Stanislav Petrov – The Man who Saved the World

Without you knowing about it, Stanislav Petrov has been a part of your life. He has saved the world as we know it by the decisions he made all the way back in 1983. On 26th September, 1983, Petrov was the duty officer at the command-center for a nuclear early warning system near Moscow in Soviet Union. That night, he faced one of the biggest decisions of the 20th century – a decision that could have precipitated an inevitable chain-reaction of events to culminate into the destruction of the whole world. Hard to get what this means into our gut and that is part of our collective challenge – but that’s beside the point. How did a low-ranked duty-officer come to bear such a huge responsibility? After all, we expect this to come to the desks of country leaders & top generals.  And what made it such an agonising decision? In the eighties, the then superpowers, the Unites States & Soviet Union, were in a state of MAD ( Mutually Assured Destruction) This is even now the case. MAD means both superpowers had enough…

Movies : Elle – Isabelle Huppert’s magnificent performance

We harbour notions about how a movie on rape & sexual violence will be. Elle, the French movie brushes them aside; totally subverting the viewer model we have on such a sensitive subject. The moral purists may not appreciate it. But such is the mesmerising power of Isabelle Huppert, the actress in the role of Michele, that we are held in thrall by her and contend with the existential reality. Michele, the fifty-something CEO of a gaming company, is raped by a masked man in the opening scene. Everything else that follows goes against the grain, deviates from the expected proceedings. Michele does not report to the police. There is an air of nonchalance in the way she breaks the news to a few friends – as a part of dinner table small talk. She does not even actively seek to find the rapist – till he starts to needle her. And even when she starts the search, she does not let it become an obsession. Far from it, it is just something to tackle, that’s it. In short, Michele refuses…

August 2017 Thinking practice – Thoughts on everything & nothing – Regularly updated

14th August 2017 Versova Beach clean-up Afroz Shah, a feted UN Earth Champion once again led a clean-up effort at Versova beach. Our Prime minister has already lauded him for his extraordinary work. Many clean-up efforts have been inspired by his initiative. In Versova, since the past year 4000 tons of garbage has been collected. The beach was made sparkling clean and again defiled, and has again been cleaned. Afroz is not dispirited by having to do the clean-up act all over again. As a society, we ought to think deeper. When the dirt and the filth stare us in the face, the first question has to be, “How can we clean up our beaches and public places?” The ultimate question then has to be, ” How can prevent our beaches and public places from getting dirty in the first place?” In the West, the civic society was grappling with the poor state of animal shelters. Abandoned pets were arriving at a higher rate. The first question they asked was, ” How can we improve the state of our animal…

July 2017 Thinking practice – thoughts on everything & nothing – Regularly updated

30th July 2017 Ghaktopar building collapse : No guidance on how to prevent a recurrence A four storey building collapsed in Ghatkopar, Mumbai on 25th July. 17 people lost their lives. Dangerous renovation that tampered with the structural foundation was the cause. The person who initated this work brushed aside any objections of residents because he was politically connected. The sad part about the coverage is that not enough focus is seen in informing people how to handle similar situations in the future. Two questions. Where do we complain if we think somebody is going about building repairs unmindful of structural safety? What is to be done if we want to check the safety of our building? No starting answers available in this information age. From reading, what I understood is that every five years, a structural engineer should be roped in to audit an old building. Checked the BMC website. Why can’t it be responsive to what is happening, unearth critical information as guidance for citizens and share it as a pop-up? An FAQ feature would have been great.…

Dunkirk : Hope amidst despair

On the deck of the boat, the British soldier anxiously asks Peter how George is doing. He doesn’t know that George lies dead on the lower deck. How did he die? Peter is seething inside. How dare you ask, his eyes speak. After all, he knows that this soldier, their own soldier, owes his very life to the help he received from Peter, his father, Dawson and George. The three of them -civilians- were on the way across the Engligh channel to Dunkirk in their private boat to help in the evacuation of Allied soldiers. They were responding to a desperate call by the British authorities. All sea-faring vessels were needed to get soldiers back home. In the sea,they had spotted this lone soldier, the sole survivor of a ship-wreck and rescued him from a certain death by getting him onboard. They planned to move on. But, the rescued soldier had had enough of war. On hearing of their Dunkirk plan, he had termed it as madness and demanded they straight away head for home instead. As talk went out of hand,…

