Monthly Archives: February 2012

The party is over – It is time to mend the fence

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Any global crisis doubles up as a rather unforgiving mirror. Forcing societies to look at themselves. Reexamine values and fundamentals. The recession wherein the well oiled machinery of the progressive world has been showing the naked clinks have done just that. The party is over. The balloons are bust. The good timers have left and have taken the fence down as they go. There’s an awful lot of mess to be cleared. And then you start realising who your friends are. That is if you have friends left at all. Because in an uni-directional world we were not really cultivating ‘friendships’. Friends or networks were by the way dots which automatically attached themselves to us in parties, boardrooms or golf courses. In a self-sufficient world you did not really require friends. Or supporting communities. You only required to know enough interesting people who could fill up your party. Made sense. It requires a tremendous amount of effort to nurture communities of friends. A whole lot of commitment. The rule is you usually give more than you receive. And then one day when you are desperately looking for someone to mend your fence the community will descend on your place. Someone will mend the fence while a second one will bake comforting cookies for you. While a third will repaint the fence and the fourth will replant the bougainvilleas. A mutually symbiotic relationship. Not transactional mind you unlike the marketplace. Instead returns get evened out if at all over a longer timeline.

No wonder an embattled world is suddenly talking in terms of communities. Creating networks of trust. Safety nets of people who can warm the soup on a rainy day. Huge implications for the society. As lines are redrawn. Ofcourse in the post economic recession world, the deeper ramifications of a community centric alignment is for business houses. Where markets are being shaped or have the possibility of being shaped around community lines. The ties between random buyers is becoming stronger aided not only by social realignment but by a shrinking of distance courtesy Facebook and the digital community clan. Creating both opportunities and threats. Businesses can now more effectively cluster their markets along community lines, engage with influencers and leverage community ties to virally sell products or ideas. Ofcourse communities as I have said have sprung as a defence mechanism in fractured markets are not likely to be conducive to businesses by default. These units are mostly formed to protect the members or the buyers explaining the tremendous initial success of sites such as Group-ons. So business houses would not have a red carpet welcome in these circles. This is where executives have to come down from their high chairs and start engaging at a grass-root level. Where a lip service to community welfare is not sufficient anymore. A growing scepticism of touch and go global corporates and a realignment of the world’s market place require businesses to look out for all opportunities to build a fence. Or break the fence with the 99% who have very strong reasons to congregate. Build organic business with the communities at the epicentre. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the future of the planet hinges on such symbiosis.

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That thing called Love

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She was fiery, cunning, in love with another man. He was the regular ‘bad guy.’ Yet they were attracted to each other inexplicably and came together to alternately destroy and fulfil each other.
Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler from Gone with the wind. Judged on a scale of conventional morality, they are not nice, agreeable people. Yet judge them on sheer passion, and they are two extraordinary individuals who dared to love, to lust, to defy and to live.

Love is such a strange thing. Illogical, incorrigible and indomitable. Love destroys and love builds. The only thing worth having. The only thing worth dying for. Be it the love for a woman or the country it is the only emotion that makes men push his limits. Be it the love of a man or the love for a cause it is the only thing that makes the woman cross the boundaries. Love is magic. Love is powerful. And Love is bold

As Mort Sahl said – The bravest thing a man does is love woman

Why did I choose to speak about something which has already been dissected, eulogized, analyzed and criticized to death. There is by the way an unsettling dichotomy between love and death which I will blog about some other time. For now let me explain the reason. Yes ofcourse it is the season. The run up to the valentine day with the profusion of red. The nip in the air, the bright woolens, the parties with the hottest singles. There’s no better time to fall in love. Or rise in it.
There’s another reason why I chose to speak about love. It is the sheer power behind it. There are a million self-help books out in the market with umpteen formulae for reaching the top. They talk about personal effectiveness tools, decision making frameworks, and motivational tips for the mind and so on. I say trash them all. There is only one simple force that will take you to your goal. There is only one truth that will shape your life. Yes ofcourse that is love. Love what you do. And do what you love. You cannot become a brilliant engineer if you are in love with the Himalayas. You cannot two-time your way to the top. Nevertheless you can lead a reasonably prosperous and contended life with this deceit. Force your heart to compromise with the mediocrity. And let a pony-tailed guru tell you how to package the compromise to sell to a balanced world.

