Monday, December 31, 2012

Thoughtful Technologies for 2013

As the year 2012 draws to a close, it is easy to appreciate how technology continues to change our world and lives. Probably, the most profound changes are occurring in the computing and communication domains. These technological changes are making some of the innovations of the yesteryears less relevant, if not obsolete. Fascimile, or FAX, for example is no longer a fancied method of document transmission with scanning and emailing emerging as a cheaper and more reliable option. Cloud has emerged as a potentially one stop solution for all our electronic storage needs, providing seamless portability across devices.

Cellular phones have been reinvented as smartphones while cameras are being reinvented as connected devices. Idiot Box has blossomed into smart television. From just a desktop computer, we now have multiple options of laptop, netbook, ultrabook, tablet and phablet. Convergence has taken new random hues with a ubiquitous device such as smartphone becoming a projector. Elsewhere, even if on a laboratory scale, newer domains such as nanotechnology, stem cells and epigenetics are supporting the emergence of revolutionary options in healthcare. Given the profound impact technology would continue to have, this blog post postulates some thoughtful technologies that could make further positive impact on our lives.

Self-powered smartphones

For all the amazing things the smartphones do in terms of amazing displays and myriad applications, the way they guzzle battery power has been a negative point. Smartphone makers have been fighting the trend by providing batteries of increasing power (from conventional 1400 mAh to 2600 mAh). Some tablet makers are even thinking of providing dual batteries. Smartphones which recapture some of the heat and smartphones which are charged by daylight and electric light could reduce substantially environmental load by downsizing or even obviating battery usage. The same self-powering or natural-powering principles can be applied to a wide range of devices including laptops and other devices.

Energy sinks

Typical homes and offices which bask in sunlight absorb as well as reflect plentiful energy. Various devices in the homes and offices generate significant heat. Technologies should be deployed to channel all this energy into energy sinks which can be drawn for operation of various devices. Use of energy absorbing and channeling materials on one hand and programmable energy sinks could be an extremely novel way of optimizing energy consumption. Given the emerging state of the Indian society, the energy recycling and co-generation options can be developed from simple options (like solar heaters and TV to low volt charging) to total systems (like total energy transducer). Given the level of noise and heat that is generated in the streets in India, even these could be captured for additional impact!

Hybrid vehicles

If there is one development that is an "absolute must" it is the minimizing of oil consumption. Hybrid automobile engine technologies offer a major area for oil conservation. Rather than go in for completely alternate fuel programs, hybrids which convert kinetic energy of automotive motion (when running on conventional engines) into electric energy of motors (to be used when possible. The hybrid technologies that are now available only for high end cars must be extended to all cars and other automobiles (including trucks, buses, three wheelers and two wheelers).  The technological solution to oil conservation is far superior to substitution of diesel power for gasoline power based on administered pricing decisions. Hybrid technologies require significant tax incentives and potentially dedicated hybrid technology laboratories to achieve mass coverage.

Electronic paper readers
Despite the growth of the Internet and free access of digital versions of print media on computers, the printed newspapers and periodicals continue to enjoy popularity. The reason is that ‘touch and feel’ , ‘flip and browse’, and ‘see and read’ feel of the large format physical papers can never be matched by digital reading of material on small size computer screens. It would be stunning, therefore, if large OLED screens of different sizes and configurations with Internet connectivity can be developed as Electronic Paper Readers (EPRs). Each day, or when agreed with the reader, the newspaper and periodical publishers can download their pre-set newspaper of the day or the pre-set periodical of the week into the EPR. The readers can then have all the sensory experiences of touch, feel, flip, browse, see and read with such EPRs as though they are handling and reading the physical papers. The EPRs can be engineered with storage capability or cloud connectivity to enable limited or massive archiving. EPRs can be truly revolutionary.
Redundancy eliminators
The Internet, at the click of the Search Engine (Google or Bing), makes available millions of sites and pages to view in response to information or data request. The ease of accessing so much information is, however, negated by the impossibility of searching for the right information. In fact, each view comprises scores of information links that would be identical or similar. Hardly, anyone can go beyond the first page of views even if millions of views are provided by the Search Engine. An embedded application in the computer CPU which eliminates all the repetitive and redundant entries automatically (by default) and zeroes in on the really wanted information based on detailed request (by design) would be a great productivity enhancer in these days of information overload. The Search Engines or the computer makers and operating system developers can bring in this sophistication, to the Internet users’ delight.
Rechargeable water purifiers
Given the poor quality of raw water in India, purification of raw water by reverse osmosis and membrane technologies is growing in popularity. Unfortunately, as the technology separates out ‘good’ and ‘bad’ water, the wastage of water is huge; typically for every 100 litres of raw water treated as much as 70 litres (70 percent) may be rejected. In a water-starved, resource-scarce nation as India, this huge level of water rejection is unfriendly to the environment. The rejected water cannot be reused for ground water recharging either because of the high level of contaminants. Any device that restores the rejected water at least to two levels  - one, water harvesting into the ground and the other, use for non-critical uses like gardening  -  would be a great boon for environmental conservation. Development of cost-effective particulate filters and terminal sterilizers for after-treatment of the rejected water could be a significant help.
Solar steels and metals  
Steel paneling is the essence of automobile shell. Automobiles are exposed to heat externally which the steel panels and other components literally absorb. At the same time the insides of the automobiles are cooled by the air-conditioning systems, consuming additional energy. The entire system is counter to any rational design principles. If the steel panels were to act as solar panels, the entire energy would be absorbed to be recycled for operation of the various automobile systems. Similarly, the steel panel cladding of the offices, homes and roof material can all be solar panels that capture and reuse heat. Technologies that embed solar panels into steel panels could be the first step, followed by the entire steel panels acting as solar panels.
3D Digital scans
It is now well established that the genetic makeup of an individual has an impact on both wellness and illness of the person. Yet, the ability to understand the DNA and judge the genetic predisposition is still at a nascent stage. Rather than pursue what could take decades to fruition, scientists and technologists could perfect technologies that could develop transparent 3D images of human body so that each and every function or malfunction of a body and each organ, and each cell thereof is studied on a real time basis. This would enable not only minimally invasive surgical methods but also help doctors and technologists observe the physical impact of surgeries and medicines. The ability to develop such devices without the need for administration of contrast media would be the big thing.
Design evolves with time. Several designs which appeared to be breakthroughs when first introduced quickly became obsolete as new developments began to be developed. The once completely mechanical keyboard became obsolete with the advent of electro-mechanical keyboard. Even that is now looking ugly and dated with the introduction of resistive and capacitive touch screen keyboards. The thoughtful technologies mentioned, or rather speculated upon in this blog post could be realized sooner than anticipated.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 31, 2012     


