Monday, March 23, 2015

Words of Importance - Synergy

I have been lax in just assuming that the meaning I know for words IS the correct meaning for those words ('HOW could you? When was the last time you were right about anything?' you exclaim? Well, I see no reason why I should not assume - even wrongly - the essential correctness of my position, when it is such a widely practiced pastime for the rest of the world). This once, though, I shall redress that error and take recourse to dictionary meanings. This word - synergy - apparently means 'the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.'

Of course it stands to reason, does it not? Take a man and a woman, for example. They are one individual each and, if they get together, they should tot up only to two. If they really did add up to only two forever, there would be no population explosion, would there? Synergy, that is what it is. (Oh! And, by the way, if they just added up to two, everyone around them would be pestering them about this lack of synergy, in the Indian context). Or, take any three people in some parts of India. When they get together, you end up having six political parties. Synergy, again!

How I do digress! The point was about how important a word synergy was to management. (Oh! You did not realize that THAT was the point? It's Ok. NOW you know). In the management context, though, this word synergy has acquired a lot more nuances. The way it is used makes you think of the employees like Russian Ballet dancers - each doing his own steps to the same tune and creating a lovely choreographed scene. Harmony - that is the word I was looking for! Synergy, when used by managers, somehow gives an impression of a harmonious whole.

Wait a minute! Harmony? In organizations? Where the marketing guys are convinced that the production guys insist on producing saris, when the whole world is clamoring for jeans AND the finance guys get in the way of bagging huge order with piffling objections about not selling at Rs. 80/= things that cost Rs. 100/= to produce? Where the production guys feel that the marketing guys create unnecessary difficulties about selling slippers made ONLY for the left leg, thus messing up production efficiency, instead of finding a market of one-legged people hopping around on their left legs; AND the finance people get in the way of production efficiency raising stupid questions about inventory pile-ups? Where the Finance guys are convinced that the rest of the organization was in a fierce competition to see which of them could bankrupt the organization first? Harmony, indeed!

See, all of us tend to underestimate the management chaps. Do you really think that they do not know about lack of harmony within their own organizations? So, they rarely use the word for issues within the organization, whether to mean the dictionary meaning or with the additional embellishment of harmony. No! Synergy was a word most lovingly used when management people talked of "Mergers and Acquisitions". In other words, when they were joining another organization and creating a melded whole in a marriage of equals (Mergers) or where they were swallowing up another organization whole (Acquisitions), this word synergy is scattered around throughout the process like confetti.

In these situations, this thing of synergy is used as though the guys are sitting around fitting a jigsaw puzzle. "This organization has strong engineering; that one has a great reputation for after-sales service. This one has a strong marketing presence in the North; that one is the tops in the South." and, thus, with all these 'synergies' fitted properly in, there is the assumption that the assemblage will work as a harmonious whole and yield returns in excess of the sum of their individual returns. So there - first putting together a 'whole'; then 'harmony' and then the 'whole being greater than the sum of the parts'. What more can you want from synergy?

The problem, as usual, is, as the poet says, that every prospect pleases and only man is vile. In other words, it is rather like the arranged marriage in India. All the synergy exercise is done to check the fit of the two families and it is expected that the two people getting married to each other will live harmoniously together. The failure of synergy exercises is always the people who have to make it work, of course, and never the fault of the people who decided on the synergies. (The poor chaps do not know that the one great talent given to humans is the ability to pull against each other, especially when they are in different groups)

AND, as in arranged marriages, the result is, more often than not, a total lack of synergy. At least in arranged marriages, the whole ends up, more often than not, greater than the sum of the parts in the strictly numerical sense, if THAT is any consolation. (It is, indeed, to the families. The individuals involved, though, may not share that idea.)

In Organizations, too, the whole will certainly be different from the sum of the parts, if there IS a whole for long enough to make an assessment. If THAT is any consolation!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Panchatantra with a twist : The bug and the flea

A bed-bug, named Mandavisarpini, had made a home in the bed of a king. One day it saw a flea, named Agnimukha, coming in and tried to shoo it out. The flea told the bug that, as a good host, it should allow it to stay and taste the richness of royal blood. The bug told the flea that it should not be impatient, and should wait till the king was asleep before sucking his blood. When the king came in to sleep, though, the impatient flea started feeding immediately. Stung by the bite, the king called in his servants to fumigate the room. The flea escaped the room but the poor bug was killed.

* * *
The colony of bed-bugs was heated up by the behavior of this small group of fleas that had joined them in the King's bedroom. The Head-Bug was facing a situation which causes most heads to wonder why they ever thought that being a head was an attractive proposition.

"You need to do something about it, Chief! These fleas do not wait for the King to sleep and they also are very greedy. They keep sucking so much blood that the King will probably feel anemic tomorrow morning."

"Why don't you tell them to go slow?"

