Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twitter buys Mixer labs

Just read that Twitter bought Mixer labs for an undisclosed amount. This company helped developers create products that cater to specific locations. These things help in delivering local ads to its residents. It will help both the customers in finding the right service/store, and the seller in finding its customers.

Looks like after so much talk of its potential, finally Twitter is taking concrete steps towards ad revenues.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tell me about yourself

The past one month or so saw so many events and buildup to those events that it seemed like an entire year.
One of the reasons for this misaligned time length perception was the dreaded HR interview.  From the hallowed area of placement office, word seemed to spread that preparation for the HR interview would be crucial during the placement season.

The more meticulous (and jobless) inhabitants now sought "suitable" answers to more than 100 possible HR questions. The ones with more diversified activities, though primarily directed at finding a "good" job - chose to work on a set of two or three questions. Then there were others for whom job was a backup plan, so they just tried to answer the single most difficult question - "Tell me about yourself."

When I heard this question for the first time, I was amused. Why should such a innocuous question be dreaded so wildly. But, as it turns out, there is more waves associated with this question than the acoustic ones.

Few pointers to let you know why this question is important:
1) The interviewer needs sometime to go through the resume. If you point at things that (s)he needs, then the work of both you and the interviewer are simplified.
2) Will you fit well into the company culture?
3) How are your past experiences relevant to the job you have applied for.

But most importantly, the interviewer wants to know DO YOU KNOW ABOUT YOURSELF!
When people are self aware and take conscious decisions to pursue something - they are more likely to succeed and do well. And at a place where there is little to choose between the caliber of different applicants, the interest in the pursued field determines the chances of success.

Its easy to believe that one could say that one is passionate about something despite not being so. But the trouble here is that passion is transparent. Unless you are George Clooney, you will not be able to demonstrate the passion as well as someone who is genuinely interested.

Being self aware also helps in answering unexpected questions, then you have to answer honestly, simply because you haven't prepared any answer. Here your true interest will be reflected.

So if you are sitting for placements in the coming days, then please do ask yourself about yourself - why you chose what you did, why you want to do what you are choosing and how will what you did help you in what you are choosing now.

In the response to this question, you just have to convey two things:
1) Your passion
2) How your past will help you perform better at the position applied for.

Best of luck to everyone reading this post. May the force be with you.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Cricket as an educator in India

Cricket is by far the most followed game in India. While watching the game last week, I realised how much learning can and is imbibed (though unintentionally).

When the game is well balanced, the whole nation is busy dividing numbers by six, substracting numbers, finding the number of ways to get to a certain sum in atmost certain number of variables - which are constrained by being non-negative and less than equal to 6. Even problems like assigning weights to different players and devising ways to maximise the rewards (runs) in a set of discreet steps.

Other than improving our mathematical skills, It is also responsible for improving our language skills. It accustoms us to "foreign" accent. (Who does not like to enjoy Geoffrey Boycott describe events in his wonderful style) Besides, there is our own homegrown Navjot Singh Sidhu - with his wonderfully crafted one-liners, He has added more of the creative imagination to the Indian masses than any other single source.

Cricket in itself adds to one and a half of the three R's (Read, wRite, aRithmetic). It helps people come up with things to say - hence the half of writing. Maybe its time government introduced cricket watching and playing programs in its schools. It will both help kids learn and keep them interested in school.

PS - The idea for this post came to me when I was talking to my friend Abhishek Gandhi.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Express your disgust at child abuse

Tulir is organising a rally against Child Sexual Abuse. Join us at Marina beach, 4:00 pm on 15th Nov.

Here is their post.

Join us at a Rally against Child Sexual Abuse

Nov 15, 2009

Gandhi statue to Labour staue, Marina Beach, Chennai

4.oo pm.

Sexual abuse of children is frightening, often unimaginable & an abhorrent crime. Deafening silence is the hallmark. While it's the moral obligation for adults to ensure children are protected, we remain silent. More often than not for plain selfish reasons. The discomfort caused if acknowledged, the denial that our children can be sexually abused, family reputation at stake, sheer naiveté. Then there’s the quietness of the children. Because of the manipulation, ignorance, fear.

A silenced vulnerable child & a silent non-protective environment-working to an abuser’s advantage. Since usually victims are their relatives, neighbors, students, friends etc.

While in India we are just beginning to acknowledge the existence of abuse, Tulir has the belief & audacity of hope that it won't be long that larger community realizes the prevalence, dynamics & subsequent impact. The sabotage of a child’s right to a childhood. The often less than optimally led lives as adults.

A a society’s integrity & worth is not based on whether cases of sexual abuse exist. Instead it's based on the acceptance of the possibilities & proactive steps taken to respond in a timely & appropriate way to ensure that its children may benefit from its caring & foresight to truly have the right to be safe all the time, everywhere. After all, there is no excuse for child sexual abuse!

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Artificial markets are just that

First up, Asterix (and Obelix) turned fifty this week - and this line goes out to its creators for giving us such a wonderful hero to look up to. If its not known to the reader (or is not conspicuous by the name of the blog) I am a fan of Obelix. So I was re-reading their series and read this particular story "Obelix and Co."

In this story, Caesar send one of his economists to the Gaulish village to disrupt normal life there. This chap goes and buys Obelix's menhirs at exponentially rising prices and turns the village into a unit producing menhirs and hunting boars. The menhirs don't have an existing market so extensive marketing and brand building is used to create a market for them. But competition lowers the prices and trade unions force policy changes for even more entrants. The profits decline while menhirs are being bought at exorbitant prices. It causes a credit crunch at Caesar's.

Lessons to be learnt from the story -
1) Artificial Markets are Artificial. Only if you serve a genuine want of the customer, do you have a chance when the novelty of the product/idea goes out.
2) Relaying on predictions when the artificiality of the market is not recognised can be dangerous. Augmenting your inventory on rose-colored predictions which don't take into account competition and customer sentiments is as huge a folly as any one else.
3) If you don't have a niche, you wont survive. The competition will always catch up. the head start that you had might not be good enough in most cases - more so in the manufacturing sector than the services sector. The customer must be able to look at the product and say - hey, I want this brand. Not I want this product -any brand will do.