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Automobiles, Infrastructure, Metals and Services (AIMS): Aim to boost Indian Industrial and Economic Growth

The National Development Council at its recent meeting has downscaled the GDP growth rate to 8 percent, from the earlier envisaged target of 9 percent. Coming as it does after the current year low (in recent years) of 7 percent, downscaling of the GDP target is of concern. India has so much potential for growth that any growth target less than 10 percent is a letdown relative to potential. Growth, however, does not happen in vacuum. It requires careful economic, fiscal and industrial strategies in a liberalized policy framework that attracts and stimulates investments. While a holistic economic strategy that matches demand side and supply side economics at increasingly higher levels is always an ideal option, it is also possible to achieve a near similar impact by targeting for development certain growth sectors that offer core competencies for expansion and provide cascading triggers across the economy.  

India has growth potential across all sectors. Basic necessities such as agriculture and premium luxuries such as jewels, for example, have high growth potential. There is certainly an additional growth potential that could accrue in such sectors with policy initiatives. It is to be hoped that such initiatives will be carried out as part of the normal economic planning processes. There are, however, certain sectors where the Indian industry has acquired and demonstrated competencies, where there is still considerable import proclivity (and hence import substitution potential). These sectors are interlinked not only amongst themselves but with other sectors, and finally have the maximal incremental job potential. Automobiles, infrastructure, metals and services are the four sectors which can become globally competitive, world scale sectors and transform India’s industrial image. These sectors would benefit from certain degree of regulatory freedom as well as compulsion.
The Automotive industry in India is one of the largest in the world and one of the fastest growing globally. India manufactures over 18 million vehicles (including 2 wheeled and 4 wheeled) and exports more than 2.3 million every year. It is the world's second largest manufacturer of motorcycles; there are eight key players in the Indian markets that produced 13.8 million units in 2010-11. At present the dominant products of the automobile industry are two Wheelers with a market share of over 75 percent and passenger cars with a market share of about 16 percent. Commercial vehicles and three wheelers share about 9 percent of the market between them. The industry has attained a turnover of more than USD 35 billion and provides direct and indirect employment to over 13 million people.

Virtually, every known international automobile manufacturer has established facilities in India. While some players like Suzuki and Hyundai in the four wheeler sector and Honda in the two wheeler sector have gone in for scale, others have been content with low and mid scale volumes. In the indigenous sector, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra in the four wheeler sector and Bajaj, TVS and Hero have focused on high scale. What is of significance is the in-depth design and manufacturing capability that exists, in both the end product and component sectors in India, and the potential that exists to increase export turnover from the current low of 10 percent. India has the potential to become the second largest automobile producer in the world after China, deriving at least 30 percent of its sale from exports. Automobile industry must therefore, qualify for special policy support from the governments. At the same time, there must be clear shift away from the current thinking on import of luxury cars on low tariffs so that the Indian units acquire that expertise as well.
Infrastructure has been the Achilles Heel of the Indian economy. There is no other sector that has been an elusive mirage of fulfillment. There are several infrastructure sectors such as roads and road transport, airways and airports, shipping and ports, metro lines and trains, power plants, hospitals, oil and gas exploration, to quote a few that need a major leg up. There are two areas of concern. The first relates to the enormous delays in approving and executing the projects, thus scratching barely the surface of infrastructure development. As against potentially over 300 cities and towns that can support air traffic, India has just 125 airports. Even the airports that are built have high import content; it is, for example, strange that a country such as Indonesia can manufacture aerobridges and India has to import them. Metro services offer huge potential but take typically a decade to execute and are dependent again on imported tracks and coaches.  All other infrastructure projects also suffer from the same deficiencies of inadequate project formation, inordinate execution and overwhelming import content. Clearly, there is potential for a huge improvement in infrastructure build-out.

