Monday, April 13, 2015

The Singapore Diaries

Anything related to Singapore has to start with the flying experience these days. The strait of Malacca has been in the news, especially in relation to the aviation industry the entire last year albeit for not so positive reasons. I have been a post 911 generation flier, having started air travel a couple of years later to that, so not sure how it was earlier but every single time I fly, I make it a point to closely observe my fellow passengers while waiting in the lobby to on-board, or while entering the aircraft, for suspicious activities. This time though, in addition to observing and spying on my fellow passengers, I found myself closely observing the pilots of the plane as they were getting through the gates, for signs of mental wellness or any abnormalities in their gestures, postures etc. Don't get me wrong, I so much love flying, and not just flying, I can sit for hours at the terminal observing those monster birdies take off from the tarmac. This time however, my passion for flying was tested at an altogether different level. Midway through the Hyderabad Singapore flight, as we had just finished the meals and were about to doze off, the aircraft experienced a severe sudden jolt, huge vibrations and horizontal shake accompanied by rapid fall to some feet, and a red light on the cockpit door (without any announcements though). It lasted for maybe 15-20-30 seconds but those felt like eternity. The aircraft soon corrected its manners and we all knew this was definitely not the routine turbulence that we had encountered. In all probability, this was a case of a clear-air 'Wake Turbulence' that is caused by the wingtip vortices of another jet (jet wash) coming your way when the jet overtakes you flying (minimum 1000 ft up above) in the same direction. I am a self-proclaimed aviation fan and have read just too many books, researches and blog posts from the actual military and commercial pilots to know turbulence very very rarely causes any mid-flight crisis, especially in the cruise mode but this was one hell of a scary experience. I must admit though, that in such situations, it is amazing to notice how calm one's mind remains, knowing that nothing's there in our control anyway so worrying is worthless!

On a side note, landing at the Changi was uneventful and the airport is so big it would be a fair ask to have an entire fleet of cessna to internally commute from one place to another inside the Changi.

Now, after this harrowing experience mid-flight, the last thing you would want is to get onto an 'externally located' capsule-like elevator in your 34 storey hotel to reach 29th floor. This was like standing on top of the glass wall overlooking the grand canyon beneath your feet through the transparent view. God blessed me with this another vertigo inducing experience immediately after landing at Changi and checking in to the hotel in the city. How merciful.

No matter if your hotel is a five star, six star (if there's ever anything like that) or a seven star, and offers 100 different dishes from 10 different cuisines all over the world for breakfast, lunch and dinner, my observation is that you end up eating the Idli Dosas, Vadas for breakfast and Dal Rice with some curry during lunch for the major part. Food is one of the most critical factor that kicks instant home sickness no matter how lavish your spread on the offing is.

This was my second visit to Singapore and during my last trip itself I had visited most of the tourist spots and shopping malls. This time I was alone and it was so very kind of my colleague and dear friend Mani and his family to lovingly accommodate me as part of them wherever they went. A great company indeed and I am thankful to them for their kind gesture. In these two trips I have now finished almost entire Singapore.

From tourism perspective though, Singapore has nothing 'natural' to offer. Each and every object that you see in Singapore is a man made marvel. So if you are a nature lover, you are bound to be disappointed. You can anyway finish the entire city in two days sharp. Same goes with shopping. I haven't found a single stuff there that can not be purchased here in India with equal or less pricing and equal or more ease of availability. Again, even in a general sense, Singapore is an extremely expensive country. My rule has always been the same. As much as possible, I am not going to pay a dime to the foreign government for something that I can get back in my nation with equal ease and pricing. Period.

One interesting experience while dining out in Singapore was, and this is a repeat of my Facebook post, please pardon. "If you strongly desire to learn something, the whole universe conspires to force you learn." Here in Singapore, as I was learning deep insights on Customer Obsession through an American agency, another American food chain too contributed to my learning in the most practical way possible. Happened to visit a restaurant (famous chain worldwide) for lunch and settling down in my seat asked for a WiFi passcode to connect to the internet. The hotel guy responds, 'Yes sir first you order the main course and then only I tell you the passcode for the restaurant WiFi'. So much for the customer obsession!!!

