Depression , Democracy and Demagoguery – the deadly trio !


My late grandfather Prof R Easwara Pillai was an eminent historian and an amazing story teller . He had mastery over three subjects and how they connected with each other – Economics, Politics and History . I grew up listening to him telling me stories that would emphasize useful principles from these three disciplines . I would never forget his explanation of the theory of diminishing marginal utility the fourth mutton cutlet will not taste as good as the first !

I didn’t major in any of the three subjects my grandfather loved – I chose to become a mechanical engineer like my father . But thanks to the love for all three subjects (especially history) that I developed hearing those stories , I have continued to read up, listen and learn what I could .

For the last couple of months , I have been thinking about the post Covid world from many different angles and have posted some thoughts on future of IT services , the need for holistic solutions , and the impact on China .

Today morning I posted the following on FB about the economic realities that India and US are facing ,

The two major economies that I have an interest in are US and INDIA . Both need to kick back into growth but their options are rather different .

INDIA is a much smaller economy in size – both aggregate and per capita . But it has been growing at a much faster clip . Even with revised numbers – INDIA might be able to grow at around 2% when US etc might enter negative territory .

US – and many other developed countries – has been pumping money to help local businesses get through the hard times . INDIA has not done anything similar – though when it comes to taking care of citizens with food and medicine and containment, INDIA has done a magnificent job . But let’s focus on the economy angle now .

The unfortunate reality is that India can not afford to do what US does in terms of a massive influx of cash into the economy . If we look at the tax revenue assumptions in last budget – we can easily figure out that it was unrealistic to begin with . Now with income and trade both coming down , there is no way to make a lot of tax revenue in this fiscal .

US can absolutely print money – dollar is a strong reserve currency . That’s a limited option for INDIA . I have no doubts INDIA will also print some rupees but the inflationary risk is higher and may be 1% of GDP via this method is already enough to take INDIA back to a period no one cares to be in .

INDIA Government thus will need to borrow heavily at least for this year – some from within the country and some from abroad .

Government bonds are a viable strategy . But the domestic market for it will be weakened by both corporate and personal savings affected by the shut down . Still – there are still healthy and large balance sheets who might think about this favorably . And there are plenty of rich people and some NRI inflow to make this work

International borrowing is a more complicated problem . INDIA has made it easier to invest . But that means we need consistent tax policies (which doesn’t happen very well) , tight inflation management (which is quite good now but needs to continue), and consistently good credit ratings (also done decently so far). But there is one thing INDIA can not control – investors can also trigger a liquidation based on how their home country policies (and political rhetoric) changes . All that said – INDIA needs international money to get through this .

Whatever happens , I hope government doesn’t get stupid and just start taxing more on existing base like the disastrous policy of 1974 that Mrs Gandhi brought out . The irony was that MMS was the tax policy creator who then under Rao was also the bold leader to bring INDIA to the modern world .

I hope INDIA starts to take manufacturing seriously from now on – especially when there is a global will to move some out of China . That in turn might be something that US needs to look at seriously too . A lot of the pain in US was caused by letting

most of manufacturing leave our shores .

The two historic events that are used to compare and contrast the covid crisis are the Great Depression and the spanish flu . I had a chance to read up on the former a lot during the 2008 financial crisis and I brushed up on that a bit in the past few weeks .

The most chilling part of that horrible decade starting 1929 was the rise of Adolf Hitler . Just a few years ago – he tried to overthrow the government and got jailed. Strangely he wasn’t deported to his birthplace of Austria because the good judge thought Hitler thought and acted like a German and hence can stay in Germany . Nazis were not taken seriously – and eventually Bavaria even let them back into official existence . Hitler by then had realIzed that being a demagogue was a lot easier to get to his goals than the use of violence . The depression gave him the perfect platform – primarily around tackling unemployment – to consolidate power . By 1933 he was the Chancellor of Germany !

A lot of evil happened in his long tenure . It made me think about the trio of depression, demagoguery and democracy – which is the unfortunate intersection of economics , politics and history .

History – even recent history – is full of people who used demagoguery to great effect for their purposes . Senator McCArthy might be the best example that a lot of people can relate to in this context .

Demagoguery is not binary – it’s a continuum for politicians in any functioning democracy and probably cannot be avoided . So then the logical next question for me is what’s the flaw in democracy itself ?

History and politics have an intersection in the past that perhaps can provide a clue .

The great philosopher Socrates wasn’t a big fan of democracy the way it was practiced in Greece . His point of view was something like this

A ship needs a captain who knows how to navigate a ship at sea – and not just a random person who was elected to the role of captain by people who don’t know what skills a captain needs . Similarly if you let people to vote who haven’t been taught to think deeply about the role of politics and administration – then you will get bad results and rabble rousers !

Essentially Socrates put the onus on educating people before they are allowed to vote . So in his view – you can’t vote just because you are of a certain age and was born inside the country .

Given the general lack of civics education in this country , I guess what we dislike about politicians can be traced back at least partly back to us ! And if we haven’t thought through what we need in our elected representatives and administrators – and a depression hits us , the demagogues will have a field day and we may not like the results very much .

What happened to Socrates eventually ? Demagogues of the time charged him with “corruption of the youth” and by a thin majority, the 500 jurors voted him guilty . He was – quite tragically – put to death by poison .

The life of Socrates was some 2400 years ago , and Hitler’s was less than a century ago . If we haven’t yet learned the lessons from the past intersections of economics, politics and history – we better start now !

Post Corona World and China


All over the world, there is anger and frustration about how China handled the pandemic . I fully share that view – we could have all handled this disaster much better if the Chinese government did a more responsible job. And I doubt any of us believe the stats coming out of China – and we live with it only because there is no other source of good information to rely on. There are more conspiracy theories floating around now than I can keep up with – which is perhaps normal for these times.

lighted pagoda at night
Photo by Lian Rodríguez on Pexels.com

A lot of American politicians have already been calling for a hard break with China because of what they did with the Corona pandemic. That was my first instinct too – but as I thought through this more, I doubt this is a pragmatic solution anymore. As always, these are just my personal views.

Calling Corona Virus as China Virus is just dangerous

It is perfectly normal for nationalist feelings to surge when we feel attacked . It is also a great point that plenty of viruses were named in the past after country of origin ( including some like Spanish Flu where there are stories that it was an unfair tag ) . So when we cloak our hatred for Chinese government with an academic argument to hide our bias – we tend to forget how it affects Asian people everywhere.

