Mind your business, or………


In our regular routine lives, we typically mind our own business – we do things that we plan to do or are destined to do: whichever way you look at it, we end up focusing on ourselves and what we usually do. We run our business – corporate or private, and our own personal lives, in the manner we think is the best, and keep most of our affairs private, minding our own things all through. May be you can call it sheer survival in the most selfish manner possible.

Nothing unusual right? Most of us are like that, no different.

But minding one’s own business in all aspects of our lives also keeps us isolated from the broader problems and ills of the society at large. We are so busy right through the day and the week, that we do not have time to think of anything beyond our own selfish interests. Of course, all of us get influenced and affected by news. And bad news is not in short supply anywhere. But it comes and goes, and we sway along with it, and after a period of disrupted thoughts, we go back to our usual matters of close personal interest to ourselves. Nothing else matters. Other things which are not directly affecting us should be taken care of by someone else – what is the government doing, what is the police doing, etc.,

So, in a nutshell, we develop as very selfish human beings with utterly no interest or concern about the rest of humanity. May be not all the 7.3B people, of course. But what about the immediate neighbourhood of the area that you live in? What about the city you live in? Do you think that without everyone’s active involvement and contribution, things will be normal as you always imagine? Especially in large countries with serious law and order problems, crimes in every downtown area, demonstrations, and so on and so forth, it becomes critical to be not only completely aware of such problems and issues, but also be engaged in some way to alleviate someone’s problems. May be it is the homeless guy sleeping on the street (while there are millions of homeless people in the U.S., it was recently reported that there are around a thousand folks in the city of Singapore who are sleeping in the streets in a population of over 5.6M – can you imagine?), may be it is a Charity that you used to know or contribute to, may be it is an old lady struggling to cross the road, thousands of little things which are all a routine part of life in every city. Busy people, of course, have no time to even look outside of their cars at the roads. Wealthy people are totally insulated. Government folks are besieged with big problems of national importance. Businesses carry on. Life goes on.

The whole thing is a charade. There is not much emotion in business, even in private life – it is all mechanical motions which drive life. How about adding some emotions while walking on the roads? How about smiling at the guy who crosses you while you are executing your “busy” morning walk? How about holding the elevator door for someone inside to go out first, instead of rushing out first?

Man is made from a communal fabric – by “communal”, I mean commune or joint living in a “kibbutz”, borrowing from the Israeli term for such social living. Small Indian villages, especially in South India, represent what we have lost over the years. In such small places, everyone knows everybody else. They take an active interest in the problems of the others and the community. Such a thing does not exist anymore anywhere, at least in the cities.

“Mind your own business” comes through as an admonishment towards someone trying to interfere in your business or work. That is not what I mean here in this context. In fact, “mind your business” is a selfish embodiment of one’s isolated character which ignores all other participants and their roles. Such an exclusionary attitude and corresponding behaviour are emblematic of the ills of the society today, almost everywhere. There is no utopia anywhere, however.

Getting engaged in society’s problems is hard, of course. Why should anyone bother even about one’s neighbours? In developed countries, everyone is suspicious of even the neighbours, wondering always what they are up to. So, most people have a polite smile and walk off as fast as possible from any familiar faces. This is not an exaggeration, it happens all the time. The ability to be pleasant, courteous, involved and engaged is hard to implement in practice, and that inability reinforces the principle of “mind your business” – it is the social equivalence of the non-interference philosophy. Even if the neighbouring country is murdering its citizens, your country chooses to keep quiet due to this famous and lousy philosophy. Does it not apply to your neighbour engaged in domestic abuse or violence?

In simple terms, it is absolutely essential for every citizen and good samaritan to be involved in his or her own society’s problems in one way or the other. A simple way is to start somewhere in a very simple fashion – like joining a charity or counsel prison inmates or handle a suicide phone line, and so many other valuable causes which exist in society. Just give it a thought, and you will understand easily how you can be of help, provided you are willing to devote some part of your “valuable” time to such good causes which would undoubtedly help the society in which you live in.

Have a great week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th November 2019

When life gets difficult…….


There are not many people that you know well who will stay behind with you as true friends after you encounter some serious difficulty or disruption in your life. Very few of your friends will even call you to check on your status or welfare. Almost none will offer help of any kind, even some verbal advice of sort.

