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  • There are three types of people in the world, those who don't know what's happening, those who wonder what's happening and those on the streets that make things happen.

Archive for July, 2012

Exploratory Despair Is Better Than Bliss Borne Out Of Ignorance

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 31, 2012

Voltaire fought intolerance and fanaticism, an...

Very few people are gifted with an inquisitive mind, a disposition to question the origin of every matter or thought. And if such an individual is bestowed with an add-on feature called Intelligence,then life can be quite a catastrophe. Such lucky unfortunates maybe called the Philosophers of the World.

While some of these wise men pursue there voyages in the realm of research and sciences, a lot more have to live with it while they make a living off the “regular”, more worldly sources of income. For this latter group, the gift of a cerebral window is nothing less than a curse. And soon enough they start wishing that they were not God’s Chosen Ones,but, the Ignorant Ones!

So for all those who feel that way, here is an extract from Voltaire’s story

The Good Brahmin

“I wish,” said the Brahmin to me one day, “I had never been born!”

“Why so?” said I.

“Because,” replied he, “I have been studying these forty years, and I find it has been so much time lost. While I teach others I know nothing myself. The sense of my condition is so humiliating, it makes all things so distasteful to me, that life has become a burden. I have been born, and I exist in time, without knowing what time is. I am placed, as our wise men say, in the confines between two eternities, and yet I have no idea of eternity. I am composed of matter, I think, but have never been able to satisfy myself what it is that produces thought. I even am ignorant whether my understanding is a simple faculty I possess, like that of walking and digesting, or if I think with my head in the same manner as I take hold of a thing with my hands…. I talk a great deal, and when I have done speaking remain confounded and ashamed of what I have said.”……
…..The same day I had a conversation with the old woman, his neighbor. I asked her if she had ever been unhappy for not understanding how her soul was made? She did not even comprehend my question. She had not, for the briefest moment in her life, had a thought about these subjects with which the good Brahmin had so tormented himself. She believed from the bottom of her heart in the metamorphoses of her god Vishnu, and, provided she could get some of the sacred water of the Ganges in which to make her ablutions, she thought herself the happiest of women.

Struck with the happiness of this poor creature, I returned to my philosopher, whom I thus addressed:

“Are you not ashamed to be thus miserable when, not fifty yards from you, there is an old automaton who thinks of nothing and lives contented?”

“You are right,” he replied. “I have said to myself a thousand times that I should be happy if I were but as ignorant as my old neighbor, and yet it is a happiness I do not desire.”

MORAL OF THE STORY:

As quoted in “The Story of Philosophy” by Will Durant: “Even if Philosophy should end in total doubt…it is man’s greatest adventure, and his noblest.”

 

 

 

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Democracy Democrac Democra Democr Democ Demo Dem De D…

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 31, 2012

Part of Peter Joseph’s series Culture In Decline. Love the fact that he does not contribute the present reality to a conspiracy but a manifestation of a value system we have come to accept. Now that’s a welcome change from the theme of most thought provoking videos. I truly believe in democracy but only when the noblest are elected by the wise.

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to chose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”
– Winston Churchill

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”
– Mark Twain

 

 

 

Posted in Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I Belong to the Centre Right…As of Now.

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 30, 2012

The main responsibility of a government should be to protect its citizens and their rights. That’s it! Nothing more and nothing less. The size of the government and its spending should be just enough to fulfill these duties. Leave the rest to the people.

So which sectors must the Government control in order to “protect its citizens and their rights”? Here are a few that come to mind:

1) Defense

2) Internal Law and Order

3) Education

4) Healthcare

5) Environment

I advocate absolute control and ownership of these sectors by the government. No privatization at all! The implications of these domains to the character of the nation are too critical to be profit driven. Barring these, state’s presence in industry must be bare minimum to none.

 

Posted in Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

The Living Root Bridges of North East India

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 29, 2012

Deep inside the valleys of Meghalaya, a beautiful Indian state, lie the living root bridges. Last year I had the good fortune of witnessing this supreme example of man’s oneness with nature and how such a symbiotic relationship can be translated into sustainable development.

What: The bridges are made by local villagers by extending the roots of centuries old trees across the streams. The roots are still living and are believed to be able to hold thousands of kilos of weight on them.