Fascinating how much one can notice when one is not looking!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reader's digest files for bankruptcy

A sad news indeed.
I remember being a fan of RD as a kid. But it has succumbed, to the rise of internet, more than recession. Print media has been struck real bad by the free content on th enet.

And there is no looking back. I dont think there is anyway that people can be coaxed into reading, and paying for, something that they can read on the internet for free.

The younger generation, the ones who have seen computer from an early age, are often more comfortable reading off the screen than from a printed version. Add to that the ubiquitous nature of free content, you know that the print media is fighting a losing battle.
The only way print media can tide over to the profit side is by providing content on the net. Right now, most media houses have free content on the net.

But this is not sustainable - because it requires the same amount of effort to produce content for the net, as it does for printing. The first thing that media houses must realize s that popularity is not revenue. You might be the most popular news agency on the internet - but that does not give you anything. Sure, you can find some advertiser on the web - but arent there too many websites vying for the same set of advertisers? The law of diminishing returns sets in very soon in such a market.

The only way out for the media houses is to have a free and a premium section, where the free section drives the masses . And the premium section catering to specialized news requirements.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

A just society

I have heard a lot of noises about people not getting enough opportunities, someone getting an edge due to his/her parentage, division of society based on caste and religion. I hereby proposed a different setting of a society where everyone eats what (s)he earns.

1) Every kid - no matter what so ever - is taken into a state-run residential school. This school is funded by the taxpayer, and has caretakers besides teachers and support staff as employees.

2) Every kid goes to a fully funded (by the taxpayer, again) college. The entrance to which is by a test. The discipline of study is chosen by the kid him/her self.

3) Everyone works for a living. and all the money accessible to him/her is that what the person and his/her spouse has earned.

4) Invalids, and too-old-to-work people are taken care of by the society.

5) All the money after the death of the couple goes to the society. The only inheritance of money is after the demise of a spouse, it goes to the other person.

I wonder why such a society has not been institutionalized yet.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Energy services companies and financing energy efficiency initiatives

Here is another one for the NERD magazine.

An Energy services company (ESCO) is “a company that provides energy-efficiency-related and other value-added services and for which performance contracting is a core part of its energy-efficiency services business”.

The revenues of these ESCOs are tied to the amount of energy they help their client to save. Most of the ESCO projects have a payback period of two years and typically they help reduce the energy costs by about 20 to 25%.

As an estimate, India's potential energy savings are in the tune of 180 Billion kWh annually. That is about 36% of our total consumption now.

ESCOs have a big role to play in the BRIC countries by increasing the economic viability of accelerated growth. In 2007-2008, Indian ESCOs had an annual revenue of US $ 18 million while during the same time, Brazil had an annual revenue of US $ 280 million - about 15 times larger.

ESCOs take up energy efficiency projects where they take up the charge of a plant, invest in the required infrastructure and charge the client according to the energy savings achieved. They act as a energy efficiency consultants as in they find ways to streamline the operations to reduce energy costs.

One problem that EE projects face is their financing. The fact that these projects are auxillary to the strategic plans of the institutions. In contrast Industrial restructuring projects are more planned and tend to have a higher thrust from the managers as they are directed towards the company's long term goals.

These energy efficiency projects are distinguished from industrial restructuring projects because most of the IR projects are aimed at improving the units' overall market competitiveness by process changes and product modifications. These often need larger investments and have longer payback periods. These projects need a strategic thinking by the managers about the the units' competitiveness in the changing market conditions. Improving energy efficiency is not the major reason for this activity and neither is it the most desired outcome.

EE projects on the other hand, don't change the process, neither do they change the product. It only concentrates on increasing the energy cash savings and not about the impact on future market growth of the product.

Of late, IFC has taken up some initiatives to fund purely EE projects. As banks have started understanding the short payback time that these projects tend to have, a lot of tailor-made funding options are coming up.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Random signals and parameterization

During my internship at IBM, I was working on a process of verification of hardware implementations by injecting signals into the design under test. Here the verification engineer has to be smart enough to guess the potential breakdown points of the hardware and inject those signals. To further test for robustness, random signals are injected. For another level of robustness, partialy random signals - biased towards the "guessed" potential breakdown points.

The whole idea when applied to life, seems to make so much sense that I was startled when I first thought about it. To test other persons' reaction, dont we drop hints suggesting things that we are not sure of the reaction from the other person?

This same thing, in a different setting sounds so much like a pre-product launch market survey. "Have a look at the need to be catered to(hardware) - Guess the ways which the market may respond in the way we want it to(guess the potential breakdown signals) - Give the market some products that hover around the previous guesses, see how the market reacts(Random signals biased towards the guessed potential breakdown points) - All this is done before the final product (chip) is launched into the market"

Fascinating, how concepts learnt in one sphere of life can be used in other spheres as well.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Smart grids and the concept of Distributed Generation

Here is something I wrote for the NERD (Notes on Engineering Research and Development) magazine. This magazine aims to motivate Indian students to write about their field of interest and research. It has got contributions form all the IITs plus a few from Indians outside India.

Distributed Energy generation typically refers to a multitude of small generators instead of having one huge generator that takes care of the entire load.

A smart grid is defined as one which integrates advanced sensing technologies, control methods and integrated communications into the current electricity grid.

So whats so different about these modern grids as compared to older grids? - The major difference is the fact that it is designed to deal with both ways power, rather than the traditional design where the grid just gives out power.

Comparing only the power delivering part, at the transmission level today’s grid is efficient, smart, intelligent. Its at the distribution level that there is a difference. At the distribution level and at the customer level, there are opportunities for automation, intelligent appliances, advanced data collection networks. This in part is because there was no need previously as there was little demand matching done. The Smart Grid makes it possible to integrate large scale intermittent generation through demand response.

The typical components of a smart grid are :-

1) SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), PMUs (Power Management Units), FACTs (Flexible AC transmission systems), Advanced Conductors - At the generation, transmission, substation levels. These things help in maintaining the power quality, reliability and efficiency .

2) Substation Automation. - Helps in resource utilization and demand matching.

3) Distribution Automation, MicroGrid. - Enables synchronization of distributed generators.

