Sunday, July 31, 2016

Monday Musings 267: The many shades of Rains

Monday Musings 267: The many shades of Rains

I write this facing my balcony and gazing at the haze caused by heavy downpour that is so characteristic of Mumbai. The overcast skies have open up like they have some kind of mandate to accomplish. Rains arguably are the best season of all. Most of the reasons that make rains enchanting are the sentimental kind, a kind of mush that one associates with the matters of the heart. (What the heck, even cubiclewallahs had a past, didn’t they?)

Adults hate rains mostly, unless you are a farmer – and I suspect if any of the reader of this post has a job description that has farming even the footnotes. The same adults used to enjoy rains as kids. There is no better joy than poodle crushing, something that can safely be assumed as a precursor to candy crush. The jump from one poodle to the next, unmindful of the soiling clothes and wet shoes, was an unparalleled joy. It was breaking free from the rhythm of the mundane, a rebellion against the chastity of routine and cleanliness. Most kids developed mysterious naval ambitions during rains – the paper boats which would glide through the small trail through the neighbourhood. I bemoan my kids missing this simple joy – the price of vertical condominiums. May be they will find something else to miss when they grow up.

Getting drenched meant different things as a kid and in youth. Returning home with not a follicle dry meant welcomed by an overzealous mom to reprimand camouflaged with dramatised concern. It would usually be followed by special treatment of hot tea and snacks. Untimely spicy snacking was the best thing about rains as a kid. Is the space of enjoying getting drenched shrinking? Everyone seems to be too scared of the kids falling sick. I have long ago come to the conclusion that the instinct to protect from harm has done more damage to our loved ones than our carelessness – but that has got nothing to do with rains.

The youth associates with rains in a more romanticised ways. There is some or the other association with rains that makes a gaping hole in their heart. Rains have a melancholy about it – youth experiences this ache freely and openly. Adults are too dead and busy anyway. They are busy protecting their leather shoes.

I believe most other seasons have nothing to give. They are prisoners of their character. Summer and winter cannot help but be what they are – oppressive. Spring is yet to decide whether it is summer or winter may be a mutant between the two. Autumn by design is forlorn, like a dejected lover. They hardly have anything to offer. All that happens in these seasons is despite them, not because of them. Rains are different. They are temperamentally givers. Rains carry bounties and they open up their hearts without favour and discrimination. They are like grandparents – large hearted, easygoing and always in the mood to give. Rains create conditions for life to flourish.


PS – so what do middle aged Punjabi men do when it rains? Well they look for their drinking glasses. Come to think of it, they do that even in summers, winters, autumn, spring or any other season. Why make an exception!!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Monday Musings 266: Even if Trump gets trumped!

Monday Musings 266:  Even if Trump gets trumped!

The recent issue of ‘The Economist’ says something very interesting about the possible nomination of Donald Trump (the issue went to press before he actually was nominated by the republicans). In summary the article argues that irrespective of whether Trump wins this November or not (and most likely he won’t), the American discourse in general and the Republican discourse in particular will no longer be the same for a very long time to come. They trace back this phenomena to the last century or more to a list of stray insurgents who appeared on the political scene of America from the 1800’s till date, who said dramatically idiotic things for those times, contested elections, lost gloriously and handsomely but even in their loss sowed seeds of the idea that they championed – which later on in some form or shape became mainstream, sometimes in a few years and sometimes in a few decades. Hence the conclusion, Trump may not really lose even he were indeed to lose the election.

The hypothesis appeals to me, even though Trump does not. (In fact I so enjoy the idea of someone like Trump in America – its sweet revenge; I am no longer particularly ashamed of my political class – even the USA has them!).  The hypothesis is this – that a radically new thought, which appears contrarian, bold, audacious, even stupid or taboo when postulated for the first time, summarily rejected by the electorate for which it is postulated for, may still be worth its while – for it may oen the door for at least a conversation to begin on the subject thereafter.

