On the loss of a child…


Today is a tragic day. One of my favourite students messaged me in the morning that he lost his month-old son due to internal seizures. And I have been crying since then. I feel for his wife; for his pain and helplessness watching a month-old innocent boy, who has not harmed anyone,  a baby that they have brought into this world, for whom they had envisaged a future and a life of togetherness, some one who made their family complete, leave them after 30 days of joy.

This post is more an outpouring of my grief and an attempt to put myself together.

My son, when 2 years old, was once in the hospital with ITP, and my family and I stood there helpless as he was hooked up to drips and immunoglobulin. This feeling of helplessness, when we see something happening and we are powerless to control it, reminds us of the frailty of our control in the scheme of things we call life. We dream of a future, and in one snap of the fingers, that dream vanishes into thin air.

Each time I stand in front of a class and beg them to wear helmets and not go joyriding when drunk, I remember my feeling of helplessness, and the burden of a father who is supposed to be all powerful, whose duty and joy is to provide happiness to his child and who is sitting far away, trusting his child to do the right thing. And I envisage that same father, frail and wrought with emotion, carrying the body of his child, the child that he carried in his arms when alive, the child that a mother carried in her stomach before it came into this world. And I see that first jouney – carrying the child to his home and then I see the last journey, carrying the same child towards a fnal resting place – his new home.

No child can ever understand  that fear, that helplessness and that futility that a father feels when he finds that all his requests, pleas, admonitions and shouting is in vain. When the child is alive he communicates with the child, when the child is sick he communicates with God. He requests, bribes, pleas, admonishes and shouts, to either the child or to God, but all this falls on deaf ears, resulting in a tragedy.

But when the child is dead, who does the father communicate with? Himself.

A father thinks, “Could I have done something different? Did I do something wrong? Could I have prevented this? If only I had done this! I am not fit to be a father!” A father blames himself, because it was his responsibility to make his child safe. He was supposed to protect his child. Every father promises this at the birth of his child, holding a frail life in his hands, knowing that he is now responsible for this life forever. And when the child dies, a father feels guilty that he failed his child, somehow. “How can my child die before me…I was supposed to take care of him. I was supposed to die earlier than him”

When parents leave their child in my care, I as a teacher, am supposed to teach that child life skills. When the child does not learn those, I feel the same sense of guilt and failure, that I could have done something different, that I have done something wrong, and maybe I am not fit to be a teacher. I also feel that I have broken a parent’s trust, who believed that I would help a child make his future.

Unlike death, in class, the child is present. Anger can be directed at the child. When a child is dead, who should the anger be directed to? It is mostly directed at self. A father is angry at himself, and at the world. Even in class, if a teacher does not direct his anger at the student, he has to direct on himself, as he considers himself a failure.

Here I sit, thinking as a teacher about this student that I could not teach him fortitude, and as a surrogate father to this student feeling helpless in his grief, feeling empathy for his feelings, and extrapolating that feeling as a father to all my children seeing a dismal future based on irresponsible behaviour, and I weep anew.  I think about the senseless loss of life and opportunities, the sense of helplessness and powerlessness to determine a child’s future and I wonder what to do.

As a counsellor, I am supposed to hold my feelings in check and help a counsellee regain emotional balance. But how does one counsel someone who has lost a child when I too get emotional, imagining the loss of any one of my children, including my students – past, present and future?

I feel so helpless.

5 Reasons Why Reading Theory is Necessary


Most of us believe that theory is a waste of time.

Take the adage, “Give a man a fish and he is not hungry for a day; teach a man to fish and he will not be hungry ever!” what we want is the fish, not the theory behind catching fish.

When I ask some one for help in a particular situation, and he gives me theoretical answers and asks me to figure it out, I feel impatient and betrayed. I want a quick pill that will help alleviate the symptoms.

Theoretically, once the symptoms are gone, I can do a root cause analysis to prevent recurrence. But this rarely happens. We do not revisit the doctor if the symptoms are gone.

Let us take the doctor analogy further, should we go to:

  • A doctor knows the theory of medicine?
  • A person who has not attended medical school but has assisted a doctor in his rounds, say, a nurse?
  • Other persons who have some past experience in similar symptoms?

