Category Archives: Personal

Some jottings which relate to my life and worries…

তুমি কেমন করে গান করো হে গুণী,
আমি অবাক্ হয়ে শুনি কেবল শুনি ।।
সুরের আলো ভুবন ফেলে ছেয়ে,
সুরের হাওয়া চলে গগন বেয়ে,
পাষাণ টুটে ব্যাকুল বেগে ধেয়ে
বহিয়া যায় সুরের সুরধুনী ।।
মনে করি অমনি সুরে গাই,
কন্ঠে আমার সুর খুঁজে না পাই ।
কইতে কী চাই, কইতে কথা বাধে —
হার মেনে যে পরান আমার কাঁদে,
আমায় তুমি ফেলেছ কোন্ ফাঁদে
চৌদিকে মোর সুরের জাল বুনি

pem and the art of expense management

I was looking for an alternative to keeping track of expenses via a spreadsheet. Given that it isn’t too intuitive, the alternative was scribbling it on pieces of paper and then collating them when I have time.

Somewhere along the way came pem. This command line tool is elegantly simple to use. Having the developer nearby also means that I can “demand” features in the software. Prasad has blogged about his recent release. I just love the fact that it allows me to publish a simple report of expenses by category. Comes in very handy to produce a report for Max. I have been using it for a while to keep track of the “Community Architecture” related expenses that I am accountable for.

Highly recommended. By the way, this blog entry is being written with the offline client for WordPress called Lekhonee. If you have been using WordPress and, desired an offline client, give this a try. The developer could do with some feedback as well.

ps: Contrary to rumour, pem isn’t pjp expense manager 😉

Of books again

Spent a greater part of the day reading A Better India, A Better World by Narayan Murthy. And, for better or, for worse, re-read a few parts of Imagining India: Ideas For The New Century by Nandan Nilekani.

There is nothing much to be said about the book from N Murthy. A collection or, more aptly, a collation of his speeches and writings these are collected around various themes. A basic point which the publishers might have considered is the selection of font and size. A book that is wholly text matter based requires a much pleasant font and comfortable spacing rather than the close-spaced result that one sees in the book. There are a few things that stand out when one reads the collection:

  • his speeches tend to have repeated imagery and quotes and, a bit of sameness that becomes jarring if the book is read as a whole
  • while the speeches employ rhetorical flourishes, the writings, especially in the columns of business journals have a much sharper edge and clarity
  • “Be the change you want to see” is a theme oft repeated and, provided for via various examples. And, I did end up liking a number of the anecdotes.
  • The sections on Values, Leadership and, various addresses to the students are worth a re-read.

All said, I had a different set of expectations from the book. Probably, that was one reason I ended up re-reading segments from Nandan Nilekani’s book. Narayan Murthy has been somewhat “up there” and, expecting a bit more insight in terms of vision isn’t asking for the moon. So, whereas Nilekani’s book does a thorough overview of a situation and digs dip down into nuts and bolts operational parts, Murthy’s writings tend to remain a bit on the “preachy” side. And, somewhat dispassionate. The book is worth reading if one has heard or, read him infrequently, else, borrow a copy to read up the section on Values. Might be worth it.

Guy Kawasaki and a ‘Reality Check’ on stuff businesses are made of

I had signed up for a copy of ‘Reality Check- The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition’ and, the book arrived nicely packed and all. Thanks to the team who took the trouble to ship it. Shipping charges to India are fairly high and, so thanks once again.

The book is “Kawasaki’s all-in-one guide for starting and operating great organizations – ones that stand the test of time and ignore any passing fads in business theory“. That is a fairly tall order, but the book does not disappoint. Direct, often blunt and cutting out the flab in sentences, Guy gets to the bottom of the story. For those who follow his blogs or, have read his earlier books, this would provide some parts of deja vu. And yet, there are new stuff in the book. It is entertaining and there are places where you just have to laugh out loud at the sheer irreverence of it all.

Good stuff around pitching (heh! that was a no-brainer), business plans (but Guy has on and off written about it), innovation, customer service and unsurprisingly schmoozing. Short crisp sentences bristling with ideas that challenge the reader to pause-think-rewind-restart and a list of clear don’ts. This is an engaging work from someone who is the ‘real deal’. Some of the content comes across as commonsense, but then, commonsense is the most uncommon commodity right now in the great game of startups.

Books in the same genre are generally cut-n-dry, full of good natured advice and suffer from a complete lack of delivering the punch line in a form that one can remember. This one doesn’t do that. And, the punchlines would be repeated over various meetings and gossip sessions. It is a thick book but it holds sway over you. In fact, it is highly recommended to have a copy handy.

The curious incident of the online bookstore

Sometime during the month of August this year, I planned to buy the two books – God Created The Integers and On The Shoulders of Giants. Since the local brick-n-mortar version of the Landmark bookstore did not have the latter, I took a chance and ordered it off the online store.

When the book finally arrived it was a mess. The package was torn, the book dog-eared and it was wet.

I took the above two pictures with the phone camera and put them up on flickr.

Curiously enough, on the 15th of Dec 2008, a person claiming to be heading the said bookstore/portal called up and asked for the pictures to be taken down. I requested him to write to me with the same statements that he made over phone. I await that e-mail.

I don’t really have much to say except that they just lost my business. And, I remain amazed at the notion of customer service/satisfaction that these folks have.

Rewards and Trust

A few months back I had blogged about Rewards and Punishment. The underlying theme was that rewards and punishment are two sides of the same coin of ‘control knobs’ and fail miserably in producing motivation, increasing efficiency and creating a better human being. In addition to that, rewards have the following issues:

  • rewards tend to be an implicit punishment towards those who did not receive a reward
  • rewards tend to get people to do uninteresting things by providing a wrong kind of incentive
  • rewards tend to be habit forming
  • rewards tend to discourage collaboration (since generally, in the end there is a single winner)
  • rewards tend to discourage risk taking choices (since rewards are for repeat occurence of one single good habit)

A significant aspect that I did not write about was that rewards (and punishments) tend to upset the ‘everyday trust’ that glues a team together. A team is a social unit where diverse tasks are completed by a group of people. A feeling of (what is called team spirit) togetherness that a team builds is based upon a trust currency. Control knobs to kickstart motivation, if ill-selected and hastily applied, tend to strike at the very base of the trust framework.

The ‘individual above all else’ theme of rewarding (or, punishment [which could be called negative rewards]) makes it nearly certain that collaboration is not a way to move forward. It is somewhat simple to confuse the demonstration of appreciation with the showering of rewards. They are never the same thing. Rewards, irrespective of whether they are positive or negative do not lend themselves to an increase of motivation. In fact, they become misdirected if they are habit forming.

Most of the time those who are in the process of completing tasks feel miserable because of the feeling of being irrelevant in the whole universe of things. A sense of trust and thus a sense of belonging and being recognized helps to overcome the turmoil of feeling irrelevant. Rewards are not recognition devices. They are a big bull’s eye painted on the receiver which says “look at me, I chose to ignore collaboration and hence got a trinket”.

That isn’t a trust enhancing scenario.