Goals are based on my needs


Is it important to have specific and measurable goals? It they keep on changing, what is the purpose of having a goal?

The answer to the first one is yes, we need to have goals, that too, written goals (one study shows that written goals are more likely to be achieved). If we do not have any yardstick of measurement, how do we know we are progressing and therefore when we are likely to reach the goal?

But even more basic than that, what should be my goal? How do I determine the right goal?

Our goals should be determined by our needs. So we have to do a needs analysis of what we would like to have and what we would like to avoid.

  • One way is to think back and remember those incidents that made me happy. Then for each incident, I do a ‘root cause’ on why it made me happy. This will show me my needs. Then I create those goals that satisfy these needs.
  • Another way is to think of incidents that made me unhappy. A root cause on this – why did that incident make me unhappy – would tell me what I would like to avoid.

Once I have my needs (what I want and what I don’t want) defined, I have to do two things:

  • determine the relative important of each need
  • determine the maximum time frame in which this should be satisfied (urgency)

Now I can find out what I have to do and when, and this determines my goals. We have to remember that to achieve something, we may have to sacrifice something else, and the important/urgent matrix above will help us realise our priority.

Another aspect of needs analysis is to determine whether these are your goals or the goals of your influencers or loved ones. Sometime, we want to do something but our parents want us to do something else. The question is whether I sacrifice my happiness for my parents’ happiness?

For example, I remember the time I got an award.

  • Why did it make me happy? Because I made my parents proud or because my effort was acknowledged in front of a crowd.
  • Why does that make me happy? Because I need the approval of people
  • Why do I need approval? Maybe I have self-esteem issues and I need to compare with others to define me

So if I am seeking a goal in terms of what type of job I should look for, I should look for a job that gives me a lot of approval, or allows me to do peer comparison and which does not lower my self-esteem. Sales would be a bit of an issue as a job, because it has a lot of rejection built in. However, advisory services based on my competency would be good, because a client would be grateful for my services.

I can now set up a time frame for creating a competency that can be appreciated by clients and to find a job that allows me to use this competency.

Since these needs keep changing, (refer to my article on mid-life crisis) our goals will keep changing.

Suppose there are two conflicting goals?

If I have done my needs analysis in terms of all the type of needs I have and the priority of each need, and have determined who in my life is important and considered their needs, then each goal can be analysed based on how well it satisfies these criteria.

The Quarter Life Crisis – A pre-cursor to the mid-life crisis


Midlife Crisis (as defined in Wikipedia) “describes a period of dramatic self-doubt” when persons reach their forties. It signifies a passing of their youth and the imminence of old age, augmented by physical incapabilities, deaths in the previous generation and other such reminders of mortality. There are self-assessing questions on career, work-life balance, relationships, expenses and physical appearance.

Are these questions relevant only after we cross 40?  Do we not have similar questions when we cross 20? Do we not think of career, study-life balance, relationships, expenses and physical appearance.

So if we consider a life span of 80 years (arguable with medical advances, but do consider the balancing act of environmental contamination and genetic manipulation) we will have the following:

  • At the start of our career, a quarter life crisis (Q1C),
  • In the middle of our career, a mid life (Q2C) and
  • At the end of our career, a three-quarter life crisis (Q3C).

The topics remain the same:  career, work-life balance, relationships, major expenses and physical appearance.

During college (Q1C), we are concerned about our career, how much to study and how much to enjoy life, our relationships at the peer level and with our parents, the expense and repayment of loans, and how we look. This quarter-life crisis is as painful as a mid-life crisis. Although I have not been though a Q3C, I am sure, the questions would be similar but more introspective – about things that we could have done and things that we have achieved.

The difference between the three crises is in terms of possibilities and choices – which narrow down over time. The difference is possibly between optimism and realism. We are more optimistic and hopeful when younger. Maybe those of us who retain our optimism and hope remain younger for a longer time. But we do become more realistic about possibilities and capabilities.