Federer : Insight into his resurgence

Not a single Grand Slam. 2013 to 2016, four long years. And now, two out of two – the Australian Open and Wimbledon. How did Roger Federer turn things around? Here is what seems to have helped : an involuntary break caused by a knee injury and subsequent surgery. It was not by design that Federer took time off.  But the break helped. The body got enough time to regather its vitality. The mind was sharp as ever. And the spirit was willing. Re-energized like never before, Federer defeated Nadal and won the Australian. The win made him realize the value of his break. So much so, he skipped the French, was fresh and raring to go at Wimbledon; and won it without dropping a set! In the post-match speech and interview, Federer has announced plans to take a longish break once again. At soon-to-be 36, he has decided to conserve his energy for the big ones – the surfaces that suit his style and are easier on his ageing body ( that rules out the French Open). So, he…

Aiming for team excellence? Make yourself dispensable as team-leader.

You are a fast-rising team leader intent on learning strategy & the big picture. You get feedback that you need to focus on helping team members get better at operations. How does that feel? A bit frustrating, of course.  It is like halfway up the mountain, you are looking at the summit, charting your own route and then, you are asked to retrace your steps and climb down to base-camp. Is there something you can do, something different? Yes, you can. Be strategic about the whole thing itself. Yes, you are asked to work on tactical excellence by helping your team members. But no, you need not get tactical in your approach. Be strategic. Create an elaborate & systematic plan of action.  How? Tactical is doing things one at a time with each member. Believing that I have to myself sit down with each and help them learn the ropes. Strategic is refusing to accept that you have to do this all by yourself. Instead you ask, how can I get them to learn largely on their own? That does not mean…

Leadership this month – Heroes are not always right.

From the barber to the CEO, everyone in India loves to hold court on what ails Indian cricket. The latest news is that Anil Kumble, the coach & Virat Kohli, the captain do not see eye to eye. To make the two reconcile is not my task. That said, this is a great opportunity to ask – Are we as a society and a people also blind to how things are? How often do we believe that choices made by our heroes will always be right? In the case of the Tata Group, it was Ratan Tata himself who had a role in appointing Cryus Mistry as the chairman in the first place. Anybody disputes that? We all know how that turned out. In the case of the Indian cricket coach, it was the famed trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly & VVS laxman who chose Anil Kumble. And things have apparently not turned out well on the internal harmony front. Now, who is going to challenge the cricketing pedigree of these legends ? Not me. And yet, going by…

Why clarifying stakeholder expectations matters to HR

Every organization talks about people being its most important asset. If they walk their talk, the HR ( Human Resources) function would also be the most important function. Why? because everybody assumes, HR -as the name suggests – is all about people. The reality is that HR is nowhere secure about it’s presence in the scheme of things. Clarifying stakeholder expectations is a good way to plot HR on the map. Here is a Q&A format exploration of the same. Have taken HR in the public sector as an example – with three primary stakeholders – employees, officers and unions. HR in A Public Sector Undertaking What is the Fundamental expectation of all stakeholders? Answer: Make it easy for us to perform our core task & validate the very reason why we exist. Why do the stakeholders expect this from HR? Answer: Human beings are the life-giving element of any enterprise. All capital,equipment & resources are deadwood unless human beings engineer sparks of performance by working together. HR as a function begins its work on this premise. This helps HR…

Movies : An iconic car chase scene

Explosive Action. Intense. Gritty. Peter Yates showcases it in the pulsating car-chase of ‘Bullitt’, the 1968 thriller. If action sucks us in, it has to be because tension has been built upto the moment of release. Most action movie plots shy away from building up tension for just one definitive release. They seek the safety of numbers; and insert scenes that are like short machine gun bursts. Build a little tension here, release; build some more, release; raise the stakes higher; and release again. James Bond movies fit the bill. Action movie buffs like that. To each his or her own. It is too formulaic for my liking. In Bullitt, Peter Yates, the director, does not do that. He builds up the tension for a whole hour into the movie. And how it works! At one level, the tension is built up on the level of the plot itself. Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) is a lieutenant cop in charge of a witness-protection assignment over the weekend.  A legislator has roped Bullitt in for the task. The witness is going to make his political…