I found that this was the case several years ago when I was based in Mumbai and had to undergo a big disruption while changing jobs with a gap of few months in between. I again found that this is indeed the case in Singapore when I migrated out of a corporate job into something insignificant – a consulting job on my own. When you are out on your own on the street looking for business which will keep you going, it is apparent that the corporate world in which you have worked for so long has its doubts on you. This is not surprising however. The world from which you came expects you to land another big position in the corporate world itself, rather than abandoning it. They probably think that you are worth it, and it is the only positive silver lining to this kind of thought process.

However, when you venture out on your own, many questions arise. Will this guy be able to sustain himself and keep running? What exactly is he planning upon doing? Has he got any projects? And, so on and so forth. Rather than, reaching out to render any kind of assistance or help……I know that I am not saying anything new here, as there are several cases of well-qualified and experienced professional colleagues of mine who have been, and still are, in the same situation today.

I am not blaming anyone, but it does help to know who is really interested in you and who cares about you, even occasionally. Who makes that one call which comes through as solace in a mire of difficulties that one will be facing in this wide open world? That person and his/her call will make a big difference to your mental state and self-confidence.

While some of the close senior colleagues did not do anything to help, there were others who chose to stay in touch, and a couple of them even worked on seriously helping me out. I will, of course, always remember those folks with gratitude, though nothing came out of their help, but their very thought of wanting to help a colleague with who they have worked closely these past several years, is simply outstanding, and worthy of deep appreciation and gratitude on my part.

As I slog through the very early phase of my own business in a complex world with dramatic global changes, it is apparent that help could originate from totally unknown corners when you are not even thinking of those sources. Such a thing happened to me recently – just some three months ago, and now I am working on building a new business with that drive and motivation. This kind of thing does not happen randomly, though sometimes it is possible via services like LinkedIn.

Life is still uncertain with difficult corners to navigate as I write this post. However, I always think that one has to have a personal vision, a personal motivation and a personal agenda. I worked on all three aspects continuously over the past six months, and tightly managed my agenda with a drive that I used to display while working in the corporate world. With such an approach, I believe I got somewhere that I wanted to reach though the direction got modified on the way, if you know what I mean (with the help that I unexpectedly got).

Let us see how things move ahead from here. I continue to maintain my daily vigil on making progress, one step at a time. I have not sacrificed other aspects of my life, such as going for an early morning walk around the water body just facing my apartment, and letting my Fitbit clock 13,000 steps for each and every day. I continue to do 40 minutes of exercises once every two days, or sometimes once every three days during the evening time. I am still running a tight diet, but have relaxed a bit on wine, meaning that I get to drink a glass of red wine every couple of days at least!

Life will get better as we navigate this journey of life in the manner that only we know. The commitment has to be there every minute, and we will see the beautiful light at the end of the tunnel soon,

Have a wonderful weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th November 2019

Character and Balance


Tough topic that I just now invented while thinking about suitable topics to write on – it is a beautiful and cool Sunday morning here in Singapore (“cool” in our lingo means around 25 deg C!). It will go up to 30 deg C easily in a couple of hours. I search for topics to dwell on sometimes during the week and enter random thoughts into the Notes app of my iPhone, but sometimes (like today) I had no idea of what to write on. As I was thinking through about my early morning walk, I hit upon this specific topic based on my experiences over the past couple of months. Of course, our lives are full of moments when we exercise caution based on our character and upbringing, and also when we are challenged about maintaining our mental balance.

Let me explain. We have a character of a particular nature which we have built up over the years, and part of it has to do with one’s own upbringing, family culture, surroundings, other people, etc., We more or less pursue the sustenance of our character in our daily machinations, and unconsciously maintain a close adherence to our character mandate – it is almost like our inner voice. Integrity of our character is paramount, it is like chastity – we cannot lose it or lose sight of it at any time, irrespective of circumstances and the environment.

