Year 536 was the worst year to be alive on this planet

Year 536 was the worst year to be alive on this planet

Strange things happened, mostly inexplicable to the people who lived then. A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months

A dark hour set in, temperatures in summers settled at 1-degree celsius

No one understood what was happening around them, most believed it was the end of everything. Doomsday! Wrath of god!

It was the literal dark age

Diseases loomed in the darkness, crops died and famine set-in

A historian wrote that “the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year”

Perhaps 1400 years later when scientists looked back at the event and connected the dots, the fog was caused by a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland

Moral of the story?

Every story doesn’t need to have a moral. Sometimes the most real stories are shocking, they just help you deal with reality and embrace randomness

Some Wishful Thinking

150 years ago big factories were based near a thermal power plant, steam was needed to operate machinery.

80 yrs ago the advent of electrical transmission allowed factories to be closer to human settlements; Freedom 1.0

This led to the formation of megacities in the developed world

30 yrs ago you could place that factory anywhere in the world; globalization, freedom 2.0

Manufacturing in the developed world became uncompetitive. This led to the formation of megacities in the developing world, all Manufacturing was outsourced there.

20 yrs back internet happened that led to the rise of the knowledge worker

10 years back Manufacturing GDP started to shrink, Service GDP rose

The economic costs of settling in a city were prohibitive. Health costs were alarming. Stress on the transport system was overwhelming

In 2020 there was an exodus of people from cities to small towns. This exodus was triggered by a virus

By 2030 70% of knowledge workers worked from home; Freedom 3.0

New small and sustainable cities began to form

The burden on megacities was halved. Real estate prices collapsed. Carbon footprint per capita reduced by 30% and everyone lived happily ever after

Or was it just wishful thinking?

If you personify China

China is a very hard working individual with a very bad attitude. And It is a very difficult combination to deal because the bad attitude would be always justified by the hard work and the value that was created after so many years of toiling

There has been muscular growth (GDP, roads, prosperity) without adequate emotional growth.

Hence China lacks soft power.

Lack of soft power is balanced with hard power: hard influencing, stubborn nature and bullying.

Sadly no one can shape China’s #behavior/attitude today.

Boycotting Chinese goods is like giving it more reasons to carry a nasty attitude.

China has to reflect and seek help before it turns into a monster that needs to be decapitated.

Once there was a hard-working European nation with a very bad #attitude.

And the rest is history.


Decision Making and how it fails societies

As individuals, we do micro-decisions every day which impact our lives and that of our close ones. However, to make big decisions that positively impact a huge group of individuals and their surroundings, collective decision making is required at a massive scale.

These big decisions mostly focus on serving the common good for a large community of people. These decisions include but are not limited to deciding to launch an attack on a neighboring nation, build a dam or reduce onion prices. Brexit happens to such kind of decision.

To progress, collective decision making is the most important factor. Faster decision making on a big scale leads to faster progress. For faster decision making, a population needs to build a consensus. To build a consensus, the population needs to organize itself. Faster it organizes itself, faster it reaches a consensus and rapid decisions are made for the common good. This sounds like commonsense but come to think of it, how difficult it is for even a family of four to decide on how they are going to cut costs or even chose a travel destination.

Politics is one of the ways of organizing a population. Political leaders influence people through their ideologies, beliefs, and sometimes money to form a large group of people who can voice out their opinions and support politicians to make decisions on their behalf. In geographies where people fail to organize, dictatorial powers rise where a small but powerful group makes decisions for a very very large group. Mostly these decisions benefit the small and powerful group that controls the majority of the resources.

Societies and cultures that fail to organize, fail to make those decisions quickly. Indecisive societies don’t do any progress.

When politics fails to organize people, it is replaced by war.

War is a continuation of politics by other means, said Carl Von Clausewitz

When softer tactics fail, the brute force of wars was used to organize people. Our history is tainted with brutal wars and holy wars (read crusades). Wars were used to direct large swaths of populations and resources towards a bigger cause. If millions organize and are forced to follow a common doctrine and standards then, by all means, those million people will develop faster than the million people who are divided into different tribes and follow a variety of beliefs.

And when wars failed to organize people, you have situations like the Middle-East (Syria, Afganistan, and Iraq) that is struggling to establish normalcy. Large parts of Africa (Somalia) and other poor nations are going through a similar fate. They are failing or organize themselves.

