A black swan flies over Maharashtra

Politics never ceases to generate enough fodder for office discussions over coffee, news channels, & in WhatsApp forwards. Sometimes, it raises the bar even further, & this is exactly what we witnessed in Maharashtra last month.. Unbelievable twists & turns every day, but what made them unbelievable in the first place?

In his classic book ‘Black Swan’ the author Nassim Taleb talks at length about such dramatic, highly unprobable events. Because we didn’t expect them, we are most impacted by their occurrence. Further, we tend to justify their occurence post facto through our tried & tested prediction models.

Something similar happened in the state. No one expected the 3 parties to be in power combined, maybe not even the parties themselves. Even by Indian political standards, it was extraordinary…Everyone in the world expected only white swans- The previous government setup to continue unrestricted was a foregone conclusion ..Wasn’t meant to be.. It impacted folks, because they didn’t expect it, or atleast that’s the inference one can draw reading news. However, it certainly seems to be changing the political landscape of the state, if not that of the country. The last such black swan in India was demonetisation. Whether that was a positive black swan, or a negative one, is something that will remain a debatable topic perpetually..

In the hindsight, one can say that the signs of the current black swan were visible. The ‘allies’ were running their different campaigns, had put up individual hoardings across roads, were making contradictory promises, et al..But again, as the author Nassim says, its very easy to retrofit.

Where does this all lead to? Just like in politics, there will be black swans in our personal & professional lives as well. As the author says, one can look at maximising from positive black swans, & not be too surprised by negative black swans..

Meanwhile, over to the next black swan in Indian politics. Where is it flying next?

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A home run or an own goal?

What a hectic week it was, for all the WhatsApp groups.. Creativity flooded after one announcement made every one of us paupers (At-least notionally). No other news managed to trump the social and print media. Among-st their busy schedule of forwarding WhatsApp messages across groups and queuing up at branches, I do hope people get time to read the post where I try to solve the enigma of the current situation.

First and foremost, a declaration from my side: I am an advocate of digital payments and a firm believer that tremendous benefits can be derived from the shift to a less-cash economy. I did rejoice on reading news of skyrocketing transaction volumes on platforms of digital payment firms. However, we have a long way to go..I often do try to speak with and convince (with limited success I must say) the adamant small and medium establishments to accept digital instruments, but they have always refused to budge. With the recent turn of events, my optimism again took me to these establishments and I asked them with a high degree of hope whether they have had any change in hearts now. But alas, they were okay to let go of some income over the next 1-2 weeks, but not ready to accept any form of digital payments!! Guess, some things don’t change, do they..? Moreover, this was just 1 small geography I covered in a Metro city. So one can imagine the overall impact and resistance across 125 billion plus population, and hence the subsequent vocal frustration we are hearing about these days post the announcement.

As we all know, our country is perennially in election mode, so there is no single good, bad or ugly time to take any major decision. However, basic common sense tells us that if a person is ready to undergo pain only if there is an assured return at the end of it. Here, the tricky situation is even if a person spends close to a total of 3-4 man days queuing up at branches, there is absolutely no guarantee that there will be even an iota of change in his life, over the “Medium-to long term”, a terminology which our Finance Minister has applied to defend the Government’s move. Let’s agree for a moment, that this move substantially reduces the stack and flow of black money.. Good, congratulations to the government, do go and add it in your list of achievements in your election propaganda.. But the real question is what did the trader, rag picker, daily wage worker get in return of standing in the scorching sun ( God has not been very kind.. could have made it cloudy for next 2-3 weeks), and while continuously breathing polluted air ( Neither has the human being any kinder, with all the pollution created).. Post this “suffering” (As some opposition parties have quoted), will the potholes on the streets of Mumbai go into hibernation? Can the weather in Delhi give a competition to the air purifier manufacturers? Will the Bangalore streets turn into expressways? Will the infiltrators on the borders go “On strike” and not “To strike”? Perhaps no… (Not being pessimistic here)

If a common man (No reference to any political party) doesn’t foresee any significant benefits to the pain of not being able to use its favourite mode of payment, then things will not be rosy for the ruling party. The question to them would be “1.25 billion people displayed their “patriotism” by queuing up at branches. All that they got in return was news that unlike the previous Governments which did nothing, this government did something” People may not buy this.. And mind you, 2019 is not far, not to forget the countless elections before that..