4) Advanced metering, Demand response, and distributed resources - at the customer end.
- Helps in demand matching at the consumer level. Ensures correct pricing as there is power both in and out of a building.(As the building also has a generator, when it is producing more than it needs, it sells power to the grid and when in deficit, it buys from the grid.)

So what does it achieve?

1) Reduce peak demand by actively managing consumer demand: The ratio of available appliances and equipment that can respond to both consumer and grid operator priorities continues to grow. Because these grids can manage power both out and in the grid, it will reduce the need for power, especially during high-use periods. like hot summer afternoons when the cost of producing and delivering power is extremely high.

2) Balance consumer reliability and power quality needs: Although some uses of electricity require near perfect reliability and quality, others are almost insensitive to these needs.
For eg- A device working on a resistor heating up or a motor rotating, does not really care a lot about the quality. But a device using electronics, needs to care more about the quality of power in. It cant afford to have a lot of frequency changes or voltage sags or swells.

Similarly, there can be some critical loads that need a very reliable power - Like a server or some central controller type thing cant afford to go off.

A smart grid will be able to distinguish the difference and adjust power reliability and quality accordingly at an appropriate cost.

3) Mine energy efficiency opportunities proactively: A smart grid will furnish consumers and utilities with accurate, timely, and detailed information about energy use. Armed with this information, one can identify ways to reduce energy consumption with no impact on our safety, comfort, and security.
This would mean that just be managing our demand and supply better, we can reduce the total amount of energy required. This will help us gain some understanding and insight into how our energy use affects our environment, and economy.

4) Improve overall operational efficiency: A smart grid is automated, and smart sensors and controls are integral to its design and operation. This will help the grid operators to easily identify, diagnose, and correct problems, and will even have the capabilities to anticipate problems before they happen.

5) Seamlessly integrate all clean energy technologies: Clean energy is so central to the idea of sustainable development that it cant be left behind, especially by a modern technology.Roof-top/side-wall solar systems, wind farms, small community hydro-plants and storage devices will become a fundamental part of the grid. These clean energy technologies will generate not only energy and power, but perhaps more importantly save on the fuel consumption.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More popular are the ones more talked about

Just read this interesting article which says that people look for common grounds to talk rather than talking about the better things. This is in a way a reiteration of "Matthew Effect" (The rich get richer, the poor get poorer).

But this research being done in the social domain, could mean a lot about the way marketing is perceived. The gurus knew all along that it works, but to be proved that it does work is a different thing.

Understanding this concept can help a lot in marketing, especially on the web. If somehow one could get their product to be discussed on the "right" forums - it automatically starts generating traffic. If you pay a battery of people to discuss your product on twitter, and it features on the twitter search list, it is very likely that other people will start discussing it - as it will seem like the "IN" thing. Or if you can get your product discussed on slashdot or technorati, it is very likely that it will be discussed beyond that as well.

In fact this love for likeliness is seen in at the school and college level : A popular guy/girl is talked more about, and he/she gets more popular. If a group of 5 people start saying out loud that a certain dress is cool, the whole school gradually comes to accept the same as cool. So it can be used in adolescent marketing too. FMCG markets typically have a huge chunk of the demand coming from teens and just-left-teens . To be able to project the product as cool, they need to be able to make an impression at school, colleges, FaceBook, MySpace - and in all likelyhood, it will catch up.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

भारतीय प्रोद्योगिकी संसथान, मद्रास की पत्रिका "दी फौर्थ इस्टेट" आपकी रचनाएँ आमंत्रित करती है।

ये बहुत ख़ुशी की बात है कि "आई आई टी मद्रास" की पत्रिका "दी फोर्थ एस्टेट" अब ब्लॉग के जरिये अपने पाठकों से संपर्क बना सकेगी। अब तक कई विषय जो पत्रिका के मुद्रित होने के पहले टिपण्णी का इन्तेजार करते हुए दम तोड़ देते थे, अब इस ब्लॉग में जगह पा सकेंगे। नया सम्पादकीय दल आगे के संस्करणों को और अधिक रोचक बनाने से प्रयास में लगा हुआ है। उम्मीद है कि इस बार भी हम पहले से बेहतर होते "दी फोर्थ एस्टेट" के हिंदी खण्ड को नई दिशा में सफल रहेंगे।

"दी फोर्थ एस्टेट" अपने अगले संस्करण के लिए रचनायें आमंत्रित करता है। रचनायों केप्रकाशन हेतु प्रस्तुतिकरण पर कोई बंधन नहीं है।

कोई भी बात हो, गुस्से के साथ हो,
झूझते जज्बात हों या प्यार की तकरार हो
कहानी या लेख हो या डेली सोप हो,
जीने की तलब हो या मौत ही बैखोफ हो
प्रोजेक्ट की बात हो या हॉस्टल की रात हो
राजनीति का खेल हो या कोर कोई बेमेल हो
शास्त्रा के शस्त्र हो या सारंग के रंग हों
हो शुरू ले के कलम छोड़ के सारे भरम
फोर्थ इस्टेट के नाम कर लेख अपने ताजे गरम

आप अपनी रचना झटपट पर भेज दीजिये. यदि आपको लगता है "दी फोर्थ एस्टेट" में कुछ कमी है तो अपने सुझाव तुंरत मेल कर डालिए.

आपके इन्तेजार में
आदित्य अंकित सत्येन्द्र

PS- For people for could not read the above few lines, dont despair. It was an announcement calling for entries for the Hindi (national language of India) campus magazine of IIT Madras.

PPS- For people who smell plagiarism, let me remind you that I am one of the hindi editors.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Different career options

This is something I wrote for the kids in school who want to choose a career which is non-traditional. As the academic coordinator for my school alumni association, We have posted it on my school notice board so to help students there.

I chose the path less traveled.

1) Art manager - One problem with Artists all over the world is that they are poor at marketing their art. This often means that they dont get the kind of money while they are alive as they get later on. As an art manager, you will have to take care of an artist's business. So that it allows him/her to make best use of his/her time while not worrying about a source of income.

This would require an understanding of the art and good convincing powers to get buyers to exhibitions.

2) Physio - Sports persons need a physio to look after their daily exercise and training while returning from an aliment.

This would require a good understanding exercises and what diet helps in what function besides some idea about the load a injured body can take so that it recovers fast.