The answer is logically obvious:

  • no assistant or non-professional would have come across all the cases and variations and therefore
  • cannot guess or set up the right tests to understand the root cause of the problem.

But emotionally, we do it the reverse way –

  1. Other persons first, then
  2. some one who has had similar symptoms, then
  3. a quack and finally
  4. a doctor.

Even in corporate life, we try the old tested ways based on the experience of the employees. Sometimes we hire consultants because like doctors, they are detached from the problem and they have learnt more theory.

Only a doctor trained in root cause analysis would ask the right questions and recommend the tests to find the cause of the fever. A good doctor has the following characteristics:

  1. He has learnt the theory of analysis and possible method to derive the root causes
  2. He knows how to apply the theory – this requires creativity
  3. He has the experience of some of the applications

A quack, on the other hand, know only point 3 above: some experience and a smattering of bookish knowledge form the most convenient layman book available.

So, why read theory?

  1. It is the distillation of the thoughts and experiences of other persons and their perspective.
  2. Healthy scepticism is necessary. It is not gospel truth, it is simply a theory and a perspective.
  3. If we do not understand the author’s perspective and then, more importantly, do not argue in which situation it will work and in which it will not, we are believing that the theory is a law of nature. That is incorrect. It is the argument about the theory that creates experience in our mind.
  4. We need to apply the theory to our life to see the situations where it worked or not. We need to analyse why it worked or did not work.
  5. It creates a discipline of collecting and managing knowledge and sorting it in our mind for quick access – during exams or in real life. It is a misconception that due to the advent of the internet, we can get any theory whenever we want.

Students sometimes decide that they would rather have practical experience and case analysis, because

  • they do not understand the theory,
  • cannot apply it,
  • dislike the book,
  • dislike the professor.

A case or a practical experience is only a subset of the topic, not the whole topic. Cases and practicals are a partial application of the theory, not a replacement.

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.

Triage and the process of prioritisation


In medical emergencies, such as a large scale disaster, where need is more than the supply of resources, “triage” is a way of determining priorities. At the most primitive level it is:

  • Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome
Looking at the above, those who are likely to die should not be given treatment. This seems inhuman, unless you take into account that focusing on “first come first served” basis or any such method will create more deaths because patients who could be saved did not get timely treatment.
The concept of triage indicates that prioritisation should not be based just on “important” versus “urgent” as emotionally perceived by the decision maker but based on the common good or good of the majority. This means that sometimes we have to do things that are not palatable, but are for the benefit of the majority of the stakeholders.
Time is a resource most of us do not have in plenty. Given the conflicts between work and home, between various projects at work, and at home, how do we choose?
Maybe, by focusing on what gives the maximum benefits to most people.
As an MBA, who are our stakeholders? What should we be doing, given the paucity of time, to maximize the benefits? Which patients do we leave to die, even though it is not emotionally acceptable?
Does this define professionalism?

How to select the right MBA college: please pass to aspirants


OK, let us get real. It depends on what you want from an MBA education.

  1. If it is to avoid looking for a job, because the economy is down, then any MBA will do. This article is not for you.
  2. If you want to extend your educational life, then this article is not for you.
  3. If you want to run away from parental controls, then this article is not for you.
  4. If you want a better job, do a correspondence MBA and hire a placement consultant, it is cheaper.

An MBA education is not theoretical – where you attend some classes, give a few exams and get a certificate. If you want to do that, see point 4 above.

The purpose of an MBA is the following:

  1. You want to boost your existing career, and you are leaving a job to do an MBA
  2. You want to be an entrepreneur. I am sure we can argue this.
  3. You want a good salary
  4. You want better growth prospects
  5. You want to interact with other future CEOs. Most of my classmates are in senior management and helping to change the world in their own way.

