Saturday, June 2, 2007

TV and dating

I cringe every time someone refers to TV advertising as a ‘mass medium.’ It makes it sound so sterile and impersonal that it is not surprising that so much of the advertising out there comes across as cold and impersonal, like a memo to the consumer explaining what benefits the brand offers instead of actually striving to make a lasting connection with the consumer. I like to think of it differently. To me, there is nothing ‘mass’ about TV advertising – every time a consumer sees your ad, it is a one-on-one interaction, and a chance for you to make a lasting connections. To help you see what kind of thinking may lead you to do, let us change the context to one that is all about making a one-on-one connection: dating…

(P. 55, ‘Brand Management 101: 101 Lessons From Real-World Marketing’ by Mainak Dhar, from Wiley

Cities - the objects of our love and hate

Cities are the greatest of human inventions. They embody our histories and manifest our technological innovations, cultural and social interactions, economic structures, political systems, and our respect for (or fear of) deities. Cities contain our imagined communities, our socially constructed identities, and the spaces that shape our daily activities. We equate cities with progress, and in many cases cities elevate their citizens to higher social status than that afforded to their rural counterparts…. Cities have been the objects of our desire, our love, and our hate.

(P. 1, ‘City and Environment’ by Christopher G. Boone and Ali Modarres, from Pearson


Many organisations do not invest in superordination – repeated articulation, reminding, and assertion of the overall goals, mission, and common interests of the organisation.

Where superordination is neglected over a period of time, members of efficient departments tend to get strongly hooked on (as contrasted to meaningfully committed) to their departmental sub-goals, as determined by their departmental managements.

They also, usually, become skilled in the unique technologies relevant to their respective departments. In that mode, they become increasingly competitive to make their units successful in comparison to other units or departments within the organisation. Where this competition becomes unhealthy, dysfunctional conflict develops.

It usually appears much in the following ways:

* Members of different departments resist each other’s ideas, suggestions, or requests.

* Department A, facing such resistance, investigates to find out what the (adversary) resisting department B is doing, or not doing…

* Each department develops inroads into the other to make allies with its disgruntled members who, it feels, might be of help in this conflict and competiton…

(P. 452, ‘The Orderly Workplace: An Exploration into Holistically Disciplined Worklife’ by Prem Chadha, from Macmillan

If you don't know debit from credit...

Bookkeeping had not changed in nearly 500 years; the Italian priest Pacioli had first described the double-entry bookkeeping system in 1494. Double-entry bookkeeping used complicated layers of records: transactions, then ledgers, and then trial balances. Contemporary software companies in the early 1990s based their programs on this complex accounting scheme – using debits, credits, double ledgers, posts, and closes. But Sam Klepper’s first study suggested this rigid and nonintuitive approach frustrated business owners.

To confirm his initial research, Klepper commissioned a national survey to determine exactly how much time and money small businesses spent on accounting. Klepper examined business owners’ complaints about accounting and searched in particular for bookkeeping tasks that were costly and frustrating, as these would be the areas most appealing to customers seeking help. Invoicing and payroll met those two criteria.

The national survey results validated Klepper’s initial findings. The research showed that most businesses were tiny: 85 per cent of the ones surveyed had fewer than 20 employees, and 98 per cent fewer than one hundred. These small businesses had no room on their payrolls for a trained accountant. Instead, the owner, the owner’s spouse, or an office manager kept the books. This person had never taken accounting in school, didn’t know a debit from a credit, and didn’t want to learn…

(P. 111, ‘Inside Intuit’ by Suzanne Taylor and Kathy Schroeder, from Harvard Business School Press

Meet Dhanraj Pillay

The 1990 World Cup selection was an important moment for Dhanraj though he didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his developing skills. Another trait of his – not to take any nonsense from anyone was coming to the fore. During the Auckland 1991 Olympic qualifiers, Dhanraj had an argument with Jagbir and the team coach Balkishen Singh. Jagbir was not fully fit as he had an ankle injury. But Balkishen was insistent on playing Jagbir. Dhanraj questioned the decision of playing a player who was injured while he sat on the bench despite being fully fit. In the coming years, this trait of calling a spade a spade would win admirers while earning the wrath of many coaches and selectors.