I was born and raised in India. I have lived roughly half my life outside India now. No one should find it hard to guess my ethnicity if they see or hear me. And yet – when 9/11 happened, a lot of people mistakenly thought I was Arab. It is not an exaggeration to say I was afraid for my life at that time. Absurd as it might sound to people who know the difference – that is how this works. Ignorant people who also feel under attack – they react in absolutely nasty ways that you may not realize. So please resist the temptation to tag China – your words and tweets can unintentionally hurt innocent people !

Capital and Talent problems

America and other countries consciously let China become a single point of failure in their global supply chains – be it clothing, semiconductors, auto, pharma , medical equipment or any number of things we all need every day. The capital required to rebuild all of that in every country is huge. And even if governments agree to find the money to do it – in most cases, the skills are just not there in quantity and quality to make it happen in reasonable time. And it will take time and resources away from many other priorities.

Even if we just think about the world of medicine – equipment and drugs – we should be scared at how much we depend on China for our population to stay alive. Now that they have flattened the curve, and their factories are buzzing again – they have an upper hand already while rest of the world is still figuring out its response. I don’t know how much of a sustained advantage that will be – but its worth keeping it in perspective. For now, they are helping US and others ( and with it comes some complaints on poor quality)  – though perhaps not just out of just humanitarian reasons.

Realistically – even if just the rich countries like USA start bringing all this in-house we are going to have to wait decades to get it done. And given we tend to value our economy over and above other interests – the cold calculations will probably stop most private sector companies to do a total shift back to homeland.  Best case I see is that we will shift some significant manufacturing capacity to Vietnam, India etc in near term.

That is all good and much needed – but China probably will remain a single point of failure for a lot longer even in a well planned transition.

How about Tariffs as a way to keep China in line ?

US has played this hand with China already and we found that all that happens is that it is not the exporter that gets stuck with the bill, and its the importer – and that is passed on to the end customer. On top of that – we also had to take some tariffs off already because of our dependence on China to get through this pandemic.

If we look at this from a Chinese exporter’s point of view – they may also come to the conclusion that they should perhaps reduce US as a big market, and start building markets elsewhere. USA is big strong economy and can still hold some punitive power with China. But that is not the case for the smaller economies – their constraints will make them do things which US will be able to avoid.

Net-net – Tariff is not much of a magic wand to wield !

Corona might not be the last pandemic – it may just be a beginning

I don’t wish it in the least – but that is the pragmatic assumption for now. I have no doubts that we will learn a lot from handling COVID19 and hence will have a better playbook for the next time. But what is the role of China in that future playbook ?

Since the whole mess started in China – and since China has allegedly controlled it significantly now – it is quite possible that they may be the first to come out with a treatment plan and vaccine too. Don’t we want them to share it ? Not just now for the current crisis – but going forward as well.

I am not an expert on pandemics – but I do remember reading frequently about US and China co-operating in tackling past pandemics from George Bush’s term in office all the way to Obama’s time ( joint effort to help Africa). I would think that model is what works for the world – as in for common folk like you and me. Virus is not nationalist in its kinetics, and there is no good reason in my mind why the solution to prevent its spread should be nationalist.

When it comes to saving lives – China and US and everyone else should let science lead, and politics follow ! The other way around is stupid.

We need a better balance of Nationalism and Global Co-operation 

Pendulum always swings to extremes. Now it is swinging to an extreme on nationalism. But its side effects are yet to be seen.

In India – there are states closing their boundaries physically to stop people from neighboring states to enter in times of pandemic. It is not clear how the supply chains of food and health care will get affected when states do it. Will it next happen within districts within a state ? Taken to an extreme – nationalism can be quite destructive !

US may not be much different either . What happens if richer states can offer more money and take medical pros and medicines from poorer states ? I hope we won’t see it play out that way – but when we feel under attack, its normal to close in. Toilet paper hoarding is roughly the same thing at a micro level – people with money to hoard will keep doing it and people with less money will disproportionately suffer.

Although off topic here – climate change is one of those things we can look at as an example. There is no effective solution to climate change if China does not play nice. And China has limited incentive to play nice if it gets isolated globally !

Parting thoughts

It is not a comfortable position for any of us ( Certainly not for me) to think China apparently continues to hold an unfair advantage despite their mistakes. We largely brought this on ourselves with our significant focus on the economy and lesser focus on healthcare, infra, education etc. It is not as if we did not have some huge advantages – we enjoyed a prolonged bull market as a result of sending more work to China. I hope and pray we learn from this history and have a more balanced and holistic view going forward.

Should we be more targeted and holistic in tackling the Corona virus pandemic ?


I have been staying at home for the past week or so since I returned from India . All my global team is working from home too and we are all getting used to the idea of 100% work from home as the new normal . Earlier today, I heard from my mom about the 21 day shut down in India to combat the pandemic . And my cousin in Britain is dealing with their shut down . It’s all a bit overwhelming to say the least .

It has also made me think hard on what’s next for us . As always – these are strictly my personal thoughts and opinions .

Grief offers a fresh perspective

I recently lost my dad . He was in critical care for nearly two weeks before he passed away and I saw a different part of life that I hadn’t experienced before .

The first is that money cannot always buy good outcomes in health . Just to see patients on ventilators was a shock and it still gives me nightmares . No amount of money and top notch care could save my dad . Helplessness need to be felt first hand to realize how bad it can be.

The second is that lack of money almost always leads to bad health outcomes . Every day at the hospital I saw families struggle to pay bills . I helped a few folks where I could – paying a little money , buying coffees and lunches and paying for cab rides etc . And the reactions ranged from gratitude to indifference to rejection . I didn’t take any offense , nor did I feel any happiness – it’s a strange sense of camaraderie that prevails amongst families of patients admitted in a hospital , especially in critical care . Words can’t describe it . Every day – often multiple times – I saw families dealing with death of their loved ones .

In some strange way – I feel blessed about the timing of dad passing away . At least I was able to go to INDIA as soon as he was admitted to the hospital and stay with him throughout and then stay with my mom a little bit to get her settled down a bit before coming back to US . If it had happened today – I am not sure I could have lived with myself . And yet – that is exactly what must be happening all around the world with folks with elderly and/or high health risk parents .

Hunger trumps health and social responsibility

The shut down in India seems like a much needed step to contain the pandemic – and kudos to the leaders who decided and acted quickly . But how practical is such a shut down ? I was born and raised there and I just spent some time there till last week . Significant part of the population earns their wages daily and without that they can’t afford their food . When the country is shut down – how will they eat ? I hope the government – and the society at large – steps up big time to help the most vulnerable citizens and do it quickly . Even for middle class people who can afford to stock up – I don’t know anyone in India with large enough fridges and freezers to stock up for several weeks at a time . And coupled with the population density in cities like Mumbai – I am seriously questioning how this shut down will sustain three weeks – or god forbid, longer .