There is an increased angst of unfulfilled desires versus capability. When we are younger, we believe that the whole life in there in front of us to fulfil our desires. However, we are impatient to get our desires fulfilled. This impatience drives us, but also creates stress, and makes us take a short-term perspective. By the time we learn patience and a long-term perspective, we are no longer young, and maybe our desires have changed. We also learn that desire and capability are distinct, and we start accepting our limits in capability.

This acceptance also helps in handling peer comparison. Earlier, we are concerned about what anyone thinks of us. Later, we are concerned about the thoughts of only those who matter to us. Even later, no peer evaluation matters.  It is about what we leave behind us. Whose opinion matters, in fact, even who matters – also changes over time.

When we are young, we are overconfident and, I dare say, brash. This drives us to do things, which in the cold light of day, would make us exclaim, “What were we thinking?” But these actions creates consequences that make changes happen. As we grow old, we think (twice?) before we act, we think of longer-term implications, and therefore do not contribute too much to change. But we have the confidence of experience. People who have this confidence and still desire to make a difference are the persons who impact this world.

It is paradoxical that when we have the experience to do things right and we are not so concerned about peer approval, we lose the desire to do so.

Would it not make sense to inculcate the advantages of each stage of life in the first quarter. Suppose we have the desire and the experience and the disregard of peer approval, we could do wonders. In fact, people who do not shy away from experiences (good or bad), who maintain their desire, and care only of the opinions of people they trust are the ones who get ahead in life.

We all need to examine ourselves with respect to these three characteristics:

  • get hands dirty,
  • remain motivated despite failures and
  • high self esteem.

The contamination of life – technology and the decline of ‘mindfulness’


When we did manual labour and did not have labour-saving devices, we worked from morning to night creating the same output that we can now deliver in a fraction of that time. By manual labour, I do not mean physical labour, it could also be accounting, computing, research, even reading (dare I call it studying?)…

There was an element of Zen mindfulness (being fully in the present), as mistakes would require a great deal of redoing.

Think about writing a letter. An MS Word document can be automatically spell-checked and mistakes can be corrected. No one would know and appreciate, by looking at the final document, how much labour has gone into it. Compare that to the pain of writing a letter by hand, and the final sense of accomplishment we had of finishing a product that was created with minimal corrections. We were more aware of ourselves, what we were doing, what the world around us was doing, and we appreciated the fruits of our labour.

Consider food. Our moms take time to cook and be mindful of the final product with all its nuances of taste as determined by the preferences of the family members. When we eat, we are mindful of that love and we appreciate the subtlety. Compare that to a fast food, even instant noodles, which we mindlessly eat in front of the TV. We are, in general, no longer aware of, let alone appreciate, what we eat. No wonder, we need to go to a five-star restaurant to appreciate food, maybe because we pay so much for it that we have to extract all we can from the meagre morsel. The five-star chef put salt and pepper in front of you, which our moms never needed to. Maybe the love compensates.

This is the virtue of ‘Karma-yoga’ or the sense of fulfilment that comes out of mindfully executing work. Some persons  do ‘Jnana- yoga’ where the sense of fulfilment comes from mindfully thinking about knowledge, its acquisition, its uses and its relevance. It is a desire of most young adults to move from ‘Karma-yoga’ (execution) to ‘Jnana-yoga’ (strategy). Often, they wish to skip the execution part.

With the advent of technology and labour-saving devices, the mind has become free. We no longer need to focus on the job at hand, because much of what our mind would earlier do has now been programmed into the device. Therefore the mind is unoccupied and looks for other ways to occupy itself. Instead of evolving from Karma Yoga to Jnana Yoga, taking time to ponder over various short term and long term strategies, we tend to keep the mind busy by entertainment.

Entertainment is a funny thing (no pun intended). Our mind gets used to a novelty and then craves newer and better sources. The need to keep the mind occupied and the addiction to entertainment leads to a craving for more time to get entertained. This creates a need to obtain more labour saving – or shall we say, time saving devices – faster and stronger cars and machines. This creates a vicious cycle of dependency. Entertainment devices is not just about TVs and such electronics, it also about ambience – from lazy-boys (the uber-comfortable armchairs) to sound-proof rooms.