3) Safety Engineer - Buildings often require someone who can certify that the building is safe for its designated use. All buyers of residential flats are advised to look for such a certification about its safety. Likewise, In an industrial setting, Companies often want to make sure that their building is safe to work in. That involves besides the safety of the structure, the environment at the place.

This requires knowledge about protection measures, lighting and ventilation requirements for residential and work usage, building structure testing and evacuation plans.

4) Environmental effect analyzer - There is a growing concern about human activity's detrimental effects on the environment. An EEA will have to look at different actions being taken by corporates and advising them so that the adverse effects are minimal.

With Copenhagen conference in less than six months from now, expect such jobs to be on a boom very soon.

This would require an aptitude for understanding various factors which affect the local and global eco-system, and more importantly, an ability to transform practices from worse to bad.

5) Energy Auditor - Energy costs are soaring right now. Everyone wants to cut down on their electricity wastage. In such situations, an energy auditor can pitch in with information on where the bulk of the wastage is happening and ways to reduce it.

An energy auditor to be effective will have to be a jack-of-all-trades. A person who has a working knowledge of various electrical and mechanical equipments, operations, and is aware of the various technologies available to solve a particular problem.

6) Web 2.0 Evangelist - The internet has revolutionized the way the world does business today. Your local shopkeeper can tell you about the latest offers at his place, you buy things from half way across the globe with the click of a button.

Businesses that fail to realize this potential, are losing their advantage. Most companies are awaking up to the reality that web 2.0 is, and this means that they need someone to promote their brand and business on the web - through twitter, facebook, youtube etc.

Passion for internet technology, and a knack for advertising without irritating the viewer is all that is required. On the net, the consumer has much more control over content than it the more traditional methods of advertisement - thats what makes it more challenging.

7) Event manager - Organizing an event is no mean job. One needs to ensure that everything is in place when its required. Besides the onus of publicizing the event also falls on the event manager.

People who know how to deal with people from all walks of life, can handle pressure and know how to get resources when in need are ideally suited for such a job.

8) Compering - This is the job for the fun-loving! Hosting an event, keeping the audience involved, pulling the crowd!

But, this is not for people who are shy and reserved. Only someone who gets along with people very well and fast, is a quick thinker and is spontaneous can make the cut here.

9) Architect - The infrastructure in India is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years. For that, we would need a lot of architects who can come up with engineering marvels that the country requires.

Creativity, along with building fundamentals is the quality to look for here.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

The little book of Flow

I generally don't post an entry here about something I read somewhere else unless I have something to say about it. But this time I am writing this just so that you guys and read it too. I read this 'essay' "The little book of flow" by Nick Smith, based on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's celebrated work - " Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience"

It seems as though you have your entire life's purpose described here. Just have a look. And yes, I don't really have anything to say about it except that its just too awesome.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Functionality is NOT the king!

I was thinking, what makes a product a hands down market leader and an also-ran. One thing I realised was that functionality is not the only criteria. If it were the same, FriendFeed would be much bigger than Twitter. Or for that matter, LinkedIn wouldn't be the market leader either. Or Google might have been oust by one of the many search engines that came up after it.
Same is true for mobile phones too. If functionality was the only criteria, the lot of "prettier" phones would have been replaced by the more "functional" ones. iPhone might just have gone extinct if it were only to be compared on functionalities with the blackberries. I had read somewhere that SAP proudly stated that they never show the product during the selling stage. Reason - because "nobody ever got sacked for buying SAP " !

The race for functionality is never ending. You could go on adding features to your product. It will never reach the marketing stage in this way. Functionality is not the main thing and the marketing people know it too! The product has to be only "good enough" on functionality. The rest is about the acceptability, portability and the perception. "If the whole industry uses SAP, then it must be good enough". "All my friends use Twitter, I don't want to use something else."

If it is all about functionality then it is an argument about diminishing returns, marginal differences and small variations. And often this is not nearly enough to win a client, cause a revolution, or shift opinions.

Frankly, as long as our needs (present, and foreseeable in the near future) are met, do we really care what more is on offer? After this point, perception takes over. If something is viewed as the "poor man's cow", it will not be bought by someone who wants to project a rich image. If google is the in-thing, why would someone use AOL?

The next thing is the change. The trouble of moving from one product to another. People love familiarity. Getting people to switch without showing them the huge advantages is not going to work. That's the reason that analysts claim that despite Wolfram Alpha's great features, it might not be able to overtake google. For the cost and disruptions would be too huge given the present slight edge in functionality.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Suicide Vs Murder

Of late, I have been having many murderous thoughts. And I really dont know how to get rid of them. So this post, so that I can vent out the thoughts.

I remember having discussions with my friends about whether or not one should commit suicide in the event of insurmountable difficulties. I held the view that one should rather murder than commit suicide. But now I see why people choose suicide over murder.

So what is it that invokes suicidal thoughts in humans? When a person is subjected to double talk - when on the surface everything seems very friendly and cordial but dig just a little bit and the irony glares on your face. In such a situation, the person might find it disturbing to kill someone who has been so friendly. But the person is being subjected to utter frustration of not doing anything and no one being able to tell him why. In such a situation, where the guilt of killing someone else is substantial but the person finds himself in an situation frustrating to death - the person can find suicide a better option.

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The next big thing on the net

Someone directed me to a link to the new project by Wolfram people called Wolfram Alpha saying that it was the next big thing on the net. My initial reaction to the claim was - "Ah, yet another big claimer!"

But 5 minutes into the site, and I was taken over by it. This project seeks to integrate all knowledge into one. You can put in any query and it gives you the "right" results. Much unlike Google, which directs you to further sites that might or might not (though they generally do) contain relevant information - Alpha gives you numbers and statistics about anything that can be represented by numbers. Like you could key in GDP of South Africa - And know all that you wanted to know in terms of numbers. Likewise if you key in "GE" in the stocks section, you could see how the trend for GE stocks has been for the last 1 week, 1 month, 1 year and 5 years! besides it shows you its market capitalization and the beta. If you search for AIDS deaths, then you get statistics for deaths across the world.

This thing could indeed become the next big thing in the net!

PS- The afore mentioned friend was Abhishek Gandhi, fondly(?) known as Tool here at IITM. He claims his connect to the first family of the country, but we are all too used to people who fake surnames to gather mileage !

