The Ordinary vs. the Impactful


It is a beautiful morning in Singapore – bright, sunny but not yet hot. The Chinese New Year week is coming to an end – it is the “Year of the Pig”, and hopefully we can look forward to peace and prosperity, much more than wars, conflicts, and poverty. Well that is my wish at least, and I am sure most of the world’s citizens would want a year better than what has gone by.

I was thinking about the folks that we meet in our daily lives, and during networking or social occasions. I am not personally a shy person, I stretch out my hand and shake hands with any stranger that I meet in such situations. But whether you already know the person or he or she is a stranger, it strikes me odd that very few people even attempt to create an impact on you.

What I mean is not the attempt on either side to start a conversation or engage in a meaningful chat (even for a few minutes); it is the effort to positively impact the other person with your ideas or thoughts on how some global issue can be addressed. When I leave a conversation or a meeting, I would want to be “impacted” so that I do not forget the person’s profile/face, the topic, or the impact that person caused on me. Otherwise, I think it is a waste of time for both persons who are getting introduced.

I believe I get only one chance to influence another person. I have experienced the fact (as far as it concerns me) that if I fail in that endeavour, I do not get another chance even if I get to meet the same person again. I am sure you have come across such situations. This shows that people make up their minds about you in few seconds, rather too quick for comfort, but that is the way it is………you get only one opportunity to create a positive impression on the other person and you better not lose that opportunity.

Many a time I have met slackers who either do not have anything to say, or focus on someone else while chatting with you. Both actions are not going to go down well with me (I am sure it is the same with almost everyone else), as here I am trying to make a conversation and create an impact of my own on the “slacker”, irrespective of his pedigree or status, genuinely assuming that there is something that can be gained from each and every meeting, but the slacker couldn’t care less. Looking at what other folks are doing during an intimate conversation is stupid, to say the least. That is actually an insult, a lack of respect towards the other person (here it is me!) who is working hard to keep matters in focus and generate an influence. Gradually, I have learnt to identify slackers and either avoid conversations or just move on to someone else that I know with a greeting that would slice off my time with the slacker in an unobtrusive manner.

Then you encounter the silent spectators who are usually difficult to penetrate – these are the folks who observe everything, grasp most of what is going on, keep their thoughts to themselves, and open up only to others who know them very well. It could be a challenge to get introduced to them, so I use a mediator (a common friend) – I just ask this mediator who is this silent spectator, what does he do, can he make an introduction for me, et al. I am always surprised that these silent spectators turn out to be the most incisive, impactful people that I have met. Not the garrulous, back-slapping folks working their way through the crowd, trying to please everyone around.

I would divide the people that I meet into several buckets: the ordinary people (more than 60% fall into this category) who are mostly good guys or girls who carry on with their lives in the usual way, not feeling the urge to generate an influence or impact on other people that they meet: they just greet, talk some shop, and then move on. They do not make an attempt to find out more about the others that they meet. They probably do not want a job! Or, they are not interested to build new network of new friends. I cannot figure out their general disinterest even on matters which affect all of us. They don’t even want to talk about President Trump! They probably do not wish to take a stand on any matter.

The slackers are the folks that you do not wish to engage because of a variety of factors – basically they are not trustable, generally they are boasters, they do not have respect, their attention spans are very low. We gain nothing out of any interactions with slackers. Again, these folks show very little interest in you or on global matters that should be of concern to all of us. They are not well-read, they just tend to slack off and probably drink through the evening instead of seriously networking with anyone they come across. Slackers constitute probably 20% of the people that you would meet.

Then comes the silent spectators – you should pay attention to these people. They carry a lot of stuff in their heads and generally they have a much better grasp of worldly affairs and even your own network of friends. It takes time to break through to such folks however. May be couple of meetings with your strong pitch on your own credibility and then you are on your way to a long-lasting friendship. Mind you, they are difficult people with their own views on every matter under the sun, and sometimes they do not take kindly towards conflicting opinions. Silent spectators probably constitute less than 5 to 10% of the people sample that you would come across.

Then, finally there are people who wish to talk a lot and contribute to every topic that is being discussed. One can gain a lot by listening to such people – they come through not as garrulous interventionists but as engaging thought leaders who peddle their views in a non-aggressive manner to anyone they meet. They believe that every meeting, even a chance meeting, should be converted into a productive engagement – it does not matter who benefits; otherwise there is no purpose in any meeting. It might sound a bit harsh, but I know a number of folks who fall into this category – I would designate them as thought contributors, for the lack of a better terminology. They take a principled stand on every topic that they raise or respond to, and are not afraid of potential backlash demonstrating a sincerity which is unusual. I respect these contributors as it is a huge learning opportunity to talk to them. Of course, these people expect you to respond, so we need to have some material in our heads to engage and continue the conversation in a meaningful manner, otherwise they will lose interest and move on. They constitute probably less than 10% of the people sample that you would run into, but combined with silent spectators, they are the most impactful people that could seriously impact your world views. So, where would you choose to put your emphasis on? Most people you run into are ordinary people with no vision or even a mission statement that they wish to propagate in any people-to-people engagement. They do not have a plan. Obviously, I would not want to spend more than the time needed for greetings or courtesies, with these people. I would like to focus on the Silent Spectators and Thought Contributors, both of who could add value to me for my own improvement. Likewise, I would like to be a thought contributor in every engagement – I am not a silent spectator as almost everyone who knows me can attest to!

