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Weekly Curated Links #7

Apologies for the delay – Snowstorm Nemo put a hold on all blogging plans!

Here goes!…

  1. Starting a small business – If you thought starting a small business in India was tough, you are probably right! But look at all the work to be done to start one in the US
  2. India vs China –  A very good article that details out how many years is India behind China across multiple parameters.
  3. Ice trading – A fascinating account of one man’s endeavor to sell ice manufactured in Boston to residents in Calcutta.
  4. eCommerce – Some really interesting stats showing that eCommerce has taken off!
  5. Happiness @ work – An interesting infographic explaining what people want from their jobs.
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Where do you fit?

The other day I got an email directing me to a site which promised that if I answered a few simple and hypothetical questions, it will tell me how likely I am to be a billionaire in the next 10 years. After closing down all the pop-ups and resisting temptation to click on the ad on the right hand side promising to hook me up with eligible single females in my neighborhood (The wife wouldn’t have approved! After all, why would I want to do that when I have such an exceptionally beautiful and intelligent wife. Honey, if you are reading this and I am not assuming that you do, the dinner you prepared last night was awesome!) I decided to click on the survey link. After answering what seemed like a thousand questions, I was finally presented with the results page with bold fonts screaming out – “You, my dear sir, are on the fast track to riches and fame. If you are not already a best-selling author or a world-famous movie star, you should start now!”. Well, I guess, starting this blog was definitely the right move.

This whole experience got me thinking. The result – I have designed a questionnaire to help you in deciding what role in a corporate environment suits you the best! So, here goes…

Select the answer that best describes your response to the situation described in the question:

You are driving to office, running late for an important meeting with your team, when you spot a woman next to a car parked on the highway shoulder. She seems to be having trouble with her car and clearly needs help. None of the other cars are slowing down. Which of the following responses best describe your response to the above situation?

(a) I will continue on my way – after all, I don’t want to keep my team waiting!

(b) I will stop my car immediately and offer her help

(c) I will call 911 and let them know about the woman needing help, but continue on my way

(d) I am never late for meetings with my team!

(e) Depends – Is the woman attractive?

You are on a flight back home, after a busy day at an off-site hosted by your company. You are eager to get back with your family – having been away from them for the last 3 days. As you are getting up, you notice that the woman in the seat next to you has forgotten her phone and is already exiting the aircraft. What do you do?

(a) Nothing – I want to get home ASAP

(b) I will pick up the phone, run after her and hand it over to her

(c) I will let the flight attendant know about the forgotten phone

(d) Moot question – I always seat myself on the aisle seat and so would have left before anyone else in my row!

(e) Depends – Is the woman attractive?

The internal auditor has identified some ‘creative accounting entries’ in your boss’s expense ledger. She has apparently stretched the definition of ‘company related travel & entertainment’ to include her vacation trips to Las Vegas and Maui! The auditors have approached you to confirm whether some of these expense items are as ‘genuine’ as she has claimed them to be. What do you do?

(a) Nothing – I don’t know the details of the expenses and so cannot comment

(b) I will cover up for her and certify her expenses as genuine!

(c) I will talk to my HR and tell them that I cannot help the auditors as it will be a conflict of interest

(d) I will question the auditors as to why they approached me in the first place?

(e) Depends – Is she attractive?

The sales manager of one of your key supplying companies has sent you a file by error. Her file contains details of the cost structure for their products – these are products which your company has been buying and also trying to negotiate prices down for the last 5 years. What do you do?

(a) Nothing – I will delete the file immediately

(b) I will let her know that this file was sent to me by error, but will not delete it!

(c) I will quickly sign a confidentiality clause with HR absolving me of any potential violations!

(d) Why would she have sent me a mail in the first place?

(e) Depends – Is the woman attractive?

If you answered mostly a’s to the questions above, you are a straight-shooting, focused, logical person. You will be ideal for the accounting role in a company. You do not get distracted and single mindedly complete your tasks. You are also reviled by your team and colleagues – as they consider you a machine! No emotions, only heartless, cold-blooded logic! You will eventually be replaced by an automated app or software program.

If your answers were mostly b’s, then you are the ‘nice guy / girl’ in the company. You will help everyone with their work and will always be there to stand up for your team, even if they are in the wrong. You will therefore help many people advance in their career, but will not see a similar growth for yourself! Just like Uday Chopra and Fardeen Khan, you will eventually fade from public memory and will be relegated to the back office. Your role will most certainly be outsourced to India or China.