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Of modelling Human beings and pseudo random number generators

While have a chat with my friend Abhishek over my previous post on irrational behavior of humans, I started thinking on how and if humans can be represented by random numbers (Afterall each one us is unique and essentially random).

I believe (as do a lot of evolutionary scientists) that our reaction to any stimulus depends on a lot of factors, like the genes we carry, the natural environment we have lived in, the kind of thoughts we have, our experiences, stimuli from the recent past etc. Evidently, there are far too many variables that can affect our decisions.

So is there a way to this apparent madness ? Can we call these effects totally random? Abhishek sure seems to think so. But I doubt it. If everyone had totally random characteristics, then we would have had a zero (neutral) average reaction to any stimulus. But, on the contrary, masses behave more in unison. So the seemingly random "personality trait numbers" have a non-zero mean. But this mean can only be seen in a "large enough" group.

So can traits of human beings be thought of as being generated by a pseudo-random number generator? After all, these can have a mean, are random for all practical purposes but everyone knows that these have been derived from some determinstic method. I really dont know. But the idea itself seemed too good not to be posted

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Irrational Pessimism

One of my close friends has written about irrational pessimism driving the economy down. Though I would like to take partial credit for injecting the thought into his head. He mainly talks about how people behave irrationally and how it affects markets.

My point-of-view is that people go with their animal instincts much more than their deterministic models. When someone senses danger, his/her reaction gets biased (for most people towards damage control and for a few others, towards risk taking). This precise difference in the nature and the magnitude of bias makes each one of us unique - and a pain for the economists to model.

If the economists also include this feature into the decision model (As the behavioral economics guys have been saying for sometime now ), then they wont be caught in awkward situations where the masses behave in a manner completely different from what they predict.

People don't always make choices based on their precise calculation of the odds. They go with what the feel is right - and the fact that most things can not be put in numbers directly also means that in translating things to numerical terms itself brings in the bias that the numerical analysis sought to avoid. Maybe the next step would be to model people based on a the major bias that they have - maybe conduct a survey and see in which direction and how much are people biased. And then predict things - that would certainly do a better job than what it does right now.

PS- (kidding alert )Irrational pessimism is the kind which can not be put in the form of p/q where p and q are integers and q is not 0. (/kidding alert)

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Thursday, May 7, 2009


I have written a lot about my Reliance intern but not about my other internship at ITC. I worked on improving the energy efficiency in their manufacturing unit at Munger cigarette factory.

Right now I am interning at IBM, Banglore. I will be working on verification of chips. I have just started out, so dont really know whats in store. Will keep you guys posted.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

The top 10 reasons due to which Sun failed

Sun Microsystems - once upon a time a $200 billion company and the owners of Java was bought out by Oracle for $7.4 billion a few days back.

Dan Baigent, was a senior director at Sun microsystems when the company got acquired. He started out to write the top ten reasons why Sun failed. Unfortunately he could write only 3. The company cracked down on it and took the posts off. However, the good (?) google is here to help us.
It has stored a cache of those pages.

The top 10 reasons why Sun failed to leverage its market potential. (Only #10, 9 and 8 are there, Dan never got to write more than that.)

The #10 Reason that Sun is Setting: We failed to understand the x86 Market - "We approached the market in the only way we knew how - as an extension of our high-end, low-volume, high-value approach to network computing. And not just in terms of product features and capabilities, but in terms of sales, partnerships, channel programs and supply chain management."

The #9 Reason that Sun is Setting: Messing with the Java Brand - "numerous attempts by well-meaning marketing folks at Sun to try exploit the value of the Java brand itself and how that ultimately reduced the very value they tried to exploit. To some degree, this is as much about the lack of value in the Sun brand (at least outside our loyal customer base) as it is about Java" ".... and the changing of our stock symbol to JAVA . (It) was a sad attempt to make Sun's stock more recognizable on Wall Street, as if that's what we created the Java brand for."

The #8 Reason that Sun is Setting: Fumbling Jini - "The real problem was that the engineers had built this technology using the latest Java platform...When launched, Jini could not run in anything smaller than a device with 64MB of memory and a Pentium-class processor.... Meanwhile, Marketing and PR were off describing uses of the technology that were all about small devices (cameras, printers, cell phones, etc.) that were completely unable to run RMI, nonetheless the Jini on which it was built. Jini should have been first-and-foremost about distributed computing. ... worse still, we left the door so wide open on distributed computing that Microsoft and others were able to walk through it."

Probably Sun does not believe in learning from mistakes or worse, thinks that letting the mistakes out in the open could mean lower respect for the brand image. The only way that is possible is when while knowing your mistakes, you still go on commiting them.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The naivety of the Indian energy policy makers

I just read this news on India proposing a new gas pipeline from Turkmenistan. The country is gas-rich and theoretically has a great potential to abate our energy crisis.

All of the less-informed, low-intellect, mortal, aam-aadmi know that you can NOT trust an Islamic militant country to protect our lifeline. But out dear 'IAS-babus' seem to know better.

I assume that their rational is that economic powers will keep the pipeline safe. But if they could not secure their pipeline to Russia, a fortnight back - I don't see how they can guarantee the safety of this project. Turkmenistan is riddled with foreign policy troubles - being bullied by both US and Russia while it tries to stand up to Russia with US aid. And the fact that it shares a large part of its border and culture with Afghanistan does not sound too well for the prospects of the pipeline. Any pipeline that goes through Afghanistan & Pakistan and comes to India just doesn't feel safe enough.

The incumbent energy policy makers probably were weighing only the economic benefits from the project when they decided to pursue it. But the fact remains that many decisions involve other considerations - especially those taken by extremists, value schadenfreude very highly. And to give them access to something that could staunch our economy seems particularly foolish -if not diabolical.

And aside from the militant threat, we would rather not be the proverbial grass (When two elephants fight, its the grass that gets trampled - African proverb) in the fight between Russia and US over the dominance in the region. US has been trying hard to cut into the soviet dominance in the central Asian region, and Russia is not willing to let go of its strategic buffer. And the fact that we have been "friends" with both of these countries while still managing to keep the other around means that we could be "reprimanded" slightly by either. Though I strongly believe that they would not want to curtail India - We are a big source of income for both the countries. But why give them an opportunity?