The return journey was also equally turbulent, all the time vibrating and shaking as if this is not a plane cruising in the skies but a Mahindra Bolero offroading on the beautiful Hyderabad roads in the monsoon! However, given the onward journey experience we had, this felt like a butter-smooth flight.

And yeah, to and fro I was sitting on the emergency seats deliberately chosen (window14A) and loved noticing the vigorously rocking wing, the lightening in the clouds, appreciating the fact that I will be the first one to get out in case something happens, and I am an excellent swimmer too!!

Yeah one interesting thing that happened there is, while passing through the security gates at the Changi, just before boarding the plane (in Changi, the security checks are done right at the gates, and not at the airport entrance as in most places), on passing the security metal detector, I habitually marched towards the security personnel (a lady in this case) with both my arms up flaying sideways (that's what we do here in India airport security checks for the staff to run their metal detectors around our body). Here, the lady got scared and said "No no, you're alright sir". I then realized they are not doing this running around metal detectors stuff for the passengers. I can't say for sure the assumption that this person is going to hug me was the reason behind her scare!

The trip itself was an official one with intense three days training and networking, though my role doesn't allow me to share a single word about the event itself in a public domain. Those of my colleagues in the same company who happen to read this post, can contact me in private to know more about that 'experience' if interested!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Accident, Suicide or Murder?

No, this is not a work of fiction though the subject may just have indicated that and no, I wouldn't have imagined myself expressing my views on the theme that's going to unfold next, especially when I am writing after a long hiatus.

Road safety is a fairly common topic of discussion and there has already been so much written, talked about, published and promoted on this that there would hardly be any living soul who isn't aware of what it is all about. Yet, then, we come across such kinds of 'accidents' happening on the roads of India almost every hour, that make us wonder if we should really call them accidents, or suicide or a murder.

Last week itself I came across two unfortunate events where one lady lost her life as she was waiting on her scooter with her family on the traffic signal (while it was red), and some drunk driver who was racing his vehicle to impress some of his fellow passengers, lost control and hit them from behind at high speeds. Another one was where there was a head-on collision right in the middle of the lake where apparently the machine boat sped carelessly towards the ferry allegedly for some stupid adventure and equally stupid photo-op and 'selfie' opportunities for the passengers. Again, although this second incident is not particularly linked with the road safety, I am sure I need not surf the internet to find at least 10 such news daily about the 'accidents' caused by similar stupidity and misadventure.

Now, the question that we need to ask ourselves is, are these really 'accidents'? To me, an accident is something you have no or limited control over, for e.g., a tyre burst, or the vehicle catching fire, or the sudden malfunctioning of the equipment like steering, handle, brakes. Even in these cases there is a very thin line between an 'accident' and 'act of negligence'. You can always say the vehicle couldn't be controlled on the tyre burst because the speed was out of permissible limits for the road and the vehicle. In that case it is no more an accident. The vehicle wasn't maintained properly and the fuel used was of low quality, the electric components of the vehicle were tampered and hence it caught fire. In that case it is no more an accident. You can always limit the damage caused by accidents for yourself, your loved ones and for others on the road whose lives are as important as your own.

My anguish goes beyond such 'acts of negligence' though. Drunk driving leading to a fatal accident is either a suicide or a murder (depending on who bears the brunt of it). Not wearing a seat belt resulting in fatal injuries is sheer suicidal. Excessively high speed driving causing accidents is an attempt to murder, nothing else. Underage driving, talking on mobile phones while driving, not wearing helmet on a bike, performing a wheelie, a drag, leaving infants and kids alone in the vehicle so on and so forth, all of this amounts to either suicide or murder. These things can't just be sidelined in the name of accident or negligence. Negligence is an act where one doesn't realize the potential impact of doing it upfront, and that's where crime is different from negligence in a sense the criminal act is one where the owner of the activity has absolute control on the activity and realizes the impact fully if the outcome of the activity goes wrong.