If your answers are mostly c’s, then you will do a great job in HR. You always leverage the systems and policies to not only to get things done, but also as good excuses in case things go down-hill. After all, what better excuse than to blame the system, right? ‘Ohhh, our employees are unhappy? But, we trained them with the latest analytical techniques described in the company HR manual, before asking them to spend the next several years of their lives calling up angry customers and apologizing for our product quality. I wonder why?’ You will eventually get kicked out of the organization on the grounds of pure incompetence.

If your answers are mostly d’s, you are confident, assured and never afraid to stand up for your beliefs. You have a keen mind and question everyone’s assumptions. You will be great as an operations head – driving people to generate results, cutting through their excuses with your questioning and breaking down barriers made by your employee’s assumptions. You will eventually be fired for questioning your bosses and rubbing everyone the wrong way!

If your answers are mostly e’s, congratulations! You have all the attributes of a leader – a CEO position is ideal for you! You take a context based approach towards important decisions. You look at the bigger picture and then act accordingly. You will be extremely successful and will end up marrying a trophy wife or will be assassinated by jealous competitors or both!

Weekly Curated Links #6

  1. Management consulting may add value after all! – There are many rants against middle management, red tape and management consultants (including one published on this blog). However, they may have their uses after all, as this article argues!
  2. Patent trolling – They made a business of filing patent lawsuits against e-commerce companies!
  3. 11 tips for airports – Great article on what airports can do to improve the overall experience. And anything is an improvement over the current situation!
  4. FDI in retail (again) – After all the fuss made by political parties, it is ironical that global retailers are not exactly rushing to sign up in India.
  5. The latest status of the big mac index – How the currency adjustments by economies are getting reflected in the big mac index.
  6. Maruti Suzuki – An interesting history of how Maruti continues to be a force to reckon with in the Indian automobile sector
  7. Simple ideas – They may have got laughed out of any B-school idea discussions, but these went on to make history and billions!

Weekly Curated Links #5

Continuing our curated link series…

  1. UPS and the travelling salesman problem – A very interesting article about the team of mathematicians at UPS helping save the company millions of dollars through better algorithms in routing. The most interesting aspect is the change management approaches they used to convince the employees to use their solutions.
  2. Is an MBA degree an unnecessary evil? – Many of you are probably MBAs and would have faced this question. Well, this is a debate presenting both sides of the argument. Readers were asked to vote on which side was more compelling and guess who won?
  3. One way trip! – Ever wanted to go to Mars? Well, it may become a possibility. But then, there is also the distinct possibility that you will have to stay there.
  4. Apple vs Amazon – An excellent article on the paradox that is called ‘Equity markets’. It compares Apple’s price trends in spite of meeting quarterly expectations with that of Amazon.
  5. Cheap flight tickets! – Ever wondered how to reach from City A to City B at the lowest flight prices? Well, this article has some useful suggestions.
  6. Innovation can be messy! – Dreamliners from Boeing are getting grounded! Does that mean we should stop innovating? Definitely not!
  7. Foreign companies in India – An interesting article on the successes of some of the foreign MNCs in India through their subsidiaries / holdings.
  8. Luck and investing – A good post on how luck plays a critical role in day-trading! All the analysis and calculations are OK, but luck plays a critical role too!
  9. World’s fastest broadband internet – The bittorrent for the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ taking too long to download? Well, here are some countries that you should think of moving to!

Time Management!

Ever had such a day? You start your work at 9 AM. By 5 PM, you have completed all your deliverables to everyone’s satisfaction, identified the work to be done over the next 3 days, managed everyone’s expectations in terms of the content of your deliverables, cleaned up your desk and are ready to head back home for quality family time with your wife and kids.

Well, neither have I! One of the great challenges that professionals have to do more and more is to manage multiple activities and make sure that they are all completed within a reasonable time-frame. In this article, I will attempt to provide you some approaches that have helped me!

