19 Feb 2015

Problems of plenty

Dealing with abundance requires very different skills from dealing with scarcity. And 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. 

29 Sep 2013

ToC IV - Money as shares

The physical nature of currency makes it is only too easy to pretend that money is the same as other real assets. Like a chair or a cupboard. That a hundred rupees today is worth the same as a hundred rupees two hours later or that a hundred rupees here would be the same as a hundred rupees in another city. The rapid fall of the rupee and the soaring costs of onions are difficult to understand when you look at notes of rupees as a physical asset.

A share in the pie
I like to think of money, or rupees in your pocket or bank account, as shares in the wealth of the nation. In the sum of goods and services that are for sale in the country. If the total number of goods and services and the quality of these goods and services goes up, the value of my money goes up too.

Access to the good bits
If you are in a rural part of the country, though, you may find that your money can buy you more, as land and food is cheaper. On the other hand, you can't access the other parts, like the latest fashions or reliable internet. In reality, your money is probably worth less.

Increasing the pie tomorrow also increases the pie today
When people are in super productive mode - when they want to invest more and build more to increase the pie - it is even good for the sluggards who aren't necessarily building and producing. So long as they have money, which gives them a share in the goods and services of the country. Because the builders and the producers want parts of those goods and services to make more goods and services for tomorrow, they are likely to pay you a premium for your share. In other words, your money becomes worth more. In the form of interest.

If the builders and producers pull out and decide that they don't really want to make more goods and services for tomorrow, your money might suddenly not be worth as much as before. So with no change in your own effort, your value has gone down.

Switching loyalties
It's always nice to have a share in the efforts of productive people. And when you exchange your country's currency for another currency, you are taking a bet that the people in some other country are going to be more productive than your own. If a lot of people think that country is going to be more productive, a lot of people are going to want that currency. And the value of that pie is going to go up very fast. Because the goods and services in that country are worth more, because they are in the hands of people who will create a lot more goods and services.

Printing currency
When the government prints currency, it's like it is issuing new shares. Just like with companies, it's ok if the new shares will be invested well and increase the pie. But terrible if the new shares are going to pay existing debt and fund losses. Your share of the pie just went down. But it is a bigger pie? Or a smaller pie?

I think we spend too much time thinking of the shares when we should be thinking of the pie. Too much time thinking of the shareholders, instead of the employees who are building that company - and how we can make this a much better company, which will in the end benefit the shareholders. 

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.

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.