Is it really worth it? I mean, if the doers yearn for getting a 'high', instead of resorting to these monkey antics, my advice to them would be to try bringing a smile on the face of the needy with small acts of kindness and experience the 'real high' out of it. If they are yearning for a real adventure, my advice to them would be to join army, go to the border and fight the enemy, spill the blood on the border rather than wasting it on the roads.

Is it really difficult? wearing seat belts, helmet, following signals and other basic rules, maintaining lane discipline, managing healthy speed limits, not mixing drinks with drive, keeping safe distance, all just too simple things to do. In fact, these are the things where there is absolutely no need of any explicit promotion or awareness. A fair amount of common sense and applying that on the roads is enough. Unfortunately, many of us still don't have either, or don't apply for the reasons best known to them.

I make it a point to follow as much as I have inculcated in my driving habits over a period of time and with a lot of grey hair, to wear seat belts, maintaining the lanes, speed limits not crossing three digits, no drunk driving without exceptions, not stretching the vehicle beyond its capacity, day driving as much as possible, not jumping signals, not taking shortcuts, no wrong side driving to save time, no mobile while driving, to name a few. Through this post, I appeal to the readers to pay proper attention to the road safety of themselves as well as others, by following basic rules and applying common sense while driving. If this post makes some impact on at least one reader, even for a duration as short as a week, I will believe my time writing on this was worth spent. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Management lessons from a simple man and his team

My recent road trip down south was full of interesting observations, unique experiences and humbling moments. One of the places we visited was Wayanad, in north Kerala where we had an amazing stay for three days, every bit of which resulted in cherishing memories. Apart from the prime location and serenity of the place, I attribute most of it to the management principles of the owner of the property. Just to observe the way he has created, nurtured and grown his team and the way his team serves the customers was a lesson in management which can be applied in the corporate world as well.

Let me share three of the basic team management principles that no corporate training will likely talk about, but were on display day in day out during our stay there and seemingly had a strong positive influence on our amazing experience during our stay.

Love your people, you are because they are - If you are in a role which demands working with and for the people, you got to love them as your most valued assets. You got to love the fact that you are privileged to work for them. You got to love the fact that you are endowed with the responsibility to work for their professional betterment and personal development. You got to love the fact that you have them for a reason. On 31st December the resort had arranged a celebration party for the resident guests. Unbelievably, as we were expecting a rock-n-roll stuff, the get together begins with a surprise felicitation of each of the resort staff at all levels alike without any ordering or sequencing per their hierarchy. This was done none other than the owner himself and the emotional bonhomie was a sight to behold. I mean, you have guests who have paid premium amount to be there in your resort on the 31st gala event, some of them are foreigners as well, and yet, on such commercially important occasion, to witness this beginning was a humbling experience. Throughout our stay, one more time we encountered a cake cutting program for a junior staff member, again done by the owner and his family all by themselves.

Wear your emotions on your sleeve - No matter how higher you reach, if you want someone to trust you, to follow or be with you, to bet his or her life on you or your actions, be authentic. You are sad, reveal it. You're happy, share it. You're frustrated, crib about it. You want to make fun of yourself, do it and do it right. You want to crack a joke, crack it. You want to be a punching bag for your people to hit you, admit your mistakes and be it. You want to cry, cry out loud. Your people follow you if they can see what you are, and not when they can only see who you are. Once they get that, the culture trickles down seamlessly. During our entire time spent there, we never ever came across plastic smiles (which are so blatantly displayed in almost all premium hospitality sector properties), or fake emotions of any sort. Whenever there was a face to face encounter with any of the staff member, right from the managers at the desk or operations to the security personnel outside, genuine and warm smile greeted us. Whenever there was even the slightest lapse (which we too didn't even notice to mind) in the customer service as per their standards, genuine admission of guilt apologized to us.

Task isn't small or big, will and intent is - Every staff was empowered to take a decision as long as it served the purpose, and no one was bothered about the triviality or the significance of the job each was performing irrespective of their position in the hierarchy. For e.g., the chef was attending the customer's request for information if the front desk was busy, the right hand of the owner was acting as a gatekeeper to open the gates for a car to exit, when the watchman was engaged in other stuff equally important (so as the customer shouldn't have to wait), the owner himself was serving the dinner to the guests along with his kitchen staff, and likewise. No matter who was performing the job, the goal was still the same, pursuit of customer service excellence and everybody had imbibed this in their DNA.