“Balance” is a different pursuit – it is about sustaining the same kind of consistency in thought and action without getting pushed into a corner by not so friendly folks, without losing your “cool”, and responding in the same manner to any kind of provocations as you would to any kind of niceties. Think about it – we always present a consistent look and feel to anyone outside our home or business; even at home, your predictability is taken for granted. Such consistency is especially useful in a business context when others can expect you to perform in a particular manner, and you are not going to upset them by going on a tangential route designed to derail the matter under discussion, for example. Such consistency is very useful in engaging with friends and relatives, as they all know that you are a “balanced” person and won’t pick a fight for insane reasons.

Now, both character and balance are linked; both character and balance could be challenged. You will find yourself in situations which demand that you “customize your character” to suit the situation: for instance, you would be challenged to dilute your pacifist character by joining a bunch of alcoholic bullies at school or university. There might be repercussions if you do not play by the rules of that gang; but you are not prepared to do what it takes – you wish to maintain your identity and character in the manner you have developed those characteristics painstakingly over the years. You will also find yourself in situations wherein your balance comes under question – if someone cheats you by not returning the rental deposit when you surrendered the apartment, then there is a high likelihood that you would question your own competence in handling the matter as per the legal agreement in existence; then, you would challenge the owner for his illegal behaviour and possibly threaten to take him to court. You will set deadlines and he will deliberately miss those deadlines for return of your deposit, or propose a compromise wherein you would be forced to take a lower figure. How do you then maintain your cool and sort through the painful matter affecting you?

Difficult but not impossible. Mental balance is one of the most critical characteristics of a leader (or anyone) – loss of composure is simply not an acceptable behaviour in a corporate leadership role. Self control as an idea has been lost in the onslaught of a slash and burn approach towards corporate roles. It is highly important that one maintains self control all through without banging the head – it is required to think through and figure out a solution.

While I have faced such situations, I let lose my steam when discussing the matter privately with my spouse on such matters. She obviously knows the matter because it could be a personal challenge of getting our rental deposit back from a dishonest and intransigent owner. Her counselling has always helped me to see through the issues and regain my composure. Some solution always emerges at the end. The key thing is that you find your way out of the imbroglio and get on with life – that’s all that matters at the end, don’t you think so?

Both character and balance are important and critical characteristics for a mature human behaviour and successful engagement with others. Life and business are full of challenges. Are we going to compromise our character and lose our mental balance at every difficult situation – NO. It is very crucial to get counselling when you could not solve the problem at hand, and it is not a bad idea at all.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd November 2019

Organized Selfishness


I was seeing the Netflix serial “Traitors” in which a senior civil servant (head secretary) of the U.K. Cabinet Office calls Capitalism as “organized selfishness”. In the serial, she acts as a Communist sympathizer – a mole in the U.K. government’s most sensitive office.

I thought about that elegant description of Capitalism for some time. It was a hit with me as I think that while Capitalism in itself was a great idea whose time had arrived in the Fifties and Sixties of the 20th Century, it drove a behavioural change in Capitalists as they built their fortunes in liberal democracies. Capitalism was a seductive idea for a long time, I would guess almost six decades by now. It created huge productivity in the economies of the nations which pursued it, generated millions of new jobs, and spawned a variety of industries. It also increased the wealth and prosperity of people, especially of the owners of capital.

As Capitalism seeped into the psyche of people all over the world, they came to realize its ample benefits. However, over the years, the people affected by Capitalism also discovered its serious pitfalls. One such pitfall was the creation of inequalities in societies which the idea served so well. Capitalism generated untold wealth for a fraction of the people while generally enhancing the well-being of those who obtained employment. The wealthy capital owners arranged themselves into what is called now as “organized selfishness”, as it became evident that most owners were more interested in the pecuniary benefits of Capitalism accruing to them over multiple generations, rather than pursuing altruistic ideals. Not always true, but generally prevalent.

As the younger generation reared its head in the 21st Century, it has become clear that these youngsters are not going to follow the footsteps of their parents or uncles in exercising their political, social or business rights. Capitalism is under a severe onslaught of intense scrutiny in many countries, and its true benefits are being questioned. The equalization of benefits accruing from capital deployment has become a topic of discussion in several large countries, leading to political engagements to offset such radical ideas. Witness the arrival of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and similar legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives and the attacks launched on them by entrenched corporate interests and the Republicans.