If we look at peer comparisons about our possessions, it is primarily about the labour saving devices or entertainment devices or the means to purchase them. It is rarely about knowledge – when was the last time someone said, “I have a better dictionary than yours,” it was more like, “I can afford a more expensive dictionary than yours!”

These devices leads to less physical activity and a lazy mindset. This leads to lifestyle diseases. We compensate by buying faster and stronger gym equipment and devices for injecting chemicals and measuring bodily functions. We  create a dependency on these chemicals and measuring devices. Because these chemicals help alleviate our problems, we are free to revert to our craving for entertainment.

Would it be fair to say, therefore, that technology has actually helped in reducing awareness of our actions and their consequences; which, in turn, has led to lifestyle diseases – a contamination of the purpose of life itself?

Buttering your boss – Sycophancy redefined


The use of the word buttering implies that we are falsely praising a person. A few people (with very low self esteem) may enjoy being buttered, but others do not.

Consider this. We do not like criticism from anyone – except from those we respect and when we know the persons have a genuine interest in their hearts for me. However, we like praise from anyone. Sometimes, we wish that people notice our work and achievements and talk about it.

So if I am giving positive strokes to my boss for all the good things he has done, or the effort he is putting in, I am simply acknowledging his work. Similarly if I refrain from criticising; and, in fact, support his work with additional data or timely support, then it is not false. I am talking about fetching tea and coffee, polishing his shoes and acting as if he is God, but a genuine appreciation and support goes a long way in creating rapport.

People crave recognition and empathy and providing that makes a person positively predisposed to you. It is not possible to consistently deliver results (due to no fault of ours, but accidents happen) and this positive disposition helps during those times.

The hamster on the treadmill – placements going nowhere


A hamster is a cute looking rodent which needs exercise. Since it is in a cage, a mobile wheel is provided for it to keep running without going anywhere.  All the processes and activities that we do are for the purpose of changing something, from a current state to a new future state. There is an expectation, that an activity will change something, as desired.

So a process can be called effective only if it changes the current “state”. If we start something (remember our new year resolutions), and we spend time and money setting up the process, then start with enthusiasm, and then give up half way, or not put in enough effort, the desired state is not achieved, except the diminished size of the wallet.

If we look back on our road of life, we will see strewn on it, those treadmills, where we had spent a lot of time, trying to achieve something, but getting nowhere and then stepping off and continuing on the road, unchanged. When we look back at those treadmills, we lose self confidence because we are unable to achieve anything. Once we create that belief, we only see the broken treadmills, not our achievements, which further lowers our self-confidence and sense of achievement.

During placement season, the night before the interview, we swot vigorously from thick management tomes, past issues of the newspaper and the internet. If we do not succeed in getting placed, that swotting is like the treadmill, and our road gets strewn with a lot of such failed interviews. We start asking, what is the use of studies?

Why does this happen?

We do not know our goals. We spend a lot of effort doing this and that, trying various things right from lucky pens and totems, to prayers, to swotting book summaries. But to what purpose? How do we know that these are the right activities. Yes, the goal is to get placed, but where and how?

If we do a work breakdown structure, we realise that we get placed if we are better positioned than our competitor. Positioning is about perception, not reality. It can be product differentiation in terms of features. But it is also in terms of match between company’s needs and perceived benefits derived from hiring us. Therefore, to get product differentiation,

  1. we need to understand the mind of the buyer/recruiter and his needs,
  2. we need to match the needs with the benefits we have to offer (the benefits of hiring us) and
  3. we need to prove that we have the features that showcase these benefits.

