You are here: Home > Writings > WakeUp Series

Wake up 64 - When do we work the best?

A project is planned out over a two month period but invariably it is the last two weeks where majority of the work will happen. All of a sudden everyone becomes serious and things progress at a rapid pace – unfortunately that is the time when clarifications in the requirements will arise and in the IT services industry that leads to delays. A student plans to study over a six month period – planning to learn one unit per month but it will almost always become a case of studying everything in the last two days before the exam. They say planning is half the battle won; but I guess for us in most times it is just that we have won half of a different battle! We draw out the best possible plans but procrastinate.

And another thing you might have noticed is that when we have our plate full with work we actually do a lot better than when we have very little work. I’ve seen times when a student studying with the thought of exams in mind will grasp concepts quicker than when he studies without a deadline in mind; a team delivering multiple projects at the same time under a tough schedule delivers defect free code but the same team when having very little projects tends to be slack in quality.

Perhaps it is to do with the way our mind works under pressure – we try our best to race through things; we stay sharp and alert. It does give an interesting angle into how we could get things done better (or how team leaders can get work done better)!

But hey, you can’t put the mind under constant duress – cause then at some point the body and mind will break down!

Wake up 63 - Accept your mistake...

The US presidential campaigns and candidates present us with numerous opportunities to learn.

John Kerry, who ran for presidency earlier, made a statement in 2006 which was intended to be a joke ridiculing the Bush administration but turned out to be something more serious.

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
It seems like he is mocking the troops while his actual intention was to ridicule the government. The opposition were quick to pounce on his statement and make him eat back his words!

Coming over to the most recent election campaign, can you imagine a US presidential candidate who has had a history of having used drugs in his younger days? Can you imagine the amount of damage that the opposition can cause by using just that one fact? Presidential elections in the US are hard fought battles with a lot of research going behind the scenes and a lot of money as well – almost a billion dollars was spent by the two front runners in the 2008 campaigns! Everything about the opposition candidate’s life is scrutinized. Speeches are prepared in advance and words are chosen after considerable deliberation because one wrong word and the opposition would pounce on it.

And in this cut throat battle we had a candidate who had a history tainted with drugs in his school days. But even then the opposition couldn’t do anything to dent his popularity because the person had already accepted it in public! Obama in his books and also in an interview said that he used drugs when he was in school. And when a person honestly accepts the mistake he did there is nothing more one can do to slander him unless he repeats the same mistake again.

Applies even in our day to day life and not just for US presidents! There’s nothing wrong in accepting you went wrong when you really did go wrong.

Wake up 62 - Count your blessings

A couple of months back I was chatting with a security guard; a young chap 20 years old. He was asking me, “Sir, how did you become tall?” On further conversation he told me how everyone in his family was taller than him. He was short (I guess short is a relative term just like everything else in life is relative – compared to a person 5 feet in height he was taller by an inch). “If I were tall it would be good” And then he added, “Sir, if you put on some weight it will be good for you”.

Thinking back, I must say that guy was pretty handsome, fit and physically in top shape. He had broad shoulders, a firm posture, not an ounce of extra flab and clean habits. The only thing he could have done to push for growth was exercise and even that he was doing regularly: push-ups, sit-ups, skipping and pull-ups. You would have envied him for all those good things but he was instead a bit depressed about his height; something that was beyond his control.

I don’t blame the security guard – it happens with all of us; there are umpteen times in a day when we sit (or lie) idle and on most of these occasions we ponder about ourselves; the problem being we ponder even over things that we can’t change – "I should be just a little more tall, I should be a little shorter, I should be more fair and what not!" I’ll leave you all to ponder over the lyrics of this nice hymn:

Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God hath done
Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

When upon life's billows, you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged,
thinking all is lost
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Full lyrics (with the music) here:
It’s a beautiful world; enjoy.

Wake up 61 - Fast and furious

I remember hearing somewhere that the proverb for modern times is: "Fast and furious wins the race" But it doesn't turn out to be the case always.

It makes for an interesting story for those studying financial management/accounting as well as those looking for an interesting parallel for life in business.

There is always the question of how much debt and how much equity is good for a company. For a quick recap on the two: both are methods of raising money for a business. Debt is like a bank loan which you have to repay with interest. Equity is when you give ownership in your company to people in return for money they provide – in the case of issuing equity you don't need to repay the stockholders anything (except for dividends which you might announce to share your profits).

This retail store chain that started in 1997 has been on an expansion spree from 2006 onwards. A bit too rapid an expansion; I spoke with a person who said that the branch near his home has pulled the shutters down and he said he was puzzled as to why they even opened a branch in that neighbourhood where there wouldn't be much demand.

We're talking about Subhiksha, the company that opened over 1000 stores in two years (2006 onwards). To fund this expansion they took an all debt approach and now have landed in a situation where they are struggling to pay for their day to day operations – too much interest to be paid while the income is not sufficient to support the interest payment continuously. It was a model company in the Indian retail business, till now!

A few points to ponder that come out from this are:
1.) Equity scores in this case over debt;
2.) Even an IIM topper (the one who started the company) can go wrong but the more important point is the expansion.
3.) When things start going our way we take it for granted that things will continue to be the same. We do things that at other times we would have been circumspect about. In this case it was trying to expand too quickly during the economic boom period without preparing for the potential bubble burst.

A slow and steady approach was required but hey, 'it is easy to be wise after the event has happened'!

Wake up 60 - Words can make and break!

With a lot of things happening lately in the corporate and political world I noticed one interesting aspect – a lot of times it was the spoken word which led to gaffes. A comment uttered in public without much thought that the media were quick to seize and propagate forced a minister to resign. A CEO makes an official statement saying his company is in the best of shapes but two days later files for bankruptcy. It happens everywhere – even in our day to day activities.

The team lead says something at the spur of the moment and the team member loses his interest in working. The team member blurts something in his hot headed state that he regrets later but the team lead will keep it in mind as long as the person is there under their circle of influence. Spilt words are spilt forever!

Action speaks louder than words but many a times it is the words that stir up the action; words that lift up the spirit of a person and words that create a spark to ignite the fire within. One of the strengths of the recent US president elect is his oration; The 'yes we can' slogan was engraved in the public minds with this speech:

From history there are numerous instances of speech that stirs you can pull up – "I have a dream" by Martin Luther King Jr. The speech picks up in the second half filled with passion when he talks about the dream:

Crisis brings out some of the finest speeches. Hitler is said to have been a brilliant speaker; he believed so much in what he was doing that his speeches persuaded others also to believe in his cause. Another person in the same era but on the opposite side was Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of UK. His speeches were delivered at a time when Hitler was raging victoriously throughout Europe; he sounded the war cry asking the British to defend their land, air and sea. And they responded! Churchill had a stammer and is said to have practiced for hours before he delivered speeches.

Later when Hitler's march was halted and Churchill delivered a speech to celebrate the victory he proclaimed, "This is your victory!"
And the crowd roared back, "No - it is yours!"

The power of words…You can make or break someone with what you say; so beware…