Well, I thought I would pen my ideas on this interesting topic this morning, and I am just completing this post – it has taken about 45 minutes or so. Some new thoughts finally!

Have a wonderful weekend folks, and contribute some new ideas!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

09 February 2019

Hold your thought?


Many a time, I have witnessed good ideas being held back by a simple principle called conformance, which is widely and “successfully” practiced in the corporate world. What is being a conformist mean, and is it relevant anymore in today’s world?

Conformance means two things – you choose to “fall in line” with others in your team or your boss in terms of agreeing with them that the idea on the table which apparently they all support, is indeed the best one deserving your personal support as well. Not only that, you highlight your own philosophy behind your support for that particular idea that everyone else around you seem to be supporting, thereby positioning yourself well in the group and endearing yourself to your boss. Not just a blind support, but a well-thought out, philosophical support that has been so well articulated by you.

So, by being a conformist (other than when you are the main originator of the revolutionary idea yourself), you score a brownie point with your boss and your team (in general). I can tell you that some of your team members would be wondering why you are supporting an idea that they know you do not believe in. May be they will ask you later on! You better be clear and achieve a full clarity in your mind while explaining your rationale to them!!

But then such are the pressures to conform in corporate life.

Things are changing for the better, however, especially in new age companies (which are vastly different from the established traditional corporations) where dissent is accepted and even praised as a “necessity”. A different thought process accompanied by solid logic is viewed very positively in these companies where the leadership is young and energetic, completely open and transparent to an influx of new ideas, even from a newcomer or the juniormost member of the team. In essence, what it means is that the leadership wants new ideas that are different from their own, and also wants the team to reflect the current society so that business customization becomes easier to accomplish.

Why is it so difficult for older companies in traditional fields to open up their staid leadership and business models to similar influences? One reason is that they generally believe in traditional hierarchy and respect experience to the extent that they believe earth-shaking ideas can only come from such an experienced leadership. This is despite the fact their market shares and revenues keep slipping quarter after quarter. The second reason is that these older companies still believe in their invincibility with regard to their hold on the marketplace – in several fields, these very same corporations have defined and created the markets, to start with. How can then these markets just slip away from their hold? Who can challenge the status quo?

Now, we even see social media giants belonging to the new age struggle as well to control and keep hold of the markets that they defined and created. Is it not a similar situation? Yes, it is – the only difference being that in new age companies, the velocity of adjustments and idea assimilation is far higher than in older companies. Notwithstanding the same, struggles happen and continue to happen, and the government, clients, users and media can witness what is going on in a transparent manner.

In a nutshell, it is critical not to hold your thoughts on a specific topic, because your allegiance should be towards the company and its advancement via better sharing of fresh ideas and thoughts which could enhance a process or a system or a product or market strategy or competitive approach, not just to your team or your boss. May be you are moving ahead in a new discovery! Who knows?

So be open and transparent while being consultative and respectful. There is absolutely no need to confirm to an idea in which you don’t believe. Of course, if you like the idea and believe it would work out to the benefit if your company, go for it and support it by all means. It does not matter where the idea came from!

Cheers, and Have a wonderful week ahead, and Wishing all my Chinese readers “Gong Xi Fa Chai”,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd February 2019

It’s a Middleman’s World


Middlemen and women are everywhere!

You would think that a “developed” country would not require the services of such “agents” to transact any kind of business, due to total transparency and technological aids available to do so. But was I surprised!

Even Western countries make use of agents to sell aircraft, ships, and any kind of equipment. They also have brokers who operate at the consumer level, to sell houses to buyers in a knowledgeable manner. Agents bring localized knowledge and expertise to the sales process. Or, they know how things work in the buyer’s country when big ticket items are transacted. Generally, agents operate on behalf of sellers and favour them as their commission is paid by the sellers, not by the buyers. However, commission is paid on the final sale price, which the buyer agrees to pay the seller, so the agent derives his commission money ultimately from what the buyer pays the seller.

Commonsense, right?

Buyers need to understand and know well in advance that agents do not have their requirements and best interests in their hearts, and are focused on fulfilling the sale as quickly as they can so that they can earn a handsome return on the time and effort invested. Agents meet and / or exceed sellers’ criteria which may or may not meet the buyers’ needs.

Coming back to my original point on anticipated reduction in broking or agency fees in developed countries, unfortunately that is not the case. On the contrary, agency fees actually increase both in absolute terms and as percentage of sales revenues. If advancement in transparency and technology can eliminate middlemen and ensure fair market price discovery and fair competition, then sellers and buyers would be able to conclude sales transactions without the aid of sales agents, right?

The practical reality in the world today is that agents dominate big transactions – even those involving government purchases of military equipment. This is probably because there is some need for certain level of lack of transparency in such dealings.