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Business Scalability in the Manufactoring sector

As promised earlier, here's my post on how to shape your business for scaling up, if you are in the manufacturing domain.
Most of the articles that I have read talk about up scaling the business in the web or the software domain. None really talked about applying the same principles to achieve scalability in business in the manufacturing domain.

I strongly believe that the principles of business scalability transcend the boundaries of the business domain. When we say that we need to structure the business model for scalability, we need a revenue model that is self perpetuating. One first needs to find out who the customer is. The next thing to figure out (and this is the most important thing) is to figure out what is it that will further your product's demand. And create your revenue model based on these answers.

Now lets focus on the manufacturing industry, If lets say it is a electrical machines manufacturer - that specialises in precision control. The company would probably then want to create a assembly line type product chain. So that each product sold in the market would create demand for more similar products. (If you want to have a more detailed/customised revenue model, you will have to pay me)

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Sanity & Insanity

For the past few days, I have been pondering over the question of Sanity and what it means to be sane or insane.
Havent really got an answer right now, but here are some of my status messages and responses to it.
Hope it makes an interesting read.

Ankit Ashok believes sanity is overrated
- Prithvi Raj likes this.

Ankit Ashok believes that calling someone sane is euphemism.
- Shweta Satish at 10:39pm April 19
y all this obsession wid sanity all of a sudden?
- Ankit Ashok at 10:48pm April 19
because I just realised that sanity is trifling and insanity is the only route to salvation
- Shweta Satish at 11:01pm April 19
y do u always talk like ur Socrates' Godson? =P
- Ankit Ashok at 11:05pm April 19
I am not, I was Socrates in one of my previous incarnations.
- Tanvi Sinha at 11:32pm April 19
looks like u having serious issues with sanity
- Ankit Ashok at 11:36pm April 19
Thats what sane people like you think, dear Lady.
Leave the constricted spaces of sanity, come plunge into insanity - and experience the tranquility.

Ankit Ashok is wondering who determines what's sane and what's not?
- Mohinish Sinha at 6:25am April 20
Sanity is the concept developed by the mediocre to protect themselves.. so u can guess for urself the answer to ur question !

- Shweta Satish
Shweta Satish at 7:36pm April 20
@ Ankit : Thanx dude :) That puts me in which category? sane or insane? =P
- Ankit Ashok at 8:03pm April 20
@Shweta : If you seek acceptance for your work, it sadly puts you in the sane category. But the creative types generally have the honor of being called insane.

So it really depends on how you look at this achievement.

- Shweta Satish at 8:07pm April 20
Wow Ankit!! I hereby name u my DEFINITION GUY!! u've got an uncanny way of givin the perfect definition for anythin under the sun!!
- Ankit Ashok at 8:24pm April 20
@ Shweta : To define is to constrict, this is like attaching fetters to the idea to insanity.
I only enunciate, I let people think for themselves. I never confine, I only give people a thought to ponder.
The god's goodness encompasses all that is under-the-sun and beyond , so does the tranquility of insanity.

Ankit Ashok is experiencing the calm that is insanity.

Ankit Ashok just realised that Creativity and Sanity are mutually exclusive.

Ankit Ashok just realised that people will call you insane if they dont have the brains to understand what you are doing.

Ankit Ashok is dangerously sane.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Logic of a "free" customer

For the past few days, I have been thinking about how much is a 'free' customer worth.
For example, All the social networking sites like Facebook, Orkut, MySpace offer free logins for anyone. Similar is the case for eBay.

For example on eBay, all buyers are free registrants . Only the sellers pay - and that too when they get a product to sell. This gives rise to an interesting situation - without 'free' buyers, there are no sellers - and without the sellers the revenue model fails.

Similar is the case with Orkut - without the free users, there are no ads, and hence no money. But its slightly complicated here as Orkut is owned by Google. so there might be opportunity costs involved. like for example, when someone clicks on ads by google from a third party site, google must be paying something to that site as well (as it does in adsense). So when Google values its Orkut users, it will also factor in these savings.

Facebook epitomizes this type of revenue model - it allows advertisers to select their target group very effectively. Allowing them to streamline their ad via features such as
* Location
* Age
* Sex

* Keywords
* Education
* Workplace

* Relationship Status
* Relationship Interests
* Languages

But exactly how useful are these customers? there might be some customers who never click on any ads. Or for that matter, sell products on eBay. So these people never make money for the company. On second thoughts, these might still generate some revenue for eBay - by increasing the selling price through competitive bidding.

This thought cropped up in my head while listening to a presentation on the revenue models followed by browsers. Since then I have not been able to stop thinking about it. So HAD to publish it. Anyone who has some idea on this, please do comment/ contact me. I wish to learn more about this fascinating concept.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How frank should our leaders be?

Last night I read Mohinish Sinha's article on leadership. It talks about a situation where leaders dont either see the bad picture (due to their own rosy glasses) or dont want to let it out in the open lest everyone else comes to know of it. He says "...Leaders, whose self concept is brittle, hesitate to call the truths lest they will be found out. ..."

However, as I see it, there is another side of the story. As he writes in the preceding line, " Organisations tend to mimic the behaviors of the leaders at the top." So a leader might want to shield the bad news from the employees - just to keep them motivated. This, however noble it appears, is not without its flaws. A leader has to be able to see the whole picture, and know the short-comings well. So even if the bad news is not let out in the open, it has to be dealt with - firmly.

HBS too had a similar article/ opinion poll sometime back. They talk about the National leaders during times of crisis. The question posed is if or how frank or deceptive should the leaders be during crisis. The leader showing negative sentiments is not a good sign and it tends to reduce the general morale. However no one wants a leader who lives in a cocoon of self-deception and believes that everything is fine.

As is reported elsewhere, about 70% communication happens via non-verbal means. So the self-deceptive will come out as more natural and more convincing while the one who understands realty will show some signs of distress. But human brain is pretty good at understanding cues from fellow human beings. We can understand if someone is in a slight distress and still very optimistic. Most people would trust such a person more than someone who shows no signs of crisis.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Classic Chennai is now open!