For all the above, you need to select the right college. Such a college should have the following characteristics (and I know that I am in a minority here):

  1. Does the college teach other subjects than the standard ones, like Emotional Intelligence, Critical Thinking, Relationship Management, Change Management, Business Process Management etc. This augments transferable skills in a student, which is looked at during a job interview.
  2. Do the faculty members have industry experience and can they relate the theory to practice of management?
  3. Are the type of exams mug-and-vomit or are the questions thought-provoking and challenging?
  4. How many practical exercises and projects are done in the fields of team management, selling, negotiation, project management etc.?
  5. How much encouragement and facilitation for doing outside projects during the MBA tenure?
  6. What was the mode salary (what salary did most of the students get)?
  7. Is the academic curriculum tough? I know that this is counter-intuitive, but the tougher the curriculum, the more your ability to handle stress – am important aspect in the job?
  8. Does the alumni return to campus on occasions to mentor and give feedback?
  9. What is the student culture – is it mediocre and not MBA oriented or is it supportive and MBA-focused?
  10. Do the same companies come regularly to the campus for placement? This indicates that companies are satisfied by the quality of the students.
  11. What type of jobs are offered by these companies. This indicates the quality of the specialization.

All the above have to be weighed against the cost of doing an MBA. If a typical 2-year MBA costs INR 7 lakhs and you get a pocket money of INR 3000 per month, and the number of study hours is say 10 per day (class and self study) and the number of study days is say 200 per day, your cost per hour is around INR 250.

You better be damned sure you are getting an education.

Why do an MBA


Most students join an MBA program for the following reasons:

  1. A simple graduation does not fetch a decent job
  2. Having done Bachelors in Business Administration, there is little choice but to do an MBA
  3. Extending their academic life by two more years
  4. Go far away from their parents and relatives to a place where no one knows them
  5. After doing an MBA, the salary levels would increase dramatically.

Reasons 1 to 4 are legitimately related to the reality of your past.

Reason 5 is a prediction of the future.

But do we know the future and do we know what determines salaries of an MBA?

The salaries are determined by the ability of the placement cell or your own contacts to approach the right companies.

The salaries are also based on the demand and the supply of MBAs. More the demand, higher the salary. More the supply, lower the salary!!

What determines demand?

  1. The college ranking determines the demand not because the students learn better stuff in those colleges, but your ranking in the various exams show that you are hard working or smart or both. Your ranking determines the college you get.
  2. Your own intelligence, attitude and transferable skills determine demand
  3. The business climate determines demand. If the markets are not looking good, there is no growth and there is less demand. But markets go in cycles, and if today the market is bad, by the time you pass out, the markets may look up.
  4. The state of the recruiting company determines demand. A growing company needs more MBAs than a mature company.
  5. The alumni of the B-school determines demand, based on how they are doing in the market.
  6. Your specialization in the B-school may determine demand, but this is debatable.

What determines supply?

Let us qualify supply in terms of quality and quantity. Fly-by-night operators may offer a cheap MBA, but they also take short cuts in education and placement. Quality is determined not just by the courses offered and the course content, but the quality of the classroom interaction and more importantly, how serious is the faculty member in imparting an education. There are more than 4500 MBA/PGDM programs in the country.

How do we select the right one?

  1. Is the top salary offered to a graduate the right criteria?
  2. Are you similar to that top graduate who got a great salary, or are you assuming that you will be?
  3. Is the same company coming with the same job offer?
  4. Are the market conditions the same?
  5. Are you doing the same specialization and are you qualified for that specialization?
  6. Should you not ask what is the mode (which salary band and what type of job profile did most students get ?).

Double Standards and Hypocrisy


Talking to some students, I realised that a person has a different set of rules for how they should be treated and for how they should treat others.  For example, we expect that juniors should obey our rules, but we should not obey any rules.

A corollary to this is the expectation that if person A treats person B well, then person B should treat person A well (Law of Reciprocity). If I have helped someone, that person should help me when I need it. Funnily,  this law should not hold good when treating a person badly.  I am allowed to shout at a person, but the person is not allowed to should back.

This is having double double standards.  This is not just among students, but also among teachers,bosses and our expectations in corporate life. We expect that if we are good to our colleagues, they should be good to us. We want a theory Y boss (nurturing boss), but we treat our subordinates as lazy good-for-nothing fellows and therefore follow theory X. If we are bad to someone, the person should understand why we are doing this (for their own good, obviously) and thank us for it.