Transparency decreases when agents are involved. When an agent is assigned the task of a messenger of sensitive price data on a critical transaction, he or she is bound to misquote or misinterpret such data to the detriment of the buyer.

I have interacted with agents in both a developed country and a developing country. I found smart people in the agency profession, most of them quite knowledgeable in their area of competency. If I am transacting a property sale, I found that my own online analysis of the market is inadequate to directly interact with the market and I would be better served by a dedicated agent at a specified fee. I found that he or she could do a much better job in price discovery and advising on the right kind of price at which I should sell my property. The difference between India and Singapore is not on competency or sales aids that a typical agent employs, but more on the emphasis on personalized relationships prevalent in India as compared to more officialized attitudes prevalent in Singapore.

So, what are my conclusions?

I do not support engagement or involvement of sales agents in business transactions, whether involving two businesses or two countries. As we have seen in multiple military procurement scandals, involvement of agents shields corrupt players. Violation of procurement rules is only possible if agents are misused to hide corruption.

However, when it comes to home or car sales, agents’ role is critical in ensuring the seller is not shortchanged due to inadequate market knowledge. Agents also become important to secure interest of qualified buyers, and I was surprised to note that online ads do not produce the same effect because of lack of qualification of potential buyers. Further, attracting potential buyers to online ads does not seem to be working out well anymore.

In a nutshell therefore, middlemen and women do have a place and role in the consumer society – whether it be in a developed or a developing country, though I believe in the not too distant future, robots will take over their role. However, for B2B transactions, it is best if the seller and buyer interact with each other directly, or via an electronic marketplace with safeguards. The dependence on middlemen in such situations will only exacerbate potential conflicts of interest and accentuate corrupt practices.

How is an agent different from a lobbyist?

That is for another blog post I guess!

Have a great weekend folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd February 2019

Far removed from Reality


The World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded yesterday at the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.

This time around it was a low-key affair since several powerful countries and leaders did not attend. For instance, President Trump and Prime Minister May did not come due to serious problems that they are currently faced with in the U.S. and the U.K. respectively.

However, many billionaires and world leaders did attend, as participation at the Davos WEF has become an annual pilgrimage for movers and shakers from around the world. The WEF conducts forums in other major countries, but none beats the depth and comprehensiveness of the Davos forum.

There were many key issues affecting humanity that were discussed at this year’s event, such as the alarming negative impact of Climate Change. This is nothing unusual. The point is that most attendees come from elite or political or business backgrounds and are, in general, rich. It would be interesting to measure and report the average net worth of all the invited participants at Davos forum. That should prove that this crowd is far removed from the daily mundane reality of an average (not even a poor) citizen’s life, anywhere in the world.

How can a rather small collection of rich and powerful folks make a critical analysis of problems facing this planet and humanity? How can they “feel” the problems, pains, challenges and issues that a common man or woman needs to tackle in his or her life? Are these people really addressing the “real” issues and coming up with practical solutions to world’s rather intractable problems? Or, are they just networking socially and having fun, either at corporate or government expense? Let us not forget that these elite folks already know each other (mostly and generally) from previous interactions. One obvious objective is to learn from each other – what are the current views of the “elite” and “learned” folks from around the world, have lunches / dinners / cocktails and learn more of each others’ perspectives, etc., There are, of course, multiple panel discussions from which our elite participants will learn even more.

But, what is the concrete action plan to better the life of the average citizen coming out of this most expensive jamboree at an exclusive Swiss resort? Is there something coming out of this event that will affect the life of the common man, is there something that he can even understand?

Such events, are in general, a waste of money, which could be deployed in social projects and alleviate poverty. But that is not the concern of the rich folks who schmooze over caviar and wine. This is the obvious disconnect which exists between such powerful gatherings and life’s realities.

I studied the agenda and the events of WEF held last week. There were many useful and relevant topics covered in the agenda, no doubt. There was significant coverage of environment, climate change and the impact of technology – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, etc., – these are all very relevant, I should say.

The key question, however, is how will WEF deliberations change the world for the better from a socio-economic point of view. What is the success rate of WEF influencing socio-economic policies of governments around the world which choose to attend the WEF event and actively engage other attendees. My theory is that economics at a theoretical level is of no practical use, unless the main users of economic principles (viz., governments) apply the same in consultation with WEF (not the IMF or the World Bank both of which apply tortuous conditions on countries seeking their financial support). How can some of the useful deliberations at the WEF be successfully applied in large countries such as India, China or Indonesia? What are the resources available to the governments which want to reform their economies? What technologies can be leveraged? What are the practical methods that we can adopt for sustaining the deteriorating environment? And so on, and so forth.

May be these things are already being executed. However, in my research on WEF’s practical applications, I could not find clear cut evidence. I could not put my finger on the specific outcomes which are being followed up by WEF around the world.

If my audience can clarify, I will be happy to post an update to this post. If WEF disagrees with what I have stated, all that is required is a response to this blog post, and I will post the same as a correction to what I have written.