The Chennai group of Microsoft Student Partners presents "Classic Chennai" , a fiesta of month-long ONLINE competitions Supported by Microsoft, held from March 15th , 2009 to April 15th , 2009. Lots of Exciting prizes to be won!!!

Mix your creativity with the love for the city, and win loads of prizes.

This is an opportunity for all college students across India to talk about Chennai. Any Indian student enrolled for a full-time course is eligible to take part in this extravaganza.

The Chennai edition of the MSPs want the students to think about their city, and we are fully aware that its not just the technical students who love the city – so this event is totally non-technical.



The theme of each event revolves around the vivid city of Chennai and what you think makes it Classic.

Event list:

BLOG –O- CHENNAI : Blogging Ride the Blogger’s paradise for one whole month on the theme 'Classic Chennai'.

PALETTE –DE- CHENNAI : Poster Designing If you can design a poster that outlines Chennai and its highlights in its best form, Palette -de -Chennai IS the platform for you. Are you game ?

THE CLASSIC CHENN-EYE : Photography It’s all about the “being at the site at the right time”. Is photography your passion? Come aboard The Classic Chenn-eye.

SYNTH@CC : Photosynth Merge and weave together multiple images to illustrate what is in a three dimensional world onto a two dimensional screen losing none of the details using " Microsoft Live Labs photosynth " :

LIGHTS, CAMERA, CHENNAI! : Short filmmaking
A Classic movie, the one that touches your sensibility is an outcome of the effort of the man behind the camera. Is it time that you assumed that skeletal role in the making of a memorable film, get noticed !

Capture a busy metro, a vivid environment with a blend of cultures the way you see it with eyes and play it for your audience. Yes! Let Envisage Chennai, the Documentary event lead you all the way.

The CNUG Student Community always strives to bring the best and latest technology into the lives of all of Chennai’s students. Classic Chennai is a unique initiative that not only serves as a platform to encourage young talent but also throws light on how recent technology can help nurture that talent, especially in the field of arts & entertainment. Throughout this month, sessions on technologies like Photosynth and talks by experts on filmmaking and photography to encourage and help participants, are also on the offering.

Contact us at:

Phone : 9884280854

PS - Read newspaper articles about classic chennai here and here.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Irony - as (or do ) we understand it

I had heard this classical hindi song called "पानी में मीन प्यासी | मोहे सुन सुन आवत हांसी ||..." - when I was kid - when translated to English, it reads "I find it really funny that the fish feels thirsty despite being in water..." . It somehow surfaced from my subconscious to the 'everyday-mind' a few days back. And from there on, I could always recognise some irony that reminded me of the song.

The fact is that we are so obsessed with our own understanding of the world and its accompanying prejudices that we tend to ignore/discredit things that do not fit into our instinctive model. Like the other day, I was talking with my friends about the potential for extra-terrestrial life - and almost everyone seemed to believe that they will need an organic photosynthesis (or its sillicon analogous compound). But why cant it be that case that they derive their energy not from a external sun- but from its core itself. We tend to ignore this possibility simply because we assume that life will not be sustainable at those temperatures. When I first proposed this, the audience was startled and started rubbishing it even without thinking. Then when we discussed it with some cool head, it turns out that everyone was convinced that it could indeed be the case. This is a classic case of prejudices blocking our vision.

In a general case, just because others covet a particular thing, it does not mean that the person having it will find it of any or much use. A typical case would be that of abundance - if someone has more money than what he/she finds sufficient, any incremental money has very little potential for making the person happy. Same could be the case with the protagonist fish in the afore mentioned song. Its our own inability to judge the drive of others that induces laughter at the situation - so in a way we are mocking ourselves.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My foodie fantasies

I often fantasize about food.
Of course I have dreams where I create technology to the obliterate energy shortage of the world. It generally is a amalgamation of more efficient machines and in-situ electricity generation. But this post is not about that. Its about my food dreams.

I dream about being surrounded by tandoori items - from murg angara to chicken tikka, from fish tikka to rosht ghost. In my sleep, I can almost feel the taste on my taste buds.

Then there are other nights where I am in a orchard specializing in nothing in particular - infact, it has grapes, apples, chikus, watermelons & bananas - all at the same place. Entierly mindful of the fact that there is a very little chance of having a the suitable climate for it to happen, I allow myself a little leeway - for its just a dream!

Then there are nights where I conjure up images of my mother cooking some wonderful food for me. Any food that she cooks tastes delicious to me - As I believe, is the case with everyone else.

Then there are nights where I have a full punjabi meal with makke-di-roti , sarson-da-saag & lassi. On other nights, I don a more continental taste with lasagna, steak & baked bowl finding favour.

PS- This post have been specially prepared for those people who are planning to throw a party. If your platter includes any of the aforementioned items, please do call me. I will grace the occasion with my presence. :P

PPS- If you dont know my address/phone number, and want to invite me for a party, no problem. just email me at . I WILL contact you.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

MicroFinance - The double bottom Line

MFIs(Micro Finance Institutions) are businesses, they exist to make money; as do any other business.
One can not charity on borrowed/dreamt-up money. Or as the recent banking goof-ups(?) have told us, One cant enjoy luxury on dreamt-up money.

But for now, we are talking about MFIs, which take pride (and rightly so) in doing a social good - by lending loans to fulfill dreams, ambitions, needs.

So its only natural that they have two bottom lines, one that talks about the financial status and other, about the social.

This also in turn tells about the company's average loan balance as a % of per capital GDP of the society of operation. Essentially it talks about the the average lending as a % of average earning capacity of the locality.

A double bottom line undoubtedly helps MFIs attract soft lending and investments from socially responsible investors However,having a double bottom line also means that MFIs may also undertake less profitable activities if it fits the social good framework. After all, if it reflects positively on the bottom line, it is a good investment. These efforts can lead to a higher cost structure for the business, although in some cases, this may also be rewarded with higher yields.

PS- I was reading through the ways in which a valuation of MFI is conducted, and this seemed so different from the single minded bottom-line corporate culture that I had an insurmountable urge to write about it.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

I am elated

Tulir - a NGO - (with whom I have been associated with for more than a year now) just received a mail from a guy(gal) saying that he(she) saw my blog through the Microsoft Student partner (MSP) link and that he(she) was really touched by my previous post on Tulir.

