Saturday, September 25, 2010

The survival kit to the rescue!

DISCLAIMER : All this is written in lighter vein. For those people who were actually part of the "characters" in this post, no hard feelings. I had a really great time, and would like to thank all of you for a wonderful two months!

For those who do not understand what I mean by the heading, kindly read this blog post.

OK. Now that you have gone through and understood the survival kit, read on.........

Having gone through a rigorous (which means spending hours and hours "working" from home on your "project") value chain process (which was, incidently, for 2 months. Same as that of our internship season. With the company people treating us like those strategizing type B-School interns), I realized that the survival kit actually helped me out quite a lot during this "tumultuous" "waiting a MILLION GAZZILLION YEARS for a five minute meeting" time. And this is how....

STEP 1 : The PPT. 

Bill Gates certainly did come to the rescue with that wonderful piece of software. It is amazing how much a little bit of animation here and there can add a lot of "value" to a presentation. Kudos to him and his company for coming up with the concept of "smart art". Your PPT wouldn't look like a PPT, if not for these amazing inventions. This just reiterates the fact that Bill Gates IS the father of strategy. The "Gate"way to effective strategizing, you might say! Ha!

References, as you may have guessed, have been handpicked from "you know where". (If you don't, then you are not an effective strategist. Kindly re-read the survival kit before proceeding.)

There were loads of excel sheets and graphs in the PPT. It's amazing how the panelists' eyes just widen when they see a link in a PPT with the words "MODEL" written on it. It's like they were expecting Heidi Klum to come up when you click on it. But then they see this grid with a whole lot of numbers splashed over. A lull in their expressions. A whole lot of strategic words (from us) later, and their faces would go back to the "HEY THAT IS HEIDI KLUM" expression. 

STEP 2 :  Keep in touch with your mentor. Frequently.

Every Monday and Thursday. We used to literally barge into my mentors' cabin. And give our 2 minutes of what we did. Which was followed by an hour and a half of the mentors' insights into the whole updates. Of which we understood only 2 minutes. Which would be our updates for the next meeting with the mentor. 

STEP 3 : Use of "strategic" words. 

Profitability mix. Volume and margin drivers. Scalpel vs Hacksaw. Eyjafjallaj√∂kull. Oh yeah. The presentation was glittered with strategic words. It was like giving the mentor umteen opportunities to conclude the presentation, in case he/she missed out on one of them. 

END RESULT 

A brilliant couple of months, and a presentation that was appreciated by the panel.

Having tested this kit during my internship season before jotting it down, and having successfully implemented the kit during these two months, I can give you my stamp of approval now. 

THE SURVIVAL KIT WORKS!

My main concern now is... did my mentor go through the kit before taking upon himself to mentor me...???

Friday, September 17, 2010

Deadlines : Saviour of the economy.

You keep doing something that you think is work. You are perplexed at the complexity of the problem. You try to do a Pareto analysis of the causes, only to realise that you don't even know that there WAS such a thing as a Pareto analysis. Your MECE and POA frameworks sound to you like a famous football player and a particular breakfast dish.

And then you get a deadline. 

All of a sudden, the work that you do makes sense. And you end up making a 125 slide ppt in no time. And add cool snazzy animation alongwith it. Something that would normally take you a million years would, all of a sudden, take you less than a day. Your Pareto analysis is done in a jiffy, as though you knew it inside out the whole time. You do your MECE framework as skilfully as Messi would play football, and POA as brilliantly as the Poha you get to eat. (Yep. Finally understood the attempted joke at the end of the first paragraph, right?)

My theory on deadlines is (Let's call it the Kartik principle): 

99% of your work gets done in 1% of the time before your deadline.

Deadlines do exactly what spinach does to Popeye. Imagine, if Popeye had spinach in the beginning of the cartoon, you would never HAVE Popeye cartoons in the first place! But then, Popeye would have had his own deadline. Hence, that cartoon just emphasises my point over here. If you can understand it. No?

I am sure that if Thomas Edison were working for a company with deadlines, would have done 9995 of the 10000 attempts to come up with the light bulb in the last week before the deadline. Ditto Suresh Kalamadi. Oh wait, he is already doing that!

Now, while doing your MBA, the scenario changes a little bit. Deadlines are there specifically for the students to make more deadlines. This is partly why a lot of the MBA students end up doing well in strategic and negotiating positions.

You are given something to do by a particular day (SUBMISSION BY 11:59:59 PM!!). You wait till exactly 11:29:59 PM, and then call up the professor, to extend the deadline. This process continues, till you finally realize that the term in which that subject was taught, is over. Then a nightout later, you are done with whatever it is you had to submit. Come to think of it, if we had worked from 11:29:59 PM to 11:59:59 PM, we would have completed the thing. But then, that's not what deadlines are for, right?

And that, my friends, is THE REASON why the meltdown in the world economy took place. In India, you had the MBA boom (which, I think, is still going pretty strong. It's going to take a really strong needle to break that particular bubble!). While in B-Schools, these enterprising students were doing the exact same thing described in the previous paragraph. A lot of these people, in the process of getting their coveted PPOs and final placements, went to financial hubs of the world, like the US and the UK. Obviously, once in the industry, they would do the same thing. A lot of time was spent negotiating on the deadlines, that the actual thing for which the deadline was kept in the first place, was missed out. The financial breakdown was when they realised "Oh! It's just like the term got over and we haven't submitted our project yet!!!", and finally decided to work on it. And the result? The economy is doing much better than before.