(P. 6, ‘Forgive Me Amma: The Life and Times of Dhanraj Pillay’ by Sundeep Misra, from Wisdom Tree

Friday, June 1, 2007

Learning vs training

Learning is almost the opposite of training. It is not a ‘business,’ yet it is everyone’s business. Though it makes no one any money, it allows people in an organisation to draw nearer to objectives. It happens entirely in the learner’s head, and requires no technology whatsoever. It is by its very nature unmeasurable and undefinable. Learning is an end in itself, not a means to an end…

One pushes (‘Now hear this!’); the other pulls (‘What do you think?’)… Training wants to cover the greatest amount of ground in the shortest time, with the fewest interruptions and the highest degree of learner homogeneity. It wants above all to be finished and get paid. Learning, by contrast, knows no clock, respects no formal structure, and occurs in as many ways and at as many places as there are learners.

A lot of lip service has been paid to ‘the learning organisation,’ a phrase coined by Peter Senge in ‘The Fifth Discipline’. In the Senge view, the long-term goal of any organisation is not making and selling more and more widgets, but managing the knowledge process that allows the company to continuously discover better ways to meet the needs of its widget customers….

Successful training does more than pour information in people’s ears. At its best it engages the learner’s imagination, triggering a positive change in behaviour that pulls toward greater organisational success. When training does this it crosses the boundary to learning.

(Pp. 89-91, ‘The Accidental Leader’ by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley, from Wiley India

Politics and business

Politicians in developing countries are unwilling to believe that good management practices can make a difference to the economies of the countries. Two major privatisation projects in Sri Lank illustrate this. The bus transport services of the large Ceylon Transport Board were privatised and numerous small private companies and persons with no experience of management took over this fractured business. The result has been a chaotic transport network. In the other case, the nationalised plantation sector, that had declined over two decades because of state mismanagement, improved dramatically when it was taken over by a number of reputed business firms that had long experience in the business. As a result, tea production and exports have grown substantially.

(P. 207 ‘Adventures in Management: A Sage of Managing in a Developing Country’ by Kenneth Abeywickrama, from Response

History of broadband

Historically, the term broadband was used to distinguish multifrequency communications systems from baseband systems. Not long ago, telecommunications companies could offer only a limited range of highly reliable, lower-bandwidth services over their widely installed conventional copper twisted-pair telephone wire. Other options for delivering scalable, cost-effective high bandwidth services via existing wireless and physical media were also limited. Over time, as newer technologies developed, the term broadband has become synonymous with higher bandwidth services…

Today’s broadband

With well over 100 million lines provisioned worldwide, DSL (digital subscriber line) is truly a global and well-recognised technology. DSL deployment is even a political issue in many countries. Some governments track the overall number of DSL subscribers and subsidise large infrastructure deployments to attract businesses and development. This is much like bridges, electricity, and roads are subsidised to stimulate economic growth. DSL represents more than 63 per cent of global broadband connectivity…

(P. 1, p. 30 ‘Broadband Network Architectures’ by Chris Hellberg, Dylan Greene, and Truman Boyes, from Prentice Hall

Was VDIS a success?

When we announced the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS) in 1997, we were faced with a peculiar problem. Tax evasion, especially of income tax, had become so commonplace that anyone who paid his taxes in full was considered a fool There were many respected lawyers and doctors (who would consider it wrong to violate even a traffic rule) who took the bulk of their fees in cash and did not think it was wrong not to disclose their total income. An income tax raid on a person’s business or house was considered as a temporary intrusion into the normal way of life, and sometimes even as a badge of honour (‘There was a raid, but they found nothing’)…

Through VDIS, we offered the tax evader a one-time opportunity to turn honest, regularise the past, bring all his assets into his balance sheet and, thereafter, pay taxes at the new moderate rates. VDIS collected over Rs 10,000 crore to the treasury and it was proclaimed a great success. But I have often asked myself, how many tax evaders really and truly returned to the path of tax compliance? How many did not revert to the old ways of tax evasion in subsequent years? I do not know, because I left the government shortly thereafter.

(Pp. 114-115, ‘A View from the Outside: Why Good Economics Works for Everyone’ by P. Chidambaram, from Penguin Portfolio