It’s no different in US and UK . Not everyone can afford to stock up . And even if people and government can figure out food and shelter – mental health could be another large scale challenge . It will be almost like most of humanity being put in an open jail .

It’s a tight rope walk – but the North Star is clear

Governments all over the world have an unenviable job at hand – balancing between loss of life here and now and the long term negative effects on the economy . A binary view is clearly a terrible choice and I hope no government takes a benevolent equivalent of the “final solution” as their strategy . If we need a binary choice – I fully believe the only right answer is to save lives .

We need a fine grained approach

But that’s what made me start thinking about whether there are targeted approaches possible . A lot of analysis of the pandemic is based on age as the primary risk dimension . I am starting to think that age is too coarse grained for a targeted approach . We now have data about people who lost lives all around the world – and at least those who died in hospitals should have more than age as available data . Can we further narrow down by specific things like gender, blood pressure, COPD, A1C etc ? The better we narrow down – the more our ability to isolate fewer people and have a more realistic estimate of what’s the net impact .

Social distancing, washing hands etc are excellent steps and I am glad that most people are doing the right thing finally . But just like age being a coarse grained dimension – isn’t geography a coarse grained dimension too now ? I am not a pandemic expert and will gladly stand corrected if someone can show me the fallacy in my thinking . Can we zone into high, medium and low risk amongst geographies too ? Manhattan, NY is high risk and lockdown seems to be the right solution and everyone should stay home . But should Chandler, AZ be treated the same , or can some low risk segments of people go to work there ?

Test, test , test

Lack of testing – quantity especially but also quality – is a HUGE problem throughout US and INDIA and probably other countries too except maybe China and Korea . I am still livid that when I returned from India last Monday, there was not even a temperature test for passengers in TRV, DOH, DFW or PHX . Till it’s reasonably fixed I guess segmenting people is not a realistic safe strategy to pursue . Segmenting is a two phased problem – especially for assigning risk to a geographic segment. You need to know when to put people into a segment , but also a set of specific conditions that will get them out of that segment . Otherwise the purpose is kind of defeated .

We need to think holistically

It’s great to see the ventilator shortage situation being addressed with urgency . Better late than never . This is the time for us to be on our innovative best . I also hope that whatever else needs to go with ventilators – all the other ICU apparatus needed (as well as meds for people who cannot be intubated ) are being addressed in parallel . Two weeks of watching people in critical care on a full time basis and talking to doctors three times every day has now given me more information than I ever needed on this topic – and to put it mildly I think we are vastly under estimating the holistic nature of the problem .

We need a better strategy for effectively using medical professionals

Talking about doctors – it is great that retired medical pros are being requested to come back to work all over the place . I also read that many of the older folks who came back to work died in Italy . Doctors and nurses are probably the hardest part of this fight back equation and we need to think about a long term plan to use them . Maybe one way is to tier their use – let the retired folks at higher health risk take over telemedicine channels , and form a reserve capacity when front line active personnel eventually need to take breaks . Perhaps medical students and nurses can take over some of the upfront triages (perhaps some tech can help ? ) . And active duty pros can just focus on high risk patients needing immediate attention .

Fatigue is a real big issue for these amazing frontline healthcare workers . My heart breaks when I see the pictures everyday of thoroughly exhausted people who are going above and beyond . Given all of any country is not suffering at the same levels – can we send more help to the hot spots to take care of the issues there and contain it ? I don’t know if there are legal issues with licensing etc – but hopefully those are all addressable by governors and other government bodies quickly . We have to tackle this issue without letting geographic boundaries being a problem . Sharing pharma research globally , sharing data on patients , increasing production of test kits and medical equipment all need extreme co-operation. Nationalism needs to take a back seat .

We won’t fix the economy with just more money

When governments talk about the economy – we need to interpret it in two ways . What are they doing for companies (not just big ones – but the small ones too) and what are they doing for people .

Like everyone else, I find no joy in watching my 401(k) lose a good chunk of its value these last few weeks . I even joked on twitter that now it should be called 101(k) . I am blessed to be employed and with the flexibility to work from home and not having to worry about putting food on the table for my family . I also know that even paid sick leave which people like me take for granted is not common for a lot of people . It is also high time we divorced health insurance from employment in this country . If there is a positive side to this terrible crisis – it might be that now is a great time for our elected reps to do the right thing for the citizens for once .

Similarly when we talk about helping companies stay alive – we need to make sure it comes with guard rails on exec comp , stock buy backs etc . Hopefully we remember the lessons from 2008 meltdown and bailouts . Companies also need to be held to a higher standard when it comes to taking care of their employees .

Perhaps it’s time to fundamentally redesign and recalibrate the world’s capital markets

Capital markets have been wild, to say the least . At near zero interest rates, market strangely still craves even lower interest rates . Companies that have extremely healthy balance sheets and free cash flow and rock solid business models get punished irrationally in public markets without any specific fundamental reason to attribute, and so on .

I think it’s a good time now for the important people in the global financial markets to come together and rebaseline how companies are valued all over again . If that needs the markets to stay closed for a bit or for circuit breakers to be RE-calibrated or whatever, then so be it . Capital markets are divorced from the reality on Main Street now . The dog and it’s tail have reversed who wags who – and it needs to be fixed . Let’s try to fix that imbalance as well while we are at it rather than resort singularly to throwing more money into a system that no longer seems to be capable of reflecting reality.

This is perhaps the longest blog post I have ever written . A lot of thoughts are swirling around my mind – but it’s probably best that I leave those for a future post . Stay safe everyone !

How will the IT services world look post Corona pandemic ?


It’s been a difficult few weeks for me personally . First I lost Hobo . Then I had to rush to India since my father fell critically ill and passed away . It was not clear if or when I could return to US given the Corona virus situation – and after being away for three weeks , I got home yesterday . It took me about 30 hours door to door and most of that time I was thinking about how the world around me is evolving at a break neck speed .

Obviously I have no crystal ball to gaze into the future and I have done no scientific studies on this topic either . And as always – these are purely my personal opinions and not that of my employer .

I have been thinking about whether this pandemic is a one time thing or whether this is a pattern we should expect in future . A quick poll on Twitter was the closest to a checking around I could do from TRIVANDRUM .