So instead of trying at the last minute to enhance our features, which we may or may not have an opportunity to display, given the time available, we need to focus on the following:

  1. Do an analysis of the customer’s industry and the company to understand its problems and therefore the perceived needs of the industry and the company with respect to other companies in that industry. The industry analysis should be done beforehand, and the company analysis, once we know the name, should be done ASAP.
  2. During the Pre-placement talk (PPT), we should understand the roles and designations of the persons, and look for the keywords that they are repeating. Based on their roles, they have certain professional needs.
  3. Develop a set of keywords (use our friends who are not interested in the company to help develop these words) and ensure that we use them during the GD. We have to try to link the topic of the GD to the company and the industry so that we can highlight our knowledge. It may be great if we can use these words during the Q&A after the PPT.
  4. We should use the same friends to quickly understand the needs of the recruiters and which of our features showcase the benefits that will satisfy these needs.
  5. Since most CVs are in the same format, unfortunately, and they hide our uniqueness, we should have an alternate mode of showcasing the benefits of hiring us. This can be in the form of a presentation, an elevator pitch, copies of our blog articles, and other physical evidence that highlight our uniqueness. All these are features and their benefits should have been determined earlier on, not at the last moment.
  6. We have to ensure that we highlight all three types of features: Attitudes and Traits, Transferable Skills and Subject Matter Expertise (these are all specific to the interview)
  7. During the interview, we should ask permission to ask questions and once they relinquish control, validate with them our perceptions of the needs of the industry, their company and the recruiters and therefore offer concrete evidence of our ability to contribute towards fulfilling the needs.

For each interview, the future state is different, as the job is different and the path towards that job is different. Therefore the process is customised, instead of being generic. I hope that this will decrease the number of treadmills we see in our past life.

Of course, another way is to forget the past, and not turn back to see the treadmills. But typically we cannot do that, and we waste time going back and re-examining those treadmills and weeping over the carcasses and wasted resources.

Managing your e-books


The traditional way of managing ebooks is by creating a hierarchy of directories by topic. If there is a book that is goes across topics, you either create a shortcut or copy the file over. Managing this can become a nightmare. After some time, we may have duplicates, and we do not know where they exist, as the file names could be different. If we are synchronising with e-book readers, you need some way of knowing which books are in which reader. We may also need to know if we have books by a certain author but catering to different subjects. It would be best if each file had tags associated with it. We may also want to have the book cover and other meta data associated with it.

I use a software called Calibre and its creator has come up with a portable variation. I can install this portable variation in my external hard disk and I become independent of my computer, as nothing has to be installed on the computer. Which means, I can plug my hard-disk to any machine and use my ebook management software.

Calibre also has plug-ins which allow you to search for duplicates. It can use different libraries and switch between them. You can also create your own columns for better database management. It can connect to a  variety of readers and smartphones via USB. It also has news readers inbuilt into it.

Full disclosure: I do not get any revenue out of recommending this. This is free, and if you like it, you can donate. I do donate each year a certain amount.

Some thoughts on Segmentation and choice of Career Specialisation


Segmentation allows us to slice and dice the general population according to their capability to buy and according to their needs and wants. Needless to say, creativity in segmentation allows us to get massive gains. It allows us to create demand where supply is less, commanding higher prices. Segmentation allows us to focus our sales and marketing strategy, but the narrow focus may seem too restricting to some strategists.

We segment the recruiters in the basis of the specialisation. Another way of looking at it, we specialise based on this segmentation of our recruiters.

Horizontals become verticals

All specialisations can be treated as horizontal specialisations, wherein a person, performing a specific function, can be employed in any industry . That means that any company running operations, be it BPO or manufacturing, can employ an Operations MBA. Any company having an HR department will hire an HR MBA and any company having an in-house IT department would hire such an IT MBA.

Since companies outsource their internal functions, each of these outsourced functions are set up as organisations providing such services. Therefore a horizontal becomes an industry vertical. For example, HR recruitment firms help their clients recruit – which, earlier, was an in-house function. So a person specialising in HR can join any company in their HR department, or  a company in the HR industry, providing HR services.

 The same goes for Operations and Marketing.