Yes, some powerful political parties have called out the emerging socialists for their lack of understanding of the wealth creation aspect of Capitalism. Without capital, where are the jobs and where is the wealth? Where is the prosperity for the common folks? How does a capitalistic society perform and deliver its good? How can even the government function with capital? And so on and so forth.

However, the idea of socialism is not new – it has always been there, and the practice of socialism has done well in many countries, especially in Europe, though limited in scope. Take the example of the Nordic countries. They have, in general, adopted socialism in the practice of government and business, without calling it so much as socialism. They are surely not anti-capitalists, they create wealth as well. But, the principle of capitalism plays out in a different sense – the issue of inequality has been addressed for a long while so that the idea of fairness is ingrained in almost everyone. Whether it be government, education, industry – you see that fairness plays a big role. There is no big disparity of income levels between the CEO and the last worker – much much less than what you see in the U.S.

The emergence of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as credentialed Presidential Candidates of repute in the U.S. has given an added thrust to the arguments in favour of a balanced socialism and spreading of the wealth pot. Think about it for a minute – the U.S. has one of the most unequal societies on earth, though it is one of the wealthiest countries with more billionaires than any other nation. The approach of Elizabeth Warren towards a planned mechanism for spreading the wealth and eliminating inequalities in the American society is being heard, though Wall Street apparently does not like her.

Both these people are quite old! But the youngsters like them apparently.

The socialistic revolution would arrive at our doorsteps before next generation as the current younger generation is impatient to achieve their KPIs – especially the ones pertaining to income inequality and environmental damage. Witness the revolution caused in short order by a 16-year old revolutionary from Sweden – Greta Thunberg. Such things were unheard of in the past, and it is very clear the current teenage generation wants to put their stamp on societal change in a big way.

It would be interesting to see how the change will play out during our tenure on this planet. Let us not forget for a moment that the Capitalists will not go down without an intense fight and they hold multiple cards in their hands, not just money power – they have the network, they have all the connections with various stakeholders in society. Let us also not forget that the new young Socialists will give a fight worth their salt to recoup what they think is their absolute birth right.

Capitalists think that they are wealth creators, and Socialists think they are income equalizers!

Gear up for the oncoming fight of our generation!!

Have a wonderful weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd November 2019

The drug wars and Netflix


I am a subscriber of Netflix. It is a good service with a very good collection of movies, and more than anything else, fascinating serials with seasons and episodes running seemingly forever. My family also has a subscription for Amazon Prime Video, but I prefer Netflix for a variety of reasons, which will be eventually overcome by Amazon with their very deep pockets. So the fight for original serial and movie productions has started in earnest, and the fight for eyeballs has now started as well. The consumers will surely benefit, but I wonder where does anyone get time to see so many streaming videos, but that is another story.

On Netflix, there has been a series of Mexican serials focused entirely on drug cartels, their feuds, their war against the provincial governments, the nexus between politicians and drug lords, and so on and so forth. I have already seen couple of them as the entertainment value is different from the usual run-of-the-mill types with lots of action, twists, dramas, serious violence, love stories enmeshed in cartel routines, abductions, etc., Apparently, what these serials depict is not much different from the reality of Mexican life. Recently we saw that drug cartels brought normal life to a complete halt in parts of Mexico City, probably the most populous city in the entire world, because the police arrested one of their top lieutenants. The cartels’ firepower was too phenomenal for the police or even the army to handle, and eventually the government succumbed to their demands. This is in real life in Mexico, can you believe it?

Drug wars are very bad for a country’s economy and for the safety of its citizens. There is huge collateral damage as evidenced by ordinary people randomly killed by the cartels in Mexico city during their stand-off with the police. Innocent civilians are murdered for no fault of theirs, except to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The proliferation of guns that we see in the U.S. has multiplied itself several times across the border in Mexico. It appears that both sides have not yet forgotten their Wild West ways from the 18th Century even today. Guns appear to be everywhere in Mexico, and nobody seems to be bothered on the violent-prone streets of the capital city.

