Unchartered Territories ahead: Role of Culture and Human value systems

September 22, 2017

Famous futurist Gerd Leonhard in his book, Technology Vs Humanity says:

“As AIs (Artificial Intelligence) gradually then suddenly become scientists, programmers, doctors, and journalists, meaningful work opportunities could become so scarce that very few of us would snag a job-as-we-know-it today. At the same time, most items on the lower steps of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs–such as food, water, and shelter–will become increasingly cheaper. Machines will be doing most of the hard work, making the provision of services such as transportation, banking, food, and media vastly cheaper. We may be heading towards the uncharted territory of economic abundance on the one hand, but the end of working for a living on the other. We will eventually need to separate money from occupation, and that shift will challenge some very central assumptions about how we define our own values and identities”.

He is not the only one to state that we would have jobless growth or we would have abundance of food but no jobs. Vivek Wadhwa, in his presentations and book ‘The Driver in the Driverless Car’ continues to state similar thing – we will have abundance of water and clean energy at very affordable prices even in the poorest parts of the world. But these developments would not create new jobs. We are heading towards jobless growth.

Almost every futurist has given predictions on these lines. And we don’t have to wait to long for these predictions to come true. We are already experiencing many of these things around us. Clean energy is getting available at lower prices, food productions all the over the world is touching record high, farming is happening in the dessert areas. Though few things are confined to developed parts of the world but with the exponential growth in technology and supply chain, we will see the gains of these abundance reaching every corner of the human population in less than 10 years.

The technology developments are reducing dependence on human power. The repetitive jobs are being consumed by machines and AI powered bots. When we call up most the service providers (AT&T, Comcast etc) most of the time we end up talking to AI powered software. Businesses are going to deploy more and more such software, algorithms and robots to carry out these jobs at 10X efficiency at 10 times lower cost of humans.

This also means that businesses would see huge growth in their profits. Rich will become richer and poor will become poor. The inequality will grow even further. Today 62 people in the world have wealth equal to bottom 3.5 billion people.! Just pause and digest this great discrepancy that exist today. Imagine what would happen in coming days !!

And then add a scenario that millions of people will not have jobs.

What will be social challenges? How will social structure look like, how will governance work? We don’t have answers to these questions. But one thing is pretty sure, that social fabric would be guided by the individual character, motivation and values. If we don’t have people with strong human values, with no foundation of cultural systems and strong sense of community, there would be anarchy. People would not know how to put their time to use. There would be full stomachs but empty minds. There would be material abundance but no meaning to life. People would have transcended today’s so-called definition of happiness as they would have achieved most of it – food, shelter, comfort – all material values. Now they would need more than that – which is ‘meaning’ or purpose of life. These full stomach-empty minds-souls would need to be channelized for the right purpose.

In such a situation, there would be a need to help people find meaning. Many researches have shown that people find the meaning to life from social acceptance, contribution to something more than ‘self’ and having a sense of belonging. People flock to social and cultural organisations to connect with one or some of these elements. People look for leaders and societies that can help them connect with ‘higher self. Thus, the work of social and spiritual organization becomes even more important. It would become even more important to institutionalize the system of inculcating these values.

-Sachin Dabir

 

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Visiting original iPhone on the 10th anniversary

September 13, 2017

Instead of writing, I recorded a small video.

iPhone X is exciting, but for me more exciting was to hold 1st iPhone. In this small 4 min clip I am going to show you my 1st generation iPhone.


Interesting lesson in copywriting for digital media

July 31, 2016

I am among those people who still like to read the newspaper, I mean the actual newspaper.. ummm.. still haven’t got it? Ok let me put it this way, I prefer the actual paper based edition of the newspaper than reading thru the same newspaper app. I just love the feel of the newspaper. But living out of India doesn’t give me an opportunity to get access to the paper version of the Indian newspapers and I have to do with the apps. On my mobile, I have tons of news and newspaper apps from Singapore, UK, US and Indian publications.

This week as I touched down in India and decided to spend the Sunday at Goa with my family, I was more delighted to put my hands on all the actual newspapers. I read the Times of India, Economic Times and was feeling quite happy. But my habit of looking at other apps led me to still check my mobile. I clicked on the Economic Times app, even though I had read the newspaper. Cursory look at the headlines made me think that there is a difference between app version and the actual newspaper one. So I looked at the paper again, specially the ET Magazine section.