Further he(she) wants to work with this team to help in eliminating child sexual abuse. It feels really good if one gets even a single person to help in a cause you believe in.

Here is an excerpt from the mail:
"...when i read a blog by a student from IIT -madras called ankit ashok who had mentioned about an NGO where he was working and thought it was something i found was a real social problem and have been wanting to do something about it, but did not know how to go about and realised that i could really do something about this problem if i was a part of your organisation."

Boy, I hope more people will get interested in eradicating this social evil.

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Scope for Microfinancing in India

I was born at a nondescript place in rural Bihar. Today, when I look at the the place, I see a lot of potential - waiting to be leveraged. An educated youth wanting to enhance his skills just so much as to get a job; A cattle manager wishing to increase his cattle strength to supply milk to larger consumer group (btw, I was amazed by this guy's implicit economic concepts- he talked about economics of scale and incremental cost vs production - though not in those words) ; a trader that sees a potential for home-made incense sticks.

There are a lot of needs that exist and wants that can be created among the population in the countryside. Many of them have the desire, the dream of making it big - to grow. But one of the major road blocks in executing these (seemingly) ambitious plans is the non-availability of loans to (seemingly) non-credit worthy clients.

This is where a microfinance firm comes in. These guys are supposed to see the demand critically, analyse the credit-worthiness of the person; And provide support for these people to grow.

There is little point in giving loans for consumption, the growth comes only for money used in productive way. If the loan is spent in celebrating some thing, true - the money goes into the economy and keeps the ball rolling. But if the same amount is used invested in a business, the economic effects are multiplied many times over.

It's this growth of small enterprises that really drives the economy. I hope that MFIs will help in extensive proliferation such small/cottage/medium size industries and leverage our country from a developing to a developed one.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

The killer after the euphoria

I went for dinner at Barbecue Nation on Osman road last night. Wonderful food, good ambiance. LOVED every bit of it, with great starters, Lamb kofta, Claypso fish & Crab. It was worth every penny.

And today morning I received the terrible news. I have been allocated RR-M2 mess for the month of February. This is supposed to be the worst mess at IITM by miles. Should one be punished so heavily for missing the mess registration?

If the hostel affairs secretary is reading this, please make sure that from next time, the guys who miss the registration is allotted the same mess as the month before.

I am happy that February is the shortest month of the year :P

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Scalability of business

Just read Anurag Srivastava's note (on facebook) dealing with scalability of business and life in general.

He writes
" .... what keeps one going is not the regular earnings that you get from the business which in a typical year is predictable - but possibility that there can be a time when all things will go right and will payoff exponentially. Every one who gets into business does it with that hope - that if all things go right - there will be a windfall ..."

I am not very sure about the comment about the "typical year" claim - all of us have seen how the markets crashed within a very short time. We are talking about black swans here. He seems to look only for the positive abnormalities but (probably because he is a die-hard optimist) prefers to overlook the tough times.

Though the expectation part is very valid - no one wants to do something that will remain mediocre all along. Its only the faint hope of greatness that drives the men.

Further he adds
"... where the business scales up purely on creation of a design or an idea that gets replicated easily and you get paid for every unit that gets produced by anyone through a license. So the Chinese might have factories which make the Nike shoes and scale up production as per what Nike wants and make incremental profits - Nike has to design and market those shoes to make exponential profits without too much extra investment on capital or humans. Ideas and intellectual property is scalable , bodies are not. Running a hotel is not scalable but the format/franchises are ..."

Here he makes a very interesting point. All of us knew it somewhere at the back of our heads but it still is a revelation when one first gets to see it articulated. Its the idea that can bring a turn around. In my opinion, the distinguishing feature of a scalable business is the fact that an additional unit is not accompanied with diminishing returns.

PS- More on business scalability in the manufacturing sector here.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Source of motivation

Watched "Slum dog Millionaire" last night. and have not stopped thinking about it.
A wonderful movie - none of the actors overshadowed a 10/10 script. And the best part about the movie - the guy never forgets his childhood love, and tries to get her time and again: despite all odds. All this while there was not once that they professed love towards each other. Like the instance when he had to fight his elder brother to try to elope with the girl. And the girl willing to sacrifice for the sake of the boy.

The story got me thinking, what motivated the protagonist to do all that he did. For that matter, what drives a person to attempt world defying feats? what makes a man try things that none else would imagine doing? Assuming everyone to be rational, a person will venture into such a thing only if he/she finds the potential rewards to be greater than the value of the effort required. The only way this could happen with a consistent valuation is that he/she sees a potential that others don't. It requires a vision to be able to spot an opportunity when its not evident. Also it needs courage to try out new things, may be the fact that they trust themselves when they do so makes them successful. Ancient Chinese script, Tao Te Ching says - Love gives the ability to be brave. In this context, its the love for the winning that gives them the ability to attempt things unprecedented.

Lets look at various motivational techniques people use:
For a few people, its easier to stay focused if they have something to look for, like Clearing IIT-JEE, Clearing CAT, designing a novel pump, building a world class organization.

But if a persons' aspirations, dreams are limited to falling into the arms of some other person: I don't see how that can drive him/her. Probably I am ignorant of the ways love works.

As I am pretty sure, you must have observed: The journey towards the goal is often more fun filled than the destination itself. That is what drove the founders of now world leading companies - continual improvement. Once establishing the organisation was complete, they could have gone to cool off their heels. But they did not - they toiled hard, to improve, even if by just a tiny bit. That's what made them great.

Its the determination and perseverance that gave them a reason to work. And when a quantifiable goal is cut-out, motivation comes naturally.

But is the challenging work, the only motivating factor for us? Apparently no. As documented so well in numerous Bollywood scripts and romantic novels, "LOVE" triumphs all when it comes to motivating the protagonists. Apart from that, (I risk being politically incorrect when I write this, but what the hell !), money that one makes while working is also a huge (de)motivating influence.
Probably its to do with personal priorities. Different people are driven by different things and its the valuation of the work-love-money mix against one's own standards is what determines the motivation level.

PS - While writing the "Different people are driven by different things..", I could not help recalling the lovely Obelix from the Asterix series who cared for nothing more than a sumptuous meal of wild boars. Well now You know why I named this blog "Foodological".

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