Where: In the North East Indian State of Meghalaya. An hour and a half drive away from the state capital Shillong is a beautiful place called Cherrapunji (highest level of rainfall in the world is recorded here every year). Two to four hour long treks down the wooded hills will bring you to Khasi villages that house these wonders.

When: The best time to visit is Feb through April.

 

 

 

Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Why I Don’t Want To Believe in Rebirth…

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 28, 2012

Five years ago I was walking down a road in Helsinki with a German friend of mine. It was a fine summer day and we had just stepped out of the Library. And right then a beautiful Audi whizzed past us. “Wow! I wish I could get my hands on that beauty”, exclaimed my friend. “Relax, what’s the hurry?” I replied. He smiled and said, “Raunak, you are a Hindu. You will be re-born and can have another life to get a car like that. I am a Christian.I have only one life to get one.”

And what he said is etched in my mind for eternity. He had in a simple sentence explained the psyche of the Indian people in general and one that could be responsible for all the ills that pervade our society. e.g. India will never see a Revolution. A Revolution requires people to rise against the injustice meted out by those in authority. But most Indians when faced with a problem blame their past life sins (bad karmas) for their poor condition now. A beggar will blame his own wrong actions for his destitute existence in this life. He will never blame the corrupt and evil authorities in power for his pitiful life. A man who falls into a puddle of water on the road will blame his stars for the fall, not the inept contractor who made that low quality crap from our tax money. And by suffering the pains of this life we believe we will be reborn into a better life.

And this is why I do not agree with the concepts of rebirth and karma. These tenets have been used for centuries to carry out social oppression and the perpetrators have gotten away with it. It breeds self-infliction of pain and a cowardly attitude that many misinterpret as forgiveness. The belief in rebirth also belittles human life. No wonder the value of human life in India is abysmally low.  Also, is this complacency the reason that since days of Alexander, India has always been the conquered land.

If only everyone believed that they have ONLY ONE LIFE, they would go all out to make it better. And in doing so, get rid of the real culprits of their miseries. We all need to live in the present with the realization that this moment is never going to come back nor is my soul ever going to come back to this world. We need to ACT to change our present and not give into apathy towards our sufferings for hope of a better next life. This is the only life that we have and it is time for a Revolution.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

The Key To Happiness…The Most Inspiring Poem Ever!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 27, 2012

English: Rudyard Kipling

English: Rudyard Kipling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This great work has always lifted my spirits whenever I’ve been down. My blog would be incomplete without a post dedicated to this beautiful poem. In one short work Rudyard Kipling summarizes the answers to questions that have dogged our philosophical and spiritual pursuits for centuries. And all this in plain simple language that we all can relate to. Read every line of this epiphany multiple times and realize the joy that it instils in you. “IF” by Rudyard Kipling:

 

 

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Move Over Friday…Thank God Its Wednesday!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 26, 2012

Smaller but more regular milestones not only make the journey better but also increase the chances of reaching the destination blissfully. Why then do we wait 5 long days to hit the weekend(in most countries it is Six)? And here comes the concept of Midweek Mitzvah: the ritual of celebrating Wednesday, that poor little day which goes completely unnoticed.

Recently I suggested to my friends to dedicate Wednesday evenings to activities that were different from the daily routine. To do things on a Wednesday that we would otherwise put on our weekend list. This could be partying, get togethers, a round of poker, eat outs, books; anything that brings joy to your life. Four weeks into implementing the plan and the results are impressive.

The continuous bickering that I used to hear from my friends about how pathetic their jobs are has reduced to a rare murmur. Their faces seem more fresh whenever we meet because of the thought that either the weekend or the midweek is just around the corner. Everyone seems to have more time and energy on the weekends because the long list of weekend tasks has been shared with Wednesday. And last but not the least, our dear friend Wednesday does not go unnoticed anymore 🙂

So try the Midweek concept with your group and let me know if you see improvements in people’s attitudes.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Management Consulting 101:Have a Problem, Google It!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 24, 2012

This advice goes out to everyone out there doing anything, anywhere. If you have a problem, Google* it! Chances are that many on this planet have faced the same or similar problems and have shared the solutions online. It will save you a lot of time you would otherwise spend banging your head against the wall.

