Friday, February 23, 2018

Competition is good but who are we competing with?

From childhood we have been taught by our parents and teachers to compete and win. We were told competition is good and necessary. Probably they wanted to introduce us early in our lives to the unfairness life. But who are we competing with? During school days, we had running races with our own classmates. Of course, I did not win in any of them but I was congratulating the winners. I was scoring well in academics. It had made me feel good to draw attention and feel like a winner. But what about those who did not win either in sports or academics? How did they feel? In the eyes of teachers and winning students, they had remained an unimportant mediocre mass. Were they not destined to be successful?

Out of curiosity, I started learning how those my classmates are doing in their lives after a gap of 20 years we finished our schooling. Some of them had remained mediocre, time had not brought any change in them. But few were surprisingly successful. I started looking into details of their lives. They did not draw attention when they were in school but they had better social lives and had a wider circle of friends than winners had. They gelled with a broader society with ease. These mediocre students did not make their parents proud but they were the dependable most and were available at a call for any petty help to make things run during their absence. They made their parents social circles theirs too and slowly got into the business their fathers were running. When they had passed out of school or college, they were confident enough to run the business their parents were running. Over time they became street-smart businessmen too. Some of them ventured into politics. Few of them built schools though themselves were weak in studies but had hired the right people to run those schools. And the interesting point is, they had formed a network of friends (who too were mediocre in school days) and they stood for each other always. They became a testament to how good life can be if we learn to cooperate than compete with our own fellow schoolmates.

And those who were winners during school life, got on to corporate life and have continued competing at every phase of life. Today I was seeing how the office-goers rush out of a Metro station in Bangalore competing with fellow passengers to check out as early as possible. I was wondering how many seconds they would save by outsmarting fellow travelers. Well, competition is in their blood now, they would not let any opportunity slip off their hands. They cannot let go of any promotions in their office and they would compete fiercely to get to the top-notch job. They will tell you if they let go of the opportunity, someone else will seize it and step on you in the career pyramid. Wow, winning makes them less empathetic. They do care less about who are not winning. They did promote competition in their kids too. And the relay continued to the next generation.

Taking a step back, seeing both instances from a longer-term perspective of life, it feels important for me to have a happier life than competing constantly and winning. Winners will be left with few friends as their ability to to make friends reduce as preferences differ and they will be left with little choice. It makes sense for me not to win and retain friends thereby. I would rather cultivate cooperation in my kids than competition. I would feel good if we stood for each other than force ourselves through career pyramids. I see that many European countries are valuing life more than career (especially the Scandinavian countries). No wonder people are happier there than rest of the world.

After the metamorphosis, I took a conscious decision to get off the corporate treadmill. I still need employment for some more time but I would avoid competing with my own friends and make way for those who are in a hurry. I have changed the job to have a better work-life balance and foreclosed much of my debt. I have informed my family that I would not be buying any assets in future rather prefer a slow life being a non-rich person. I am letting go of the opportunities to earn higher amounts of money and acquire assets thereby. I am out of that race and I would not mind being termed a loser.

My desires are tamed now and I am at peace with myself. I think this is what Buddha had realized two thousand years ago, under a Bhodhi tree. And that is all any fool would learn in future as well.

Corporate Lessons: Observations from 20 years of work experience

While I was studying and when had I started working, I had assumed few things to be important over others. But over years, I learnt the hard way that those I assumed important are overrated and which I ignored were underrated. Let me describe those things here.

Dressing is overrated:
This is unless you work in a fashion industry or in a customer facing role. I do not contest at all the pleasing appearance good-appearance brings in. But one needs to go beyond that too. Having a great presence of mind is needed to shoulder higher responsibilities and fetch the rewards come with that. At the next level, a compassionate heart earns you comradery over fellow colleagues and that leads to the path of leadership.

Close your eyes and visualize the people you know well. You may likely see their face and their attitude towards you may come to your mind rather that what dress they wear. In the long term, we tend to remember the personality more than just outward looks. Now you may see my point. Another point I want to make is, I have seen may executives with not so pleasing looks but carrying themselves with high confidence and getting the results they wanted. If you only see their gestures and body language, you may conclude they may not be considered for a minor supporting role in Bollywood or TV serials, but they are business savvy. They make right business decisions and act on what is critical. Their deficiencies in physical appearance if any, is completely ignored by their conduct.

Networking is overrated:
In the beginning of my career I was told networking or how many people you know is important. It may be true if you are in marketing or similar fields. But for rest of us, it is grossly overrated. If you know just handful of people in key positions, it may be enough for getting mentored and for your career progression. It is just like having hundreds of friends who you barely know over few friends who know you better than you know yourself.

My point is, there is nothing wrong in knowing more people but rather spending that time and energy in strengthening the relationships with the people you already know might be more helpful.