When I looked into details, I realized that the news is same – only the headlines are different. Here are some comparisons. I have captured the mobile version headline and its respective headline in the actual newspaper. You can see the difference. In my view,  this is an interesting lesson in copywriting. ET is always known for writing catchy headlines. ET has given a new dimension to the headlines. This is a lesson for all the copywriters to understand how to treat Digital media differently than paper. I think, this is a good thinking on the part of ET. Headlines in App are simple, straight forward and in just a few words tell you what the news is all about. ET knows that the mobile user is always in a hurry, her/ his span of attention is very very short. The headline needs to tell everything in one go. On the other hand, the newspaper reader gives little more time to read the headlines and blurb together. There is more space available to create attention. Hence actual newspaper headlines are treated differently.

I think this is a good lesson in copywriting, specially in digital and social media age.

Not many companies give this kind of attention to treating the media and channles differently, specially those who are creating content for offline, websites and social media channels. They simply publish same contents (with same headlines) over different channels and hope to get reader’s attention. More often than not they fail. Even within Digital media, you need to treat various channels differently. The reader on website has different attention span than the reader of the Tweet or FB post. ET, has very well shown how to address this aspect.

IMG_2410

Example 1)

 

 

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Example 2)

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Example 3)

 

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Example 4)


Loans to encourage entrepreneurship? You must be joking Mr. Jaitly

March 28, 2016

When I read the news of “Stand up India” program, first thought that came to my mind was “entrepreneurship can not be thrust upon anyone by giving money in hand”. On the contrary entrepreneurship is all about brining your ideas to life despite having all the odds stacked against you. Second thought that went thru my mind was why government wants to encourage only one section of the society to be entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged for anyone who has deserving ideas irrespective of caste, religion and gender.

Lets take the first case. 
What is entrepreneurship? First of all entrepreneurship is a mindset. It is about developing new ideas, being creative, being innovative in every aspect of the business. These aspects include raising money for starting the business. If one is really serious about his / her business, he/she would find ways to start it and develop into big one. If you go and ask any successful entrepreneur he/she would tell how despite having the problem of raising capital for the business, he /she became successful. Real entrepreneurs thrive more when the odds are higher.

In my experience, no country has been able to develop entrepreneurship by throwing money at people. I have seen how Singapore, a very rich country, flush with money, is trying very hard to create successful entrepreneurs. Government has in last 8 years ( that I have seen) created many schemes, incentives, programs, infrastructure for encouraging people take up entrepreneurship. Some aspects have worked, some have not. But there is no scheme through which Banks are told to give loans for entrepreneurship. There are other implications of ‘loan’ that I would discuss further in this article.

Even in the silicon valley there are no government backed loans by the banks that entrepreneurs are given. Here it is strict meritocracy and based on your ability to bring about innovation.

I am not saying that entrepreneurs don’t need access to funds. But giving loans through banks and that too based on caste, defeats the whole purpose of entrepreneurship. While I have no issue in providing support system for weaker sections of the society for entrepreneurship, but not at the cost of people. This support system can be developed from within the society itself. For example, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce is an excellent initiative. It provides platform for aspiring and budding entrepreneurs of Dalit society. It also helps create a network and support system.

I have the first hand experience of running a network for entrepreneurs in Singapore. I am personally going through this journey of entrepreneurship since 2009. So, I know that the support system, networking etc are crucial aspect for encouraging entrepreneurship. Access to funds is definitely important part of it. But it has to be based on strength of your ideas, ability to execute and building and running business successfully.

Money doled out in the form of loan and an affirmative action most often fail to deliver the result and it is painfully true for entrepreneurship. You can not build the mindset by doling out money. You are only developing crutches that are so detrimental in entrepreneurship.

Second aspect is about extending these loans based on caste. It is a laughable thought that access to  money (or lack of it) was a reason for not developing entrepreneurship in a particular section of the society. I understand the affirmative action that we have in place for education and jobs. I support that completely. But there is no logic nor any historical reason to extend these actions in the field of entrepreneurship. If India wants more entrepreneurs, if India wants more ideas and innovation, it should remove all discrimination in extending such help.

