Monday, December 31, 2012

The Wisdom of Ants - Book Review

Few can write of economic history as Shankar Jaganathan does. Recommended by Rahul Dravid, Mohandas Pai, and reviewed by champions in education, sustainability and the behavioral sciences, this is no standard output. 

This is the second book that Shankar has brought to our world. While the first was examining corporate history through voluntary disclosures made by companies in legal frameworks in the public domain, the essence of unraveling significant points of departure and phase transitions in the evolution of financial reporting stands out in this volume too. It is near probable that the second book, like the proverbial Russian doll, was born in the making of the first. By that token, a reading of the Wisdom of Ants, will give hint to the next volumes waiting to be written. 

However, this book is far more important than the author's efforts. It is the reader that will benefit more, as seldom, have we got answers to questions of economics as have been distilled from events and trends in thinking of economics. The reader is usually concerned with how it affects contemporary pursuits like profession or vocation. So even if the section on Ideological strands gives clues to thinking on economics from across the world, it is the way it shapes our thinking and the challenges of breaking its shackles that will weigh on our minds. The recent crises of the global financial meltdown and continental uncertainties of economic union are triggers that capture popular attention. Yes, the author may lead you to his personal recommendation to deal with the inequities produced by the recent ravages of structured doctrines in the administration of economics. Yet, like stars against the sun, it leaves no scar on your own choices. Written with a profundity of rare genre, it gets to fundamentals without frills or needless fancy. At once, the reader will find the simplicity and profundity hugging the bare essentials of economic history. 

Academics will begin to seriously ask questions of the epistemology of economics, for its classification as a science may seem even more suspect when this longitudinal view is read. Philosophically speaking, the functional form of economics may seem like the linear extension of argumentation in the pure sciences, but for the impurities that human behaviors and predispositions provide. 

Eventually, when we look back at our lives, we begin to pose ourselves deeper questions of Purpose. That money, economics, and social regulation was couched in assumptions of order and stability, or let us say predictability, stands exposed as a bruised and perplexed stance that beguiled our confidence in social systems. Hence, even from a very personal perspective, this book can transport us into facile comprehension of activity as in the enterprise of ants, grasshoppers and our very own illusions of societal and personal wisdom. It is quite likely then that the lens of finance, economics and commerce will not seem foggy anymore.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Recognising Value in a Services Economy

Services are a many splendored thing. The more you standardize, the less it can dazzle you. The more you make common, the more you find it predictable and in your control as producer. Mac Donald’s is one example of standard mascots, colours, the logo et al. So also is CafĂ© Coffee day today.

The reason I write this today is this – Some brands differentiate to market a service for a premium that the client cannot justify. In fact, several brands tend to latch on like in a lobby to fetch that premium with no semblance of reliability or accuracy with the supposed standard of service.

There have been waves of assessment for example, that were sold as certification in the differentiation effort. The PCMM or People Capability Maturity Model from Carnegie Mellon was one such. Assessors for the Software Engineering Institute know for the most part that they assess to a scheme of practices and goals, seeking consistency between documents of intent – policies and procedures and documents of practice – of reviews and measurements.   There is not even an attempt to check for the validity of terms on these documents. E.g. the word competency could mean a technical skill in one organisation and a behavioural outcome in another and the Assessor will give no guarantee for the internal consistency of the term for the assessment he or she is given responsibility for! They would give sublime rationalisations to the effect that they rather focus on the spirit of the assessment than the content of the effort of the assessee.

Of late, several such apparent ‘standards’ pass commercial decision points with poor criteria for discernment. A floor effect is reached, when there are a plethora of firms that brand their commercially paid ‘certifications’. ISO for Quality is one such. Legally mandated compliances are of course in service of a different master.

Service is valued when it is authentic, spontaneously delivered and available when demanded.

Would you care for a bank office whose internal walls contain hoardings of minimum service time for various service requests are violated ad nauseam? At times, you can see through the inconvenient compromise that management and unions arrive at to take away from their own inventiveness and service capability, even as you stand in line for tasting their stated predictability.

Would you like to pay premia for culturally irrelevant norms, that you feel are imposed, merely because they sold the feature, even before the service is consumed?

How about an ICA or ICF credentialed coach, when there is no legal requirement in your own country to license coaches for your development? Even without a GATT regime for such services, several who need coaching will be deprived of service merely because the service is not affordable. It is like medical bills that get inflated to amortize costs of equipment that have only a remote influence on the patient’s survival.