Typically, each ministry of the government is mandated to look after the infrastructure projects in its domain. However, infrastructure projects require the support of several ministries and are often stalled for multi-ministry coordination. The government would be able to fast-track infrastructure building by establishing a dedicated ministry for infrastructure which would be an apex       program-managing ministry across all the ministries. The second measure would be to involve private and public sector enterprises on a proactive basis for manufacture of import substitute equipment. This, again, could get a boost by creating a watchdog commission for import substitution. The third measure could be to develop dedicated five year and ten year strategic plans for infrastructure by the Planning Commission. In addition, specific projects like freight corridors, bullet trains, mono rails and metro trains would provide exemplary start for an infrastructure revolution in India. A number of industries such as cement, steel, construction, capital goods, transport vehicles and construction equipment would benefit from the suggested infrastructure push. 


The world steel production is around 1500 million tonnes(MT). China at 683 MT, the European Union at 177 MT, USA at 119 MT and Japan at 108 MT are some of the largest steel producing countries of the world. India at 72 MT has the potential to race up to the second spot after China. Steel manufacture is a competitive game of bringing out newer varieties with higher strength and greater purity at lower costs. India has not addressed the core issues of ensuring access to high quality coking coal, low cost uninterrupted power and cost-efficient production technologies. The initiatives, in these domains, are largely left to the option of individual firms. Steel being a highly investment intensive industry special financing arrangements to support new projects and selective overseas acquisitions are also called for. Besides these, government to government alliances are required to provide access to natural resources. 

Simultaneously, India needs to step production capacity and mining capacity for a range of metals such as copper, aluminum, zinc and nickel which have major industrial and civilian uses. The growth of iron and steel and other metal industries is linked to proactive environmental planning, assured compensation, resettlement and employment for affected villagers and fast track project approvals. The ministry of environment and the ministry of rural development will need to be co-opted by the ministry of metals and minerals in the endeavor to build a world scale metals and minerals industry in India. In today’s global economic environment, it appears that steel is one industry which has not sufficiently moved to India. The experience of Corus and Tata Steel indicates that creation of fresh domestic capacity could be a less problematic option. However, the governments need to work towards low cost energy sufficiency and firms have to work towards cost-efficient production technologies.


The world has 6 billion cellular phones. China and India approximately have 1 billion cellular phones each, thrice the level of the USA. These amazing statistics demonstrate the power and potential of the services sector in India. The recent opening up of the retail sector to foreign direct investment could offer similar potential in a number of sectors. While the policy has been controversial one has to only look at how cheap and innovative goods from China have flooded the Indian markets. Rather than avoid foreign investment in retailing, the right approach would be to enable the Indian manufacturing sector to compete with China for retail shelf space. The restrictions sought to be laid by the government on local sourcing are well-merited in this context. The critiques of the retail FDI policy need to consider that superior supply chain and distribution practices need to be adopted by the indigenous retail chains so that the retail sector has a balanced mix of national and international retailers. It would be unfortunate if the Indian retail chains view the current opening up of the retail sector to foreign investment merely as a way to cash out. 

India needs several innovative services going forward. These would range from meeting home and office needs to a host of outsourcing services. Yet, the concern is that India has not understood the importance of quality and cost-effectiveness in services. India, as a result, has been fighting to retain the initial advantage built up in business process outsourcing services. India has so far successfully fought off competition from new and emerging outsourcing regions such as the Philippines, South Africa, East Europe and Latin America to retain its position as the world's BPO hub as per data released by Nasscom. While the competing emerging regions focus on voice-based work, India is increasingly focusing on financial, accounting, and other domain-specific data analytical work. It is to be hoped that India would achieve a more sustainable position in business analytics, which is promising to emerge as the next frontier. The ultimate win for India could be when India develops products and platforms for rendering services. It would be in order for the Indian Institutes of Management to structure specific programs that facilitate innovative service platforms. Given India’s strong position in information technology IT based services delivery could be a logical area of dominance for India. 

AIMS as an aim 

The four sectors outlined in this blog post, namely automobiles, infrastructure, metals and services have all the track record and potential to become new growth drivers for India, with several upstream and downstream linkages in the economy. Each of these can achieve world scale in physical and financial terms. However, each would require speedy policy disposition, timely execution and integration with the social and natural environment. By constituting special ministries and commissions as well as global alliances for infrastructure, and providing incentives and mild regulations for other sectors India can achieve a 10 plus percent growth covering the full economic spectrum just with a focus on the four sectors as the lead engines of growth. 

Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 30, 2012    


Team Building: Gross and Subtle

Amongst the various programs for learning and development in organizations, team building ranks among the most delivered (jostling for ranking among other popular programs such as interpersonal skills and communication skills). This fact points to the importance accorded to team building in the overall gamut of organization development and performance management. From an idealistic concept that the entire company is nothing but one team (irrespective of diversity of businesses and locations) to a practical concept that teams must be small, connectable and manageable (with shared day to day execution goals), team building takes many configurations. Yet, the fallacy lies in the premise that teams can be built in one or two day workshops and based on lectures and games.