  • Focus!It was Jim’s wedding night. With nervous excitement, he started walking towards the honeymoon suite! He had married Christie after a whirlwind romance. Christie was a supermodel with a figure to die for. But, what he also liked about her was that she was a beauty with brains! In this case, a PhD in Economics. Her doctoral thesis discussed how women in rural regions of third-world countries would be the best customers of microfinance, with the objective being to ‘maximize well-being of targeted families’. She and her advisor, Dr. Shah, had spent several months debating the definition of ‘well-being’ before she started her project. Dr. Shah, himself having grown up in a third-world country, believed that… Well you see what is happening here? What are we talking about here? Is it about Jim’s midnight activities or Dr Shah’s childhood influences? The answer is that we need to determine what we want to do and then stay the course. Well, your daily task list has a similar behavior. You start your day with some clear objectives, but as the day progresses, several events will happen to distract you from your primary purpose. The answer is to focus – make sure that you don’t lose sight of what you need to achieve. Once you determine all the deliverables that you need to complete in a day, the next step is to…
  • Prioritize! – There are several things that you need to get accomplished in a day. If you want to remain sane at the end of the day, you will need to prioritize your tasks. How will you do it? You can use the news-channel approach, where you drop whatever you are doing when a more interesting activity comes up! This works well if you work at a news-channel. However, that is probably not true for most of you! What you need to do is to take a longer time-frame while planning and prioritizing your tasks. The advantage is that the ‘seemingly urgent’ deliverable that your boss just sent you is required for a meeting that is happening only next week. So, do you drop your current activity of clearing the last level in Angry Birds Star Wars? Absolutely not! Because, you can always complete this first and then start the other activity in time for the boss’s meeting next week. Also, you need to remember that you cannot do everything yourselves. So, you will need to…
  • Delegate! – One of the advantages of having your own team is that they are like your personal slaves. Promise them rewards in the form of more bonuses or threaten them with job-losses and they are yours to command! However, when you delegate work to your team, you need to make sure that it is done in an intelligent manner (the delegation, not the work itself – if the work is not done intelligently, you can fire the team members). Understand the strengths of each of your team member and delegate your tasks accordingly. Refer to the team management post for more information! In addition to all this, you also need to remember that the work-place is a dynamic environment with ever changing situations. In such cases, be prepared to…
  • Improvise! – Never be too rigid with your plans. Imagine that you have decided that today’s task of the day will be to complete that long outstanding blog-post on effective time management (yeah!), and suddenly the boss comes in and says that the entire analysis prepared by you to determine the best strategy for the company to deal with increased taxes is wrong and will actually translate into doubling their payouts! Now do you tell your boss to calm down and then continue typing your blog-post, or do you first faint on your chair, wake up when your boss splashes cold water on your face and then update your resume at monster.com? Exactly my point!

So, what do you think of the time management approaches? What has worked for you and what has not? Are there any other approaches that you have used successfully or unsuccessfully in the past?

Weekly Curated Links #4

Continuing our curated link series…

  1. World economics data – Have you ever struggled to find a reliable data source to compare the per-capita income of Burundi and Saudi Arabia over the past 10 years? Well fear no more!
  2. Outsourcing – Subscription required! Ever since Tom Friedman talked about India’s IT powerhouses in his books, people have been predicting the demise of the outsourcing business! Economist takes a plunge in this pool with its predictions!
  3. Manufacturing in Low Cost Countries – Subscription required! After the manufacturing migration to China, it seems the world has come back to the starting point! There is a small but increasing number of businesses actively considering moving the jobs back to the US.
  4. Copyright and you – Free Harvard class! On Copyrights! Nothing more to say.
  5. Questions and Answers – What is like to visit North Korea? What is it like to be a sniper? What are the economics of lying? If these are some of the questions bothering you, this is the link for you.
  6. Happy Companies – What is the secret to being happy with your career? Keep changing jobs!
  7. Coffin problems – In the 70’s, the soviets came up with a way to discourage Jews and ‘undesirables’ from attending the Math program of the Moscow State University. They came up with problems that have simple solutions which are extremely difficult to find! They were called ‘coffin’ problems. This is a collection of such problems. Very interesting read, although the motivation for developing them is shocking! (Link through Futility Closet)
  8. Disruptive Facebook – Open Compute Project and its implications for their business!

Convincing your Boss!

Chris has been working at the GlassBottleCo for the past 4 years. He is a manager in the Operations division and is responsible for the line of perfume bottle production. Hard-working and enthusiastic, Chris has always been full of ideas to improve the operating performance of the company. He has some ideas to improve the company’s performance in fulfilling sales orders. He has approached his boss – the Head of Production – with several of his ideas, but his boss has always ignored them or worse, pretended to listen and then promptly forgotten all about them. Chris is getting frustrated! Life is looking bleak for him…

Ever faced a Chris-like situation at work before? You have ideas, you believe they are the best, you have done your homework and prepared the financials to support these ideas. When you go to your boss with your break-through ideas, you expect to be embraced by him with tears in his eyes, while the HR team will pat themselves on their back for having recruited you and your colleagues will do a slow-clap applauding your genius.