And then there is the case for OD certification, when even in the lands of their origin, there is no eligibility criterion for professional qualifications to practice OD. In my experience, many Indian firms may fail to appoint Personnel Officers in line with the factories Act, 1948, despite the hundreds of courses recognised by the government for this purpose.

In order to standardise delivery, I have seen ‘trainers’ of sales, service and leadership behaviors, recite the same joke, at the precise calendar time of the day, as if there were no differences between their circadian rhythms or neural structures.  You can imagine how they relate to their customers, assuming that every customer was Henry Ford’s prototype of the Model T purchaser. Service providers continue to have their cognitive flaws when taking lessons from analogies, metaphors, and unrelated service sectors.

My concern here is as you may have guessed by now. How can we enable buyers to take decisions in their context without feeling cheated before or after they pay for their services?  Such points of mention may actually provide for derivative lessons which can make for enjoyment of benefits that were not even thought of before you decided to buy a service. E.g. Specifying the value for validity in Assessment Centers may be one thing in research, but another in experiencing it. Linking Assessment Centers with relevant talent management processes over relevant time periods goes with the purchasing decision. If you did not buy it for predictive validity, why pay so much? Here are some guidelines you may like for decisions.

1.       Conserve Resources : In a world that needs to make more from the little we have, we have only our brains to separate value from non-value. Beware of opportunists who take more from you than you need to pay. Conserve your financial resources, and pay for what is essential. E.g. There is no need to pander to ‘business class’ travel or ‘chopper-transfers’ merely to manage your service provider’s comfort. Also, when paying for time, factor overall time of solutioning for which you make investment and not merely by rate of consulting fees per day, for example. There is no point in negotiating fees for an employee survey per employee response, for example, if the outcomes from analysis are weeks and months away from the last response!
2.       Ecologically Sound : While at first this may be seen as a mention in aid of sustainable eco-systems, I refer here the effect of intention. When you buy, screen for the seller’s intention. If it harms people, even in a non-tactile, non-contractual way, assert your value for a non-threatening service. This ecological soundness is about well being of people with whom the buyer interacts most with. It is about avoiding willful or designed damage as collateral for the service being consumed. For example, if you have a personality test coupled with a job analytic procedure, and you do not have a plan to redeploy conventional talent in the recrutiment process into newer roles, you've not been ecologically sound, although you've gained on accuracy and timeliness of your new service provider. 
3.       Listen Deeply for Value: Many quality providers out there do not have financial muscle to numb you in a media blitzkrieg. When you engage potential service providers before deciding your purchase, have long conversations at first and then long conversation pauses. Clarify your logic for buying even more to arrive at what value you are actually paying for. At times, you will be able to justify the premium you pay. Most often, you will know how much you can save. Assumptions for your purchase are often clearer and the commitment to solution much sounder after such a process. This will reduce wasteful consumption of irrelevant purchases, and in fact make your organisation more 'lean' than those who operate Zero-base annual budgets with transitory 'efficiencies'. 
4.       Discern Customisation : When your service provider gets finicky about what comes with the package,  it is a foreteller of the mind-set you will have to put up with. In software terms, it is evident in length of field-names, and in revenue terms, it is about payment schedules for heavy investments. The more the service is tailored to your context, the more the service has been designed with intent to serve the above guidelines – conserve overall resources, systemic or organic connect with your context, and proximity to your economic value chain.

Often, when the above is factored in service, need for legislative or risk cover in insurance goes down. You get an experience of credibility, higher than the vacuous exposition of competence. What you realise in the process is a confidence in your own needs, and a clarity on value for purposes you engage in.

Buzzwords like globalisation, ‘international’ standards, and MNCs have their sway in times of change. That, like someone mentioned, should not take away from the wealth in your own home. We can do with less clutter on the inside and more collaboration on the outside for sure. In our eagerness to co-operate with models from distant contexts, we may in fact have lost our capacity to collaborate. If this post were not of value to you, do let me know. How can we be more reconciled to such choices in the service economy if we are not willing to explore how much more we have within ourselves? 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaza, CT, and the world after GFC (post- 2008)