This is what the handful of people who responded thought . It aligns with my own thinking – we should consider the possibility that this could be a trend and evolve our personal and professional lives to deal with it .

So with that background – let me share what I think we should plan to deal with in the world of IT services . Some or all of it may apply to other industries too

1. Obviously , we will learn to work better from remote locations

I have worked from home and client locations nearly all my adult life . I offered some quick tips last week when I saw posts on social media by people who seemed to be struggling with the transition . I absolutely think any temporary loss of productivity can be mitigated with better connectivity , processes, education and tooling . I say this significant conviction because I didn’t see any serious loss of productivity when a big part of my own team and I went remote as part of invoking our business continuity plans .

2. Travel and co-location become less important

It might take a few years to be fully embraced – but the difficult times we go through now will provide enough proof points that we can function effectively and efficiently without all being in one location . Consultants flying every week to a client location (or commuting for hours every day) is a habit we have carried over from a different era (when there was no internet and remote communication was ineffective and costly) and we can finally stop doing it as a primary mode of delivery . Face time will always be important – but it will probably come at a premium in future .

The money saved from all these can either go to bottom line or even better, spent on more value generating projects . We will all be doing a greater service to the only planet we can call our own !

3. Less divorces , and more happy families

It’s a touchy topic and taboo generally to talk about – but I am going to say it anyway . I personally know several people who ended up in divorces because of the nature of our work . I think this will change for the better if the low value travel in our line of work is minimized or eliminated .

I also know several friends – and many of them women – who had to make a hard choice to not raise a family because of the constraints of work ( mostly related to travel ) . I hope they have more choices in this matter going forward.

There is a part of me that does worry that families will need some adjustment when we all work from home . But hopefully this can be worked out with relative ease if we approach it consciously . I have some thoughts – which I plan to pen eventually .

4. Different measurements

The general measurement paradigm for staff consultants is utilization and for executives it’s sales . If and when work becomes more remote – I think we will have to switch to a different set of measures than billable utilization . This is perhaps the hardest change this industry will face and we better prepare for it now .

I also think the way to measure sales will also change. Revenue in the accounting sense of the word may not be enough when cash becomes even more important for businesses . Not sure if DSO is the right measure – but some cash related metric might need to be incorporated into sales metrics . Also important will be customer retention , Client satisfaction etc . It’s not that these things are not important today – just saying that we may change what’s peripheral now to a more primary component of comp models .

5. More pressure on the bottom of the pyramid for both providers and clients

Back in the day, young consultants got into long term projects at low billing rates and learned the trade in an apprenticeship model . That’s already hard in today’s world with project sizes and time lines shrinking . Now when remote work becomes mainstream – it will be much harder to bring inexperienced new hires to the level of skills that is needed for actual projects .

This also will need some serious rethinking by the service providers along with their clients .

6. Project delivery has to evolve

Every aspect of the delivery life cycle will need to evolve and probably evolve faster than we are used to . For example – a lot of shops have already stopped splitting a work product between onsite and offshore teams . Instead they give fill autonomy to remote teams so that they are self contained . That helps minimize people needing to wake up early and sleep late everyday . That’s the kind of culture that needs to become mainstream in IT services.

I am used to globally distributed agile – but honestly it took some time getting used to it . It’s a significant change management issue for most companies – service providers and clients alike . And it might need a new kind of leader to make it happen and stick with it .

6. Automation will increase manifold

One of the biggest take always will be that people are the biggest risk to an Enterpise when the risk is biological in nature like a pandemic . So perhaps even for some wrong reasons – I expect the focus on automation to increase manifold just to decrease the dependence on humans .

But in the same breath – I have to say that what I see around me now is that automation has not replaced human decision making yet . In fact a lot of human effort and thinking is going on at the moment to mitigate the unique risks that are coming to light .

So I guess the best way to think about this is that we need highly differentiated skills to be employable in the future world of services . Again – I have way too many thoughts on this topic that I will post in another blog .

7. Security is probably the new black

Security was always important no doubt – but as we get even more distributed in terms of delivering work, I think it will become a more central issue in IT than it already is . For a long time – all consultants who were good at analytics have had a bit of an edge in the field . I think that will continue of course – but now security (specific to your domain) might be that extra skill set that will help you stand out .

8. Massive consolidation will happen

Some amount of consolidation has been happening already and I think it will pick up significant speed . The mid tier companies probably won’t have a viable way to continue and will have to merge or get acquired to stand a chance to survive in the evolving market .

Unfortunately I also think a bunch of those mid tier companies won’t make it and will just disappear . Given the gloomy nature of the topic and because I have dear friends who work there – I will resist naming any names .

Even the ones who will stay around – I don’t think they will have big pools of full time employees anymore in the middle to long term . I fully expect vast majority of these firms to depend on gig workers to get things done for their clients . And commodity skills will probably become a mainstream online platform business where clients and providers can both buy .

9. Systems integration business will grow

I know it’s a hot button topic for several people I know and respect , who believe cloud will kill SI business . That’s not how I see it . I do think SaaS and other cloud models will continue to grow . And as it grows , integration and analytics challenges will grow as well . Consequently I think the SI market will continue to be a good employer for a long time to come . The kind of work will shift over time – but the effort to integrate will continue to grow for a long time .

I am not sure yet on whether in-sourcing of IT will get affected or not in future . I will be keenly observing and if I see any visible common trends , I will share in a future blog .

10. Redundant collaboration tooling

As we increase our dependence on webex , zoom , teams etc – those services going down will have significant issues for our businesses . I am sure those companies will become very good at providing highly resilient services – but I can’t imagine any company risking their business with just one tool anymore . Maybe they will when SLA from these providers are that good – and I am keen to see how this evolves .

I am very interested in your views on this topic . Please leave your comments and I look forward to learning from you .

Post Script : here is a little video Dennis Howlett did with me on March 23, 2020 on this topic


https://youtu.be/yz30WT04nWc

Managing Top Talent – Lessons from Indian Politics


I have now been in India for the last couple of weeks. Even though I am a US citizen now, I have followed Indian politics with great interest all my life . I have always stayed away from political party affiliations all my life – both when I lived in India as well as when I moved to USA .

Needless to say , all these thoughts are expressed purely in my personal capacity , while looking at the world through the eyes of a management consultant . I make no judgement of what these parties stand for etc in this commentary .

When I read the news of Jyotoraditya Scindia leaving INC and joining BJP, I couldn’t help thinking about the parallels with classic top talent management in the corporate jungle I am familiar with .