Welcome to the real world, buddy! Your boss will probably growl at you for wasting his time and curse the HR folks for hiring ‘these MBA-types’ while the HR guys will immediately start looking for scapegoats who can be blamed for the whole recruiting fiasco.

Well, I find the ‘Social Style’ framework a very useful tool in such situations. It is a great framework to help you decide the best way to communicate your ideas, depending on the nature of the person to whom you are presenting.

The framework uses 2 dimensions: Assertiveness and Responsiveness! Both these dimensions are graded from low to high. On the high end of ‘assertiveness’, you have people who are absolutely convinced that they are right and will try to influence others as directly as possible. In other words, they are the people who will tell you that ‘it is my way or the highway’ or ‘take it or leave it’ or some such variation of that. People at the low end of assertiveness will also try to influence you, but they will do it in an indirect manner – citing data analysis, suggesting new processes, introducing benchmarks etc. Basically they will provide you all kinds of supporting examples to show why they are right! In other words, insufferably self-righteous people!

Responsiveness is a measure of the extent to which you are perceived to control or reveal your emotions. So, on the lower end, you have the stone faced individual displaying the entire emotional range of Sylvester Stallone at his career peak, while on the higher end you have the hyper-active, overtly emotive people.

Put these together, and you get 4 groups (Refer Figure).

Social Style

Driver: People who are fast paced, decisive and impatient with people. If your boss is a ‘Driver’, then give him your fundamental idea quickly and the basic benefit of the idea. In other words, get to the point quickly. In Chris’s situation from the case above, a good communication approach will be – ‘I think we should double the throughput of bottles this month, as the seasonal demand is going to increase next month and we will be able to meet those sales orders easily with our available capacity and this month’s inventory.’ Do not spend an inordinate time building the background of the idea and advantages of the same – you will lose your audience in such situations.

Analytical: These are cautious people who want everything to be reasoned and based on rational arguments. You will need to impress them with your background research, attention to detail and data analysis based on which you came up with the idea. As an illustration, for such people, Chris will be best served by saying – ‘The last 10 year demand and production data shows that we have never been able to meet sales orders in the season even after running at peak capacity. The reason is that demand outstrips our capacity in these months. However, in the quarter before the season, we have enough slack capacity to make additional bottles to meet this demand. Hence, …’

Amiable: These people are considerate and supportive. They want to make sure that the entire team is on board with any idea (It also helps to deflect blame from them when things go wrong!). Example – ‘Well, I spoke to the production supervisor, the sales team and our supplier. All of them agree with me that we need to make more bottles during the months before the season, so as to meet the seasonal demand.’

Expressive: They have a vision and they want to get people excited with this vision. These guys are adventurous, enthusiastic and creative. You want them to organize your bachelor party for you! In Chris’s situation, he can say – ‘Imagine a situation where you are able to easily fulfill the season’s sales orders for bottles. How can you reach such a situation? I suggest we take a risk! We make more bottles in the earlier months. So what if it means that there will be additional inventory? I am sure that the additional sales will more than make up for it!’

Note that in all the above cases, the onus is on you to make sure that you do all the homework on your ideas. No matter what kind of person your boss is, if your idea is not good enough, it will not be sold! Also, you should spend some time thinking about which of the above categories does your boss lie in? If your boss turns out to be an ‘Amiable’ person, and you use the ‘Driver’ approach to sell him your ideas, it will be a disaster!

Good luck with selling your ideas using the above framework!

Chris decided that his boss was the ‘analytical’ kind and made a detailed presentation explaining why increasing production in non-seasonal months is a good idea. The presentation was supported with detailed historical trends, statistical analysis, cost comparisons and benchmarking information. Unfortunately, Chris made the presentation on the same day when his boss’ in-laws had come visiting. In a foul mood, his boss asked him to conduct more research, perform more benchmarking analysis and develop more scenarios to support his hypotheses. Chris realized the futility of his efforts, quit his job and became a script-writer for B-grade Hollywood slasher movies. He is happy now!

What do you think of the framework? Do you think it is a useful guideline for helping you to craft your messages?