I have no problem if private institutions or chamber of commerce etc have plans to extend money to groups of society.  It is their private issue. But when Government is getting into the business of extending the loan through government owned bank, it is giving away money of all the citizens. Especially in the field of entrepreneurship we don’t need any discrimination. There is no historical reason that exists for lack of entrepreneurship in a particular society for lack of access to funds. ( the argument that is used for reservation in education was that historically Dalits and large section of the society were deprived of it because of their caste) Actually this challenge (funding) is faced by everyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur.

Government can create entrepreneurship development cells, special incentives for innovation ( I have seen them in many parts of the world) through various bodies that can work closely with industry bodies. But extending loans through banks have a serious ramifications. Lets look at them.

Typically banks give loan against collateral (which is a good business practice). If anyone has an asset worth Rs. 1Cr to pledge and take a loan you don’t need a separate scheme for them.  Since this is not the case, then government, it seems, want to treat these loans against the business idea? Does that mean banks would become angle investors? Do you think banks have a mechanism to access the intangibles and decide to invest in startups? When the success ratio of thorough professionals in this field is not more than 10%, what is the likelihood that banks would be able to recover money?
In all likelihood it would become a way to doling out money without any assurance of getting it back. Very soon it would turn into similar thing as ‘loans to farmers’ and then degenerate into ‘loan waiver’ program.

When the banks are crumbling under mounting NPAs do you think they need another potentially NPA developing scheme? Just think about the enormity of possible NPAs. Rs 1Cr given to a modest number of 1 lakh people would mean Rs 1Lakh Cr money down the drain?

The last part that comes to my mind is a pure political angle. Since I believe that this government has good intentions and is really working hard for the development of the country, I do not want to think deeper in the possible dirty political game that could be associated with this move.

To conclude, my points are :
– You can not develop entrepreneurship by giving government money through loan. You need incentives and schemes against innovation and measurable deliverables.
– By giving loans for entrepreneurship for a particular section of the society, government is discriminating against deserving ideas. There is no proof that only a particular society needs money for entrepreneurship; on the contrary anyone with good idea and ability to execute needs to be supported.
– To support upliftment of a particular society or entrepreneurship within that society, there are private institutions such as Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce who are doing a good job. Government can help strengthen such initiative.
– By giving the loans through banks, government is potentially creating huge NPAs.

PS : I must say that these thoughts are based on the news item that appeared in all national newspapers. I did not have a chance to look at the intended mechanism of the scheme. 

Report of Report Cards on Modi Government – corporate style

May 26, 2015

Yesterday one of my school friends sent me an article for my comments that gave one year report card of BJP government. And this is what I wrote to him.

Dear Vivek, Yes, I have read this article.
Like the author and as she herself has mentioned, hundreds have written a report card on Narendra Modiji’s government. In a democracy everyone has the rights to comment and it is a sign of healthy democracy that everyone’s views are heard and criticism is taken into its stride. ( isn’t that also speaks well for the govt?)

I think, democratic process is not like a school system, where we enter for 5 years and every year we are evaluated whether we have passed or failed. There are many decisions that are taken for long term impact and strategic direction – specially foreign policy, defence preparedness, education policy and infrastructure. Impact of some decisions are felt after 5 years, some after 10 years and some after one generation.

You and me work in corporate sector, we have annual review against our annual targets and plans. We are evaluated on set parameters on how much have we achieved.

But as we go up in the hierarchy we realise that many of these parameters are lagging indicators. We find people’s performance after they have achieved or have failed to achieve. If they have failed to achieve we give them feedback, we might put them on some ‘plan’ – euphemism for putting them ‘under watch’ – or some jobs are made redundant (again an euphemism for retrenching non performers). However the damage was done in terms of non achievement. We have to work extra hard to repair it and achieve next year’s ( or quarter’s) targets. At that stage we learn to focus on leading indicators – focussing on actions that would give desired results. Because we now know that if right actions are not taken at the right time we won’t get the results and in the end we would be only doing postmortem.

Also we are given responsibility to make a 3 years plan, 5 years plan, a strategic plan and an operational plan. As we start executing it, we focus on key decisions keeping an eye on long term impact. Many times a lower level manager doesn’t realise the importance of certain decisions or recruitment of certain skills, as he or she is not aware of the strategic plan. But we know that to achieve these long term goals we need to prepare in advance – need to get right systems in place, right people in place and start working towards it.

I feel that in the nation’s planning and progress, there is a much more complexity than corporate planning.  Though there is no harm in taking stock of the situation annually and evaluate the progress, I feel we should use the leading indicators to understand the government’s progress. Because we should be concerned about long term impact as much as we should be about short term decisions.