Without debating whether the macro team philosophy or the micro team approach is right (as potentially both are dovetailed), the focus should be on whether the teams can be built in the classrooms or need to be built in the shop floor (denotes, of course, any area of daily work). This is because teams are governed by logical relationships and shared goals on one hand, and by competitive pressures and disruptive pulls on the other. Moreover, teams are both formal and informal in structure and both static and dynamic in operation. In practice, teams are formed vertically and horizontally, cutting across hierarchy and entity. There is, simply, no way by which the challenge of organizational team building can be tackled in limited duration classroom exercises.
Understanding teams
Teams are groups of people brought together to deliver on a common goal. As in a sports team, each member of an organizational team must exist for a specific purpose. As in a sports team, each organizational team must operate as per certain processes. However, unlike a sports team, where the objective is to win over the competing team, organizational teams are not expected or enabled to have direct competition internally or externally. Many times, organizational teams have to compete against an unknown team with an undisclosed goal. A design team, for example, needs to develop a competitive product not because it can see or perceive the design team in the competing organization develop such a product in visible competition but because product development is an intrinsic strategic goal of the management.
Organizational teams are more complex to manage as unlike the sports teams they are less self-reliant. Typically, they require inputs and support from a number of other organizational teams. An organizational team, typically, wins against its own (set) target rather than an external competitive target. Unlike the sports teams, therefore, organizational teams are susceptible to self-modification of goals. Organizational teams have to generally live with the assigned membership and leadership, and would not have the flexibility the sports teams have in terms of selection of team members, captain, coach and manager. Organizational teams, therefore, are designed to deliver with fixed (human) assets (and liabilities!).
Business processes
Organizational teambuilding has to be an integral part of the design of organization structure and business process management. Teambuilding has to be also differentiated from competency building. Competent individuals are the fundamental building blocks of effective teams, and the reverse does not necessarily hold good. Certain industries, particularly consulting, information technology and construction industries, have appreciated the need for aligning team building to business process requirements and the benefit of building teams (from a large talent bench on call) in a customized manner for specific clients and specific processes.
Most industries and most companies, however, are unable to build such flexibility into their business processes and organization structure designs. To be effective and competitive, teambuilding has to be cascaded down from vision, strategy and program setting, selecting the right talent for the right jobs. This would require that, if not a whole company, at least entire departments must be open to continuously organizing and reorganizing themselves in project mode. This, in turn, requires that the temptation of managers to hold on to competent executives must be replaced by an openness to lend and borrow talent across the organization.
Competency grid
Given that the fundamental building block of team building is competency building, the first objective of learning and development is competency development. This, in turn, requires the development of a competency grid that identifies the required types of competencies across grades (say, from executive to functional head) and across projects (say, from design of a component to design of a car). Although, it may appear that there would be a correlation between project progression and grade progression, it is not necessarily true. In line with contemporary technologies, relatively fresh entrants may accomplish more sophisticated jobs. This would actually need to be encouraged than baulked at by established seniors.
Competency building also requires that the C Suite is filled by leaders who are multi-functional rather than mono-functional. This would lead to organizational flexibility in targeting projects and developing talent. Many conglomerate groups in India, including the Tatas and Birlas, have been successful in multi-specialization of their top executives. Even in their case, competency grid development is more by default focused on select personnel rather than by design spread across the organization. The human resources departments have a major role in building the competency grids. This, in turn, requires that that HR executives and managers have a thorough grounding in the technical and business matters.    
Team bonding
Once competency building is accepted as the main plank of successful teams, team building needs to be replaced by concepts of team design and team bonding. The right membership of teams, with each member serving a very specific purpose, ensures that the teams appreciate interdependency and avoid internal conflicts. The team design needs to be accompanied by identification of team manager (essentially for program and logistics administration), team leader (to strategize and develop action plans) and team mentor (to coach the team for higher functionality and motivation). The members of the team could be cross-domain as is the case with the concurrent engineering teams in automobile industry.
Team bonding, in the context of a competent team, has several process nuances. Firstly, the team must understand how the firm and team value chains work. Secondly, the team as a whole must understand how the team accomplishment would impact the overall corporate accomplishment (and impact of non-accomplishment too). Thirdly, the team members must understand how their performance or non-performance would impact the team accomplishment. Fourthly, the roles of team manager, team leader and team coach must be clearly understood. Fifthly, the team should agree on the processes of team working, performance assessment and feedback management. Sixthly, the team must be inculcated with the necessary interpersonal skills to be able to overcome rough edges and jell together.
Multi-step process
As the foregoing explains, teambuilding is a multistep process which is to be fundamentally grounded in competency building. Without competencies to support team performance, mere advocacy of soft skills would be nothing more than patchwork. Teambuilding has to be carried out in real time on the job situations, under expert guidance. Human resource departments need to acquire an appropriate knowledge of business strategies and technical matters to be able to deploy the right tools such as competency grids. Finally, organizations must provide for flexible structures with talent mobility to ensure that teams are customized for effective delivery.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 29, 2012               