The common factor you see in top talent in any field is Ambition – be it for the pure thrill of winning , be it for money , titles , social status or whatever else . When channeled carefully , ambition works in favor of the organization . When ignored overtly or covertly, the effects could range from extremely low value add to outright sabotage .

1. You can’t act if you don’t know what they want

When you spot such high talent – you should take the time to understand their ambitions and then keep up with it over time since people evolve their ambitions . I have personally been confused many times about my own team when someone asks for promotion when what they really need is a raise – but can’t separate the two without an honest conversation . If I reject the promotion because that’s all I heard directly (and I think the person is not ready to operate at a higher level yet) – I might lose the talent from my team . If I had the conversation and understood the real ask is more money – I might have a chance to retain the talent . But few years later – money might not be the big motivator for the same person – it might be the title , or public recognition or something else . As a leader – you need to know what is the ambition of your top talent at all times !

It’s not clear to me what Scindia Jr wanted ( I can speculate) – and it’s not clear if Sonia Gandhi knew exactly either . But clearly he ran out of patience after a while and walked away . His resignation letter that I saw on twitter was pretty straightforward .

2. There are always organizational antibodies , and top leaders might unwittingly enable them

Tenure is a double edged sword in every organization. Once people get comfortable being kings or kingmakers , they may find it harder to let anyone else too close to power that they don’t care for personally . Merit and potential all tend go for a toss . If the top leaders surround themselves with the same advisors for a long time – it’s inevitable that their ability to spot top talent (or know details of their plans ) will start diminishing .

When top talent sees a leadership vacuum above them, their instinct often is to see if they can fill that vacuum . They enjoy strong leaders they can learn from . It’s one of the difficulties with matrix management systems that talented people might find it odd to see inconsistent quality of leadership . When it gets to a degree they are not comfortable with – they start planning their exit .

In MP politics – it’s possible that Digvijay Singh and Kamalnath perhaps acted as the antibodies preventing Scindia’s growth . They both enjoy the support of the first family .

From the outside, I cannot divine who holds power in INC anymore . In theory it has to be Sonia Gandhi and her two kids . But Rahul has clearly said he is not in charge . So I am guessing it’s some combination of the old guard war horses like Ahmed Patel and AK Anthony who are holding the fort together . That might have at least partly convinced Scindia that the juice is perhaps not worth the squeeze to hang on much longer

3. Top talent might not even make a big fuss when they don’t get what they want

This is a big problem – a lot of high caliber people do their work and wait for their leaders to reward them for it . They may very gently raise it with their leaders from time to time – but generally stay away from getting a reputation of being aggressive . They have the confidence that they can easily get what they need outside their current organization and that is why they don’t create the fuss .

Leaders who ignore this aspect usually realize their folly only after the proverbial horse has bolted from the barn . These are not the type of people who will stay for a last minute counter offer – unless perhaps it’s earth shatteringly good !

Scindia did everything he was asked for but never got a proportionate reward . And when he left – perhaps the only offer to make him stay would have been to offer INC president’s job . And that’s unimaginable in INC – considering an ailing Sonia Gandhi has to take up the role when Rahul Gandhi walked away !

4. They build strong knit teams and take those teams with them

There is an exponential effect when you can’t retain top talent . They are natural leaders for whom their teams love to work . And when such people leave – their teams tend to be quite demotivated and will try to leave with them as well . You cannot hold people against their will for very long – and the price to pay is high . I have often seen this with sales leaders in corporate world where the best sellers generally follow the VP from company to company .

Scindia has a loyal team in MP and will naturally take his people with him to BJP .

5. While you are ignoring, competitors are watching

This is one of those strange things in life . You have extremely talented homegrown people that get taken for granted at a certain point . You might salivate looking at the talent at your competitors and worry about how you can poach them . At that point – the competitors are also plotting strategies on how to get your best people . It’s very very hard to get senior people to move when they are happy and content . But when they feel continually overlooked – it’s relatively easy to convince them to jump ship . Most competitors keep contacts warm with top talent in the industry for this reason . They wait for the right timing to make their case and force a decision in their favor .

BJP – even on a foggy day – could have seen from a mile that Scindia was not getting his due from INC . His own aunt is a senior BJP leader and CM . So they made it work and INC should have totally seen it coming .

6. Reputations are hard to win and easy to lose

Organizations that can’t hold their good people lose their reputation steadily . Then it evolves over time into a self feeding frenzy where the remaining top talent starts to wonder whether they are being stupid to hang around any longer , and start jumping ship . This is hard even when times are good . But when times are bad – this could become a real nasty problem .

That’s why in both good times and bad , organizations need to make room for people to grow . This often needs removing some from the top to make it work especially when times are bad . Those are hard decisions without a doubt . But if that’s not done systematically – the old guard will stay and not add additional value , while the up and comers will find a low ceiling and they leave .

INC (also other parties) has a long history of their leaders leaving them because they run out of runway – Scindia Sr ( who once even best Mr Vajpayee in Gwalior ) , Sangma , Pawar … there are lots of examples from the past . But when the party was in power, they could live with it . Now INC is in trouble and they can’t handle attrition that easily . If they don’t mend their ways – others like Sachin Pilot maybe the next to look for greener pastures .

So who is doing good talent management in Indian politics ?

Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi both come to mind upfront . Rao brought it talent like Manmohan Singh as his FM and that was brilliant for INDIA and INC . Rajiv brought in young talent of the time like Gehlot , Pilot and Scindia to prominence and largely those moves worked well too . But somehow INC lost that muscle after Rajiv’s and Rao’s time .

BJP seems to be doing a fine job now ( of course like INC , they also deserve some criticism on a few choices ) in building talent from the ground up . Modi , Naidu , Rajnath Singh etc all grew up the ranks and gained valuable experience before getting their current jobs . Some (though not Modi himself) were party presidents for a bit before getting cabinet postings . That investment in systematic and long term talent management seems to help them grow their influence over time .

I hope INC addresses its talent problem pretty soon in a comprehensive fashion. India needs at least two strong national parties to be an effective democracy . A democratic INDIA is an absolute must for its citizens and for the world at large .

Ten tips on working from home


There is a high chance that the Corona virus issue will force more of us to work from home – or at least remotely from wherever you regularly work . It is not an easy transition for people who are not used to doing it often and for what it’s worth – I thought I will share what works for me and maybe some tweaks will make it work for you too .

1. Upgrade to the best internet plan you can afford for your home office

It’s the equivalent of wearing comfy shoes when you have to walk a long time . You can thank me later 🙂

Goes without saying – make sure your VPN etc work fine on remote networks before you start working from home . Know the help desk number upfront and write it down somewhere easy to see .