My leading indicators for a government’s performance are :

Intent : It is obvious that if the intent is not right all the decisions would lead to downhill path as we saw under UPA. If the intent is to serve the country well, then automatically corruption and corrupt practices vanishes at the top and then it slowly percolates down. We all have seen a corruption free India in last 1 year.

Vision and Plan : Intent drives the vision. What do you want to make a country as eg. Swaccha Bharat, Make in India, Digital India, Financial inclusion etc are part of the the vision. And putting together a plan for it. Constructing toilets, cleaning of Ganga, connecting roads, opening of bank accounts for hundreds of thousands of people,  etc are part of the plan behind the vision

Policy framework : Putting policy framework in line with the vision e.g.. putting together Digital policy, putting together policy of water ways, ‘Act East’ policy etc are the examples.

Team : Having a competent and capable team that would work together is important. Along with the competence what is needed is clarity and cohesiveness of intent among the team. If that is in place then even if there are differences of opinion they can be managed ( Actually healthy amount of dissent is needed for robustness of decisions making) “Matbhed hona galat nahi hai, Manbhed nahi hone chahiye” ( मतभेद होना गलत नही है, मनभेद नही होने चाहिए ।)

Leadership : Strong leadership is most important. We all are experiencing how a good leader can channelise the energy of the nation.

Connectedness with the masses : It is important to check how well the ministers and policymakers are in touch with the people of the country. Very often power and aura of Delhi makes the ministers lose touch with the reality and decisions are taken for the benefits of the creamy layer of the society. It is great to see many ministers are regularly going back to their constituencies and are appraised on their connectedness.

Engagement with all stakeholders : It is important for the government to connects well with all the pillars of the democracy and establish very good relationship with them for the smooth functioning – judiciary, bureaucracy, financial institutions such as RBI etc. Also being the federal structure not just having good relationship with the state government but also working to strengthen them is most important. We have have seen how Modiji’s government has acted on finance commission report and increased the fund allocation to the states and how the funds generated through coal auction have gone to the states- mostly to the non BJP states and how states are being made stakeholder in the growth of the country.

If you would like to create your report card, please go ahead and do so. Make sure that you are focussing on the leading indicator to get a true picture of the progress.


3 Key areas to address : Countering the Land Acquisition Bill disinformation

April 4, 2015

Further to my article on the need for BJP to take it message to the farmers through BJP’s organisational mechanism than just the government mechanism, it was great to see BJP’s national executive meet in Bengaluru decided to take the disinformation campaign head-on and mobilise its cadre to spread right message. (I am in no way suggesting that BJP people read or took note of my article)

“All party members would be going out to explain the public on the contents of the land bill. The intention of the government is to help farmers,” Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporter.

There is need to articulate this campaign by addressing three key areas :

Reinforce the positive intentions : I think with the past experience of land acquisition attempts and land not being put to proper use or corruption involved, there is a large scale apprehensions. And PM Modi ji talked about he ‘Niyat’ in his public meeting in Bengaluru, it needs to be reinforced with positive message such as : राष्ट्रनिर्माण के लिए धरती मॉ को सिंचना है, इस धरती की रक्षा करते हुए उसका सदुपयोग करने के लिए नए कानून को लाना है। आजतकके राज्यकर्ताओने इस जमिन को, जिसे हम धरती मॉ कहते है, जिसकी हम पुजा करते है, उस जमिन को केवल एक टुकडे के रूप मे देखा, उसे जैसे मन चाहा वैसे अपने सगे संबंधियोमें, परिवारवाले मे बांट दिया। हम इस जमिनकी रक्षा करना चाहते है, हम आपके हककी, आपके जीवनकी, आनेवाली generation की रक्षा करना चाहते है।

You can not ally the fears, but can only create hope : One of the important things in communication is that the more you talk about ‘removing the fear’ more it gets reinforced. Only way you can overcome the fear is by offering something positive. I think it would be important to talk about what the farmers would be getting than by what they would be losing. It would be important to talk about not just the one time compensation, but more importantly, how they and their next generation would be taken care of ( though I have not read all the provisions of the bill and farmers compensation, I am sure there must be enough financial compensation – such as insurance policies, re-employability, etc  that need to highlighted ). The fear in farmer’s mind is questions  about honourable livelihood for next generation and about the status in the society without a land ownership. These needs to be addressed through the provisions of the act. Give them a hope of better life without taking away the status.