Broad segments can be sub-segmented. Male Shavers can be sub-segment by age groups.  All specialisations have sub-specialisations. HR can have Human Relations and Industrial Relations (factory or production set-up focussing on labour and wages, not knowledge workers and salaries). Another way of segmenting HR is by sub-processes like recruitment, payroll processing, policy design, policy implementation, appraisal implementation, downsizing (“Up in the Air” movie) and so on.

Operations can be segmented as manufacturing / product based operations or services based operations. In product operations you can have FMCG operations or Consumer Durables operations. Again, functionally, it can be Purchases, Supply chain, Distribution chain, Inventory management, Logistics…

Marketing can be segmented by Product category, Services category and by Sub-processes.

Finance has even more ramifications. You can have Corporate Finance which is Financial management in an organisation (typically done by the CAs), and related functions like Costing, audit etc. You can have sub-industries like Corporate Brokerage, Retail Brokerage, Investment Banking, Commercial Banking, Corporate Banking, Retail Banking, Rural Banking. You can have operations processes like Sales and Relationship Management, Front office Operations, Back office Operations, Risk and Middle office Function,  Settlement, Cash Management, Custody, Reconciliation, Treasury Management etc.

IT was and still is a horizontal function, and has slowly got outsourced into the huge IT industry. This can be segmented into software and hardware. Within software, you have services – low end services like body shopping firms hiring out programmers, project based programming. You can have  software product development and sales and implementation support.

In hardware / networks you can have design and development of products, implementation and support. You can sell boxes like PCs etc, or infrastructure, or services like storage services and so on. The various modes of segmentation is left to the imagination.

You can have higher-end services like design of IT services, Business Process Modelling, setting of ERP, CRM-type enterprise level software. You can act as interfaces between the users and the developers both to gather requirements and to test the applications. As MBAs, since you have knowledge of business functions, you should know more than the average programmer.

You may get involved in high end consulting, preparing a company for the internet world, set up internet marketing, blogs, websites etc.

Which specialisation?

How do we decide what is the right specialisation for us?

The convenient way is to ask: where do I get the most money, the best growth prospects and a branded company my parents can be proud of. Seniors, alumni and well-wishing relatives and uncles / aunts abound, justifying their existence and their specialisations. Some give good, thoughtful advice, the rest shoot from the hip.

The other way is to look at your traits and determine what is the right specialisation. “I am a peoples’ person, so I should do marketing or HR”. “Most women go for HR.” “I am good at numbers so I should do finance” – so is a cheap calculator good at numbers.

Another way is to ask what it takes to succeed in an industry? What traits and what skills? Find out an ideal candidate profile for each type of a job in terms of attitude, transferable skills and subject matter expertise. Then determine whether you have them, or can you acquire them. The subject matter expertise determines your specialisation.  The others you need to acquire assiduously through other means.

The Future of Careers


In our parents’ time, joining the public sector ensured job security and perpetual employment (till retirement). Most of our parent’s generation stuck to one company throughout their working life. The economy was stable and upheavals were rare and contained.

During my time, multinational firms were the rage and we would stick with a company for a minimum of 3 years, and changed jobs maybe 6-10 times in a career spanning 40 years.  During the mid life crisis, we would contemplate an alternate career maybe in the social sector or the entrepreneur bug would bite us. The economic upheavals were more frequent, and the impact could create job deficits and layoffs. However, most organisations still believed in 3-5 year plans. We could also sense the trends and change our profile accordingly to remain employed

In the next generation of employees, the economic upheavals will be more frequent and the impact on the jobs would be more severe.