And Management Consultants in particular need to follow this approach. Lets face it, given the nature of capitalism, there are only a finite types of problems in the world. And most of those problems have been tackled and details posted somewhere online in the form of a case study. So the approaches to problem solving are limited and out in public domain. The real value addition lies firstly, in identifying the unique parameters that influence the process in which the problem lies, secondly, innovation in the form of tweaked derivative of an existing solution for the problem at hand and finally, implementing the solution in the unique Eco-system that the problem belongs to.

E.g when manufacturing moved to China, the management there faced production issues that were faced by factories in the United States in their infancy. The new problems were not new in nature but new to the Chinese Eco-system. The solutions that were implemented were derived from US factories and tweaked to adapt to the new environment.

There is no shame in incorporating Googling* as your first step of problem solving. It saves a lot of time and lets you use more of your grey cells in the real value addition.

*Googling refers to the act of searching. This could be both online as well as offline.

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The Key To Conquest: Surrender

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 23, 2012

Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626)

“Nature cannot be commanded except by being obeyed”- Francis Bacon, Magna Instauratio

The underlying message urges pursuit of learning the laws of nature in order to master her. The same postulation can be extended to our daily lives. Whenever we wish to accomplish or achieve something, the first step should be to immerse oneself into the essence of that object and learn as mush as possible about it. Only then will we succeed in conquering that which eludes us.Here are some examples,

  • To win over an enemy in battle, the strategist delves into the mind of the opponent. To do this, one must condition one’s brain with information that has molded the opponent’s thought process. Only then can the enemy’s move be preempted.
  • To solve a management problem, in-depth analysis into the parameters that drive the process is a must. Without gaining an understanding of the sequence of events that lead to a problem, the solution can never be arrived at.
  • Before designing a marketing campaign, the marketing consultant must literally live the lives of the target audience. Statistical Data that does not involve emotional factors is pretty shallow.
  • Next time you rebuke your child, try to peek into the mind of the little one and evaluate the circumstances that led to the child’s actions.

In short, to conquer or overcome someone or something, become one with that object. The rest will be a cakewalk.

Posted in Management Consulting, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Makes You Smile Before Going To Bed?

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 22, 2012

Was pondering upon parameters of happiness when I thought of this: When you hit the sack at night do you smile and feel happy about seeing the next day in the blink of an eye? What is it about the next morning that makes you wanna sleep and travel through night at the speed of light?

Here are a few things that put a smile across my face when I think of waking up the next day:

  • the morning newspaper crossword 🙂
  • the morning cup of tea 🙂
  • the period of solitude and self reflection that I spend in the toilet 🙂
  • the good morning greeting to my folks and hearing their response 🙂
  • the comic strip in the newspaper 🙂

With a little more effort, this could translate into an effective scale for measuring happiness and work/life balance. So what puts a smile across your face?

 

 

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Philosophy-Science-Art-Business

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 22, 2012

The opening page of Spinoza's magnum opus, Ethics

The opening page of Spinoza’s magnum opus, Ethics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Every Science begins as Philosophy and ends as Art, it arises in hypothesis and flows into achievement”- Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

The key to innovation could not have been put in a more succinct manner. Compare this to one of the most successful consulting strategies in the world and you realize how hypothesis driven problem solving techniques yield better and faster solutions. Time to quote another one of my favorite thinkers, Spinoza. “…the motion and rest of the body must arise from another body, which has also been determined to motion or rest by another..”-Ethics

Spinoza was laying down his propositions for defining existence, body and mind. But if you apply the same postulate to science you find a relation with Newton’s First Law, that of Inertia.

The more one explores, the more one observes the symbiotic relationship that exists between philosophy, science, art and business. Exploring all dimensions can yield miraculous discoveries.Not surprisingly, the best discoveries and inventions have been realized by individuals who conducted research in multiple disciplines.

Posted in Management Consulting, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Retail Bank Growth Strategy 101:Catch Them When They Are Young

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 20, 2012

Strategy: Retail banks need to catch prospective customers early. Target individuals that are making the transition from studies to professional life and benefit from the customer loyalty that is inbuilt into the product offering(explained below). Focus Sales efforts towards Corporate Accounts because these accounts translate into Employee accounts that tend to have a longer life. Do not go for customers that adversely affect the deposit per customer to cost per customer ratio.

Illustration:

The Manager of  SBI, a Public Sector Bank asked me to advise him on what he could learn from Private Sector Retail Banks. Why was it that I had my accounts with  HDFC, a Private Sector Bank and not his? And this inspite of the fact that there was no differentiation in the product lines of either bank; internet banking, mobile banking and other services were all part of SBIs offering as well. So why do I not have an account with SBI?