2. Learn to walk and talk

Sitting for long periods of time is not easy on many levels . Get yourself good headsets and start walking and talking any chance you get . I often take calls from my backyard and just pace back and forth hundreds of times .

3. Let people know when you are available and when you are not

Unlike in a traditional office – working from home will need changes for schedule . You maybe able to get work done that you might otherwise we driving . So change the hours as needed and let people know explicitly via calendar , email etc . For the first few times – when mention it on your calls .

Similarly your break times maybe different . Since you start work early for example – you may take a longer break at lunch and then catchup again at normal commute hours . As long as everyone knows your schedule , you can minimize frustration

Remember – if you don’t draw boundaries around work , work will draw boundaries around you and it may not be pleasant

4. De-clutter like a maniac

You don’t need a lot of stuff around you to be productive . Keep your computer , notebook, phone , spare pens , beverage and snacks handy . Ask hard questions if you feel tempted to put anything extra near you and your default answer should be no . Again – you can thank me later 🙂

I also try to keep the printer at home away from my sight whenever possible . That has helped reduce the number of prints I take significantly .

You don’t need to work from the same location every time either . I often work from three or four different places within my home depending on what I am working on . The less things you need to be productive , the better your chances of changing the scenery . This helps me stay focused a lot longer .

5. Have a plan B and C for alternate locations

Distractions happen and you will need to work from elsewhere from time to time . Scout a few places and keep that list handy – and make sure you know how to access wifi from those locations and any limitations like whether you can talk freely , how long you can hang out there , what $$ you need to spend there etc

6. Gain agreement with your family – and neighbors too, if needed

You are still working and they need to know that you being there in person doesn’t mean that they have your attention . Develop a short hand and be consistent . Trust me – this is a lot harder than you may think at first .

7. Video is your friend when used wisely

Impersonal calls become a lot more personal when people can see you . But if you think video is a distraction – don’t switch it on . For early morning calls where you haven’t shaved and showered , just leave the video off . Similarly , don’t feel pressured to dress up for every single meeting . Remember you don’t need to switch on the video if you don’t want to

8. Work extra hard in the beginning

New environments come with new distractions . Compensate by working a bit harder till you find your balance . Your team shouldn’t have to compensate for your distractions . Get the job done and soon everyone will have faith that work from home actually is effective and efficient

Try to do some 1:1 type meetings in person even when you are primarily working from home . As much as collaboration tools are great – real face time helps !

9. Eat right and exercise

You should be doing it anyway – but it’s one of those things that easily falls apart when you are home more than you are used to . If needed , break the exercise time to two or three .

10. Careful when you drive

Work often tends to spill over to driving time . Nothing wrong with it unless it becomes a distraction and you keep glancing at your phone to see charts while someone is talking and you are driving . Pls don’t be stupid on this front .

Rest In Peace, Acha


Feb 23rd evening in Chandler, my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp call . It was the first time ever that my father called on WhatsApp . He had only started with WhatsApp about a month ago or so and have been taking baby steps with forwards and so on . I immediately answered .

He called primarily to console me on losing our beloved Hobo a few days ago .

He insisted that I buy a new puppy quickly . I told him I needed some time to grieve but I am definitely planning to get a new pup soon . He took it literally when I said “soon” and asked if I planned to get a puppy in the two weeks before I left for India 🙂

Till I left home after college , he used to indulge me a lot when it came to my love for dogs . My grandfather bought me my first fully and acha bought me everyone who came after .

He asked about our plans for our daughter’s 15th birthday and I told him about stepping out for dinner with her in a few minutes given the next day was a school day .

And then he asked me what only he considers a perfectly normal question – “How are your cars?” !

Achan was the biggest connoisseur of cars that I ever knew . Three years ago, when we needed a second car – I chose a Toyota over a Merc . And a month or two later , my parents visited at us Chandler for a vacation . Achan and I sat in our backyard and for hours we discussed pros and cons of engine design and the future of cars . Amma took this photo from behind us and later shared with me 🙂

Achan was a genuine mechanical engineer – someone who intuitively understood how machines worked . I became a mechanical engineer – not even half as good – because I wanted to be like him ! He taught me how to drive a car when I was 14 , over a summer vacation . He would park the car uphill , switch seats with me , and as I struggled to keep the car from rolling downward – he would ask me “tell me how a rack and pinion system works in the steering” or “explain how the clutch engages”. Needless to say , a few years later when I had to study automobile engineering in college – I aced it 🙂 .

He was a passionate driver , as is his maternal uncle who is only three years older than him . Between the two of them, it was common to go on 18 hour drives with Achan doing 9 hours of driving during day time and Maman doing 9 hours after sunset .

One of my fondest memories of childhood is sitting in the backseat of his white Fiat car and asking him to overtake a random car in front of us – and he would always oblige me !

When I was a little kid , he would often take me to the local vegetarian restaurants and we would have Dosa . Those were our dad-son bonding moments . And that’s a tradition we have continued over the years – with me taking him out for Dosa when he visited me in US or I visited him in Trivandrum . I enjoy Sambar with Dosa and he enjoys chutney with Dosa . So every time we eat Dosa outside – I take his bowl of sambar and he would take my chutney bowl . And we would always order two cups of filter coffee each – one before the dosas and one to eat with the Dosa . Those are habits that have stuck with me all these years .

It turned out that my daughter and my nephew – his darling grand children – both enjoy Dosa , and I think he has trained them both on the art of eating Dosa the same way as he did with me 🙂

When I was five years old, I learned to play cards from my paternal grandparents . But it was Achan who taught my little sister and I (and some of our cousins as well) to take up playing rummy as a competitive sport 🙂 . Perhaps playing rummy was the only aspect of his life where he played to win !

He had a very special fondness for my sister Lekshmi , and her husband Ravi was like a son for him, much like my wife Dhanya was a daughter for him .

Any time I visited him and left – I knew he felt bad . But when it was she – he would be downright depressed and his eyes would well up .

She was his favorite baby girl throughout !

Achan never met a stranger in his life . With his humor and humility and sense of fair play – he put everyone at ease immediately. He was one of those very few people that had no enemies and he never thought ill of anyone – even those that didn’t do right by him . While he got along splendidly with everyone – there were two cohorts of friends that he absolutely adored . The first were his pals from the 1970 class of College Of Engineering, TRIVANDRUM . And the other was his family of colleagues from ALIND where he worked most of his career .