Ultimately it all boils down to the very basic fact that the resources can be acquired, capabilities can be built, skills can be grown, infrastructures can be developed, behaviors can be mended, but will and intent has to come from within,

And last but not the least, in Hindi there is a saying 'Yatha Raja Tatha Praja' which translates as 'Subjects in a kingdom will be like the king'. The great Alexander was spot on when he emphasized on the significance of the leader acting as a role model in his famous quote which says 'I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion'.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Phillip Hughes and the mystery called destiny

'It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves' - William Shakespeare. I disagree, for there have been hundreds of thousands of those bouncers bowled in the centuries old history of the game of cricket, innocuous and vicious, faced by openers and tails alike, expertly hit or naively ducked under, with or without protective hundreds of batsmen around the world. Why the poor kid Phil Hughes then, and even poorer young lad Sean Abbott met their destinies as these?  

The unfortunate and tragic demise of this promising young international cricketer, an expert opener on the field, with all precautions in place, caused by what the doctors called 'one in a billion' type of injury has once again made us reflect on the mystery called destiny. Just few days back I was having a conversation with my partner on the probability of a human body accidentally getting hurt in the most sophisticated and delicate places which can be catastrophic. For e.g., a wrist cut is fatal, how many occurrences we have known where it got accidentally snapped for someone? Similar for the exterior delicate portion of our throat. Every individual throughout his lifespan falls, during sports or outdoor activities, during accidents on the road, during street fights and what not, but how many times we have encountered a case where that portion got accidentally hurt? Same for the reproductive organs, same for the lower abdomen, same for the temple, same for the spine. And we did talk about the lower back side of the skull.

I read somewhere that our destinies are sealed even before we come on earth to learn, experiment, mature (in soul) and depart for the new beginning, only to come back for further betterment of the soul depending on its learning needs, as applicable. We decide our own destinies based on our learning needs and/or contribute to others needs on this planet, but we do it much before we 'physically' come into existence. Well, we don't know what we don't know but then this philosophy somewhat explains the mystery of chance happenings, the mystery of the so-called accidents, coincidences, or even incidences.

Think about it, there's this guy of the 'friends of snakes' community who survived 49 snake bites, and died due to Malaria (mosquito bite). There's this guy who conquered so many races in perhaps the most dangerous of all sports, the motor-sport, only to get severely hurt during a routine skiing adventure. There's this four year old girl who was the only survivor, of all the 156 passengers in the horrific plane crash (flight 255, 1987). There are people who suffered fatal injuries falling in the bathroom and then there is this British skydiver Michael Holmes whose parachute got entangled, leading to his free fall from 15000 feet but miraculously survived. In fact, it was all being shot in the sky, and he waved good bye to all saying 'I am dead, bye!'....landing from 15000 feet on top of a blackberry bush and survived to live healthy thereafter. Then there are instances where people survived train or plain crashes due to inexplicably missing the boarding, or replacing seats with someone else, or postponing trips. Were they controlling their destiny?

Talking about destiny, destinies are never individualistic. They are intertwined. If anything positive or negative (although these are very relative terms which humans have created) has to happen to someone or something, the entire system has to be in a perfect equilibrium. As for this sad event to unfold, everything had to be in place. The time had to be 2.23 pm on that fateful day in 2014, the score had to be 63, the bowler had to be the poor Sean Abbott, the shot making decision had to be a mistimed hook, the helmet had to be a 2013 made missouri brand and not the latest one which had better protection chances, the batsman's mother and sister had to be among the spectators and so on.

It may sound philosophical, and it is, but the most plausible belief remains the same. We do not control our destiny. We live it, day in day out, every moment. In the overall scheme of things, then, we are the variables who undergo change, destinies are sealed.

Rest in peace Phillip Hughes. You died doing what you loved the most, in the company of people who loved you the most. 63 not out forever. Sean, not your fault...not at all..stay strong.....


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My struggle with the Statement of Purpose !