Communication is underrated at junior levels and overrated at senior levels:
At junior levels, technical skills are perceived to be important but if the ideas and thoughts are not communicated clearly in written or spoken words, it may not have the desired impact and they may fail to draw the attention those junior employees deserve. Similarly, executives focus more on the preparing presentation slides and conveniently ignore the fact that Steve Jobs and Elon Musk did so well without slides.

In the beginning of career, while striving to gain mastery over one domain, it is also necessary to spend time in improving communication skills. And as one steps up the career ladder, they also need to stay relevant with the changing technologies to command respect from their juniors.

Interpersonal skills, most ignored but can be a dark-knight:
If you can read another person’s emotions, understand what drives or influences him or her and have tolerance to work with people having different attitudes and approach, there is nothing which can prevent you from growing in your career. Of course, interpersonal skills do come with mastery over one’s personal emotions which require understanding the emotional intelligence aspects. It would mean understanding how people behave in different phases of life, varying preferences across different personality types, cultural differences and different motivations and fears driving the human beings.

Go and study any great leader in the history, from Alexander to Napoleon, from Mahatma Gandhi to Abraham Lincoln, you would notice how they built trust in their followers. If you lack interpersonal skills, you are unlikely to have any following. Develop empathy and have genuine interest in others, you will see your circle of influence widening too.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: Two Saints by Arun Shourie

This is about the incidents from the lives of two saints, that of Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Both were acclaimed spiritual masters lived similar lives but with slightly different
approaches to self-realization. Both had gone through similar phases in life and have faced similar experiences. Drawing upon those incidents, the author looks at what the medical and psychological sciences say about them. Drawing heavily from the research and surveys information, he tries to see if the experiences of the saints were caused by hypnosis or placebo effect or any other psychological illusions and observe the differences.

This book gives detailed account of the personal lives of two saints as observed by those who lived with them. Sri Ramakrishna had chosen the path of Bhakti Yoga. Though he was ardent devotee of the mother goddess Kali, he is also seen worshiping Rama at one instance and Krishna another time and Allah and Jesus too. It is mesmerizing to know he could take the diseases from those common people who were visiting him and suffer from those ailments while his visitors got cured. Much of it cannot be explained by the science so they just remain part of the spiritual world. Similarly some of the teachings of Ramana Maharshi like the one in which he says ”it is the ego which takes rebirth” cannot be affirmed with science. At the end, author concludes it will not be possible for all of us to do what those Saints did but an effort towards it can better our lives.

Arun Shouri is a seasoned journalist and this is his 37th book.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Trade wars and hypocrisies

I could not resist appreciating Donald Trump this time. He raised a simple question. When India levies heavy taxes for the bikes made in USA while they enter in India, why reciprocal taxes were not put in place? (Link:

When US allows lots of goods manufactured in India enter their country with zero taxes, this case looks unfair. What you can disagree with? In this back drop, China and India criticizing Trump on disrupting trade appear like hypocrite behavior. Heads of India and China gave long speeches at Davos on protectionism and how it is affecting global trade while what they do is against their own advice.

On another note, Trump’s talk shows that his country is no more a world leader but fearful of China and India. He wants to make his country great again. It does imply that they have lost that position. Look at their currency, USD has lost 20% against Euro in the past year. If they continue with protectionism, global trade will shrink. Along with it USD valuation will shrink too. And other countries will have the reduced need to hold USD as reserves. India has more than $400B as forex reserves while China’s reserves are five times more of India. As USD loses its importance and the global trade begin to use other currencies, it will become a serious blow to the US. Probably Trump is not thinking that far. His predecessors were surely smarter than him. They did not have reciprocal taxes in place but had ensured that global trade happens in their currency. They were bigger hypocrites than the current leaders of India and China. Now what Trump is doing is dismantling that empire built by his predecessors.

It appears to me that it is time to sell USD and get on to Gold.

PNB and NiMo saga

The scam which has hit Punjab National Bank is making everyone lose the trust in how the public-sector banks are managed. Fraud to the tune of Rs. 11,500 crores going undetected in a bank having a market capital of Rs. 30,000 crores is a wonder. Many are speculating that it would not just be a con job but it had the involvement of top management else the alarms would not have gone silent.

Govt. had recently announced its decision to recapitalize PSU banks. And where does that money ends up? Why con jobs would not repeat again? Had these banks been responsible, this NPA mess would not have happened in the first place and the new scam shows that money just runs out of these banks into fraudulent hands at a high velocity.

When Govt. provides capital to these banks, it does so from tax payers money. PSU banks lose it to scams and bad loans and they go back to Govt. with empty hands. And the cycle repeats every few years. No wonder rich-poor divide is widening. Middle-class pay the taxes which is siphoned off to ultra-rich individuals in the mask of promoters who will fled the country with that money. What a shame!