Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Great Indian Ship.... Continued

One of my friends asked me if I found only one common thing between Indian history and today's corporate world. As suggested by this friend, I am giving here a few of my views, or the parallels I could draw between Indian history (as known to me) and corporates in my observation. 

India had structured villages and towns that even had rain water harvesting about 2000/3000 years back. Some of the Indian buildings (temples) are even older than these villages. But today's buildings are not based on the Indian architecture neither use Indian technology! 

Ancient Indians believed in extensive documentation; they even documented how to breathe, how to bathe, how to eat etc. - the very basic things in life. After a point, the documentation reduced to cryptic form of writing and then was stopped finally for various reasons. The country started believing in passing on the best practices and knowledge through informal communication methods - gurus to disciples, fathers to sons and so on!! I guess, you can make out where the current world is... some companies encourage extensive documentation while others are moving away from documentation. Hope we learn from the Indian lesson and have decent level of documentation

Most of the medieval Indians believed that they have achieved heights of architecture & construction technology, as the buildings stood for centuries (unless demolished in a war with great difficulty of course). This can be compared to people who think that they are within the control levels, or they have got best team awards etc and hence the process is working in its best!! Large corporates should understand that there is always something to improve irrespective the best products they are launching. Thank god, so far the competition keeps the attitude for improvement intact for the sales and product design teams at least.

The other comparable aspect is, new religions. Yes, religions. Whenever there was a new religion in the country, they despised the already existing religions and suggested all new things. In the process communities, this attitude is very visible; whenever they start propagating new processes, they negate all already existing processes and models. Continuous improvement is needed definitely but it does not mean you need to undo all your current processes except in very rare cases.

Caste system is very prevalent in corporate world... hang on... do not pounce on me yet... I do not mean that they have the same castes as India. But they call them as horizontals and verticals or business processes and competencies or portfolios and job families. The name could be different but the concept is just the same. Indian caste system was also originally started to retain the knowledge of the jobs, identify best practices, improve them, develop appropriate tools etc. For example, the system even defined how to build houses for each job family - farmer should have a warehouse for paddy etc. but then, later it became so rigid that no one was allowed to switch jobs, change the way they built their houses or dresses even if they felt a need to. Today's corporate world also resists job family rotation considering the learning curve and associated cost involved. Only a few companies realize the need to rotate people between these job families to develop generalists also!! For any successful organization, both specialists and generalists are important.

The list would go on... I may continue after a while... I am stopping now as this comparison exhausts the mind. Being an Indian, digesting the fact that we could have done a lot better but we are still a developing nation is really hard. It is like despite having best of best vehicles in the world, having to move at snails pace because you have a lot of things tied to the car pulling it backward with equal or more power!!

Monday, November 5, 2012


There was a talk show on TV a few months back on terminating the pregnancy when you know abnormalities in fetus growth. There were some mothers of special children, there were some women who had to terminate the pregnancy mid-way due to medical reasons and there were some social workers who fight against terminations.

One of the social workers accused a woman for terminating selfishly!! The social worker has a daughter and son in good health looks like. I wonder if he will ever understand the feeling of a lady who had to lose / terminate for medical reasons. What she had done is not a selfish act; in fact, that is the most selfless act. For her pleasure of having a child, if she continued, she would have had a child; but the child would have suffered the life time. Probably she would never have a child in her life at all; she would not even know when she is asked to take the decision!! Of course for some people, having a child is a status symbol – like having a car or house – they can decide quickly!!! But for those who genuinely want a child, it is the most difficult decision… because scan / tests are only indicative; miracles may happen and the child would be normal or the scans are right and the child suffers forever. I don’t think the social worker would ever understand this… because their fight is against the status symbol cases and illegitimate terminations and unfortunately they generalize the feeling.

A mother of a special child cried that she wants her life to be extended as much as her child’s as the child can’t do anything on her own. One woman who had to terminate said that she used to search for the child for several years after that incident as if the termination never occurred. I had done that too… for about five or six years…. I used to look for resemblance with me / my husband or my parents or his parents in all the kids as if I am trying to identify my child after she got lost in the crowd. I do not think the social worker would ever understand this feeling.

You may wonder why am I writing about something that I saw a few months back!! Someone wanted to forecast maternity leave in the team and was upset that information was not available earlier (even before it was confirmed!! ridiculous!!!). This person must have got children soon after marriage just as a byproduct. I am wondering if this person will ever understand that there are some things in life you can never forecast!! I can understand that people may not be able to empathize but it is unfortunate that they do not even consider the other human beings!!! Hats off to the prediction models and estimation models of the world!!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The great ancient Indian ships and today's corporate world

Though western world wants to believe and wants the world to believe that it was Columbus and Vasco da Gama who set out to see the world, there were Indian scripts dating 2000 years back found in Oman, Egypt and a few other countries!!!

What is even more surprising is, a country that did so much of trade and traveling so early did not progress after a period!! Obvious reason is, they stopped making continuous improvements and started believing that come what may, they have to follow the standards - which were originally best practices documented / passed on by the previous generations!!!

One can see interesting similarities between this attitude of medieval Indians and today's corporates. These corporates hold their processes close to their hearts, claim that they are the best ever processes and those processes need to be followed come what may!! Of course there are certain things you HAVE to follow like - do not kill someone, do not steal etc.. Please note those are values... not processes...

Following processes has gone so much into some people that they fear any new things for there is a flip-side to it. I was casually talking about my blog to someone yesterday; another person jumped in to say I may be sued if I blog as someone was sued last week for writing something about the Finance minister. This is exactly the attitude that killed innovation and progress in medieval India. 

Yes, ships will be safe in the harbors; but they are not designed for that purpose!!! If the ancient Indian sailor and trader had thought about being killed in a foreign land, we could not have discovered those Indian scripts 2000 years later in Egypt or Middle East!!

It is up to us whether we want to risk and be great or be in comforts and die mediocre!