I was thinking about the influence of these drug war serial shows on Netflix and the impact these shows have on ordinary remote viewers like me in another part of the world where guns are totally banned. The impact on youngsters could be negative, and the charm offensive of wielding guns and killing even bad people in an extra judicial manner at the drop of the hat cannot be positive. In James Bond movies (which I used to love), we know that the bad guys will eventually be killed by Mr Bond, and we expect him to wage a war with all his tools of spy trade. In drug wars, the bad guys win most of the time, especially in Mexico. The “hero” of drug cartel cannot be a Robin Hood, he never is one. Drug cartels are fundamentally money-driven, blood-thirsty organizations, exactly similar to what we see in the Netflix serials.

May be it is time for Netflix to rethink its strategy with regard to signing for more drug war fuelled serials. There are many other genres that they could focus on to retain the subscribers’ interest. It is a pity that their biggest market, the U.S. is perennially in love with gun culture, and so they can easily claim that they are satisfying the demands of their most important market.

It is a pity that youngsters in Asia are able to see gun violence on TV out here – hope they do not get influenced negatively. I have two choices personally – either avoid seeing these Mexican serials altogether and switch to other genres of serials or unsubscribe from Netflix once and for all.

Have a great Diwali today, my festive greetings to all my readers,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

27th October 2019

Pavlov and Punishment


Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who conducted some very interesting experiments in late 19th Century. His research formed the basis of modern behavioural therapy, and he won the Nobel Prize in 1904 (first ever Russian Nobel laureate).

His research is easily understandable for any lay man, at least the basic concepts. I am not going to explain his theories here, but suffice to say that he conducted many experiments on dogs with interesting observations and conclusions – inventing terms such as conditioned and unconditioned stimuli and conditioned and unconditioned responses, etc.,

Pavlov’s theories have been widely applied in the field of human psychology and behavioural therapy. You can read up on the impact of his research.

The point of this blog post is how well humans respond to conditioned stimulus. For instance, if the traffic fine for speeding beyond the permitted speed limit is increased from $100 to $200. Or, if the fine for not stopping at pedestrian crossing is increased from $200 to $300. Or, if causing wrongful injury to a person on the road by irresponsible driving leads to not only suspension of driving license but also mandatory jail, and so on and so forth.

Humans in an orderly, disciplined and developed society such as Singapore or Japan or Australia respond very well to such conditioned stimuli applied by law enforcement. For instance, drunk driving is on the decline due to the imposition of mandatory prison time for even first time offenders.

The same response by humans is not exhibited diligently in developing and chaotic societies such as India, or Egypt, or the Philippines, or even Indonesia. The human response mechanism does not work the same way as it does in more developed societies, and the word “human” here includes all folks – not just the citizens of the developed society, but also immigrants from all the less developed nations, as laws are enforced in an uniform manner.

What is happening here? Why does the conditioned stimulus not work in the same manner everywhere? Why are the responses different, even from the same human being across two societies – I mean, if a particular immigrant in an advanced society with strict traffic rules returns to his native country, he quickly adapts to the situation on the ground, rather than follow his well-developed response mechanism honed in the developed society.

The reasons are not hard to fathom, though the obvious disconnect between behaviours always puzzles me. For example, when I tried to drive a car in Mumbai following the regular traffic rules such as stopping and waiting at the red traffic lights, there was serious horning behind me, pushing me to cut the light as there was no traffic coming from the perpendicular direction in a 4-way junction. I did not, at first, abandon my caution and learning and waited till the lights turned green, but found I was the only guy left behind at that junction. The bigger danger was when I thought I had the right of way since the traffic lights were green, I found that the traffic from the perpendicular side started moving which would have led to serious accidents, though they are not supposed to move. So, I had to speed up and cross the junction safely!

People living in a chaotic society deal with a multitude of problems and challenges, and their ability to respond to unconditioned stimuli gets better over time as they grow from youngsters to adults. This is one reason why Indians shine in global roles outside India, as they are totally prepared to deal with any kind of challenge, even unconditioned or unexpected ones. Strange, right? But, that is the case as you could see all around in developed countries. It is a good pertinent example, and there are others from other emerging countries as well.

Adaptability to a new situation is vastly enhanced for such people, and it is one reason that their success in foreign countries is even better than it is in their own countries. Multinational corporations have long realised this fact. The “foreigners” in a developed society also have stronger instincts about the potential ramifications of violating rules and regulations. So, you find that these people religiously follow all the rules to the last letter of the law.