I believe the Government’s intentions are quite good in the overall decision. However, the way forward for the Government, in my opinion is to talk about the real benefits which the common man derived as a result of this temporary “inconvenience”, how did a person’s life change for the better as a result of this..If not communicated in this manner, they you know what may happen…Only time will tell whether Government ends up hitting a home run or an own goal..As of now, it is at the stage of Decision Review, with the on-field umpire (People queuing up at branches) declaring it out..





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Still not advanced enough

We are living in times where we hear about new innovations in the digital space almost every single day. Amidst these, we hear that the nuclear forces in US are still persisting with computer systems equipped with floppy disk technology, dead decades back !! What a contrast to the advances made by man in digital space and the fact that it is associated with a country like USA adds to the irony. Well, the nuclear forces are not alone, there are many ( may be not as critical as the nuclear systems) which are still stuck up with old problems and systems. These are causing inexplicable hurdles in the customer experience and there seems to be no way out, atleast in the near future.

Rain, rain go away

While good monsoons are extremely critical for the economy, there are a few guys who go into hibernation mode during the rains: The Direct-to-home (DTH) offerings. The appearance of message saying ” Your connection is interrupted due to weather conditions outside. Check connection, try this option, etc all” is a sports fan or a movie geek nightmare. All that one can do is to pray for the rains to have mercy on us and schedule themselves at some other appropriate time, so that our poor DTH service can come out of its hibernation. The point here is that it is a known problem and bound to occur every time for a good 1/3rd of total year. Yet, one is unable to see a real push towards its resolution. With problem visible every DTH operator and cable operators not far behind in this, the end customer is kept wanting for basic services, for which he has already paid for.

Apps lap battery

Mobile phone manufacturers advertise out-of-the world features in their new offerings, covering storage space, camera capacity, other sensors, etc. They also do talk about the “enhanced” battery power. Unfortunately, no matter how powerful the battery is, with hundreds of apps residing and running inside the mobile phone, the poor battery is beaten comprehensively by the power hungriness of these apps. The result, charging of battery is a constant process which for some may run for hours together in a day. The message is clear that merely increasing battery power is not going to solve the problem. A complete overhaul of technology behind the battery design is required. Hope that the battery problem is behind us sooner than later and battery manages to stay in the same lap as the apps.

Wait, I am going underground

On one hand we hear that Nokia wants to undertake tests on 5G along with major telcos. On the other hand, we are still struggling with call issues when we are in the lift, underground locations. etc. While the situation is much better than a couple of years back, still smooth connectivity across data and voice is still not a 100% reality. With digital connectivity necessary for overall development of the nation, these teething issues need to be ironed out fast.

There are still quite a few areas where we need to see a lot of traction in technological advances to weed out the elements causing inconvenience and hindrances in overall customer experience. I am sure, better days are ahead of us, its just a matter of time when we start seeing real changes in these areas, only to be replaced by more demands for an even better user experience and convenience !!



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What’s in a name?

  This week, Twitter has been flooded with messages mocking an airline for making life inconvenient for “God” and for adding insult to injury by seeking “God’s” details in return to his complaint. While some of the tweets from Indian fans were brilliant, one may take a moment to introspect whether the airline had really done anything so spectacularly wrong to be at the receiving end of the Twitterati.