In a nutshell, I would like WEF to understand two things –

1. The utility value of the annual WEF meeting is not grasped by the proletariat, and I have seen no evidence that WEF is making an attempt to communicate as such;

and,

2. The obvious disconnect between the abject reality of peoples’ lives and the economic deliberations at WEF conducted at the apex levels of governments and corporates surely exists, whether acknowledged by WEF or not.

Socialism is emerging even in that most Capitalistic country in the world – I mean the U.S. and its potential ramifications over the next few years have not been understood by the key economic players – whether in governments or corporates. This is also something that WEF needs to address. How about inviting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the WEF 2020 as key note speakers?

Cheers, have a good weekend folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th January 2018

The Make-Believe Yet Real


I have been wanting to write on this topic for quite a while.

I struggled with the title a bit, as I thought it should reflect what I really feel about the specific matter about which I am going to write in this post. How do I communicate about something in a succinct yet penetrating manner? I realized that I have to go a long way in mastering the English language! It has been tough though I might sound simplistic!!

This post is about the City-State of Singapore.

It is sometimes too hard to believe that this bustling city of 5.6M people produces a GDP of USD 330B, translating to USD 57K GDP per capita, placing it as the third richest country in the world. It is managed like a global corporation with efficient allocation of capital and resources, with long-term planning firmly in place, assuring its citizens and residents of long-term economic and political stability. It is hard to grow at more than 3% GDP growth rate for such a highly developed country with physical limitations on geographical size and population (which is not growing).

My point in writing this post is to compare how Singapore manages peace and prosperity in a cogent and planned manner, as compared to cities like Paris or New York or London. I cannot compare it with large countries as Singapore is just a city. When I look at the extensive TV coverage on the yellow-vest protest in Paris, or the multiple people protests in New York that went on last week, it is apparent that the respective governments are not doing a fine job of addressing the issues or grievances of the people who are protesting. Probably they couldn’t care less. There is law and order problem in almost every major city around the world – as we know, there are downtowns and also the seedier parts of town with criminal gangs operating in many cities. There is violence perpetrated every day – you just need to look at the gun-related crimes in the U.S. or even in just one major city in the U.S. to understand how far violence has embedded itself into the psyche of the American society.

I am not trying to say that people cannot protest to convey their views. This is possible in Singapore in a government regulated place which is designated for that purpose. Disrupting the city’s business and economy should not be the way. In cities in India, people protests are often infested with political parties’ radical elements who have their own agenda and also criminals who get a free ride to perpetrate violence in the guise of being part of such “people protests”. There is no way to control such situations. The images of public transport buses burning, public property damaged, private cars destroyed, civil services disrupted, and so on and so forth, have poured in even from such a civilized and cultured country such as France. The massive outpouring of people against the government is a big indication of disconnect between those who govern and those who are governed.

Violent protests causing damage and death have no place in civil society. The best way to bring down an elected government is to precipitate a massive defeat in the next elections – not to dethrone it via the undemocratic method of public violence. Such a thing has happened in many countries – such as Ukraine in 2014 when a popularly elected government was overthrown with the support of Western governments and people protests. [Note: I am not a supporter of Russia – I am mentioning this fact just as an example].

Of course, there are governments which suppress people protests with a heavy hand, causing further damage. They incarcerate people who did nothing but participate in protests for a long time without due process. There are many examples of such happenings around the world.

Governments which do not listen to their electorate will eventually face defeat in the subsequent elections. So, people have to be patient to exercise their franchise in the next elections. While peaceful protests are fine, how will any government ensure peace when they are dealing with some 10,000 or more people at one go in one place in a city? Law enforcement is likely to make errors in judgement.

Coming back to Singapore, the peace and prosperity remain the key tenets of the government and of the people. There is absolute sync between the government and its citizens on certain fundamental principles and frameworks. Citizens may not always agree with the government, and there are plenty of examples of such situations. I would mention the issues of overcrowding of subway system and immigration – there are many more. The government, however, heard the issues, analyzed the causes and addressed the same. It is absolutely critical that countries have “listening” governments.

The government – citizen compact has to be heavily communicated and understood. I agree that bigger countries such as the U.S., China, India and the U.K. have larger issues and more people problems to be tackled. Singapore may not have those kinds of problems and issues. The key difference is the measured approach, cautious thinking, consultations with key affected parties, and communication. As we can witness the current ongoing stalemate in the U.S. government shutdown, hard positions between key branches of government are untenable and unsustainable, because the affected people will eventually hit back. Maturity is needed, and if the elected President and House Speaker cannot even sit down and sort out the issues bedeviling the country, then the hope for a positive resolution drops considerably in the minds of the citizens. In the meanwhile, running of the government suffers, and 800,000 government servants are going without paycheck. Not at all acceptable in a civil society and in a democracy.