This attempt at shifting the responsibility (OR delegation, as the Head-Bug chose to think of it) did not work.

"I tried. They just say that we, bugs, can take it slow and easy since we live here. They are here only for a time and do not know how long they will have the opportunity. So, they have to make the most of it."

Another bug spoke up. "Well! These fleas have just joined the party and they are making merry. We have been here all along and we could not get as much juice from the king. Shame on us. Maybe it is time we learned from them."

The Head-Bug was feeling dizzy.

"I think it is time that you stopped the fleas from doing so much havoc."

"But...that is against our Athithi dharma. I cannot get in the way of our guests' wishes."

"Even if they endanger all of us?"

"What nonsense! I think we should abandon our conservative ways and adopt the ways of the fleas. Look at how well-fed they are after just one hour and we, who have been here for ages, are still looking under-nourished. It is time for bolder steps."

"No..." said the Head-Bug weakly. "We should not take more than our due."

"Nonsense! Who fixed up what is our due, anyway? What we deserve is what we decide we deserve."

"I don't know...I will not take more than my due."

"That's your call, Chief! We will take what we want."

"It is dangerous...what if the King realizes what is happening and takes steps..."

"You are a coward, Chief! When has the King ever bothered about these things. He is too lazy to take action."

"Yes..but...that is because we have not stung him deeply enough to disturb his sleep. What if..."

"If we keep thinking of 'What if' nothing can be done. We do not intend letting the fleas get away with all the blood."

"Do what you will... I will not join you"

"Thanks! Then there will be more for the rest of us."

The fleas, meanwhile, were making merry on their part of the King's body. The bugs joined in all over the rest of the King's anatomy. Even the ones, who were afraid of repercussions, now found it useless to stay away. They gave a mental shrug, said 'might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb', and joined the feeding frenzy.

Even the lazy King was stung, literally, into action after a long, sleepless night. He called in his servants and ordered them to fumigate the room. The fleas, meanwhile, had departed to their own abode. The bugs were all but destroyed.

Whether the King will always need to be stung into action by heedless feeding or will remain constantly vigilant remains to be seen.

After all, bugs will be bugs.

P.S : If you read this as an allegory, it is at your own risk :)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Words of importance - Strategy

I really do not know what we management types would do if we did not have this word 'strategy'. Without it, we would feel much less important, unenthusiastic about our work and may even end up having to deal with a lot more domestic strife. Whoever it was who invented the word, he deserves to be praised, morning, noon and night.

What? You feel that I am, as usual, overstating the case? That no one word can be of such great importance? Let me ask you one question. How would YOU react if your boss said this to you?

"Guys! We need to find a way to diddle our customers into thinking that our new soap is better than any other soap in the market"

Adrenaline pumps up in your heart? Your mind is bright and sparking with ideas? You are willing to forego that cricket match and sit at your laptop working up a jazzy presentation? Fat chance. The only thing you are thinking of is about how to diddle your boss into thinking that you have done a great job, while you goof off and cheer Virat Kohli's batting.

AND, after a late night on the presentation (if your boss is too shrewd to be diddled), you hit home and tell your spouse, "We were working on selling our new soap." Your spouse is all sympathy and says, "Poor baby! You must be so tired." and kneads your shoulders? Fat Chance again! You will probably get a wrinkled nose and a sarcastic, "Yeah! I suppose that explains that scent which I smell all over you." AND a cold shoulder at night.

Now, just consider

"Guys! We need to put in place a marketing strategy for our new soap."

There! Does not the blood sing in your veins at the thought of doing important things? Does not your mind rev up to maximum rpms at the thought of shaping the future of your company? Does not Virat Kohli's batting pale in comparison with the idea of getting applauded for your important contribution to your company's strategies? Absolutely!

And, when you hit home and say, "Sorry honey! That strategy meeting took too long", do you get the Ah-my-conquering-hero look? The poor-chap-holding-up-the-company-all-by-himself treatment? The coffee, the special dinner and the rest of the works? You bet! (Well! All THAT is assuming it is early days in the marital arena! By the time she has heard 'strategy meeting' from you for the zillionth time, it will be "Ho! Hum! Dinner is in the fridge". IF you are lucky, that is.)

Seminal importance, that is the phrase I was looking for. This word is really of seminal importance.

The problem with management is that, by and large, we have to make do with English. The doctors and even the economists are much better off. THEIR jargon gets picked from Latin and, thus, not very susceptible to be hijacked by the hoi polloi. The management guys, though, constantly keep finding their best jargon hijacked. Like for example

"It's been a while since we partied."

"So, what's the strategy?"

Yeah! Right! Like they had to produce a 500 page project report, replete with financial analysis and PERT/CPM charts to get their father to fund the party for them!