  I can relate the event to another one which happened with me a couple of years back. I happen to be a student of a college in Mumbai, which is well known all over Maharashtra, all for good reasons. Once while visiting one of the government offices for some work, the attending clerk asked me the details of the institute I studied at. Post responding, I was surprised when I learnt that he had never heard of my institute. Then, I realised that the person is in a different profession altogether and has no moral duty or obligation to know all famous things in around the city and spread across various domains. There were probably quite a few things which he knew and I wasn’t aware of. We have a similar case here as well…

  Airline operations are handled by various teams on the ground which in all probability may be overworked more often than not. Of course, there is absolutely no justification for losing anyone’s baggage anytime anywhere on this planet. But loss of baggage is an event which definitely has a probability of more than zero. When the victim is a well-known personality, it is a case of wrong person at wrong time phenomenon for the airline…

  However, the real crux of the story is the failure of the customer service to recognize the complainant from his twitter handle. Now, let’s give the airline a fair chance here. With due respect to their job, Level 1 customer service executives across all service sectors are trained to respond to complaints in a specific, cold manner which is generally consistent across all passengers; be him an ordinary citizen like you and me or someone of God’s stature. I have always held that the TAT for service resolution can decrease significantly if the first point of contact “thinks” a bit before seeking more information from the complainant, or cascading information further to next teams. But they do end up doing the job of postmen and delivery boys which does precious little in contributing to customer experience. Returning to the case in our hand, 3 points to argue in the favour of the airline. First, the airline is of British origin and hence its likely that the executive who handled the case might actually not be knowing the complainant. Second, it was the first touch point and as mentioned, the case might not have been handled by someone who would have actually spared a moment to check the number of Twitter followers of the complainant before seeking additional details. The third point might be contented with a bit more; It has something to do with our physiology. Did the fact that our Indian hero was not recogised by someone from the West anger us ? Would we have reacted in the same way if equally famous personalities say an Argentinian football player or  a Swiss tennis player had received a similar treatment back home ? It is perfectly all-right to not recognise some player in some sport played by a few countries and who retired a couple of years back. It cannot be generalised or extrapolated to make a comment on the overall perception of the entire airline towards a particular country. Let’s spare a moment to think in this perspective before reacting next time.

  Nonetheless, lesson for the service industry is that patience levels of customers are decreasing while competition is increasing. With minimal product differentiation possible, the key area in increasing customer stickiness is in offering superior customer service experience. As first impressions are last impressions, executives at first point of contact should be trained and encouraged to “think” a bit, consider specific scenarios and restrain from respond in the same, plain vanilla fashion for all of the cases. I am sure this will actually go a long way to help address the common problem with customer service across all service sector industries.

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Finding the middle way

The most recent post on this site talked about how the media sensationalizes a piece of news and persists with it for a period, more than required. Off late, the focus has been on the opposition or support to the visit of nationals from our neighboring country, and the subsequent manifestations from both sides. This post will talk about how the situation was (mis)handled and what could have been done instead.

At the outset, let me put it in writing that this post will not be taking any of the sides. Attempt will be made to be as neutral as umpires and referees (Not being sarcastic here)

When the topic of discussion dwells around residents of our neighboring country or the country in general or particular, perceptions do differ. Some are of the view that compartmentalization is impossible and everything and anything associated with the country must be resisted and rejected in some form. They cite the tension floating around the two countries and various grave incidents over the past centuries as the reason behind their viewpoint. Some feel that compartmentalization is the need of the day and fields such as sports, art, etc. know no specific geographical boundaries. They are of the opinion that cultural exchanges must be encouraged irrespective of the geopolitical situation.

Both sides have vehemently voiced their opinion, either in writing or in action, as visible recently. Debate on which side’s argument is more justified will take ages and we would remain on square one even after ages. So, we have a deadlock which has persisted for long and likely to continue in the future as well. So what is the solution, if there is one in the first place.

So, there are 3 possible approaches which may be adopted. First, both sides may perform a reality check. The protagonists must argue with themselves whether inviting a particular person or person from a particular country is the only person who can be invited and there is absolutely no one else with same calibre who can replace him or her. The antagonists must argue with themselves what, whom, why and how are we opposing the protagonists. Are we guided by some principles or opposing something , just for the sake of it. It is likely that differences may actually get resolved through moderation achieved as result of performing this reality check.

If they don’t then we have a second and perhaps the most powerful approach.  Talk with each other and not about each other. Huge disputes can be resolved through powerful discussions, moderated by competent authority. I don’t’ think the effectiveness of such discussions has been appreciated enough. The objective is to meet all the demands with no harm to anyone in public life. Give it a try.. Good chance that it may actually work.