I can also cite the example of the U.K. where a “no-deal” Brexit is staring at peoples’ faces with its attendant uncertainty and impending economic chaos. If it were Singapore’s problem, it would have been tackled differently, in a more mature way. There is not much rationale in countering that Singapore would not have such an issue as Brexit. If an “Asian Union” were formed in the same manner as the European Union, then Singapore would be a part of it, and such a situation as Brexit is entirely feasible. A referendum is not a solution, in my opinion. Citizens are good in electing popular governments, but collective policy making cannot be sub-contracted to the whims and fancies of sections of society who could sway the vote which could affect the entire country and its people. This is a debatable argument, and I am not strong in propounding this – I have to work on strengthening the logic and rationale of such an argument. An elected government has been given the task of running the country in the best possible manner, and it has to execute its job keeping the best interests of its citizens, yet be ready to compromise where needed. There is nothing like “my way, or highway”. If that were the case, Malaysia and Singapore would not have enjoyed peaceful co-existence over the past five decades.

Well, I can keep going on. In a nutshell, the large countries of the world need enlightened governments with a broad perspective on public issues and long-term thinking. I know it is easier said than done, as large countries have fractious and finicky electorates and fragmented political parties. But then, we want the best amongst ourselves to govern us, right? It means that successful people in their own fields of endeavour have to be persuaded to participate in the political process and be part of the government execution even if they do not win elections.

Singapore continues to be one of the best managed countries in the world, even without the economic statistics to support it. If that is not the case, how do we explain the fact that foreigners who come here do not really wish to leave a city which has almost zero crime, decent economic opportunities based on merit, good public transport, almost all government services available on a digital mode to its citizens, a good healthcare system (although expensive), etc., though I have to state that the real estate is extremely expensive. It is a long track record which is hard to beat amongst the developed countries of the world.

Yes, it appears to be “make-believe” when you live here, yet it is absolutely real.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

20th January 2019

Wrong Expectations


This post might get me into trouble, I guess!

As my readers know well, I am a “liberal” in mindset, outlook and approach, but sometimes I have taken sides with conservatives when I feel the rational logic resides with them on a specific topic, though it has not been often. Everyone has a right to their own view, and everyone has a right to not support others’ views irrespective of the popularity or otherwise of such views.

I believe that liberal views promote an equitable society with a good balance, in general. However, I have always taken cognizance of the fact that conservatives have a certain hold on the richer, more well-to-do sections of the society which oftentimes get not only a seat at the table, but also get to make the rules of conformance in society. It is very true in a generally traditional, conservative and religious society.

Notwithstanding all the segmentation and fragmentation of societies the world over, there is one principle that I will never compromise on and that is, give equal opportunity to both sides (and to a third side, if that position exists!) so that arguments and counter-arguments can be heard and understood well. It is upto any individual to make his/her own conclusion, and it is also his or her prerogative to voice or not voice the same, in other words, you cannot force anyone publicly on a vote of conscience. This means tolerance and acceptance of contrarian views, though you may not agree with those views which could be anathema to your views. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same as acquiescence and agreement!

So, I read with interest the news coverage on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife going back to work for a strict evangelical Catholic school in Virginia. I warned you, my readers, that this could get rather sensitive! Some mainstream newsmedia covered her decision to rejoin the school and teach there, due to the avowed principles of the school against the LGBTQ section of the society and its non-admittance rules against any member of that group. The school further states that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and so on and so forth.

Without going further into the individual person’s choice to be associated with such a school, notwithstanding the fact that she is the Second Lady of the U.S. Government as the wife of the Vice President, it is not up to any one else to pass judgement on her action or behaviour – simply because she has the individual right to do so and the freedom to follow her heart. There is no official government endorsement or support for her action.

Mike Pence condemned the attack on his wife’s decision to serve in the school and also the attack on “Christian education”. I am not sure what he meant and which media really attacked, but as a beneficiary of Christian education right from Kindergarten to High School, I can only say that without the dedication of Christian education system, many of us in India would not have succeeded in life, despite most of us belonging to the Hindu religion.

Coming back to this Virginia school, I totally and unequivocally disagree with their principles, but they exist in a free society and they have teachers and students enrolled. So, there is a section of society in the U.S. which agrees with those severe and incompatible restrictions, and endorses such a system of education. I can tell you however, that there is no such Christian school ever that existed in India!

Coming back to Mrs Pence’s decision, I respect her choice – both Mr and Mrs Pence are openly espousing the cause and rationale of Christian Evangelism, and there is nothing wrong with their position. They have an inalienable, constitutionally protected right to do so. We have to give equal importance to such positions which are not hidden from sight and are openly stated and defended. In this moralistic or religious clash, no one can claim to be right or wrong. Both sides could even be right!

My personal position, as I stated earlier in this post, is that I am not taking sides with any one philosophy, I am a liberalist with my own views on almost everything under the Sun, and I will not endorse any position if that is not compatible with rational logic. I am not a political person, neither am I a deeply religious person. I am not a Christian but appreciate the service that the Christian school system rendered for me. I try to learn about and appreciate other religions as a philosophical curiosity venture than anything else. I have more and enough blog posts on my blog site to justify what I am stating above!