"At 31, here's a man who was brought up in eight different regions across central India, ranging from the places enduring no electricity to the places exuding vibrant metropolitan lights of development, represented his educational institutions in five different types of sports, and went on to become probably one of the youngest managers in Microsoft, though not before carefully crafting a career exploring, learning and delivering software in several amazingly disconnected domains using highly varied forms of technologies in a span of just over a decade after graduating in the computer engineering."

'What a piece of crap this is?' my mentor screamed at me. 'Do you yourself understand what you have written over here? What 31, and what all this s*** about enduring electricity and vibrant metropolitan lights and crafting careers and amazingly disconnected domains and highly varied technologies? Where have you begun your statement and where it is ending? I have never read any statement so big and crappy that I forgot at the end what this was all about.'

'Well I read in the samples that the beginning of your statement of purpose should be catchy and punchy.' with a numbed mind, lame defense from my side.

'Punchy and Catchy'? Any reader of this will most definitely dream of catching your neck and punching you in the face for what you have just done to him.' he just ripped me apart and my guns fell silent even before getting a chance to re-load.

That's how my first ever tryst with writing a statement of purpose (some call it personal statement) began. Now, when the beginning was of this caliber, you can imagine what all would have found its place in my statement of purpose. At the end of the day, after several iterations of not just the write up but also the thought process itself, I must admit this has been one of the most difficult and energy sapping effort I have taken up in a long time. I am not sure about what exactly it means when writers say they have been suffering from the infamous 'writer's block' but writing about oneself proved to be a mountain to climb, even for someone like me who is comfortable writing about almost anything at lengths.

Let me get it straight, I got it all wrong. I totally messed up creating my SoP initially. I underestimated the fact that writing about one's upbringing, achievements, strengths, learning, aspirations and goals etc. in limited words without sounding flashy or boastful and without being overtly self-critical as well as sympathy-seeker, is in itself a challenging proposition. In the corporate world, it becomes more so. For e.g., they say your statement of purpose should reflect who you are, what defines you in a way that whatever you write is the voice of your heart. Now, for someone who has made a career or a living out of some social work, writing something like 'In past 5 years, I worked with 20 different NGOs ranging from child education to eliminating poverty to girl empowerment to road safety, that positively impacted around 20000 people', it sounds more a voice of your heart than this 'With just 3 years of industry experience at the helm, I positively influenced the ‘build versus buy’ decision making process of my organization through detailed research on the data analytics tool.' which sounds more 'corporatish' and thus fake. Also, in the corporate world, it's not the one or two things that you did which shaped your career or growth but the combination of several hundred things you did year over year that fetched you recognition, successes, glory or even failures. That makes it much more difficult to talk about couple of isolated things that you have been 'proud' of, and can boast of as accomplishments in your professional career.

Nevertheless, irrespective of the purpose of the statement of purpose, or where it leads me to, I must say this has been a humbling experience and really an eye opener. I suggest everyone must try this out because without that it is hard to realize how hard it is to realize that creating a personal statement is probably one of the toughest thing one will have to go through in his or her professional career at some stage. What say !

P.S. - my post above only talks about just one of the learning elements I took back from the experience. Rest of them are beyond the scope of this post!

Monday, September 29, 2014

My impressions from the Madison Square Garden event

I was glued to the television set for complete six hours yesterday, keenly following up and keeping myself up to date on the proceedings at and outside of the MSG as well as the times square New York, that was being telecast on every small or big banner news channel and the websites. Here are some of the key impressions from the overall MSG event, Hon. PM's speech, and events that acted as a build up to the main event, plus the news coverage in all media houses, including the foreign media.

And while I would have liked to maintain the order of the events in my impressions list, I can't but help listing down starting with the biggest of all, our hon. PM Mr. Modi's speech.

* First, as I was writing it down, my hands never even once quivered to prefix 'hon.' before our PM's mention in this post and elsewhere. You bet, this wasn't the case even once in the past decade. Last night at the Madison Square Gardens, he came, he saw and he conquered.