Suppose the second approach also fails. Now, what next. An approach adopted these days in various fields is to use innovation. For instance, in this case, try to leverage the power of digital communications. Have the book launch done over video conferencing through the usage of the most advanced conferencing solutions, which depict real life size individuals at the other end. In that way, the protagonists will feel that the person is actually present 20 feet away and the antagonists will have no real opposition since the person is not actually present 20 feet away !!..All sides will end up being happy and satisfied. This was just an example which flashed in my mind. I am sure there could  be better innovative ways as well.

The crux of the article is to understand the fact that the problem is not with people having different opinions, but the reluctance in adopting a common ground. Finding the middle path is critical if we are hopeful of achieving a reasonably peaceful society and harmony amongst the protagonists and the antagonists.

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“New”s paper as I want it..

Recently I read that newspapers have been in circulation for more than 3 centuries. The newspaper has evolved over the years, undergoing several changes, be it quality, quantity, coverage, etc. The interesting question now is what’s next in store for the newspaper, especially in the dynamic environment we live in today. This post tries to assess what the newspaper needs to do to remain relevant in the coming times.

The challenges 

Life is not easy for the newspaper these days, isn’t it? Let’s see a few of the challenges it faces.

  1. The issue starts right at the time of delivery of the paper at the doorstep everyday. If the newspaper is not delivered at 7.30 am sharp, or whatever is the normal time of delivery, people start getting frustrated. These are the very set of people who frown when someone frowns at them for reporting late to office.. Newspapers these days are a full stack of paper sheets weighing almost half a kilo per household copy. Assembling the customizations for each household and delivering them on time is not a child’s play. And to top it, what’s the return? A newspaper delivery boy makes roughly around Rs. 500-1000 per month.. Now simple chores, involving lesser demanding working hours and physical energy might pay them more. Who and why will anyone then spend so much time and efforts for such average returns? They are likely to seek opportunities elsewhere causing potential shortage of resources in the delivery service. Any service, with a crippled supply chain will fall apart eventually. Newspapers aren’t and will not be an exception to this…
  1.  OK, now the paper is finally delivered, and hopefully on time too.  The first 2 pages are filled up with advertisements of real estate companies offering homes in locations so far off, that even wild carnivorous man eaters would fear to venture out there… The remaining pages are filled up with news of national importance…no wait, they are filled up with news of some murder in a family, whose tree is so complex that it will require complex algebraic functions and equations with many unknown variables to solve it !!!..The question then is what will you read? Worse, amidst this drams you may actually miss out on some news which actually makes some sense. How to get over this? Simple, just pick up the 3X6 inches digital box (or was it in your hands anyway) and start browsing on it.. What’s the need of the newspaper then?
  1. We don’t have the entire day to search for the meaningful news we are looking out for. The travel time of a daily office-goer has increased over the years, thanks to the pathetic quality of our roads, the massive number of people opting for their own cars for travel and insane rents in main cities forcing firms to setup offices in remote locations. So probably many of us need to leave for office earlier than we did a few years back. There is now hardly any time to read the newspaper , relaxing over a cup of chai (tea) like the good old days.. This shortens the relationship between the reader and the newspaper. This added with the 2 issues above are in no way making the life of newspaper easy..

Maybe a bit far fetched, but such issues will hinder the growth of the hard copy paper in the face of digital era and may actually force it to extinction in its current form as we know it. I am sure many of us, who have and will continue to love reading newspapers for its news, cartoon strips, puzzles wouldn’t want such a thing to happen. Then what is really required to save the newspaper? Here are some thoughts on the same.