  1. Organisations cannot come up with a strategy beyond a year, as the trend cannot be predicted, due to disruptions of technology and the economy as well as ‘black swans’
  2. Companies will therefore start projects in marketing, sales and production and then shut them down if the expected results do not come through or if there is a cash crunch
  3. Companies will outsource most of the humdrum activities like payroll, administration, even some aspects of sales and production, if these activities do not have any competitive advantage or are commoditised with no value-add
  4. There will be more inorganic growth by mergers and acquisitions
  5. Companies need to have flexibility in size and operations. This means that the workforce will always have a mix of permanent employees and consultants

We will therefore sometimes be unemployed and sometimes work as a consultant. Reality is that no company can guarantee permanent employment nor are they compelled to. If the market is down and the supply of MBAs is large, we have to accept what is given, else our pride will keep us unemployed.

This creates psychological issues, as our beliefs are governed by our parents’ beliefs – that permanent employment is good. There is a stigma attached to temporary jobs or being a consultant.

We have to accept that we may not get permanent employment. Acceptance is important and allows us to move on.

We should therefore:

  • Invest in government backed investments like Public Provident Fund for long term capital creation
  • Create and keep a stash equal to one year’s salary as an emergency fund
  •  In our CV, focus on what we know, learnt and achieved, not what designations we held
  • Be ready to change jobs and locations, leaving the family behind
  • Invest in skills that can provide additional employment including transferable skills
  • Create and use skills that can keep you self-employed (be it music, teaching or something…) and keep the home fires burning, children’s education taken care of
  • Be mentally prepared to move sideways, not necessarily upwards
  • Build and maintain your network

If all subjects are useless in real life, why do we study them?


While teaching strategy, I debunk most of the strategies like BCG, Porter, etc. For that matter, I debunk most of what has been taught. Students are then confused. Why did we study them?

Why did we learn to ride the bicycle? To learn the concept of freedom, of balance and road sense. This led to the mo-bike and later, the 4 wheeler. Each step taught us something more.

Failure at each step taught us what not to do – and what to do – to be effective. Reading a book on “driving a motor cycle” does not teach us to drive one.

Santayana famously talked about those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Management as a science (arguable!) started with Mr. Drucker and then evolved in a meandering fashion through scientific taylorism, then behavioural, then back to science via deming and co. and back again. Unless we look at this history, and the application of management thought in real life, and learn from their failures, how do we  know what works, why, when and how and more importantly what does not?

Mintzberg said that all theories of strategy are like the story of 6 blind men and the elephant. Each has its perspective, but unless we learn to synthesize, we cannot get insights. Speaking of insights, most creativity comes because of our past experience. The MBA program gives you the experience of many, who passed before us.

More importantly, studying creates a certain discipline, a rigor of sitting on a table and thinking, of postponing instant gratification to do assignments and study, a sense of gratitude to those parents who paid our way though college…it creates a work ethic and teaches us professionalism.

That is why we study.

20 questions to ask a recruiter (or friends in the target company)


Pay and reward

  1. How will my performance be measured?
  2. How will my targets be set? And how much say will I have in setting them?
  3. Who are the key decision-makers that I will need to get along with? And how would you describe each of them?
  4. How regularly will my pay be reviewed? And when will be my first review?
  5. How much of my bonus is guaranteed? And how much of it is dependent on performance?

Doing the job

  1. Be honest with me, what do you really think of the members of the team that I would be running or working with?
  2. What do you see as the immediate challenges for me if I were to be given the job?
  3. When was the last company restructuring? And how did it affect this department?
  4. How is the organization performing? What do staff and shareholders think of the company’s performance?
  5. Are there any big changes or restructuring planned for the near future?
  6. So what exactly happened to the previous job holder?


  1. How would you describe the culture of the organization?
  2. What is the best thing about working for this organization?
  3. I promise that I won’t mention it to anyone, but just between you and me, what frustrates you most about working here?
  4. Would you describe this as a political organization? And if so, why?
  5. How much inter-departmental rivalry is there in the company?
  6. How much do people socialize together outside of work? What was the last social event that you went to?

The future

  1. What training and development is given to employees?
  2. What opportunities are there for promotion?
  3. Could you tell me about the sorts of people who have failed here? What was it they did or didn’t do that made them unsuccessful?
The above has been extracted from “The Ultimate Career Success Workbook” by Rob Yeung