In a nutshell, let us not have wrong expectations of people, however exalted or powerful they may be. It is not necessary to agree with their stated positions on any matter. We should have our own thoughts about anything which impacts global affairs. I thought that this purported attack by “media” organizations on Christian Evangelism and School system was something of relevance to dissect and understand. If such an attack has happened, that is also despicable because not all systems and people will toe a Supreme Court judgement – they make their own judgements which, if not illegal, should be tolerated in a free society. In effect, tolerance should work both ways, if you know what I mean. It cannot be unidirectional in terms of complete support to the affected part of society – what about taking a non-supportive, yet tolerant view of the incontrovertible fact that there are people who exist who espouse a totally contrarian view which they think is their right to believe in, espouse and endorse – publicly or privately. The response should not be violence, we have seen that such an unacceptable behaviour happens even in the U.S., and so often in third-world countries (I am deliberately not using the politically correct terminology of “developing countries” here!).

Have a great weekend, and more to come from me during the next day or so,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th January 2019

Where do you go from here?


You have reached a certain status in society after many years of hard work. People in your circle (your office, your industry and living location) generally know you as a person of certain level and standard, a certain benchmark that you have established for yourself. You are generally held in high esteem with a significant likelihood of being liked, or in the worst case, a person who is competent but difficult to work with due to your idiosyncrasies.

You now take a breather. Where do you go from here? Where do you see yourself a decade from now? Do you agree with the perceptions that people carry about you and your behaviour?

I was thinking about this subject matter today (a Sunday), before things get busy by tomorrow, the beginning of yet another new week in corporate life. Analyzing oneself is a tough thing to do, that’s why self-evaluation in performance management is a challenge to be tackled by each and every one, wherein you are forced to be honest with yourself. Strengths are easy to grasp and list out, whereas weaknesses deal a blow to your self esteem. It is a real difficult task to list and describe in some detail your weaknesses, following which you have to detail out an improvement plan designed to address and correct those weaknesses.

A complete and comprehensive self-analysis will lead one to figure out how to get ahead in the journey of life from where he or she finds himself / herself, towards a certain new destination. The GPS or Compass which is needed to guide oneself towards such a new destination is built in for all people, but typically we depend on external guidance.

External guidance is questionable, unless provided by a well trusted mentor. I believe that we should know how to get to a certain place when we possess the necessary competencies and the will to do so. In my own case, I have always depended on my own judgement to carry out the next step in my own life. I have taken some guidance in certain difficult transitions – like the one I did from India back to Singapore for my second stint (which I am on currently). I have never attached a permanency to my positions in life, as I have had several discontinuous disruptions along the way which have made me tougher in terms of my perspective on life. Once you consider that your life is always on a transition mode (I am not referring just to physical location changes), then that prepares you to accept changes of any type. You become sort of, immune to changes – whether for the better or worse.

A kind of hard discussion, right?

It always is when it comes to getting deep into where you are headed in life. Ultimately, you need to find a certain higher purpose in life. Not just the routine type of life which gets you out of bed on all weekdays rushing towards the same business challenges. What is indeed the purpose of one’s own life? This is a big puzzle for me. Why are we here on earth if as humans, we are destined for something bigger than the ordinary humdrum of a simple livelihood?

In a nutshell, I decode for myself that I should be destined for something more purposeful in life than the simplistic stuff that my current life is made up of – not that it is meaningless, but the “purpose” should be of a higher order calling. Does it mean we all should aim for becoming Buddhas? No, not really. May be there is some meaning in life that we have not discovered for ourselves.

I am spending some time today on this topic, but I have not reached my destination! My thought process is still volatile, and as the evening rolls on, my thoughts are declining without the facility to obtain a nice glass of wine. I hope my readers think too on this important topic of self-analysis and higher purpose in their lives.

Have a great week ahead, folks!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th January 2019

Singapore

How to keep and feel young


Probably, there is a grammatical error in the title, I think so. However, it is an interesting and relevant topic I guess. There is lot of material on the web and several books which explain the possibilities and promises of aging gracefully. It is always good to learn what others are doing, and try to adopt some of the tried and tested techniques. As always, I thought it would be appropriate to share one’s own experiences arising from personal experimentation.

The #1 approach towards keeping oneself young is to work with youngsters. I always find that they are brimming with new ideas and new things to do. Slowly and very gradually they morph into mature people wherein caution steps in, but before that point in time we can leverage their idea factory. Just by talking to a teenager, I believe we can achieve “freshness” of mind and thinking, because we do not think along the same lines as they do. Youngsters today are adaptable and innovative, with no constraints to their thinking. This means they have no baggage of any sort, and are not coloured by other adults’ thinking or approach towards a life or business problem. Our mind starts to race and work much faster than it normally does, while working with youngsters, and this is all goodness for our own self-development and improvement in thought and operational behaviour.

The #2 approach towards keeping oneself young is to follow an exercise regimen. Again, let me share from my own personal experience. I was doing exercises incorrectly and in my own random fashion, and that too not regularly. This would mean that I might pass one whole week without doing any exercise at the gym, or I might work out just once a week. My wife observed my randomness, inconsistencies, and loss of muscle strength, and enrolled me compulsorily into a physical training program at a local gym. I protested, but she was firm, pointing out all my foibles and lack of consistent commitment. She also (much to my dislike I should say) pointed out that I am getting older and I am looking old already. I thought I have kept myself rather well, and do not look my age, but she strongly differed. So I started a tough exercise regimen under a rather tough trainer, and after one year of hard work (2 sessions per week), I can state that my wife was right (as she always is). I started gathering some muscle strength.