Hmmm! Maybe the guys have invented something else to take the place of 'strategy'. One has to somehow stay ahead of the crowd!

If you guys know the replacement word, please inform me in the comments. I'd hate not to be taken for a management guy because of my ignorance of the appropriate jargon.

Monday, March 2, 2015

All about Arnab

I have been suffering from an overdose of Arnab Goswami thanks to a news-addicted friend's visit. The experience has come close to being life-changing, insofar as switching off the TV has left me unnerved with the sudden silence, which seems sepulchral in the aftermath. I must also confess that I have developed a whole new appreciation for Arnab.

When, at the beginning of his show, Arnab addresses his panel of 'experts' with "Do you think that this outrageous, vicious and callous practice should be allowed to continue?", you immediately realize that you have an impartial compere, who is going to expertly guide his panel of experts with due respect to both the pros and cons - as long as they all say, "No". He consistently maintains his unbiased stance when he interrupts and overrides anyone daring to even hint of saying 'Yes', practically before the chap has even cleared his throat. Of course, one can hardly accuse him of allowing the chaps who say "No" to have their say - but, at least, they are allowed to get some three to four words out.

I would really like to know whether his panel is carefully selected for this quality or whether they get on-the-job training in his show. What quality, you ask? If you have ever sat through a program, you would have been delightfully entertained by the sight of some six people, all talking at the top of their voices simultaneously. (With Arnab also in the fray or not, depending on whether or not he is having a drink of water.) They all look like adults; seem like people who know that when you talk, you do it so that someone can listen to you; and seem capable of understanding that, when six people yell simultaneously, one can make more sense of a cat-fight than of this 'discussion'. Yet, they do this incessantly (meaning whenever Arnab allows them to do so) throughout the show, thereby giving the impression that they are there with the sole purpose of ensuring that the viewer gets to hear nobody.

This, indeed, is not the only impressive performance that Arnab expects on his show. He believes that miracles may be rare for Saints but should be produced on demand from people on his show. He really expects that the BJP spokesman to say on TV to 'millions of viewers', "Yes! Nitin Gadkari's act in stopping traffic in Mumbai for his convoy was shameful, and I shall ensure that he is thrown out of the party". He expects that the NCP spokesman will come out with, "How shameful of Praful Patel to have had Air India change the aircraft for the convenience of his daughter's wedding party. We will hound him out." The outrage and angst he displays when those luckless wights fail his expectations is a rarity in these days of cynicism. The day is not far off when we can expect the executive assistants of corporate honchos coming on Arnab's shows and castigating their bosses for poor customer service; journalists coming on the show and sneering at their editors for messing up news stories; why, you could even have Mr. Modi's driver telling Arnab that he shall ensure that Modi will never get elected PM again! Attaboy, Arnab! We all admire you.

That is not the limit of his idealism, though. I was extremely impressed by the fact that he expected politicians to voluntarily surrender the privileges that they receive. The last time I ever heard of ANYONE voluntarily surrendering privileges was just before my mother poured a mug of water on my face, and asked me to wake up and get ready for school. Arnab, though, is not totally naive as I shall prove. When someone on his panel mentioned that journalists too had some privileges, he retorted saying that he did not care if they were taken away. Note the fact, though, that he was wordly-wise enough not to say that there should be any voluntary surrender of privileges in this case. (Ah! No! I am not for VVIP Raj. Thank you very much for even considering that I could be VIP enough to want it to continue).

My heart bled for him, though, when he confessed, almost tearfully, that he did not understand how some politicians considered him lacking on courtesy. How could they be so unjust? Don't they understand that when he yells you down on your third syllable, it is just because he has had a brainwave that cannot wait for expression? When he says, "This is the silliest thing that I have ever heard on my show", he is only being honest. When he comes out with, "You better get out of politics", he is only giving out well-meaning avuncular advice to an upcoming young man about viable career choices. Truly, anyone who accuses him of discourtesy must be unduly thin-skinned.

And what about all those people who act arrogant and proud on his show? He ought to know who is and who isn't, after all. I cannot forget how Harish Salve came on his show being introduced as the pioneer who inspired the 'End VVIP Raj' campaign. At the end of the show, Arnab politely says, "Thank you Mr. Harish Salve for joining MY (emphasis mine) movement.". Harish Salve was looking a bit bewildered at being, thus, suddenly converted from a leading light to someone desperately clinging to Arnab's coat-tails as the latter bustled around the country cleaning up the VVIP Raj. I have a sneaking suspicion that the politicos go home after his show and tell their families, "You know what? ARNAB called me arrogant" with all the quiet pride of a physicist being lauded by Stephen Hawking.

My God! What have I done? I am going to have nightmares tonight of Arnab wagging his finger at me and yelling (or telling me politely, as he would think of it), "You cannot talk of me like that".

Thank God, I am apolitical and unlikely to appear on his show!