A solution

Individual customizations of a newspaper are not feasible. 1 way to effectively achieve the same is to classify the readers in a few categories. Sample classification could be office goers, housewife, college people, senior citizens. Then divide each page into 4 sections with news most relevant to each of them. For instance, put share market news, firm expansion plans related news for the office goers. Perhaps, then don’t put any page 3 type news in their section across pages. Don’t bore the college guys with GDP, IIP, current account deficit and all. But do put news related to food chains, theme parks in their section. Some news..like cricket of course appeals to all.. put it in a common section for all. In national news pages, do put pay commission related news for senior citizens. Idea is that a person, with scarce time at his or her end is able to read through all the news which is likely to be most relevant to him or her. The same can be applied for advertisements also. With time permitting, the person can then browse through other sections as well at will. Yes, there are many ifs and buts, but I think idea is not too bad..

Each industry needs to make efforts to ensure it remains relevant in changing times. Newspaper also needs to survive amidst the tsunami of digital news. Sincere efforts by media houses to help people read what they want to without compromising on quality or effectiveness, would hopefully ensure that.

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What’s missing ?

For the major part of my life, I have lived in a city, one of the biggest in the world and for sometime in another, one of the biggest in India itself. Off late, I have been associated with another city, a capital of a state and a fast growing one itself. Naturally after staying in two “different” types of cities of our country, comparison between their respective cultures, outlook and lifestyle in general is inevitable, and here I ponder upon those very “gaps” perceived by me.

Visually, Tier 2 cities don’t seem to be any different from, and appear to be just a zip version of their bigger counterparts. Infrastructure is at par or perhaps even better, shopping malls, restaurants, entertainment hubs, showrooms, healthcare centres, etc can be seen throughout the city. Even the property prices graph here is rising faster than ever before ! Then the question arises is what is it that is missing,  or rather to put in different words what gaps need to be fulfilled by the Tier 2/3 cities on their journey of continuous expansion and growth.

In business,one of the key differentiating points which has gained a lot of importance is the “service” offered to the consumers. The whole idea is that consumer should be happy with the experience during and outcome of the transaction and not just be happy with the fact that the transaction has finally got over ! Here, we did observe a marked difference in the quality of service offered to the patrons at all the places mentioned in the above paragraph, as compared to their own or similar outlets in larger cities.Here the consumer is treated not exactly like a “King”, a phrase fondly mentioned in the marketing and sales tutorials. For instance,a sales executive of a private firm should not ideally be screaming at a consumer not able to understand different schemes being offered. Or a local city car driver should not be complaining about a tourist, very new to the city himself and unable to provide detailed directions to the driver about his pickup point. There are some more instances at a larger level of dealing as well. One does tend to feel ‘wanting” at the end of the transaction, which is not a healthy sign. The larger worry is that investors looking forward to investments in Tier 2/3 cities would not be too keen in areas where there is limited local support in servicing of their clients and consumers.

In continuation with the above point, another key area of differentiation is maintenance of the status-quo. It is perfectly allright if the service provider is unaware of the nuances of service delivery, due to variety of plausible factors, lesser exposure being one of them. But if someone educates him about the right way of doing things, then repeating of the same flawed way of action is uncalled for, and especially if it doesn’t take anything significant from the part of the doer to change the way. Having more construction and establishments will not change any city. The attitude and the general outlook of the inhabitants also need to change.

Another area where things need to improve dramatically is discipline while driving on the roads. There is no right or wrong side of driving here and everyone is free to use either British or American lane system anytime anywhere, irrespective of whether it is a small bylane or a national highway.The horns fitted in all the vehicles must be experiencing severe body-ache every night since they take incessant beating throughout the day. Also gear 1/2/3 must be feeling very jealous of gear 4 or 5 as the former ones hardly get used in comparison with the latter two…Traffic discipline is lacking in general across all cities in India, but again here maintenance of status quo is not going to benefit anyone. With lack of sensitivity towards fellow drivers, things would surely get worse as traffic grows in the wake of growth of city’s consuming power.

One of the key areas to address these gaps in imbibing sufficient sensitivity in the local population. Formal education or training can be one way of doing it, if required. Companies do open up training centres in smaller cities, but that is merely from a cost angle. A thought needs to be put in as to how to uplift the overall local culture and improve the local human capital. This would be then in sync with the horizontal and vertical geographical expansion that the respective cities are experiencing.

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