The misery of civilization today is the demise of inquiry in everyday life.
The Reasons of those who choose the win-win approaches and the reasons of those who adopt the "I win-You got to Lose" approaches are not Wisdom to either side.
Processed e-learning packages and pre-packaged videos or rich data formats make entitlement of pre-configured information the privilege of societal ladders
So, rather than a maturation and mastery over how and why human judgment evolves, we have de-capacitated people consuming more than this place we inhabit can afford. Work and Life will reach a new phase transition. It is a question of when , not how.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Context, Crucible, Crucial Experiences of Values

Recently, I’ve tried to reflect on the apparent fickle-mindedness or the hyper-flexibility of people who act in organisational setups. It is not infrequent now to witness some of the following behaviors in client organisations.

a)     Profess a point of view, and even commit to it in writing. Then do a turnaround, as though they can do it as an act of privilege. E.g. Dishonouring a legal contract ad nauseam; so much so that the contract may now be seen as an instrument of deception itself.
b)    Enthusiastically embrace a point of view, as if to commit to a line of action. Then act, as if they’re acting out a will that is not the one that owned the point of view.
c)     Avail of services, and keep up an image that the organisation is a storehouse of virtue, until your own bills contain threads of damning evidence to the contrary.

Many consultants I know experience these issues. In India, an unreasonable charity in business is not without context. The sheer burden on time and money in following a litigious route can deter one from asserting one’s legal rights. It makes business sense to move on in life, at least when you can. Keeping that ‘suspense’ account for acts not attributable to sheer honor of contracts may often be a wise idea.

However, a charity of perspective is paradoxically still affordable. It would for example be a broad-brush sweep that paints similar incidents with the paint of Integrity. Assuming for a moment it is about absolutism, and not about particularism as may be the case made out of our collectivist, context-rich, meaning-laden interactions of tacit interweaving, why would Integrity remain stunted?
It is largely because:
1.   When we reflect on our experiences, we do not have clear notions of boundaries and limitations. As John Scherer reminds me of what TS Eliott said “Everyone gets the experience, only some get the lesson”.
2.     We ignore creeping transgressions except to track financial misdemeanours
3.     Task obsessed people use weak-ties in their social networks to inform and influence, often missing opportunities to hone core values in wholesome relationships

My inner voice these days tells me “To develop your moral intelligence, re-calibrate your beliefs”. Contexts frame the intrinsic judgment of the individual, and that too in interactive dynamism. That is a crucible for transformation indeed. More on such another time.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Leadership Turning Points - A process for Growth

Discovery of one’s turning points is an event in life. Like threads that stitch the fabric of meaning, your experiences sit well with wholesome integration.  We succeed with strengths that help us in a certain situation. Overused strengths can become limitations.                                                                     
The treasure of potential is in the paradoxical constraints we place on ourselves. Identify them to your benefit and develop with assurance into the future.   In Leadership Turning Points, the process is about you, and not some distant ideal.

Who would benefit?
Middle and Senior Level Leaders with at least 10 years of work experience who wish to make reliable insights into their leadership enablers and derailers
Prepare your leadership self for a rapidly changing world
What do you get?
1.       Experiential reflection of your leadership journey in a thorough process
2.       150 Plus Traits Details and Preferences highlighting Life Themes and Strengths
3.       Leadership Paradox Report based on Paradox Technology™ (Harrisons)
4.       Personal attention on your Leadership Development Plan
What do you invest?
Rs. 12,530/-  inclusive of taxes, (for 2 days workshop  and process, Trait Report, Paradox report, lunch and refreshments  & upto 6 post-workshop coaching sessions).
Where do you pay?
Write Cheque / DD towards “Workplace Catalysts LLP” payable at par HDFC Bank, Branch: HRBR Layout, Kalyan Nagar, Bangalore – 560043.  OR
Online payment  mode (preferred) at RTGS / NEFT IFSC : HDFC0000353 Account Number: 03532560001966 Account Type : Current.
Please quote online transaction reference number after you make payment to help us link your nomination with payment.
Pay by deadline of Jan 10, 2013 to reserve your seat (No more than 20 participants for this workshop. Avoid cancellation charge of 50% of course fee). Write to for pre-workshop preparations. Feel free to seek any clarification to help your participation.
Venue : SAIACS CEO Centre – (Kindly register directly with the Center in case you wish overnight accommodation at very reasonable rates under Rs. 2500/- per person, per night)
SAIACS, BOX 7747,Gubbi Cross Road, Kothanur Post Bangalore 560077, Phone:91-80-23681725-1727
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