Perspectives

Improv – Deserving of a wider stage

At a play – The Diary of a Madman – the wonderful British performer was right into his solo-act as Poprishchin, a minor civil servant in Nicolas I’s time. Poprishchin is going mad and his descent into insanity is subtle & deceptive. That was in the script. What was not there was that there would be a constant titter of mobile phones ringing. The audience was getting mad in it’s own way and this descent was not so subtle; it was rather obvious! The actor was sane on this count. He carried on unaffected. And then it happened. He was half-way into his delivery of a particular monologue when an earth-shattering musical ringtone started to reverberate around the auditorium. Even before all of the audience had heard it, this actor started swaying to the rhythm of the ringtone, even as he continued his talk. It was so effortless that one could almost wonder if the ringtone music was intentional. At another critical instant, a girl sneezed. Without batting an eyelid, the actor said, “Bless you” and carried on! Both adaptations were a…

The Elphinstone Stampede – Getting back on our feet

On 29th September 2017, an overcrowded foot over bridge at Elphinstone railway station, Mumbai witnessed a horrific stampede. 23 people died. What can we, as a society of organizations, do in the aftermath of the Elphinstone stampede? Let us explore the way forward using systems thinking. It might be a good idea to start with a description of the mental model we carry in our collective consciousness. Mental models are the very foundation, the source of how we create our own social reality. Mental Models Here is an articulation of the current mental models as I perceive them. ” Mumbai is the city of dreams. The financial capital. The corporate hub. Everything worth striving for is in Mumbai. We must go to work where the offices and establishments are. The best way to travel? The Mumbai locals – hands down. Cheaper & faster than anything else. Sure, it’s risky. Rush-hour.Packed trains, people falling off, getting run over. Part of the deal. We have made peace with it. Brave everything you encounter because there is a job to be done and food to…

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 United States & Soviet Union, were in a state of MAD ( Mutually Assured Destruction) This is even now the case. MAD means both superpowers had enough…

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.…

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…

Thoughts on the TATA Group challenge

As a teenager, 23 years ago, I remember being struck by something unsual in the newspapers one day. All of them were carrying one single news story on their front page. It was the obituary of JRD Tata. And on the rest of the page, there were vignettes or anecdotes from JRD’s life. Usually, political icons got such coverage. Why such a coverage for an industrialist then, I asked myself.  As I read and devoured everything in multiple papers and magazines, I got my answer. JRD was so much more than an industrialist & a business leader. JRD showed how much a business can contribute to a nation and society if it is driven by values & enlightened leadership. In your teens, you are moved more by ideas of justice and equality than by those of making money. To know that a business can reconcile such values & make money was a revelation to me. Reading about JRD made such a huge impact then. As I read about what is happening at the TATA group now, I am not dismayed…

Leadership this month : Taking time-out

The volatile Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte was asked about his response in an anticipated meeting; should Barack Obama, the US president, talk about rampant human rights violations and extra-judicial killings under his regime. In his native tongue, he said he would call Obama, ‘son of a bitch’. Obama’s response? All he said was that given the less likelihood of a productive and constructive conversation, he would call off the meeting. Which he did. No grand riposte. No grand-standing as the President of the United States of America. The Srilankan cricket team won their Test cricket series against the mighty australians 3-0, a whitewash. In the process, Australia lost their Test no.1 ranking. The Australian cricket captain, Steve Smith was sent back to Australia during the one-day series on the grounds of rest and preparation for the upcoming South African series at home. Of course, the decision was criticised as a sign of weak leadership. How can the captain of a beleaguered team go home like that? Well, he did. Under new captain, David Warner, the Australians won the one-day series…