I believe to this day that the best thing Acha ever did was to marry amma . They were inseparable for nearly 46 years through thick and thin . They never made a lot of money but they had an incredible life together through their (often comic and some times tragic) ups and downs . They gifted us kids the wealth of a great education and taught us their values .

He was an only child and absolutely was the eye of the apple for my grand parents . We all used to tease my grand parents for rushing to grab extra towels for him when he came out after a shower even when he was in his thirties 🙂 . When they passed away, he took it really hard and used to say “Now I am an orphan”.

His dad was an award winning historian and his mom was a trained classical musician . Achan probably inherited his love for reading and Carnatic music from his parents and he dutifully passed it to me .

I introduced him to the music of Sreevalsan Menon some years ago and he became a die hard fan . As he lay unconscious in the critical care unit of SK Hospital last week for several days, I played his favorite songs for him via the pink headset that my daughter had gifted him and I hope that he enjoyed it as he always did .

As it turned out, that 8 minutes and 31 seconds WhatsApp call on Feb 23 evening was the last time I spoke with him . And the last thing I told him was that my cars are doing fine 🙂 .

Yesterday night, I held his hand while he went into his final sleep peacefully . As the flames took his earthly remains today afternoon , I couldn’t help imagining his parents were waiting with open arms – and extra towels – in heaven for their favorite son !

We will miss you for ever, Acha – but you left us with such great memories for a life time that will keep us all going . I am sure you will be driving your favorite cars in heaven , and blasting your favorite songs !

Post Script

Many thanks to all our friends and family for all the kind words and prayers . A special shout out to Malu chechi and Hemachandran Chettan for going way above and beyond . And a lot of gratitude to the doctors (especially Dr Ravi , Dr Remya and Dr Renju) and nurses at SK a hospital for taking such good care of Acha and for answering all our questions honestly .

Hobo Vijayasankar – 12/31/2009 to 2/21/2020


Hobo joined our family on our daughter Shreya’s fourth birthday when he was about 8 weeks old .

We picked him up after her birthday party from his breeder Marci Sale’s house in Gilbert . He rode back home on Dhanya’s lap and I remember him squirming the entire way back. Sitting still was not his thing 🙂

Boss was five years old at the time and immediately took Hobo under his wings

Some of my most favorite moments those days were the time I spent with Shreya, Boss and Hobo in the backyard and in the pool at our old house.

They were inseparable – and so different . Boss was all brain and Hobo was all brawn . If I tossed an orange into the pool for them to fetch , Hobo would do a spectacular dive to get it back – and then at the last minute Boss will take it from him and deliver it to me 🙂

The only thing Boss really didn’t share very much with Hobo was me . It was clear to Hobo that Boss didn’t like him to be right next to me if he was around . He had to wait his turn . If I pet Hobo first – Boss would immediately sulk 🙂

But everything else was fine – Boss had no trouble letting Hobo share toys , treats , bedding etc . And unlike Boss , Hobo was not destructive when it came to toys – he just liked to carry them around .

Hobo didn’t like dog shows one bit . That was not his idea of fun . I am convinced he could have also been an obedience champion like my German Shepherd – and he was proofed on everything up to CDX when we gave up . I had no interest left in competing to win – so when o realized he didn’t like it, we stopped training .

He was the ultimate retriever . And fetching oranges from our pool was the one thing he didn’t mind doing a thousand times .

Eventually, I had to stop allowing him to swim after he started hurting and crying the next day.

Just as Boss did to him , when Ollie joined our family – it was Hobo’s turn to be the four year old big brother to the seven week old young gun . To be fair , Boss did his fair share in raising the kid as well .

I think what Hobo taught him first was to sit next to me and stare at me till I shared whatever was on my plate with them .

I am sure it was Boss who taught Hobo that it’s a foolproof strategy that works every single time .

When Boss left us for the rainbow bridge three years ago, Hobo took over immediately as my shadow . He was just there right next to me, checking on me from time to time and making sure I knew he was there for me .

Being a New Year’s Eve baby – Hobo’s birthday was the easiest to remember . And ice cream was his favorite birthday treat . We returned from Europe the day before his birthday last year to make sure we can celebrate with him .

He loved riding shot gun with me in the car .

We would have our silly conversations and he wouldn’t take his eyes off me throughout the drive.

When we celebrated his tenth birthday, he was still a bouncy young puppy . I don’t think he ever mentally grew up much beyond six months or so . It took very little to make him excited and jump around barking . Dhanya used to tease him with a new trash bag before putting it in the kitchen bin and he would go nuts .

Hobo enjoyed going for walks . Showing him the leash was a shire shot way of raising his excitement through the roof

Past his tenth birthday though, he started slowing down . He preferred sunbathing in the back lawn to playing fetch

He started having some trouble getting up , and he needed supplements for his joints and for his liver . But apart from a week or so where he lost appetite – he had almost returned to normal .

While I realized we didn’t have a lot of time left with him, I didn’t realize that it will come so soon . I had to fly to NY on Wednesday afternoon . As usual, before leaving I let him and Ollie our for a potty break .

Hobo was the first to come back in and we shared a banana . That was the last meal we shared . Today as I am flying back home, Dhanya messaged me mid air that he passed away in his sleep .

I am sure Boss is waiting at the Rainbow bridge for you dear Ojo-Bojo – May there be plenty of oranges for you to fetch and pools for you to swim . Till we meet again buddy !

Are Finance and Operations people evil and clueless ?


There are probably very few people in the corporate world who haven’t had this thought at some point in their careers – and it probably is the primary belief system of many line executives . I used to be one of them – and from time to time, I still slip into that mindset – and then snap out of it .

So before I say anything else – let me say the answer is a resounding NO ! And they certainly are no more evil or clueless as the rest of us . I will go on to add that when we make use of their expertise the right way – life becomes significantly more productive !

As always – everything on this blog is strictly my personal opinion !

A lot of people I mentor have told me some version of “I could be doing a much better job if only Finance and Ops would let me” . There is some truth in that statement – and I have said it many times myself . I have also since learned there are larger truths that perhaps will change our perspective a little bit . That’s why I am attempting a blog to explain my point of view .

Finance and Ops colleagues have a very hard job to begin with – and we often don’t appreciate it. It’s not a job that many of us have the skill, aptitude or interest to do. I majored in finance in business school – and yet I don’t think I ever want to do a CFO role . Thanks to the nature of their job – most of us in line jobs don’t take the time and effort to understand why they operate the way they do , or how their analysis was done to reach the conclusion we disagree with .