We can attribute the rapid success of China to the dictatorial set-up that forced people to follow rigid rules. Under one belief and one rule, people came together worked hard to provide the best economies of scale to the western world and China came to be known as the factory of the world.

On the other hand, India failed to do just that. India is a highly heterogeneous nation. India is in itself a continent like Europe, where more than 100 languages are spoken and so many distinct cultures thrive. People with different ideologies have starkly different preferences, priorities, and beliefs. Hence such heterogeneous communities fail to arrive at a consensus that drives common good.

Having said that, India is trying to unite through political means. It will be good to see if it follows a stable political model to grow as a nation like so many western nations have done.

And one-day politics will be redundant too. Wars have already become redundant. If people don’t need politics or wars to build a consensus then what they will resort to?

And a short answer could be technology like blockchain. We develop systems that are sacrosanct from the deviant vagaries of the human mind. These systems automatically provide a democratic set-up to decide the priorities, fill the supply-demand gaps and channelize resources where they are really needed. Read about  WHO, Uber, Crowdfund sourcing organizations. They are all doing that in some way but we as a race have a long way to go.



When you don’t remember to remember

I had no clue where I had parked my car in the vast parking lot in the basement of this mall. The only thing I remember was that it was parked next to an MG Hector. As more confusion settled in, I struggled to remember on which basement level my car was parked. It was frustrating. I was thinking about how the staff would assist me with such a problem. How would I even explain it to them like a fool? How often people even face such an issue? Then I recalled that there is an App to address this issue. But it was too late for that. I decided to use brute force. Scan everywhere, like computers search for files. Just walked around like a maniac in random directions to find the MG hector, because of its sheer size. Come to think of it; how we are structured to not remember things. Everything is on the cloud. You don’t need to remember the addresses (thanks to GPS), names, titles, etc. You don’t even need to memorize your best moments. Your memories are on the cloud if you wish to relive them. 10 minutes and a lot of walking later I found my car in the shadow of the red Hector. There was a big pillar number next to it that I did not care to read. But little did I know that all these years I was not conditioned to read or memorize it. 🙂

Cutting through ambiguity

I was 20 minutes late for the interview. 

Ohh, we were expecting you at 12:30, how are you, was it difficult to find us? she said as we shook hands.

I said, not at all, I am good! Thank you. I apologized for being late.

It was a young and small organization but they were growing fast. 

Half an hour into the interview, I realized that the role does not align with my career aspirations. And I told her that, I was just being assertive. And boldly asked if there is any other role for me. The discussion concluded shortly after.

Without wasting any time she walked me out and wished me all the best.

And said, next time you are late for a meeting or an interview, make sure you come up with a good excuse. Tell that you had a flat tire or something. But have an excuse ready.

She said this as a good gesture, I liked that. I gave a broad smile, ate a humble pie and walked out.

A couple of days back she had e-mailed me a time slot for the interview. Since it was a two-hour slot, I thought I have a little leeway around my arrival. And I had conveniently used that leeway, hence I was late.

I leveraged the ambiguity around timings to get a benefit of doubt. Or so I thought.

When I shook hands, I had two choices. I could have been brutally honest or I could have inserted the fact that there was ambiguity around timings in the E-mail. I chose neither.

Moral? I don’t know. Try to be assertive. Show all your cards or tell a bold lie, the world doesn’t care. But don’t leave any room for ambiguity. Your stance matters!

What is the cost of learning?

Indian organizations are spending more than ever on learning interventions to enrich their human capital. The Indian L&D industry stood at $1 billion in FY 2018. That is a far cry from its potential when we compare it to the L&D spends of some of the developed nations of the world. American companies alone spend around $100 billion on learning and development. The global L&D market stood at $240 billion in FY 2019.

Indian organizations certainly do understand and appreciate the need for updating their workforce but they become reluctant when it comes to finding out the return on investment or ROI of such programs. L&D expenditure then becomes a discretionary spend. And very few have a good answer to address the elephant in the room ie ROI of learning programs. Neither I am trying to offer any perfect answer for that question here. So don’t be disappointed. But I will give a powerful analogy to get a different perspective on the matter. Read on.