* On the speech itself, well..what can I say. Forget about jet lag, forget about super-hectic and pressure-bound schedule, 96 hours without any kind of meal and 90 minutes of thoughtful speech full of passion and energy, blended with humor, vision, simplicity, confidence, and firmness, majorly an extempore, in front of 18000 plus audience, that too as a head of one of the largest democracies in the world is by no means a small feat. That, after captivating the supposedly intellectual minds at the UN for 32 minutes just a day before on an entirely different global theme. At 64, it definitely takes a 56 inch chest and a substance to do so. Stupendous. True I have just burnt and thrown into trash, the recent management book that I read which emphasized on the fact that you cannot engage your audience at a stretch for more than 6 minutes. Hell, for the entire 90 minutes I didn't bat an eyelid and that the speech was for 90 minutes I realized only via the news channels later on.

* On the content of the speech, most of the things resonated very well with me personally, except for, maybe, to some extent, the Ganga cleanup. I think if our hon. PM has a similar vision for all the major rivers in India, I am sold on to it. Just the Ganga cleanup initiative, I believe may not resonate with the entire 1.2 billion population. On the goodies for the NRIs, I have no sufficient information to comment, I don't know whether it is good or bad, and if good, how. Rest of the speech, just the goosebumps. His clever mentioning of the 'Visa' problem was like using a third degree therapy on a hardened criminal ! His intelligent dig at the previous government was a huge hit as well. And I am sure a certain ex-petroleum minister must be strictly on the petrol diet after having made that 'tea-seller' comment during election campaigning! Needless to say I am totally sold on to the various initiatives he mentioned and dreams he portrayed during his speech. Make in India, Clean India, Obsolete laws and regulations, Home for all, Sanitation and Skills. There is at least a renewed hope. Only time will tell how much of that will be materialized, but no doubt this man has all the intent and willpower in the world to grow us.

* On the event organization, a well organized event at this scale, in almost all aspects except for the fact that I personally didn't like the building up events and shows. Audience came there to listen to the hon. PM and that's the only thing they were interested in. With due respect to the artists, who did a fantastic job, I think except the painting stuff, rest of the events were a drag in the given context and could have been avoided altogether. Big screens all over the places at the times square was an arrangement thoughtfully done.

* On the foreign media coverage, browsed through at least 15 leading international newspapers and their online editions and was truly amused and entertained to read mentions as 'Hindu politician', 'Member of extremists party', 'affiliated with the militant group (specific mention of RSS ah !! militant group ROFL)', 'Controversial past', and what not. What was more amusing was that half of these articles were written by Indian journalists working for these media houses. Amazing :-) ! And a lot of emphasis was given on how the court has summoned him, and how there are protests etc. all over. Well, to these human rights associations, how about getting in place the gun control laws first that kill more people every year in that part of the world than the specific incident you guys are protesting about rather than engaging yourselves in cheap antics to seek attention? As far as the incident goes, India's supreme judicial authority has taken care of the justice already, and if there's anything, will take care in future as well.

* On the media coverage, times now was good, without advertisement breaks, and to the point. In fact, it was surprising to see the amazing self-restraint shown by Mr. Goswami ! He was really good and dignified, for a change, yesterday. More or less all other channels were bent on sensationalizing things with catchy phrases such as 'insulted', 'revenge', 'vindication' etc. with respect to the visit, and then frequent breaks as well didn't help much.

* On a minor note, I didn't have any of the past reference or context about a 'certain' journalist who got slapped yesterday and only once I read somewhere on twitter, decided to switch channel. The moment I watched 2.5 minutes of 'his' live coverage from the times square, I got to understand the exact reason behind the incident! There was no need for me to do any research on 'his' past adventures and trysts with the hon. PM. Honestly, without any past baggage, I couldn't withstand 'his' couple of minutes of live coverage of the event at all.

Today morning while I was coming to office, found a couple of used tissue papers on the cubby holes in my car. Just as I was about to disdainfully throw them out in the parking lot, knowing that it will be cleaned up eventually by the cleaning staff, something stopped me. I simply came to office, parked my car with the trash in hand, went straight to the dust bin and dropped the tissues in it. Acche din aate nahi hai.. laane padte hai...koi aur laaye na laye..khud ko to laane hi padte hai... :-) !!