I first thought this was hypocrisy, until my wife pointed out that hypocrisy is about saying one thing but acting in a different way. So when students or teachers advice others about the need to good time management, but come late, or if a boss professes to be Theory Y and having an open door, but actually uses the stick more than the carrot and is never available, this is hypocrisy.

Isn’t having two rules of behaviour more confusing to self and to others? You may argue that different situations call for different types actions. True enough. But is it different stimuli creating different responses but the beliefs are consistent, or are we also changing beliefs based on the situation?

If the second one is true, and if beliefs define the person, will the real person please stand up?

Actions and Consequences


If I did not do well in the exam today, I want to know why.  It is possible that it is a consequence of two actions:

  1. I did not (or chose not to) understand what the examiner wants as answers
  2. I did not prepare well.

Both of the above are critical of me and therefore not acceptable to my self-esteem. I need another answer.

I suddenly remember that, today, I did not pay respects to the deity’s photograph in my room. Boom! I know the reason why I did not do well today in the exam. Tomorrow, I will pay double the respects to the deity.

The above is  is an example of a coincidental association. Sometimes an action (A1) was taken (or avoided) long time ago in the past and its consequences (C1) are happening now. Coincidentally I perform another action (A2) now. Since  C1 occurs just after A2, we believe that C1 is a result of A2.

Suppose I have been living in a hedonistic lifestyle for the last 20 years, enjoying food and wine, and not taking care of my health. I have blocked arteries. Today, someone cursed me in office, my blood pressure went up and I had a heart attack. The other person now has a sense of guilt, because he believes that his cursing caused my heart attack. He thinks he has a ‘black tongue’ and his curse came true.

Suppose, as a salesman, I did not get any orders for a week. I went to a temple and prayed for an order. The next day I got an order. I would immediately conclude that it is because of praying in this temple that I got an order. The following facts (among other facts) do not come to mind.

  1. Sales cycles have a time gap between lead-generation and getting an order.
  2. It takes time to build a relationship.
  3. Orders are determined by the cash flows of the customer.

All the three reasons are not in my control, but going to the temple is. Therefore, I would rather believe that it was going to the temple that helped, rather than my efforts or the customer’s needs.

Our powerful and imaginative mind wants answers.  When it cannot find acceptable facts, it creates a reason from its imagination, linking unrelated actions to consequences. Because I have created this link, my mind justifies it as true, and therefore refuses to look at other reasons. Once I have created a belief, I do not accept an alternative.

It is very important to understand the root causes of a consequence. It is sometimes important to understand that we do not have answers right now, and that we are jumping to unrelated conclusions.

We create our own limits


“Flea trainers have noticed a repeatable, predictable, and unusual habit when they put their specimen in a cardboard box with a lid on it.

The fleas will jump as high as possible while hitting their little flea heads on the lid that is keeping the box closed.

Now these fleas are not as stupid as you might think. They eventually figure it out and adjust the height of their jump so they no longer hit the lid.

When the flea trainers take that lid off, the fleas will not jump out of the box because they have conditioned themselves to jump only to a certain height.

It is this conditioning that keeps them in the box and prevents them from ever getting out.”

The above quote is from the Internet. The word “conditioning” triggered some thoughts in me.

What is the “lid of the box” that prevents me from achieving more?

  1. Is it my fear of rejection by the customer, or the person I am trying to convince?
  2. Is it my complacency of having done the bare minimum to survive?
  3. It is extrapolating my past or current success to the future and therefore believing that I do not need to do anything extra?
  4. It is my boss – who has a negative attitude towards me and my contribution?

For anything that we want to achieve in life, we create our own limits. Maybe these beliefs have been created inside us based on our past experiences or our fear of the unknown future.

Once we know that our beliefs are our worst enemy, we need to get them out of the way, to achieve our potential.

On Corruption


I have some comments on the recent furore over Mr. Hazare’s campaign to bring in the Jan lokpal bill.

There are three levels of corruption depending on the amount of money and the number of persons involved:

  1. At the top level (this is opportunistic and gradually becoming systemic),
  2. At the department level (this is systemic and the process and ROI is clearly laid out)
  3. At the individual level.

I will not focus on the first two; Mr. Hazare and his well wishers are doing that, and I wish them all the best.

