.

Likewise:

The map you see here is pasted on full-height glass panels in the office of a Architects/Consultants firm. With employees of this firm more likely to be out in the field for good part of the day, it would not be uncommon for visitors having to wait out in their office.  And while waiting, the map segments on the panels, large unlike a mobile screen, clear and easy on the eyes, are actually interesting to look at and visually explore and discover even for the blase, making the wait a little more bearable.

**

A few days ago, returned to Mumbai. As the Indigo aircraft came to a halt at the gate for passengers to get off, an announcement was made requesting the deplaning passengers to pull down the window-shades before they leave  and open the air-vents overhead to full blast.

Very thoughtful of them to keep the aircraft insides as comfortable as possible and ready for the incoming passengers.

**

End

Source: Image from livemint.com

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This happened in the seventies-eighties and has relevance and great learnings even today in business, politics, military, religion….Read on.

It was/is a brick-and-mortar organization with over 3000 employees, listed public, engaged in light engineering and large projects in addition to distribution of imported hitech instruments and products of well-known brands. Managed by the founder family, more humane than most others in its class with reasonably clean and professional work environment. It had multiple offices pan-India and even with in cities like Mumbai, Channai, etc.

The one cloud in the sky was the employee union – each office had a local union and banding them together was an umbrella federation – with a hyper-active federal leadership, their heads filled with outdated unhelpful misconceived ideas. Quite unfortunately it saw the enterprise more as a theatre playing out the class-struggle between the capitalist owners and the exploited working class- concepts hardly understood by the members, nevertheless herded together. Even if there was some merit to their case, it was bent on blowing up situations, small and big, into disruptive breakdown of normal operation. A key contributor, it has to be said, was the inept local administration, staffed with loyal’s with no professional competencies, handling matters anachronistically with a heavy hand, untainted by objectivity and finesse.

On the whole there was no sane dialogue or even a desire to have between the parties at any level with perfectly trivial incidents fire-balling into ‘wars’. More harmfully it bred a toxic culture of indiscipline in the offices, factory and service centres, all over, severely undermining the authority of the management. There was even occasional violence.

After a while, the management perceived this weakness.  And took a decision that all such incidents should no longer be handled locally and be referred to an Industrial Relations cell at the HQ. This small team would take it up with the Federation to put out the fire – a task neither easy nor quick before doing the damage locally.  

An intractable situation, it seemed. For want of a better solution the practice with its drawbacks was continued for some time until…

One day, a man walked in as the new head of HR appearing most ill-suited for the role, until one dealt with him! A sardar, resembling Buddha more than any other sardar, who would readily agree with you on your issue until you realize he hasn’t yielded an inch.

After an initial period of getting into the groove, he came to life: one day he called a meeting of executives in one of the key offices. And, said from then on it’s for the local executives/managers to handle the local issues. The IR cell would no longer be available for passing the buck.

There was pin-drop silence. What was he talking about? They were nowhere equipped to handle the militancy. This sardar with his new-fangled ideas was making their job more difficult…sure to fall on his face flat.

He proceeded to explain:  In the daily operation the executives had no problem of routinely tasking these employees – secretaries, stenographers, peons, workmen, etc. Things turned ugly only when there was some incident which then spread like forest-fire. Even here, their disaffection seemed to be targeted against the big bosses, not their direct manager for whom they worked every day. As a first immediate step, he asked the executives to consciously strengthen the relationship and the prevailing cordiality with their reportee’s by being more sensitive and solicitous and extending small favours, some even personal – like letting them leave early occasionally to attend to personal chores. .

And when one of those incidents happened, they were to respond immediately and collectively to defuse the situation through a mix of patient listening, explaining the rationale behind certain decisions and if needed even call in those favours shown.

When he was done and out, the executives were left wondering: Was that all? Too simple – would it work? Was he serious? It was nothing at all like they had feared. It was like going to a doc with a serious ailment and he recommending a walk in the park.

In a short time, he took his message to all offices across the country.

Lo and behold it worked!!

All those unsavoury confrontations that erupted with the regularity of sun rising in the east were on the decline becoming quite infrequent now.    

Why?

For one thing the employees felt obliged more than ever before to their managers not to blow up incidents themselves or to encourage others doing it – this was important; those few bent on mischief-mongering suddenly found themselves rather isolated among their own colleagues. No one was too eager to vitiate the cordiality with his/her manager and colleagues whom they lived with daily at the workplace.  Their leaders did not find them too pliable for incitement anymore.

Something else was also at work here. Earlier it was between the Federation and a thinly staffed IR cell. Suddenly they had to contend with some 600 executives additionally.  The equation had changed dramatically.  When required, more than one executive swung into action to jointly address the issue.

The operating principles:

“Expand/escalate the ‘war-front’ as long and wide as possible with favorable forces deployed. And, importantly, get everyone to contribute their bit to the common cause.”

No leader can fight battles all by himself. Explore the possibilities – it may not be obvious in the first glance. As said earlier, it’s a universal strategy that works in most spheres of human endeavour.

Of course certain situations demand entirely different strategies to be deployed. Example: a (pre-emptive) counter-terrorism move where the engagement is short and swift.

The battle the sardar waged and succeeded is legendary, an object lesson for turning the tide organization-wide – it did not receive the attention and accolades it deserved in the professional community, I thought. No case-studies…Though he was well recognized and rewarded, rising to the highest echelon’s within the organization.

It’s with great regret I learnt a few days ago this brilliant strategist is no more; as also a key leader on other side, of progressive ideas and unimpeachable integrity unfortunately in minority among his kind.      

End

Source: image from inditales.com

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Vide விஷ்வாமித்திரர்

Drawing water using manual pumps (If the clip doesn’t show, go here):

End

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