Organizational Dynamics: Social Forces and Interpersonal Skills

Organizations are structures created to bring together people who possess requisite competencies and attitudes to deliver common organizational objectives for the companies they represent. The theories of organization have evolved over the years to identify appropriate methods and approaches, and tools and techniques by which an organization can function efficiently and effectively. The need for such theories arose because some of the fundamental and essential building blocks of organization such as departmental arrangements, performance management systems, business priorities, leadership opportunities while ensuring organizational delivery also generate forces of impedance. This, coupled with the fact that people tend to have dissimilar backgrounds despite sharing common criteria and objectives makes people management in an organization truly challenging and complex.    

Several types of organization structures have been devised to enable organizational dynamics that support rather than impede business objectives. Functional, geographic, business, project, matrix, and flat organizational structures are deployed to meet specific requirements. It has, however, been found that structures rarely solve anything by themselves and management of interpersonal relationships is something that has enduring substance and challenge. This blog post hypothesizes that organization being a social structure at its core interpersonal management needs to recognize and understand the social forces that operate in an organization. While interpersonal skills are important to ensure organizational harmony, the social forces in an organizational setting must first be understood.
Social forces
Just as an industry has competitive forces that impact firm performance, organizations also have social forces that impact team and individual performance. Similarly, just as there could be industry specific generic competitive strategies, there would be generic organizational strategies to manage the social forces effectively. Social forces in themselves fall under two categories, neither of which is necessarily bad nor good on an individual basis. Collectively, however, one set of social forces that are called Type A Forces collectively generate impedance while the other set called Type B Forces generate synergy. Both the types do exist in organizations. The challenge is to enable Type B Forces.
Type A Forces are typically five in number, and have a significant impact on how people, teams, departments and domains work together in a firm. These are rivalry, paradoxes, conflicts, misalignment and silos. It is easy to appreciate that each of the five forces is a natural corollary of organizational diversity while together they form a counterproductive set. Type B Forces, on the other hand, are inherently more positive, individually as well as collectively. These are collaboration, clarity, harmony, alignment and “one firm” as an operating paradigm.
Individual comparison makes it clear why Type B Forces are eminently more desirable for an organization. Collaboration, as opposed to rivalry, enables synergy of mutual strengths. Clarity as compared to paradoxes avoids loss of time and effort on confusing paths. Harmony as contrasted with conflicts ensures positivity and fulfillment. Alignment helps the value chain function seamlessly while misalignment leads to broken processes. And finally, when specializations and departments turn into silos processes slow down in an organization while the organization functioning as one firm works with synergy.
Generational styles
Type A and Type B Forces are not new to discover or aim for in organizations. They have been in existence from the very beginning of organized activity. Over time, conservative and non-competitive organizations are characterized by a preponderance of Type A Forces while proactive and competitive organizations are characterized by a preponderance of Type B Forces. Leaders have tried to manage these forces with different management styles. These styles are both the causes and result of the respective forces, and often represent generational differences in people management philosophies of managers and leaders.
Certain leaders facilitate and manage the Type A Forces in an organization by their Command and Control Style (CCS). Leaders adopting the CCS model simply direct people to obey. They typically let the Type A Forces build up and when they feel that such forces have become inimical to the organization they used their CCS model to root out the negative forces. This approach works in spurts, and is both a cause and a result of Type A Forces. In fact, team members who are observant of the CCS model adopt that in their own behavioral approaches leading to greater generation of Type A Forces.
Certain leaders facilitate and manage the Type B Forces in an organization by their Influence and Deliver Style (IDS). Leaders adopting the IDS model consciously inculcate in their people positive aspects of collaboration, clarity, harmony, alignment and one firm. They articulate a shared vision, detail out a workable strategy and demonstrate execution through constant employee engagement.  They are observant of the emergence of Type A Forces and work towards converting them into positive Type B Forces. As with the CCS model, team members who are observant adopt their own positive behavioral approaches, creating a virtuous organizational ecosystem.
Interpersonal skills
In the context of the foregoing, it is easy to observe that interpersonal skills would tend to be more impactful in an organizational ecosystem that has IDS leadership model and Type B Forces. In ecosystems marked by CCS models and Type A Forces, interpersonal skills act as temporary palliatives. The effort must therefore be focused on creating a positive organizational ecosystem that enables the full play of interpersonal skills. That said, there is considerable misreading of what interpersonal skills mean in an organizational context. While these are, no doubt, social skills they are not all about being nice to each other. In an organizational context, they have certain deliverables too.
Interpersonal skills, though falling under the category of social skills, are driven by technical or professional competencies. In today’s competitive world, managing people or partnering people is impossible without an ability to understand and analyze issues and present solutions. Strange as it may seem, competency is the foundation of successful cultivation of interpersonal skills. The foundation of being skilled interpersonally lies in the ability to build trust and rapport. Trust and rapport between individuals, whether they are colleagues or bosses and subordinates, are built based on three fundamental appreciations.
To be acceptable in an organizational setting, one should be aware that an issue or a problem exists, should be able to understand the ramifications and empathize with the other person who has the problem. This ability to build trust and rapport comes with the technical and professional competency to grasp problems and issues. In the absence of such an ability, the statements made by different individuals and departments  to each other in the ordinary course of business become positions of silos, rather than approaches of collaboration. Competency and trust thus coexist but can find the linkage only when people are able to connect through communication.
The third equally important enabler of interpersonal skills is communication. Communication, in an organizational context is not a matter merely or solely of language or grammar, which, of course, are nice to have. Communication is relevant and complete only when it comprises an equal and equitable measure of listening and speaking, enabling both the parties to communication developing a common platform, from which they can work together.  
Skill triad
Successful organizations approach organization dynamics in a holistic manner. While organization structures are drawn up to meet business needs, the real emphasis will be on creating an organizational ecosystem that promotes the positive Type B Forces of collaboration, clarity, harmony, alignment and one firm concept, managed by an Influence and Deliver leadership style. In such a solution, interpersonal skills are developed on a triad of professional competencies, trust and rapport building and communication. Organizational efficiency and effectiveness require a holistic approach as outlined in this blog post.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 30, 2012  









Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Four Laws and Four Phases of Career Life

In today’s world of increased longevity, the career span for a typical talented executive has significantly extended. As a result, the new generation could be expected to have a long career span of five decades, from 25 to 75 years of age. Compared to the current and older generations who coasted along the career paths (retiring at a ripe young age of 55 or 58 years!), the new generation has the aggression and aspiration to shape their careers in an accelerated manner (without resting till they reach the young ripe age of 70 or 75 years!), and that too more by design than by default. This new trend is, in turn, shaped by the new generation’s quest (and the parental pressures) for joining elite institutions and premium courses to leverage into companies and careers of potential high net-worth in future. This has led to a phenomenon of rapid and early career burnout in most other cases, leading people short of the opportunities of a career marathon.

With a bit of philosophical reasoning, external awareness and candid introspection, one would surmise that in life, the law of averages would eventually work out, coincidentally again in most cases. There are, in fact, four laws that govern career life, understanding of which would provide an appropriate perspective to appreciating the long term realities of career life. Once these realities are appreciated, it would be possible to look at a more orderly and structured progression of career life. Hinduism prescribes four stages of life to a typical male.  Shakespeare has formulated 7 stages of life in his play “As you like it”. This blog post hypothesizes four stages of life for career aspirants so that the new generation can face the corporate life with equality and stability. But, first the four laws of organizational life need to be appreciated.
The four pyramidal laws
The first law of organizations is the Law of Pyramids. Whatever the nomenclature and color given to the structural dispensations of organizations, the enduring law is that any organization is a pyramid in terms of departments and people. In fact, the typical organization tends to be several pyramids within a master pyramid. Each time, one reaches the apex of a pyramid (read, department) he or she will find that that place is, in fact, the bottom of another pyramid. The second law of organizations is the Law of Slippery Walls. Like pyramids which offer no easy steps or holds to climb, organizational pyramids also offer no easy way to climb to the top. The path is steep and slippery, almost inevitably.
The third organizational law is the Law of Multiple Climbers. This law teaches that even if one is fortuitous to be alone on the climb on one’s side of the wall, there would inevitably many climbers from the other sides of the pyramid (read, sections, departments or businesses in place of walls, depending upon which level of pyramid one is trying to perch oneself onto!). The fourth organizational law is the Law of Spiked Chair.  This law, which is the most profound of the four laws, can only be experienced and not taught. It states that if one is able to climb up the pyramid with one’s diligence and persistence, and fair amount of luck, one will find the apex far too sharp and spiked to afford any chance of comfortable stay. Unfortunately, there would be no honorable climb-down either.
Whoever reaches the apex of the ultimate pyramid would, no doubt, wonder why at all he or she has aspired for, and worked towards, reaching the apex of the organizational pyramid. However, like everyone despairs about life looking at others’ travails (be it studies, jobs or marriage) but goes through exactly the same rigmarole, members of organizations go through the motions of multiple pyramid climbing with great zeal and application. Those who understand the four laws in a philosophical perspective would, however, be in a state of equanimity to understand and pass through structured career phasing.     
Four phases of life
Hinduism classifies one’s life in terms of four phases or stages, each being called “ashrama”. The first stage is the “brahmacharya” or the “student” stage. The second stage is the “grihastha” or the “householder” stage. The third stage is the “vanaprastha”  or the “hermit” stage. The third and final stage is the “sanyasa” or the “ascetic” stage.  Without going into the full details of what each stage is expected to involve in a classic Hindu way, it would be sufficient for this blog post to understand the basic purposes of each of the four stages of life.
The student stage is a period of formal education. It lasts until the age of 25, during which, the young male seeks to attain, under a famed guru, both spiritual and practical knowledge. During this period, he is prepared for his future profession, as well as for his family. This is a phase wherein the greatest dedication and application is expected of the young learner.
The second period of householder begins when a man gets married, and undertakes the responsibility for earning a living and supporting his family. At this stage, Hinduism supports the pursuit of wealth as a necessity, and indulgence under certain defined social and cosmic norms. This ashrama lasts until around the age of 50. However, given the rigours of the subsequent two stages, the second stage virtually lasts a lifetime these days!
 The third stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end: his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own. At this age, he should renounce all pleasures, retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers. This kind of life is indeed very harsh. No wonder, this third ashrama is now nearly obsolete.
In the fourth and final stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God. He is a “sanyasi”, he has no home, no other attachment; he has renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities. He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha, or release from the circle of birth and death. (Suffice it to say, very few can go up to this stage of becoming a complete ascetic.)