Let’s use an example to put this in context . Revenue and profit are generally easy measures to understand . Cash flow and time value of money are less natural measures for many of us . So when a finance leader questions a deal that shows a high revenue and profit profile – it could be because the projected cash flow is poor , and there is debt that can’t be serviced . Another common occurrence is arguments about “expense vs cost” which both look similar to people without training in accounting, but have completely different accounting treatments . You don’t need a three year degree to understand the basics – but if you don’t take the time to do get it right , you will constantly talk past your finance colleagues and get frustrated .

Most people are familiar with how P&L statements work because their metrics are correlated to it . However there is also the Balance sheet and the cash flow statement that hold significance in a business – and till we understand how it all works together, we will never extrapolate our own reality to the company’s reality .

The reverse is also true that often the world looks different when you abstract it to a spreadsheet or PPT . So an Ops leader might tell every VP to cut 10% of their staff as a solution to save money – and it will make perfect sense at the highest level . And yet , for obvious reasons it is hardly ever a good solution . Another classic problem is resource fungibility looks infinite (Why hire a manager for AI in west coast now when we have two managers in IOT in Midwest and East who both have bandwidth to stretch?) on a spreadsheet when translated to headcount and dollars – but ridiculous when it is translated to skills and location and so on .

Essentially – a little bit of active empathy and trust building via training, job rotations etc will go a long way in reducing friction in decision making .

A CFO – now retired – that I respect a lot once told me this . “When a business is run well, my job is to make sure I record everything and provide insights to where we may have opportunities to grow. When it’s not running well , my job is to get it back to a shape where it can be run well again”. My appreciation for that statement was admittedly low when I first heard it , but it has improved over time 🙂

A lot of frustration happens when finance and operations policies are created by people who don’t have sufficient appreciation for what happens on the ground. All business needs a happy middle of “let’s not take any risk and let’s not trust anyone” vs “let’s take every risk and let’s trust everyone” . Similarly there is the tension on what’s the best way to generate profit – where should be the happy middle of “let’s increase revenue by any means possible” and “let’s cut costs to the bone” . The manifestation of this is best seen in how companies operate their budgets .

Budgets assume that almost everything is known upfront for the year in front of us and we can optimize resources to get a certain goal . It’s all good except that things do change all the time ! And this is where business reasoning should prevail over broad policies and processes .

When a leader says “sorry – no budget” to a proposal , what that translates to usually is “this is my first filter to see if you have the conviction to prove that my budgetary assumptions were wrong” . There is always budget to make more money for a company if you can prove the risk-return trade off works . But that needs you to ask questions to understand why your request is denied , have a relationship with all the stakeholders so that you even have a chance to ask in the first place , and a lot of effort to make the case in a way it makes sense . And in reverse – it needs finance and Ops to be flexible enough to change assumptions when there is proof that it’s the right thing to do .

The easy path – the one often taken by many of us – is to shrug and give up with “these bean counters don’t get it” and “These utopian ideas are why we are in trouble and why we need to tighten policies some more” 🙂

I am consciously staying away from a discussion on metrics as the driving force for some or all of corporate dysfunction. That needs a deeper discussion by itself 🙂

Balancing the focus on outcomes and enjoying the process


I have been a coffee drinker from the time I was a five year old . I grew up with my paternal grandparents ( Dad and mom stayed in a distant town where the factory he worked for was situated and that place didn’t have good schools ) who were both coffee drinkers and I would get a small cup too when they had theirs . Kerala is famous for tea – and strangely I don’t like tea . Everyone else in my family enjoys tea except me 🙂

The very first trip to US – the ONLY food item I packed was a big bottle of BRU instant coffee . I also remember my excitement and relief finding BRU in the local Indian store in Colorado Springs !

I value efficiency a lot – and BRU instant coffee with milk was the easiest solution at home . A mug of milk takes 90 seconds in the microwave to heat up and another ten seconds , I can have a great tasting coffee . Outside my home – Starbucks cappuccino is where I end up spending all my disposable income .

I have always had great espresso makers . But the time it takes to get a coffee and the clean up afterwards essentially meant they stayed in the garage shelf more than on kitchen counter . Few years back – I shifted to a Nespresso machine . While definitely more expensive and not very sustainable – it was a great solution to having high quality coffee in thirty seconds .

A little while ago, I stopped having milk altogether . And this posed a problem – if I drank big mugs of coffee throughout the day, the acidity in my tummy took away the pleasure of coffee . So I switched almost exclusively to espressos . I really needed a small quantity of intense flavor and it will last me several hours . Two a day is plenty for most days . But for that – Nespresso wasn’t cutting it .

So with great reluctance – I dusted off the espresso machine and researched good beans and started grinding and making my own from scratch . It does take a lot more than 2 mins to get a perfect shot – and some days the magic doesn’t happen and I try experimenting some more .

The process – to my utter surprise – proved to be rather therapeutic . I no longer know what I enjoy more – the process of making a great espresso and the experiments to make it a little better the next time , or the resulting drink itself !

It is an interesting parallel to how my views on work have evolved similarly over time as well .

I used to compete in Dog shows actively while I was in college . It was not easy to find time to train my dog and also not let my grades drop – so I micro optimized both the study routine and the training routine . I was fairly successful from an outcome point of view – my dog won regularly and I had decent grades . But honestly I can’t look back and say I enjoyed the learning experience very much on either side .

As a young engineer – I only cared about making sure I could deliver high quality code within time and budget . My enjoyment was more about typing a few hundred lines of code and see it compile the first time itself . Someone created the rules and I improved my skills at optimizing within those boundaries and delivering what I was asked to .

By the time I was a senior manager – I had a little bit more confidence in redefining problems before solving them . The one I remember the most is convincing a finance leader at my client that she didn’t need 150 reports that her team scoped about and can get everything she needs with just 70 by redefining the problem to a certain business outcome that will “move the needle” . And then I had to convince my boss that we will make a lot less money doing the lesser scope of work. Both worked out fine and over a long period of time we earned good business from that client .

Looking back, I think the next evolution was in encouraging my team to redefine the problems and then optimizing the solutions while I try to spend more of my own time trying to gaze a little farther into future and preparing for what is yet to come . I minimize my intervention to what business schools call “management by exception” – and even then only to the extent of helping them think through. I guess that’s where I am now – with of course plenty to improve on finding the right balance .

My biggest learning from all this is the importance of operational excellence . If the routine blocking and tackling is not well taken care of – your ability to expand your horizon becomes rather limited . I have done more than my fair share of whining on operational aspects of executive roles – but I no longer do it with the kind of zeal I used to 🙂 .

This is why I call coffee as “liquid wisdom” 🙂

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