Is the individual level of corruption systemic or opportunistic? When a policeman finds fault with my motorcycle papers and demands a graft, do I not pay? Is this not systemic, since every month the policeman needs to fulfill his quota. Is it not systemic, as he has paid a bribe to get a choice posting and he needs to recoup this expense? Are you a victim or is he a victim? Is the government not to blame to raising  prices and not raising the policeman’s salary? Am I not to blame for taking a shortcut of paying the bribe, because I can afford it, my time is valuable, I need to see the movie or reach my destination?

Can this bribe be considered the self-adjustment of the system towards an equilibrium, towards a peaceful co-existence? It is possible that we rationalise the bribe-paying as balancing some inequality of status and opportunity?

When we asked our representative for the freebies he should provide us if he needs our votes, or accepted those freebies, did we not start corrupting our representatives? Did we not rationalise this action?

When Chanakya talked about ‘Daam,’ is ‘Daam’ only about payment for services rendered, be it legitimate or illegitimate? Is it not our thoughts that rationalise and determine legitimacy?

When I consider some act unfair and seeks redress, I believe myself justified in taking any means to correct the unfairness.  We have done this all our life. Our thoughts determine the legitimacy of our act.

When a CEO considers some laws unfair and evades them, we lionise the CEO as being creative. Did we not allow corruption of the laws?

Corruption is inside us. Let us not blame the outside world, the ‘system’, the CEOs as being corrupt and consider ourselves to be pure. When we take short-cuts, cheat, lie, rationalise to ourselves, create beliefs about people and situations, we corrupt ourselves.

Our beliefs lead to emotions and actions. Justified and rationalised beliefs lead to justified and rationlised emotions and actions. We cannot label these emotions and actions as corrupt, and we cannot separate corruption of beliefs from the resultant corrupt thoughts and actions.

Is there some ethical and moral code that we are believe in? As long as our thoughts are selfish, what morality are we talking about? If we justify survival of the fittest and intolerance towards others, are we justified in taking the high ground about morality?

Is it the money that we pay as bribes that we are objecting to, at this individual level, or is it the blackmail?  Is this why Mr. Hazare’s campaign seems to be gathering force, that we can see that we can blackmail the government? The shoe is on the other foot?

Why is this support against corruption gathering force, and other ongoing campaigns not having support? What about Ms Irom Sharmila and her 10-year fast, the fights against systemic corruption in the rest of India like the mining mafia in Goa, Karnataka, Bihar, MP, the dams and the uprooting of people, and the old Bhopal Gas leak tragedy?

Is this a better orchestrated campaign? Is it the drama? Is it our need for instant gratification, where we are seeing immediate results? Is it the tilting at the windmills, cocking our snook at the powers-that-be, showing them that they are not as invincible as they thought? Is Ms. Hazare our new angry “young” man, fighting on our behalf?

There is a certain corruption inside us: our need for gratification, need for excitement, the emotions of self-righteousness, need to be part of history, specially winners. Mr. Hazare’s campaign gives us all this. Which is why long-drawn campaigns lose support. All informal surveys seem to indicate people do not know the difference between the bills, students are enjoying the drama and absence from classes, and everyone is out there, abdicating their duties. Gandhi had the ability to withstand the lathi charges, I wonder how many supporters in this campaign would do so?

We have to look inside ourselves and decide if we have the courage to (a) fight the corruption inside us (b) support other campaigns that too need our help.

Otherwise, this will be a flash in the pan. The press coverage will stop, as people seek a different drama. Even if we get the bill passed, the implementation is fraught with peril for two reasons:

  1. The Lokpal will have power, and with all power, comes the opportunity for misuse. Will we need a super-lokpal to check this?  How much time will it take to set up the alternate bureaucracy and the checks and balances.
  2. With all the lok-ayuktas, the judiciary, the vigilance committees, the auditor-generals, which were supposed to take care of the second type of corruption; with Anna’s bill taking care of the first type of corruption, who will take care of the third type of corruption? And since the second type of corruption could not be taken care of, despite so many regulatory bodies, what makes us sure this is the right way?

All I say is, let us control the corruption within us, because all external measures will come to naught if we are not ready internally to accept the pain that accompanies incorruptibility. It is not easy.