15 Nov 2015

What are you fighting? And what are you fighting for?

Things were simple growing up. Black and white, good and bad. But part of growing up was looking through our definitions and seeing that sometimes good is not all good and bad not all bad. Or perhaps that good and bad can (and almost always do) co-exist - in the same person, the same movement, the same idea or ideology.

Perhaps growing up is when you say "this is more bad than good, given the current circumstances". A very wishy washy statement, but still usually true.

There are several issues we can take a stand on today. Usually with no actual impact on our lives. What surprises me is how little we get to hear of the "other side".

Guns. Jihadis. Beef. Just a few things that are in the news. Such obviously black and white issues that the ones with the opposite opinion must obviously be stupid. Or bigoted. Or something.


During a talk show debating gun laws, one elderly lady, almost bent over with age, stood up to say something along the lines of "Banning gun ownership penalizes the law abiding. Because the law breakers will own a gun anyway".
That statement got me re-thinking my own views on the pro-gun lobby. I still think it is ridiculous for gun ownership to be easy or the norm, but if security is what is driving a large part of the pro-gun advocates, then what can we do to increase the sense of security among the law abiding? Calling them stupid is not the answer.


"Our soldiers may have done a lot of bad things to their prisoners, but we never killed any of them in cold blood" - American woman commenting on the murder of Daniel Pearl as compared to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers.
Aside from the fact that the region east of the Red Sea is just one big blur to most people, this comment got me thinking about the relative importance of honour and life in the different parts of the world. Several people here still think of the "fate worse than death" and would have considered Daniel Pearl's fate the lesser tragedy.
We don't need to argue which of the two is right. But the bigger question is, how do you fight people whose motivations you cannot understand? If you hold that life and its preservation is the most principle for all, how do you defend against suicide bombers?


Several states in India have recently made stringent anti-beef laws. Some people were emboldened to attack and even kill someone who was eating beef.
Many many people I know (or follow on Twitter) have come up with statements like "People should be allowed to eat what they want".
A great sentiment, except that it has nothing to do with the issue. The concern about beef is less that you are eating it and more that a cow has to be killed for you to eat it.
The discussion could be "Is it okay to pass a law based on religious beliefs?" and also perhaps, "In a society where most people do not eat beef and would find beef deeply offensive, is it good manners to eat beef in mixed company?"


Understanding the other side is not likely to make you change your mind. It definitely brings you closer to a solution. But for that, we need to listen to understand. And not listen to counter. 

19 Feb 2015

Problems of plenty

Dealing with abundance requires very different skills from dealing with scarcity. We seeing more abundance very day, and the emerging methods to deal with it. Diets were perhaps the first, as most of the world moved from famine to more affordable food than is good for you. Now we have Twitter and Brain Pickings tackling the challenge of too much content. Books on how to "just say no" dealing with unlimited demands on that precious limited commodity - time.

So we have the solutions or we'll make them as we go along. The biggest stumbling block is when you fail to recognise that you are now dealing with abundance. Or when you are in the in between world where you have too much of one thing but too little of the other and cannot switch between grabbing all you can get (scarcity response) to judicious selection (abundance response). The inability to handle abundance leads to burnouts, obesity and at the very least, a very crowded house.

Dealing with abundance is the fine art of choice. Someone once told me that choice is a bad idea. It leads to decision paralysis. But I disagree. True choice means that you can also choose to not choose. Pick the first shirt that comes to your hand in the morning, rather than choosing from your options. Order the first meal that comes to mind rather than looking at each option on the menu. Pick the career path that seems the most satisfying and don't over think it.

The hardest part of choice is perhaps making peace with the fact that you will not get the best that is offered to you, but just something that is very good. 

17 Dec 2014

Ask and you shall receive

One of my colleagues keeps telling me "Please teach me. I want to learn but most people don't want to share their knowledge". I nod my head everytime, appreciating his thirst for knowledge and and self improvement. But I'll never teach him. Because with the best will in the world, I don't know where to begin.

It reminds me of myself a decade back, after I failed a big test and looked to someone who had passed and pleaded "Tell me why I failed". The response was simply "Sorry, I don't have enough information to answer that".

I have to file this among the things I've learned over time - open ended questions are great for social occasions, when you just want to get conversation going. But when it comes to learning, you need to be specific. And you need to do your homework.
a. What does the other person know best?
b. What do you not know on that subject and what will be of most use for you to know?
c. How do you best phrase your question so that answering it is the least effort to the other person?

Make sure the effort you put in is at least as much as that you are expecting from the other person. That's simple courtesy. 

13 Nov 2014

At home

I love coffee shops. And libraries.

I like how each table becomes its own room. How people can co-exist in the same space and yet not be part of that space. Like Bombay.

Maybe it's the introvert in me, I find it calming and centering to be in the company of strangers who are not talking to me. 

23 Jul 2014

Caveat Emptor

A couple of years back, when I was looking up ecommerce performance metrics around the world, I found that returns in some of the developed markets was up to 30% of sales. It looks like this hasn't changed. By comparison, returns on Indian sites was anywhere between 5 - 10%.

Now, this may look like great news - fewer returns means low logistics costs and higher profits. But on the other hand, did this mean that unhappy customers were just holding on to their purchases, with a vow to never shop online again? Were customers not even attempting to shop online because they didn't buy in to the "returns" thing and didn't want to be stuck with bad purchases?

A society that encourages the caveat emptor principle and victim blaming handicaps enterprise. It is easier for the enterprise to bear the risk of the odd order gone wrong, rather than for the customer to bear it. When your customer is afraid of the fine print, he will choose not to be a customer.

Ecommerce players resorted to marketing their returns and making the process as smooth as possible, to encourage people to try online shopping. Returns have gone up to 10-15% in some cases, but sales have tripled or quadrupled. 

9 Aug 2013


People in India do not pay for services. I can get someone to do a whole day's hard labour for around Rs 500 - Rs 800 and that is what I will compare everything else with. Quality is lost on us, so you can't try to charge extra for job well done. People will not pay.

We don't pay for information. So people will ask you for a lot of advice on your area of expertise. Take up an hour of your time. And look outraged if you say you're going to charge for it.

We don't pay for other people's time either. I feel a long checkout line entitles me to a discount. Shops rarely agree. The government definitely doesn't.

We don't pay for taking on risk. Or risk reduction, for that matter. We have the kind of perversity that says "Ah, broke my leg. At least that health insurance will be of some use now". We don't pay a painter extra for the high risk job of painting the top floors.

But we do pay for goods. Solid, hold in your hands, see with you eyes kinda goods. Can you package your service, information, time or risk as a product? Sell a camera, not the app that makes a smartphone a camera. Sell a job, not the training that will help you get a job. Sell the haircut, not the 15 mins that will result in that haircut.