Four career ashramas
Given that the career span of the talented new generation is tending to be five decades long, one may hypothesize four distinct phases, which have similar intentions and applications as in progression of life. In the first phase, or the first decade of the career (say, age, 25 to 35 years) which may be called the development phase the incumbent must, irrespective of prior education and background, be focused on learning. The first phase represents the golden phase to master the products, processes, domains and businesses of a corporation. The more one learns, and applies the knowledge as one learns, the stronger will be the foundations of one’s career. And the stronger the foundation, the bigger and taller can be the superstructure. It is also important to secure the right guru or mentor during the learning phase.
The second phase, which corresponds to the householder phase, is the real career building phase. This phase or the second decade and half of the career (say, 35 to 50 years) represents the period of bounty to generate wealth for the corporation, and also simultaneously stabilize professional and personal life balance by providing peace and prosperity to the family. This is the phase when the aspirant needs to bring out all his energy and enthusiasm to lead and manage teams, climb up the slippery pyramids and reach to positions of substance. At the end of the phase, the career aspirant would have typically arrived.
The third phase, which corresponds to the hermit phase, is the stage when one brings one’s experience and wisdom to become a leader, who is expected to lead from the top. This stage, corresponding to 50 to 65 years of age, is one where the incumbent starts becoming increasingly lonely, with both his competitor groups and partner groups becoming thinner. As a hermit discovers truth through prayers, the leader in this phase discovers the larger purpose of leading an organization, which is beyond professional growth or personal riches. The truth as one would understand in this phase is to satisfy multiple stakeholders and craft an executable vision.
The fourth phase, which corresponds to the ascetic stage, is represented by the last 5 to 10 years of career life (say, 65 to 70 or 75 years of age). Clearly, this phase represents one of organizational “nirvana” for a leader. This is the phase wherein highly capable leaders become non-executive chairmen of corporations or become advisers and mentors to a wide spectrum of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. They start looking for leaders who would fulfill or improve upon their legacy. Those in the first phase of learning could ideally lock themselves to mentors of the fourth phase to establish the right “parampara”.
Journey, not the destination
As one grapples with the four pyramidal laws, and undertakes the rollercoaster ride through the four phases, reaching in the process the narrow and sharp apex, one understands that the journey of organizational life is more important than the destination itself. Some, if not all, would muse that the fortune of satisfied life tended to be more at the bottom of the pyramid rather than at the top. If only there would be a way for the young career aspirants to fast-track themselves through the organizational time machine to simulate and assimilate the philosophical learning, there would be an opportunity for them to savor the journey of corporate growth through contributions each day, rather than waiting to occupy the sharp peak to make an elusive impact. For most people, an incremental contribution each day, from the very first day of a five decade career could be more rewarding than the aspiration of creating a stunning impact at the helm, decades later.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 29, 2012


Safety and Security for Women: India’s Greatest Social Challenge

The brutal gang rape and assault on a 23 year old young lady in a moving bus in the night of December 16, 2012 in New Delhi has caused deep anguish and distress to every right thinking Indian. With her passing away in Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore in the morning of December 29, the hope that she would return to active life as a crusader against the scourge of rape in India has been whiffed away. While India has had the unfortunate history of many sexual assaults on hapless women, the latest incident is shocking for its heinousness, bestiality and savageness. Shaken by the public outrage, Government of India (GoI) has constituted a Commission of Inquiry into the incident and a three member Committee to overhaul the laws. The one-person Commission, to be headed by former Delhi High Court judge Justice Usha Mehra, will also suggest measures to make Delhi and NCR safer for women. The three-member Committee under the former Supreme Court Chief Justice J S Verma would look, among others, into the possibility of rewriting the laws relating to aggravated sexual assault and enhancing penalty for it.

There have been several spontaneous suggestions from the public and political leaders on ways and measures to stop such atrocities. Several individuals and organizations have suggested death sentence as a deterrent for such heinous crimes. At a tactical and operational level, more intensive night time patrolling, provision of GPS for buses, elimination of tinting on windows of automobiles, more police stations manned by women, special protection for women on the move in the night times, screening of drivers and cleaners for criminal record, fast track courts to try perpetrators of assaults on women, early closure of night time movie halls and pubs, community protection, special protection by employers, formation of self-help groups and several other suggestions have been made. Even as this incident has stirred the nation’s conscience, there has been a flow of news on continued incidence of assaults on women from various towns, cities and states without any letup. This makes one wonder whether such assaults on women, sexual and/or otherwise, do not reflect a widespread and deeply entrenched social scourge in India.