This hypothesis is sufficiently proven in the realm of ideas (imagine someone proposing a telephone or internet for the first time or say flying for the first time), or in the realm of social issues (imagine the backlash when someone would have proposed abolishing caste practices or Sati 200 years ago) or in the realm of inventions/technology.

I want to take a look at the hypothesis in the organisational context. A new practice, a new model, a new way of doing things, a new assumption, a new idea – which is radically different from the way things are, is met with characteristic grunts and disdain. Sometimes the idea gets shot down at the drawing table itself. It is these set of ideas that have not been accepted yet that are of intrigue to me.

What if we are proposers of an idea and in a brainstorming session it gets summarily rejected and comprehensively denounced? Even worse what if it is mocked? It appears that the authors of such ideas who are at the receiving end of such vitriol must take hope. History teaches us this. Even if the idea is rejected, it may have at least injected the idea in the canvass of discourse. The first time it may meet with disdain, the next time it will meet with rejection (at this stage you are considered worth opposing at least!), the chances are bright that the third time it will get with a ‘slot to debate’.  It is at this stage when one must take satisfaction that the idea has been given sufficient credibility – enough to merit a debate and opposition. The idea has received validation. Opposition is the highest form of engagement, perhaps more powerful and more fulfilling than agreement.

Voltaire had said, ‘No one can stop an idea whose time has come’. However what Voltaire perhaps failed to mention that before the time of an idea does come, there are multiple people who must have talked about the idea amidst derision and mock. It is on the shoulders of those unsung heroes that the glory of future strongly sits.

A wise and very senior leader shared in a candid moment that many times he has had to stay with an idea for more than a few years and build comfort and consensus around it before it got accepted. It was an invaluable lesson.

So the next time I may lose an argument around an important, path breaking, radically new proposition, may be I shall argue again – and again.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Monday musings 265 – An ode to Alvin Toffler

Monday musings 265 – An ode to Alvin Toffler
The rock star futurist Alvin Toffler passed away recently. I remember picking up his book ‘The Future Shock’’ during my B school and miserably failing to read it beyond 50 pages. The book and its content did not catch my fancy, which by the way speaks volumes about me more than it speaks about the book or the author.  Years later I picked a copy of it from the dusty (but famous for its collection of titles) pavements of South Mumbai but the book somehow remained unread for many more years. I finally did scan through it around a decade back.
Many of the pet themes and conversation embellishers that we use today in the corporate world can actually be traced to Alvin Toffler. Some of the Tofflerisms are now a part of everyday language and when we look into them in the light of the fact that they were said almost 40 years back, they acquire the halo of brilliance. For instance sample some of them –
  1. ‘’Change is not merely necessary to life — it is life."
  2.  "The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn."
  3. "Change is the only constant."
And mind you – all of this was said was only one person!! (Actually two – if you include his wife, who collaborated on most of his work). Anyone who is interested to know which and how many of those predictions of Toffler came out to be true must pick a copy of the book and marvel at his prescience. It will also not be wrong to say that Alvin Toffler made the job of a futurist look sexy.
The sequel to Future Shock was ‘’The Third Wave’’ published in 1980. Some of the ideas postulated in this book may have appeared as fictions during the time of its publication but appear to be clairvoyant brilliance now.
For instance the thought that there will be a roll back of the industrial era creed of standardisation (towards customisation!!), and that there will be progressive attack on the notion of the nation state from below (increasing clout of regional/decentralised) and the top (rise of powerful non national entities like corporations, religions and cartels) or the eclipsing of monetary wealth by knowledge and information, so on and so forth.
Toffler went to write many more books and his ideas were built on by the subsequent generation of futurists. In his death Toffler may have triggered in me an interest in his works. Hopefully I will do better this time and stay with the study.
A few other Tofflerisms that the cubicle-wallah may find interesting for his consumption are -
  1. ‘’Most managers were trained to be the thing they most despise – bureaucrats’’
  2. You've got to think about big things while you're doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.
  3. “You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and judgment.’’
  4. “The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order.”
    Rest in Peace Mr. Toffler.

 PS - Sometimes (though not always) a good way of preparing for the road ahead is to look at the road covered.