Set a positive example as early as possible :  Nothing succeeds like success. A successful example of a large project coming up on a land acquired by the government.  And the project that would have all the elements such as non irrigation land being acquired, farmers getting much more than market valuation, farmers getting honourable livelihood and next generation is assured of good lifestyle, would change the whole atmosphere. It would take away opposition’s claims and it would also restore confidence in farmers and in people of India in general.


What ails commercial open source software companies?

March 25, 2015

Open source software is mainstream, open source has made (and continues to) the world (not just IT) a better place in many ways. There are many example of open source software ( Linux, android, chrome etc) to open source projects (gov data, open hardware, educational contents etc) However, we can’t say commercial vendors of the open source software have been very successful (upward of $500 million and profitable) in selling their subscription model and create a robust business – of course the most notable exception to this is Red Hat. Although, of late, there have been investments in and buyout of some of the commercial vendors and I wrote about it in my blog ‘Millions of Dollars in open source software business ..’, I feel these investments are more based on the promise than the past performance.

Why are commercial vendors struggling to grow despite being in the business for around 10 years or despite the fact that open source project has seen very high popularity (number of downloads), active contributors and deployments in large orgranisations in real projects.

Based on my experience working at Red Hat for 8 years (from 2001 to 2009) and later on 6 years dealing with many of these commercial vendors I can point out few areas that these companies are not able to address or areas that they need to improve upon. At Ashnik we deal with some of the leading names of these commercial vendors and hence I am not going to name any one in particular.

Focussing on free download or community edition deployment –

I have seen many sales executives building their business model or selling the potential of commercial success to the partner network based on these numbers. The reality is that those customers who have downloaded open source product and have deployed the community edition in real projects have tasted the joy of ‘free’ and ‘great product’. Now going forward these customers build their IT budgets attributing zero cost for these products. There is hardly any reason for them to pay for the subscription. For a sales person these are the most difficult customers to deal with. You can’t build your business based on this pipeline. Only thing is these customers act as endorsement for quality and usefulness of the product.

Distributor / reseller model in the initial phase –

Many of the commercial open source software vendors appoint traditional software distributors and resellers. It looks great on the paper that you have a reach in the market and now you can sit back and watch your cash register ticking. But this has not worked at all. The reason is for the open source product you need to go out and create a strong demand for buying subscription along with the awareness of the product. Many vendors that I have seen have tried to piggy back on the success of the open source project and assumed that customers would buy subscription through resellers. But without on-the-ground engagement with customers there is not going be a demand for subscription. This needs a ‘push’ strategy. Whereas reseller network is (in general) geared up to address ‘pull’ demand – which means customers calling and asking for the price of a product.

In such a scenario, it is important to appoint resellers who would go out in the market and create a demand. For this, commercial vendors need to create different margins and engagement model for the reseller. Most of the vendors have not shown understanding of this need.

There is one more reason coming in way of convincing the resellers to put in extra efforts to create pull from the market and it is about thin margins in net dollars. The open source products typically are priced much lower than proprietary products, hence even a higher %margin and promise of annual subscription does not given enough incentives to the reseller to invest in setting up sales and pre-sales team for these products.

This challenge can be addressed with innovative approach and identifying right partners. ( I can say that we have been able to guide and setup such models with the commercial vendors where they were open for discussions).

Sales and Channels team composition –

We all know that it is the people who make difference in success and failure. I believe that good sales people and people with adaptability would fit in any company, but we also need to understand that selling open source software to customers and building partner network needs additional understanding of the business. Many commercial open source vendors tend to recruit people from proprietary software vendors (typically their respective competitors). But I have seen that this approach has not worked for most. First of all the cost of these sales people is high and they have to go through steep learning curve that results in longer time to deliver. In many instances I have seen that these people have antagonized the reseller network with their approach (that comes from the business which operates on ‘pull’ model) and failed to capitalize on the goodwill of the open source project. Hence just recruiting your team from your proprietary software competitor is not a guarantee of success – rather most of the time it is counter productive.

 There are other areas that are equally applicable – whether you are open source or proprietary software company – to be successful in growing the sale and smart executives understand those things very well. What matters in case of commercial open source company is an understanding of the peculiarities of open source business and address them effectively.


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