The question was out of the blue and not at all relevant to our preceding conversation. Caught me by surprise! So I thought…the cliched response that came to my mind was aging staff, poor quality service blah blah. But then I realized that SBI had already worked on these issues and addressing them would not add much value to their growth strategy.It was not the reason I did not have an account with SBI.So I though more…Eureka!

I used HDFC as my retail banker because the first company I was employed with used HDFC to process their salary accounts. When I joined that company, my first job after college, I was proud of my first salary and with it proud of my first very own bank account. HDFC had gained a new retail customer through their corporate account with my company. And I was not the only one. Like me, all new employees had there accounts opened in HDFC to ease transfer of salaries.

Lesson:

Customer Loyalty in Retail Banking has increased. While some of this can be attributed to good service quality, a lot of it is due to new features such as Internet Banking, Mobile Banking, Trading Accounts etc. that are bundled in the offering. The barriers to changing one’s account have increased because an account holder who gets used to the interface of Internet and Mobile Banking of one bank is hesitant to move to another bank where he would have to go through another round of initiation with the new bank’s interface. E.g. I am so comfortable with the UI of HDFC Netbanking that I am reluctant to shift to the platform of another bank. I have my customer IDs and passwords memorized and don’t want to change the status quo with a whole new set of numbers and passwords. I love my ATM card and don’t want to deal with a new one with a new PIN.

On further discussion it was evident that SBI was not aggressively targeting Corporate Salary accounts and this is hurting not only the quantity but also quality of its deposits.

Disclaimer: Bank names have been used only for illustration.I do not intend to endorse any.

 

 

 

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Mt. Kailash and Mansarovar, Tibet

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 19, 2012

Finally posting images from my trek to Mt.Kailash and Mansarovar in Tibet last year. Needless to say, 2D images can never recreate the magic of being there in person.

Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Humility Is Not A Virtue:Spinoza

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 19, 2012

“Humility is a sadness which arises from the fact that a man considers his own lack of power.Moreover, insofar a man knows himself by true reason, it is supposed that he understands his own essence,his own power. So if a man,in considering himself, perceives some lack of power of his,this is not because he understands himself but because his power of acting is restrained.

-Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics

Not surprisingly, this has been a prevalent thought in Western Philosophy and a key tenet that differentiates it from Eastern thought. While the Athenians, Stoics, Epicureans and others treated man as part of a society and framed definitions inspired by man’s interaction with his external surroundings viz. the state, fellow humans et al., Eastern philosophy focused on the individuality of a man, his struggles with his inner beings, the divinity that lay within him.

So why the two different approaches? One possible explanation could be that while the Athenians were struggling to find the answer to a Utopian form of state, the East may have already figured out the best form of governance. The East was already beyond the struggles of community living and had now reached a level of spirituality where the biggest struggle for a man was against the forces within and not without.

Posted in Management Consulting, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Utopian Government: Plato…of Desire, Emotion and Knowledge.

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 19, 2012

” Like man, like state…governments vary as the characters of men vary…states are made out of the human natures which are in them.”- Plato

One of my favorite ideas of Plato is the one where he puts forward the drivers of human behavior. Plato categorizes these drivers as desire, emotion and knowledge and sorts the populace of a state based on varying degrees of each driver in an individual. Clearly for Plato not all men are alike and these drivers are the scales for measuring their suitability for the role they would play in the state.

Desire(appetite, instinct, impulse) is associated with the loins and is heavily influenced by sexual needs. Emotion rests in the heart while Knowledge rules the head. These drivers and qualities are present in all men but to varying degrees.

Men that are ruled by Desire are bestowed with ambition and a lust for luxuries.Such men must comprise the industry of the state. Those that are passion personified due to high levels of emotional drives that instil courage in them must make up the armies and navies. The remaining that seek delight in knowledge and understanding must guide the nation.

“Ruin comes when the trader, whose heart is lifted up by wealth, becomes ruler.” Wouldn’t be wrong to call Plato one of the earliest Communists.