For a change, just question the question. Why you really need to attach a cost-benefit logic for learning? but most of you will quickly refute saying that why not? learning has a cost which clearly reflects on the P&L sheet. Who pays for the trainers and venues?. Alright, but what about the benefits?

So instead of asking why you really need to attach a cost-benefit logic for learning? , a better and more profound question would be: why accounting doesn’t really account the benefits of a learning program? That’s because no one has taught the accounting function to do so.

But here is a more logical way around this puzzle. If you are not able to figure out the quantum of monetary benefits of doing learning or training intervention then simply find out the cost of not doing it.

I will describe an analogy here.  I was thinking of  joining a gym a few days back. Now going to the gym is above and beyond what I usually do for staying fit. I have a very regular running routine. I at least run 3-4 times a week. Running is almost free. Spending on a gym for me is a discretionary spend.

Gym is a cost. But before I went on to rationalize the fee I am going to pay for the gym, I pondered upon the simple question of the cost of not going to the gym. For me the cost of not going to the gym was pretty straight forward:

  1. Missing out on strength training exercises which would eventually make me run better and longer without injuries.
  2. Missing out on the motivation and drive which comes from watching your peers working out.
  3. Missing out on proper training from experts.
  4. Missing out on a more robust routine.

and the list went on.

Now coming to the justification of ROI costs for organizations which are indecisive and reluctant about their spending on learning. Managers should find the cost of not spending on learning interventions first. Think of what would happen if your senior leadership doesn’t develop the necessary coaching skills to groom and develop the next line of leadership? Well, your cost for searching talent pool from outside would increase sharply. Now considering that reality, think of how much would you like to spend on learning program for your senior leadership which would help them develop coaching skills.

For me, the cost of not going to a gym outweighed the cost of buying a gym membership. And hence I bought a 1-year membership. I will realize the benefits of this expense at the end of the year. So next time you are indecisive about spending on learning intervention for your team, ask one question: what is the cost of not spending on learning?

Why Online Job Portals Are Not Effective

There are three elements necessary to run a successful online job platform. The first element  is freemium which is based on the many who use its basic  services for free. The next element is called premium which is based on the idea that some users will end up paying for differentiated features. We are going to discuss the third element in isolation , for now lets focus on the first two. Using the first two elements, job portals attempt to convert free users to paid users.To get paid users , the platform needs huge number of free users.No free users equals to no paid users.Just plain old logic.

But how you convince the free users to pay? Not a rocket science again. Tell the free users that if they pay for some premium services, their chances of getting ‘noticed’ by the recruiter increase 10 fold. Here, the catch word happens to be “chances” or ‘probability’. Note that there is no promise but a proposal which sounds like ‘ pay and increase your chances’. The second word is get ‘noticed’.It is easy to understand that getting noticed by a recruiter doesn’t  necessarily translate to getting a job. Paid users are still subjected to probabilities or luck.

Now coming to the third element. The portals need some recruiters who pay for the service. If there are no free users , no database of job seekers then there is no real value proposition for recruiters. Note that recruiters do not differentiate between paid users and free users as long as they have access to the database. Why would they? it would be foolish to assume that people who pay are better than those who do not.There is no concept of freemium for the recruiters though, all recruiters have to pay for the access to the database.

Here is some bad news. The portal is designed in a way that the free users will be always at a disadvantage. The portal wants to tell the free user that, “hey look , it won’t help you to be a freeloader , why not pay and see the magic”. But have you thought what is the probability of screening one from thousands of other resumes? . For the paid users, the service gets only marginally better. To get that into perspective, imagine this hypothetical situation- What if every free user converts into a paid user? the differentiated benefits simply cease to zero . The portal is not acting in the favor of a paid user either, as a matter of fact, every additional premium user incrementally reduces the chances of existing premium users.

So here is how the model unfolds for the various stakeholders:

Portal: Wins

Recruiter: Wins

Users: Are always at a disadvantage. The system is designed for a free user to fail. Their odds of getting noticed are reduced to lower single digits.While paid users can keep their fingers crossed and test their probabilities. Some more food for thought to conclude: why would a recruiter limit herself to the paying segment of users? to maximize the chances of selecting the best, wouldn’t she go for screening the whole database and make the process democratic.