The #3 approach towards keeping oneself young is to adopt a diet regimen in the strictest manner possible, and reduce the intake of alcohol. Easier said than done. Now I am almost into my 8th month of low-carb dieting program which I devised for myself (not a keto diet). I do not eat rice, naan, or much of any high-carb foods. I do not touch sugar, though I am weak on my knees when it comes to dark bitter chocolate which I allow myself once in a while and I cherish those moments (!). I have written about my diet program in one of my earlier posts. I am eating more of egg whites, kale salad, vegetables, green fruits, millet and proteins. I located pumpernickel and whole rye bread varieties from Germany which are available at very decent prices in Singapore. I eat lots of plant nuts every day.

The #4 approach towards keeping oneself young is to go after social networking – both of the personal friendship variety as well as company friends variety. We need friends – nothing can bring back our youth and school / college days irrespective of whatever wealth one has, but old school friends can recreate the magic of our school days. When we have a strong network or networks of close friends from the past, our brains work hard in recreating the neural network to support the memories and expansion of our friends’ networks. And, this in turn, keeps us away from mental atrophy and dreadful diseases such as Alzheimer’s. More we feel young by experiencing the old friendships, the more we are rejuvenating our brain cells, and the more we become younger.

The #5 approach towards keeping oneself young is to follow one’s passion for something – anything will do. In my case, it is blogging, and you see the result of the same here! I also love selecting and drinking good wine, but I have reduced the intake of alcohol considerably, keeping in line with my dieting program. When I write (like this blog piece), I find that my creative juice is spurting in full spring, and my English keeps improving (though several readers have complained that my posts are full of grammatical errors), and my ideas are flowing non-stop (till I finish writing the piece). Once that translation of passion into something concrete happens (it happens twice per weekend for me as my readers know), then there is adrenalin release and a sense of consummation. I enjoy that feeling and savour the same twice every weekend.

The #6 approach towards keeping oneself young is to read a lot of unconnected materials. I personally read all kinds of random stuff on my iPhone and laptop (whenever I can). I have so many news apps on my phone that I have lost track. I also have consolidator apps which puts stuff together for me based on my areas of interest. The advent of really powerful smartphones has changed our lives, and surely it has enhanced my knowledge. When I read materials on every conceivable topic, in a seemingly random manner, I tend to forget the same after a few hours or a couple of days, and that is normal. However, when I start writing on a specific topic, my brain automatically searches my own mind on the topic, much like a Google search, so that if I had come across certain relevant information about the topic I am writing about, it comes to me in a flash. This essentially means I am using my brain as a database or a data warehouse wherein the links happen with disconnected data elements based on a search request. Such actions keep the neural network strong and very much active, constantly working on something, which is what you need to remain mentally young and sharp.

The #7 approach towards keeping oneself young is to nurture your already strong family relationships, and potentially form new relationships with people that you meet and tend to like. This means that you spend more time (not less time!) with your wife and children, and with your parents / parents-in-law / siblings and others who are closely related to you. The more you spend time sharing your thoughts and experiences in a manner that could benefit the others, specifically the youngsters in the family, the more you will gain a “sense of purpose” as you age. Your purposeful life will appear to be more productive and more fruitful. Others in your family circles will respect you more and seek your guidance and mentorship. It is easy to be discarded as a loud mouth who keeps repeating the same old things which do not matter anymore in life – I was in this category (sometimes, I still am!). However, it is critical to become adaptable with an assessment of current and future priorities and challenges of family members, and provide useful advice which they might not easily get from elsewhere. Our experience should play a strong role here with empathy and a beneficial mind set which will be of significant use to others. Make yourself useful to others with a strong sense of purpose!!! Old friends from yesteryears, and new friends that you have made on the way, contribute towards enhancing your mental and social wellbeing. Invest in your friendships and see the difference! Everyone needs emotional support and a sense of purpose, right?

The #8 approach towards keeping oneself young well into old age, is to keep working. Working on anything in which you are obviously competent, keeps you going with a strong sense of purpose and achievement. Your business and social contacts remain strongly connected to you if you continue working – they do not see the difference or feel your advancing age. And, you will feel energized every day with new vigour and commitment to pursue your work. This is the best which can happen to anyone – keep working as long as you physically can. You are mentally strong anyway, if you are following all my above suggestions! You will never feel retired, you will see that others actually need your services, and this acknowledgement from others who know you well will be a huge morale booster for your age-defying young mind!!!

I can go on and on, but the idea is not to reach #10 in my list. It is for you to think more and add to my list above. I am sure all of you would have your own valuable ideas on how to age gracefully and keep yourself young all the time – both in mind and body. Please share your ideas with me, by commenting on this blog post.

Have a wonderful week ahead folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th January 2019

2018: What a Year can do to You?


In our apparently long journey of life, a year is a long time! Yes, one year indeed is longish, if only you choose to savour and enjoy every day of it. If the year is full of nonsense and frustrations both in personal life and global affairs, then you would rather expect the year to finish quickly and go away!

