Sunday, December 28, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Definitions that limit

Last month I attended a seminar on digital marketing . The audience comprised of folks from IT companies , media professionals , consultants , entrepreneurs operating a business primarily through the internet ( e.g portals ) . There was no one ( excepting yours truly ) from the textile / clothing business .

A fortnight ago I had the pleasure of attending a brilliant seminar by Siyahi on 'The Narrative in Indian textiles ' . It was a veritable voyage of discovery of beautiful aspects of India's textile heritage ( will share some of the experiences and insights in subsequent posts ) . The audience composition here was art / textile historians , free lance designers , writers (on the subject of India's textile heritage ) , design school representatives , (few) architects . With the exception of a furnishing manufacturer there was no real representation of folks from the textile / clothing business .

Both seminars were terrific in terms of content . And were of relevance (now more than ever ) to business in the textile and clothing category.
(The example of the textile and clothing business is a case in point . The analogy applies to various industries and businesses )

It was not as though these were secret events known only to a few .Both seminars were promoted on-line / advertised , featured in some publications . It's quite possible that many saw it and dismissed it because it did not fit into the (narrow) definition of their business or industry + attending seminars etc is axed by most corporates in troubled times . In the process passing up opportunities for learning and creation that would have a real impact on their business .


We live in an interactive world where feedback loops reinforce , shape behavior. If people praise behaviors they criticize vehemently (with good reason) in private then it is a disservice to the person and to the world . Criticizing in private and praising the same behavior is viewed by the doer as being worldly wise . It's not . It's being selfish and hypocritical.It denies the individual the opportunity for feedback and reflection ( and possibly change) . And it perpetuates the behavior . When this is done frequently by a critical mass / majority this contributes to the creation of an unhealthy culture (as in the context of an group, organization or country ).

If the relationship does not allow for constructive feedback then at least do not praise the behavior. Silence is a preferable alternative.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Option B

These are unprecedented times . Many companies and individuals find themselves in situations with no past reference points to serve as a compass or a 'how to survive this' guide . Navigating unchartered territory without a map is an adventure for a few and terrifying for most .

Companies predictably are looking at all ways to cut costs - ranging from ostentatious expenses that should have anyway been axed without waiting for a downturn to the fairly ridiculous e.g for how many hours in a day should the photocopier kept operational (in addition to figuring how to grow business the employees of this company would need to devise a complex schedule on how to use the photocopier while adhering to the diktat of senior managers and yet not compromise work ) . As a friend aptly said 'no one's thinking about the cost of time spent in these endless cost cutting meetings ' . 

Service/IT companies have people 'on the bench' , manufacturing companies are shutting factories for several days . Companies that are not laying off people but need to scale down output could look at creative ways to engage the resources and energy of their people in contributing to their organization and communities . 
e.g :
- Create cross functional teams to work on specific projects of relevance to the business
- Devote quality time to work on innovation
- Contribute time to teaching 
- Initiate drives to clean up specific areas
- Volunteer time to specific NGOs / initiatives - not in an aimless , meandering sort of way. But in a professional way with tangible , specific outcomes and timelines .

You get the drift . The possibilities are endless depending on the skills available and the unique challenges to which they can be constructively applied .

This is a win-win strategy for all involved - the employee , the company , the community and the wider world . For those who seek a business benefit to any action - your customers are likely to think better of you for making a positive contribution to your community .

These days the conversation inevitably veers towards the economic situation . Many seem to be in a race to make the most dire predictions . That way one can appear prescient few days , weeks , months later should events head in the direction of one's prediction . Instead of responding to the economic situation with a mix of fear , horror and panic there is the alternative of making the most of the challenging times .

Event after event shows us how interconnected the world is . Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not - we influence (if not create ) our world equally through action and inaction. 

When the history of business in this period is written what will it be ? 

a. Companies generally recoiled in horror , laid off people , cut salaries , reduced focus on innovation . Their employees felt unsure , reduced levels of trust in the management , stressed out. Having dried the innovation pipelines they had nothing new or meaningful to offer to their customers . Which in turn perpetuated the reduced sales and the gloomy outlook .

b. At least some companies had the courage to redefine their purpose , their relationships with the wider world of which they are a part . Having engaged their employees in meaningful initiatives they came out of the phase stronger , more confident . And in fact these companies not just survived the downturn . They were instrumental in catalyzing growth .

I'm hoping it will be option 'b' not just for a few - but many companies .

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happiness is infectious

(Never mind the fact that individually tailored self-help techniques is not the only path or even the path of many leading to happiness. Sometimes the finding of a research and / or the way it is articulated reveals the nationality of the research )

At this point in time reading about happiness being infectious offers hope . It would be a welcome epidemic .

Monday, December 1, 2008

Will we change ?

What happened in Mumbai was a horrible tragedy . What is worse that it could have been avoided .

Many lost their lives in the 3 days . Families lost their loved ones . Many more have sustained injuries . The scars – physical and psychological will take a long time to heal .

This tragedy is a reminder of how interconnected the world is – whether we choose to acknowledge it or not . We bear the fruit of our action and inaction .This is a wake up call for us as individuals and collectively as citizens of Mumbai and India . Until we understand the lessons and demonstrate that understanding in our actions the lessons will come back repeatedly .

The anger , outrage , sorrow in Mumbai (and in various parts of India) today is palpable . There is a real risk of a lot of it manifesting as well intentioned , passionate gestures rather than lasting change . In the various attacks on Mumbai in the past few years many have died an untimely , brutal death . The course of many more lives have been altered as a consequence . Lasting change – as individuals and citizens - is the only real respect we can pay to them . Anything else would be a token gesture .

The ‘response’ needs to be larger than just a ‘reaction’ to this tragedy . This attack is not a standalone problem . It is a symptom of a deeper anomaly .As they say in Ayurveda – you can’t treat a part without treating the whole . The response requires us to step out of the narrow boundary of our individual lives to look at the broader world and to participate in it with our time , effort , money , compassion and patience .

A few thoughts on possible (necessary ) actions . This is by no means an exhaustive list . It is at best a starting point .

Even without this horrific event it was clear that we need to make this a more equitable planet than it currently is . If each person takes on the initiative to do improve the life of even one person we can in a matter of years make enormous progress in creating a more equitable , fairer world .

The outrage against the politicians and government agencies is completely justified . At the same time we must face the mirror and acknowledge our role and responsibility for the situation . We elected these people , never really demanded transparency , performance or accountability . We always thought ‘oh I’m one person ‘ or ‘what can we do ‘ ? We are the substrate that allowed the cancer to develop .

We need to actively , constructively, consistently demand accountability from all our government entities – the MLAs , MPs , Municipal Corporations , Ministries. (We have to pursue our elected representatives with the firmness and resolve with which we expect them to root out the terrorist groups in Pakistan responsible for the attacks on India ) .
How can we do this ? Set up websites , blogs . Figure out the elected representatives from one’s area . Organize as a group to dialogue with them, understand what are they doing , why are they supporting or voting against specific proposals in the Parliament , what are the projects in-pipeline , timelines ? Different groups will be able to impact on different issues and to varying degrees . The important thing is to recognize that we are not powerless ( as individuals or as groups ) and to operate from that faith .

In any action we take (no matter how small or large ) to make our individual contribution to a changed world the key is sustaining it over a period of time. One year from now and in the years beyond when the immediacy of this has receded into the background will we still be demonstrating changed behavior and actions ?

If not , then let’s leave the politicians alone . They would be no different from the citizens who elected them .