Thus, if you really look at it (Oh. This sentence reminded me of that strategy class), the main reason for the economy coming up now, is deadlines. I can only imagine what would have happened, if those deadlines were not there in the first place!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Important lesson learnt!

Every now and then, there come these moments that teach you very important, life altering lessons. These are incidents that you would keep in mind, whenever you encounter another similar situation. You may even pass on these vital lessons to your children when you are old, and they may even thank (or act indifferently) you for that.

One such incident happened recently. I had gone to my friend's place in Nanachowk (a place in South Mumbai). And was about to come back after a good day's work. The time is around 8 PM.

Being the adventurous person that I am, I decided to take the Mumbai local train from Grant Road station to Dadar. On reaching the station, I find a slow train just whiz by. Sad that I couldn't catch that particular train, I see the train schedule and find that there's a fast train reaching the station in a couple of minutes.

The thoughts that go through my mind at that very moment : 

Ooh. Fast train! Just one stop and then I reach Dadar! WOOHOO!
Slow train. So many stops to reach Dadar. BOOHOO!

So I run to the third platform, where I see the train coming from the distance. I think "OH YEAH JUST IN TIME!!", and then was reminded of how warehouse operations work in The Mobile Store. (Bad attempt at cracking a joke, na?)

Somehow, it never ever occured to me that this was MUMBAI. The place where there is never a shortage of people. Even at midnight it would take you an hour to travel from King's Circle to Sion Circle (a distance of 1.5 Kms max). Even at 1 in the morning, Dadar station would be brimming with people, eagerly waiting to dive into the next train that comes, as though if they din't, it would be the end of the world. 

Dadar station is crowded, 24*7. If God had made the day 26 hours and the week 8 days, it would not have made any difference to the crowd in Dadar station. It always looks as though the whole world gets in and out of Dadar station.

Anyways, on seeing this fast train, I was suddenly reminded of surface tension of water. (You know, where water does not spill over immediately. It bulges out a bit before finally spilling over.) These Mumbai local trains have HUGE, IMMENSE surface tension. People just keep hopping into the train, and a lot of them end up hanging out. But no one manages to get out of the train. And no one spills over, either. So the bulge just gets bigger and bigger, with people hanging on as if their lives depended on it. (On second thought, their lives DO depend on it!)

In life, when you reach a certain doomed position, there is always that small light at the end of the tunnel, through which you crawl to and thus get your way out of.... the situation. Just like that, in this over-crowded train (It's an understatement, "over crowded". There were more people in that train than in the World Cup final held in South Africa.), there was a minute, microscopic gap, through which us mortal beings had to dive into, before the train left the station. I decide, in my usual Dadar "getting into the train" style, to barge into that little teeny weeny gap, pushing away everyone else who was getting in my way, and get into the train.

What I did not know, at that time, was that this fast train had absolutely no one getting out at Dadar. So now I'm in the middle of the train, standing on one leg, with my laptop bag on the top of my head, screaming my head off at the next person to move, so that I could atleast be near the door. 

The good thing was, I did not have to hold on to any railing, because all the other people around me were giving very good support to me (IT WAS THAT FREAKING CROWDED!). Even while on one leg.

Another good thing was, these Mumbaikars are very resistant to abuse. It just as though they keep hearing it everyday. They are just immune to it.

In Mumbai : 

Me : "!#!!@!@#!# MOVE!! I NEED TO GET DOWN NOW!!"

Other person : "Meh. Wait. hmph." 

and helps you out in the best way he can.

In Delhi : 

Me : "!#!!@!@#!# MOVE!! I NEED TO GET DOWN NOW!!"

Other person : "!#!!@!@#!# !@#!# !@#$#$%$%^% YOU !!#!@$#^#%"

and thus would start the Third World War. Literally.

So, on one leg, with the laptop bag on my head, I somehow manage to reach somewhere in the vicinity of the door of the train. Then, I see Dadar station. Oh wait... I don't see the station. Just the heads of millions of eager beavers looking on, desparately trying to find their way into this already brimming train.

There was only one thing left to do, if I was to get out of that train in one piece.

DDDDDDDIIIIIIIIIIIVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

(Before the train draws to a halt. VERY IMPORTANT! Diving after it stops means you would just be diving back into the train, because of the sheer force of people from outside trying to come in. It would be like diving head on to a wall!)

Peter Schmeichel and Jonty Rhodes would have been proud of me, had they seen that. So would have Christiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben, for that matter. There was no fear of breaking bones, backs or laptops because the people in the station would definitely cushion my fall. 

It was just like in one of those music concerts. You know, where you are having a nice time, and you just jump from the stage onto the crowd. WOOOOOOOOO!!! No fear.

I told all this to my friend the next day, when I met him.

Me : Oh you will not believe what happened last night!!....  .....

Friend : Oh. You should have taken the bus. It stops right outside your place and my place!

Me : :| (completely speechless)

IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNT

Do NOT, even in the wildest of your dreams, even THINK of boarding a train from Grant Road station to Dadar. Doing that would be your one way ticket to heaven. Or to one hell of an adventure!