Posted in Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Benedict de Spinoza:More Transparency in Both Government and Corporations

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 18, 2012

“It has been one of the songs of those who thirst after absolute power that the interest of the state requires that its affairs should be conducted in secret…But the more such arguments disguise themselves under the mask of public welfare, the more oppressive is the slavery to which they will lead…Better that right counsels be know to enemies than that the evils secrets of tyrants should be concealed from the citizens.They who can treat secretly of the affairs of a nation have it absolutely under their authority; and as they plot against the enemy in the time of war, so do they against the citizens in time of peace.”- Benedict de Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus

One of the things that have always intrigued me is why Cabinet meetings of our ministers,that discuss important issues and Bills, are held behind closed doors and hidden from the view of the very public that those legislative actions are going to affect. Are they plotting against the citizens during time of peace?

Lets extend this argument to corporate big-wigs.Several strategy decisions are made in secret and for obvious reasons. One, to prevent sensitive data from reaching competition. Agreed. However, an arrangement should be made to video record these meetings and display them to the shareholders once the results of the decisions have been fully realized in the public domain. Shareholders, like citizens in a democracy should have the right to view the decision making process of the executives they  pay huge salaries to “protect their interests”.

After 60 years of Independence, India finally has a Right To Information Act. A bittersweet case of better late than never; generations from now it will be recognized as the one legislation that saved democracy in this country.

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Don’t Wait For Annual Appraisal For Conferring Benefits.Reward Now!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 17, 2012

“Neither a Republic nor a Prince should put off conferring Benefits on People until danger is at hand.….Let no one, however, put off making sure of the populace until the time of danger arrives, because he may not, as the Romans did, succeed in this. For the people as a whole will not consider that they owe this benefit to you, but rather to your enemies, and, since they cannot but fear that, when the need has passed, you may deprive them of what you have been compelled to give, will in no way feel obliged to you.” –  Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Corporate Illustration: John walks up to his reporting manager with a resignation letter and states that he has an offer from another company. The reporting manager realizing John’s importance in the organization immediately offers to increase his salary and benefits by up to 20%. John negotiates a hike of 35% and stays back

Now that’s an all too common scenario in organizations around the world and calls into question the performance of existing Appraisal and Reward programs in a majority of companies. While organizations have increased the frequency of Performance Appraisals from annually to quarterly, the process of rewarding still remain annual in all but a few.

Delay in rewarding a deserving effort creates a window of opportunity for competitors to acquire performing assets from your talent pool. And even if you manage to retain the talent by giving into their demands, the payout ends up being several times more than had the rewarding been more frequent. This is evident in the above illustration where the cost of quarterly increments in John’s benefits would have added up to far less than the 35% hike that he eventually sealed.

Also, when the organization rewards John regularly upon the execution of good work, it adds to not only his motivation but also his loyalty to the company. In the illustration above, John walks out of the meeting, not with a sense of gratitude and motivation but with a sense of pride in his ability to squeeze the company’s arm as and when he wishes. Now that is not desirable at all!

Organizations need to re-assess their appraisal programs and stress rewarding good work when it is accomplished and not wait for the end of the financial year. There is a lesson to be learnt from the 15th century strategist.

 

 

 

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Corporate Acquisition 101: Inspired by Niccolo Machiavelli

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on July 16, 2012

In Chapter 3 of “The Prince” Machiavelli states, “when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs, or laws, there are difficulties, and good fortune and great energy are needed to hold them, and one of the greatest and most real helps would be that he who has acquired them should go and reside there.”

Now here lies a lesson for all those consulting or undertaking Corporate Acquisition, especially one where entities from different countries or cultures are involved. Just replace “states” with “companies” in the above quote and the message is clear: The CEO or Chairman or Decision Maker of the company that makes an acquisition overseas, must move his office to the acquired company and run his business from there until Integration of the two entities is truly complete.

Further he wrote, “Because, if one is on the spot, disorders are seen as they spring up, and one can quickly remedy them; but if one is not at hand, they are heard of only when they are great, and then one can no longer remedy them. Besides this, the country is not pillaged by your officials; the subjects are satisfied by prompt recourse to the prince; thus, wishing to be good, they have more cause to love him, and wishing to be otherwise, to fear him.”

Proximity to employees of the acquired company will go a long way in allaying their fears and insecurities. Needless to say, this is of utmost importance when you wish to leverage the resources of the acquired firm to the fullest.

 

 

 

Posted in Management Consulting | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

 
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