Monday, November 30, 2009

Emerging Leaders - Thought Leadership

I've always encouraged, in my head, the rather simplistic negative stereotype of a b-school as a place where people are taught to be jargon-spewing, self-selling go-getters. Coming in contact with profs Ashwin Mahesh, Trilochan Sastry and Rajeev Gowda over the last few months contributed significantly to alter that perception. Whatever prejudice was left were washed away in the last two weekends of the Emerging Leaders program by Prof. DVR Sheshadri.

Over the last month we have been in the middle of a module titled Thought Leadership in which we have spent time analyzing cases - both obscure and well-documented- from the business world. While the choice of cases has been smart for the most part, it sure has been a pleasure watching Prof S bring his humility, effortless wit, and rich collection of personal anecdotes to these sessions. What really had me nodding, though, was the healthy proportion of time that we spent on thought leadership in the social sector. The fact that I sat up straighter when dealing with cases pertaining to the social sector as opposed to those dealing with business, has to mean something. It's lurking in my head but I'm too afraid at this moment to give it words. I'll come back to that.

The most noteworthy session in all those classes happened last Saturday when we had a whole afternoon dedicated to the madness of Dr. Ashok Rao. I've been unabashedly leftist in my beliefs and harbor deep suspicions about a growth-obsessed inflationary model of economics. I usually gratify my confirmation biases by closely following some fringe commentators of, what I thought, was an inconsequential sub-culture. To hear those views expressed in the classrooms of one of our prestigious business schools was indeed a surprise, one that I'm welcoming with open arms. Dr. Rao initially came across as a technophobe who was polemic just for kicks (which is hard to reconcile with when you realize that he has a PhD in Digital Signal Processing). How do you deal with someone who uses Infosys as a metaphor for everything wrong with our society? However, as he ranted along, provoking everybody and leaving heads a-reeling, his method started to reveal itself. I couldn't help feel that he left everybody infected with a little disenchantment over how society has distributed wealth among its denizens and what a beating Quality of Life has taken in the process. Despite his distinctly unsophisticated style you can tell that he is no phony. This morning he would have returned to his lonely home in an unmarked village near Gubbi. I vowed to pay him a visit around Christmas time.

While that session pumped up the tumult, the prize-winning epiphany came this morning. As a fun thought-exercise we did a little poll among the 20 of us for the question "What percentage of the collective talent of the employees are we effectively harnessing in our company?". As a group we arrived at "20%". Wow!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Do** of the month - Sri Janardhana Reddy

A few days ago a newspaper carried a report that bloggers could be arrested if they are found to defame respectable citizens. Since I'm not very confident about my countrymen's understanding of democratic rights, I'm taking the necessary precautions by masking two crucial letters in the word Do**. You know what it stands for, but if I get arrested I'll insist I meant "Dood" or something!

Presenting this week's Do**- Sri Janardhana Reddy, the minister who was protecting his iron mines with all his energy while half his constituency was four feet underwater. This week he claimed that there's no illegal mining happening in our state. He conclusively proved it by telling us this, and I quote here, "We are dignified and honest people. This can be known through our donation of Rs one crore to Sri Krishna temple.". Case closed! Thank god for that. If you can recall he has demonstrated how much he loves the people of this state by another awesome gesture; he offered a crown worth Rs. 45 Crore to the god at Tirupati. Experts agree that without that offering his constituency would have been 8-feet underwater.

I dare you, oh reader, find me a better do**!

It's been fifteen years!!

Pictures (really bad ones!) and thoughts from my School Reunion.

Events like this are reminders of how unforgivably and inexorably the clock has ticked on. Most of my favorite teachers have retired. Some have even died. My classmates have all nurtured paunches but lost their hair. The cricket ground has been replaced by an ugly building that has no regard for the harmoniousness of the place.

Yet, thankfully, some things have not changed at all. The ground is still as glorious as ever although the backdrop has changed drastically. The tree growing at an angle, also called the Kamat Tree, named after V. Kamat, the kid who sat under its shade after mock-fainting in every single assembly, still endures. Ms. Pothan still has the zen in her smile. And Ms. Harriet D'Sa, a full decade after retirement, still looks like royalty.

And finally, Bhootroom, also known as the Scout Den, has lost none of its spookiness. Its occupant, however, reportedly won a lottery and took an early retirement.

Monday, November 23, 2009


MobiliCity took place last Saturday. The first session of the day, for me, had enough positives to make the entire effort worthwhile. Here were policy makers, policy enforcers, thinkers and citizens all discussing a Transport Policy for the state, a document that is a first of its kind in the entire country. Here were people from the world's crustiest bureaucracy willing to let faceless members of an online forum critique its decisions and proposals. On the stage was Prof Ashwin Mahesh, who has been allowed to influence transport decisions of the city without really belonging to the establishment . If you don't know about it, the Big 10 service is his brainchild. Sharing the platform with him was a young articulate legislator, Krishna Byregowda, who was ballsy and straight enough to point the finger back at his constituency and say "If you are going to drown me with your petty issues, how will I get the time to get to what I really should be doing, i.e drafting legislation?". I couldn't help exclaiming, in Dean Moriarty's words, "HE gets IT!". I also found it refreshing that he had no qualms about the taunts that were thrown at him. Then there was Vishwanath, a rainwater harvesting expert, who brought his experience and understanding of sustainability to the discussion.

Later in the day, there was one particular session by CSTEP that was extremely intriguing. A few random folks from the audience were given wooden blocks and were asked to build a city out of them. The participants took turns to erect structures such as schools, metro stations, biking paths, hospitals etc.. The resulting miniature city was strikingly similar to what Bangalore has turned out to be. No clear demarcation of residential and business areas. The metro came as an afterthought. Almost all utilities were unplanned. The city had no tolerance for cyclists. I could go on. These participants were admittedly conscientious folks, as proven by their willingness to spend an entire Saturday at an unconference of this nature. And they were dealing with wooden blocks! Yet they botched it up. There was a simple but forceful lesson there. Organic growth, without coordination between the stakeholders, leads to hell holes. However, the more subtle learning was that a citizenry that doesn't demand well thought out plans from its city builders will end up living in cities like the Bangalore of today.

I've heard a lot of people getting cynical about the outcomes of an event like this. I will be the first to agree that nothing direct resulted that would make you see a tangible influence on the city's transport in the near future. But to embrace that pessimism would be to miss the point. Here were a bunch of folks asking the right questions to the right people. Here was a crowd that was telling the leaders that decide on its behalf that they are being watched, that they are accountable. I think that's a start.

Friday, November 13, 2009

After the lull...

It's not like I had nothing happening in life. I could have written about the big launch at work and the relief at the end of it. I could have written about the awesome meetings with all the Solid Waste Management pioneers of Bangalore. I could have written about my best bird pic yet. I could have publicized Mobilicity which is coming up next weekend. I could have written about the drinking-cum-cheapshot-taking session at Stones presided over by the big guy himself (I can hear him laugh at the hidden pun in this sentence. It's in bad taste but I didn't invent it. This time, pun unintended). I could have written about the Northie-weds-Southie ceremony in Delhi. Or I could have resorted to one of my recurring features. I thought of chronicling the Dork of the Month but I couldn't find one dumber than me. I wanted to do the Deppe Recommends on the awesome "Rashomon" but I was too smug about how well I now know the Rashomon Effect. I just decided to give myself a break. I need it.