Social paradox

India has had a long and hoary tradition of according the pride of place for womanhood in making homes and building society. The Indian scriptures and folklore advocate and encourage the concept of protection for womenfolk. Great emphasis is laid on the responsibilities of a man in protecting a lady, as a father, brother, husband or son. In overt ways, India has also been one of the very few countries which encouraged physical reservation of space for women in commuting, excusive schools and colleges for women, reservations or preferential allotments for girls in education etc. The families and girl children have also risen to the occasion and achieved high levels in studies, and equality in certain professions such as banking, medicine, nursing, information technology and so on. The educated female of India is today able to work on her own and travel independently in India and abroad.

Despite this apparent progress, the typical girl child or the mature lady continues to be highly vulnerable to the mischief, and bestiality, of the Indian male. Girl students and working women find public commuting a daily curse, given the harassment they are subjected to. Working late nights in fulfilment of academic and professional pursuits carries unpredictable risks. Being alone at home in the nights brings additional risks to the lady caretakers of the house. The family may protect a girl or a lady (even that seems to be under threat in certain cases) but the neighbourhood community or the broader society seems to have little concern, and even appears to harbour a distinct disdain, for the so called weaker gender. While this trend is blamed on the patriarchal and male dominated nature of the Indian society on one hand and the liberal winds of westernization, the real causes may run a lot deeper.

Discipline as a foundation

The Indian society is badly in need of a fundamental fix, in terms of discipline. The old generations were brought up with a thorough grounding on the essential values of life from the famed scriptures and religious teachings. The sayings of great Swamis like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sri Vivekananda, and exemplification by great leaders like Gandhiji and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, just to quote a few names, were inspirational. The social mores and cultural events encouraged discipline and respected womanhood. People, by and large, respected rule of law and feared the consequences of non-compliance. Today’s situation is in abject contrast to the erstwhile disciplined living. The unbridled openness of the society, collapse of the joint families, rampant consumerism and irrational ostentation have destroyed the foundations of discipline, and respect for rules on which the Indian society had been built for centuries. 

The fundamental need is to restore discipline and compliance as the bedrock of a reformed Indian society. In a milieu where the working families have no time of their own to teach the children or have no space for their elders to assume the responsibility, pre-school day care centres and schools have to assume the responsibility of incorporating lessons from all religions that respect and protect womanhood. Every institution has to establish fundamental rules that discipline the members to respect the womenfolk. From villages to cities, disciplined living has to become a cultural anchor. The fact that women are moving into economic independence does not mean that the old traditions of treating womenfolk with respect in public places and in private homes need to be dispensed with. Institutions have to be rated and ranked for their commitment to disciplinary teachings. Families also must patronize institutions for their disciplined way of functioning rather than for glossy IIT admission rankings.    

Positioning as a reinforcement

While a reinforcement of the foundations of discipline are extremely important, it is equally necessary to promote womanhood in a positive light in all public forums. Over the years, the advertising channels and movie houses have badly slid down in terms of depicting the womanhood. In an age where women are proving, time and again, that they are intellectually and economically second to none, such forums sadly project women as objects of desire certain times. It is important that the finer elements of living, including the sentiments of joint living, are restored in the public media. Movies which depict positive values have even in recent times seen good commercial appeal, indicating that it is still possible to bring out the basic human values.

The other reinforcement potentially is to enable more massive employment of womenfolk in various avocations. By all social and economic indicators, the position of the lady of the house as the builder of the home, and in a broader sense as the builder of the society, needs reinforcement. This is a task which requires the women to also participate and cooperate as a community network. In several parts of the country, religious and community festivals provide the right backdrop for the respectful position that the womenfolk command in the society. India has seen massive campaigns in the past for specific causes, for example family planning, AIDS/HIV control and tourism. It is time for a massive campaign to highlight the need to respect and protect the girl child and the woman. 

In the ultimate analysis, an educated population and an employed society offer additional protection for the reestablishment of the protective moorings of the Indian male and the protected nature of the Indian female. Right education that is relevant for India must have a fine blend of Western liberalization and Oriental conservatism. Right employment that is relevant for India must provide for appropriate levels of protection for the ladies in employment.  Equality and equity for men and women in all walks of life must continue to be accompanied by special dispensation relevant for women in India.   

Safety and security as a mission

While the fundamental and reinforcement fixes advocated herein would provide long term alleviation, the several tactical and operational measures that have been put across in the media, some of which have been reiterated and supplemented in this blog post, need urgent execution. It is to be hoped that the six people and any other persons involved directly or indirectly in the murderous sexual assault are dispensed deterrent punishment and that the Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Usha Mehra and the Committee headed by Justice J S Verma would complete their respective works expeditiously and come up with a string of measures and statute changes that restore the glory of the Indian woman. While the entire nation grieves for the horrendous suffering the brave lady had to bear as a person over the last few days and prays for the departed soul to rest in peace, it is to be fervently sought that the collective anguish and determination of the governments and the society would bring in changes that once for all eliminate social scourge of the assault on the womanhood. 

Posted by Dr CB Rao on December 29, 2012