Yes love is not about balance or the calm. It’s the intensity that threatens to break you. Yet it is that intensity that has inspired everything worth reckoning that has occurred in this world. Like as a blackberry ad says is weak. A very convenient option in a Facebook world. Monalisa was not born out of a mere liking . Or the poetry where Tagore celebrated the joys of love. I remember visiting Nandan – the cauldron of culthood and romanticism in Calcutta. It was the season of the rains. And the courtyard was reverberating with the rants of a mad man. The unkempt man told me he had lost everything he ever loved. Yet he searched for it again. ‘The pain is ameliorating’, he said. ‘And I will have it no other way’.

Yes love hurts. The pains of separation, the fangs of jealousy, the wounds of loss. A Virginia Wolfe or an Albert Einsstein or a Subhas Bose have all been singed by pain in shaping their extraordinary lives, in living their passion. Majnu was stoned. Anarkali was buried. The fakir lost in divine love is branded a madman. Yet they lived their convictions, loved, lost and loved again unapologetically.

So this Valentine day rise in love. If it’s a conviction you have compromised with, go back to it. If it’s a person you have dared not approach, bedazzle him or her. Life’s too short for wishy-washy like stories. Etch your love story. And see the power of we transform your life.

In the words of that perennial romantic, John Lenon, executed by a man who professed to love him
Love is You
You and me
Love is knowing
We can be

The flea shop owner’s MBA guide

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Ajit is a businessman. He runs a garment business where he sources clothes from an intricate network of suppliers(read dealers, wholesellers) , sells them at a profitable margin. He also has tie-ups with a tailoring house who custom-makes exclusive pieces mostly inspired by Bollywood for him. He boasts of a loyal clientele making sure he does brisk business from Monday to Saturday. He keeps the Sunday for his family, helping his wife who runs a business of her own. Ajit’s business model is an interesting combination of hardwork, astute sense of the customer needs and a superb dealer network. His average sales hover around 5000 leaving him a neat profit anywhere between 50,000 and 70,000 after factoring in all expenses. Not a huge amount. But considering the fact that Ajit’s shop is no upscale high-street outlet but occupies a 4 feet by 4 feet space in Bombay’s flea market does make the figure substantial. Ajit offcourse is not the one to rest on his laurels. The lanky 35 year old is planning a door-to-door selling model. He is talking with a supplier who will supply him with higher quality clothes to sell to a more discerning clientele. He has a few other radical ideas, he tells me but wants to do a bit more thinking before he attempts those. At this point a bevy of college girls enter the store and Ajit rushes to help them. I go back to rummaging through Ajit’s ‘designer collection’, my ears picking out the master sales talk that Ajit dishes out. Talk of cross-sell and up-sell. This man is a marketing genius. I actually ask him if he would be interested in a guest lecture in a b-school. Ajit laughs. ‘I am not even a graduate, madam’ he tells me deftly counting his day’s proceedings so far.

Ofcourse Ajit is not a graduate. Leave alone an MBA. But a b-schooler looking to learn the rudiments of business will do well to take up an apprenticeship with him. Or the several other stall-owners in the flea markets of our cities. A lesson in supply chain for example. Many of these stall-owners have well-entrenched networks which ensures they buy at surprisingly low costs. They are experts in customer research. Go to any shop on the footpath and they will be stocked with inexpensive items reflecting the latest fashion trends. They manage shelf space extraordinarily well without being aware of the sophisticated retail management theories. Ajit for example stocks the ‘hot-sales’ at eye level making sure the more expensive items are stocked on top and the cheaper ones deeper down. They have an uncanny ability of reading people’s psychology . And saying the right things to clinch a sell. Call it a pitch if you may. Ajit has been doing it for the last decade without too many occasions to be in an elevator. Ajit even has a loyalty programme though it is largely based on unwritten rules. Blessed with a photographic memory, he gives discounts to repeat customers. He has also taken down the contact details of his richer and more devout customers and will use them as part of the base for his door to door selling model. The most fascinating aspect of the business model is the simplicity. Uncomplicate may well have been a buzz word in this part of the city. A mass of wealth created outside of what you call the formal structured economy. And pearls of wisdom created far from the high altars of learning. I will go back to Ajit’s store to pick the ropes of doing business without a mission, vision, strategy charter. Yet with a crystal clear view of how this small shop will help fund the dreams of his family. And a simple mantra – Give the people what they want. Be honest in the dealings. Keep a hawk eye on the costs. The money will naturally flow in.