Punishment, when it is proportional to the damage caused by a crime, is always better understood. It should also be meted out fairly, without fear or favour, meaning a celebrity should not get a reduced punishment for the same crime. This is not the case even in a very advanced society such as the U.S., where celebrities and very important folks sometime get the benefits of the legal system since they are capable of deploying very powerful lawyers in their defence. This mechanism does not, however, work in countries such as Singapore or the Nordic countries.

The behaviour of people will change towards what the law demands eventually in most countries. Lawless countries continue to operate in the same manner, irrespective of all attempts by governments to control crime for instance – an immediate example is Mexico, where the drug cartels are holding the government to ransom. All stimuli and response mechanisms break down in such a society.

I have not attempted to link Pavlov’s research to the theory of effective punishment mechanism. Obviously, there is some linkage. But I am not qualified to be a researcher in this field. I can only observe peoples’ behaviour and the outcome in terms of reduction of crime statistics – and we can all do that, right?

Wishing all my readers a Happy Diwali and a great weekend of festivities,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th October 2019

Sensex amongst Asian indices


At a nominal GDP size of almost USD 3T, India has reached the elite group of the top 5 economies of the world. In terms of purchasing power parity, India ranks #3 in the world. Despite the steep slow down in its GDP growth rate in the last couple of quarters, India is still among the world’s fastest growing economies.

Coming to Asia, India is #3 in GDP size after China and Japan, and its economy far exceeds the combined total GDP of the 10 ASEAN countries which is around USD 2.4T. India is expected to exceed the GDP of Japan and the U.K. in the next few years and become the #3 economy in the world.

Given all this data (and much more available to economic and equity analysts), it has always been a puzzle to me why the BSE SENSEX index does not receive appropriate mention and coverage in the financial media. When I see the morning coverage on CNBC and Bloomberg on the TV, there is hardly any mention on how well the Indian markets performed the day before and what is the outlook for today. I know that India is behind Singapore / Hong Kong by 2.5 hours, so I thought the afternoon coverage would mention SENSEX. Nope. There is of course, some mention of India, but that pales in significance to what is being covered on other Asian stock markets and Asian companies, though their sizes are smaller in many cases.

So, I wonder – what could be the reason for such a poor coverage by global media of what is probably one of the hottest markets in the world?

Agreed that just a decade ago India was not an investor story, and couple of decades ago it was not on any investor’s radar. Agreed that it is not a completely free market even today, with capital controls, tariffs of all kinds, taxes of all kinds, restrictive trade and customs practices, and so on and so forth. Agreed that India is a confusing country with multiple states with their own rules and regulations. There has always been many negatives about India.

However, the number of positives has started to outweigh the negatives, though some of the negatives continue their impact on the economy.

Over the last few years, the BSE market capitalization has grown significantly to approach almost the size of India’s GDP, though it is still not there. For large economies such as the U.S., and China, the market cap of their respective stock exchanges far exceeds the size of their GDP. For instance, the U.S. stock exchange market cap of approximately USD 31T far exceeds its GDP size of USD 19T.

Similarly, the Indian stock market capitalization is well on its way towards comfortably exceeding its GDP size in the next few years.

Given the above situation, I can only hope that CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC Business and CNN Business will cover the India growth story more aggressively and the SENSEX stock ticker figures more prominantly in the floating tickers of CNBC – it is there but you will easily miss it. The Hong Kong index of Hang Seng gets huge coverage – probably the most extensive in my opinion. May be it provides a view into the larger China market. Thats fine, but how come very small indices of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines get much more coverage than that of India?

I think there is no special preference that can be expected, the only thing that will attract the serious attention of the financial media is the GDP growth rate. When India’s GDP growth exceeded that of China for the past 6 quarters or so, it was big news, because it involved China. The big focus has always been on China and Hong Kong in Asia.

I believe India needs a stronger mention and more extensive coverage, given its new image and visibility. Hard numbers to rival past performance will take another couple of years or so, but the market can grow via better transparency and more accountability afforded by a better coverage in the financial media.

BSE SENSEX needs a better treatment – it has come a long way and is the index to watch in Asia.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th October 2019