Of course, you can interpret any year in exactly the opposite way as well. Good years seem to fly away in a flash, and bad years seem to prolong.

Going by my first interpretation, you would like a good year to prolong wherein you can enjoy every moment of it to the fullest possible extent. Like all of us, I have had the good fortune of experiencing and going through several such years.

But what about 2018?

What do you think my answer is going to be? Take an informed guess. Answers will be different from different folks, to be sure. That applies to anything in life. The value and importance of what exactly one individual feels and experiences show that humans are different with varying perspectives on life.

For me, 2018 turned out to be not so great in terms of several dimensions, while it did produce its good moments as well. My views are coloured by external matters mostly, as I am a global affairs analyst and a consistent weekly blogger on a range of topics.

In my analysis of 2018, I felt that global citizens were impacted by happenings which they did not control or even anticipate. Unfortunately, large countries with big economies such as the U.S., the U.K., China, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France and Germany, dictate world affairs and how things shape up. Their actions impact this entire planet, and their lack of action where it is urgently needed could be even more devastating.

On the personal side of life, I wouldn’t put the blame on any specific year, as things which happen to our lives are, at least, partially controlled by us. Well, there is always the “luck” factor in life, but I discount that aspect. I also do not believe that people who ask for material favours from their respective gods, get those wishes granted or lead a better life. Similarly, thanking your god for a windfall in your life is also not an appropriate gesture. Humans should realize that their lives are just a temporary speck in the millennia of the universe. If they work hard, and get rewards due to their work, it is simply the result of their positive efforts. The best way to “visit” a god is to enter the temple without any desire or asks or thanks. You are just recognizing that there is a place available for you to keep your mind pure without any desires clouding your mind. That’s it and if you train your mind accordingly, you will experience peace. Removing the “self” is the most challenging thought one could have. You do not have to go to the extreme extent of renouncing all material possessions and desires, like what Buddha did!

So, if you take the personal and global impact of 2018 together, and apply an analysis for your own good, I will be surprised if more than half of the global citizens said that it is indeed a great year. Lots of institutional damages have happened to democratic frameworks. Lots of ordinary citizens are dead in unnecessary wars. Our own personal data has been stolen by state and non-state actors. I can list a thousand things, and you might not even know certain bad things happened. Why? Because generally humans are selfish and rather content with their immediate lives and neighbourhood. What happens a few thousand KMs away is generally not of immediate concern to most ordinary folks.

I only hope that 2019 will be a better year for the world. Going by the government shutdown in the U.S., the China-U.S. trade war, the Brexit chaos expected in the U.K. with its inevitable spillovers into most of Europe, the Venezualan exonomic crisis, the Syrian war, the killings of ordinary civilians in Yemen, et al, it may not appear so! However, humans revolve around hope. We all “hope” things will get better – but not before they get worse first???

Don’t know yet. I am not having my crystal ball with me right now (!). While just hope will never do the trick, we have to believe in human ingenuity and fairness.

Cheers to my audience, Have a Wonderful year-end, and a Great New Year in 2019!

From Singapore with Love,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th December 2018

How to deal with an Idiot


Nowadays, it has become a routine yet demanding task.

Good, hard working, well meaning folks have to deal with several idiots, sometimes on the same day.

Idiots come in a variety of forms.

Unfortunately, idiots are sometimes very powerful. And, that puts most of us in a rather awkward position. When I say “us”, I mean the “proletariat” or the common man on the street. The general population of any country falls under this definition. In developed countries, most of the common population are at the median level of income – the folks that you see on the roads and in the subway stations rushing to work. This translates to a set of people who are at or above average intelligence level.

When there are many such people on the ground, one thing they consistently try to avoid is dealing with idiots. Idiots occur in all places – our workplaces, shops and restaurants, bus or subway rides, supermarkets, government offices, private offices, clinics, and what not. We know how to deal with most occurrences of idiots in our lives, though new types of idiots challenge us to think more and develop strategies to deal with them.

But what do we do when the idiot sits in the White House of the U.S. Government as President of the U.S. ? The most powerful elected office in the world ?

That is emerging as the crux of the existential problem that people around the world (not just the Americans) are facing today.

On the 8th of November 2018, Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was at 26,191 at close of trading. On the 21st December 2018, the DJIA was at 22,439 at close of trading. In less than 6 weeks, Donald Trump’s confusing twitter messages and erratic actions have resulted in most of this loss of market value. During the same period, the tech-heavy NASDAQ index dropped from 7,530 to 6,333. In a nutshell, the DJIA dropped by 3,752 points or 14.3% and NASDAQ dropped by 1,197 points or 15.9%, wiping off well over two  trillion dollars of investor wealth (I am not able to compute the drop in terms of market value accurately). Please see CNN Coverage on Stock Market – Dow’s Worst Week since 2008

Donald Trump boasted that the stock market had performed outstandingly well under his tenure, but he has been responsible for its destruction over a short period of time between November and December 2018. Further, his erratic behaviour has been the reason for the fluctuations in the market over the past over 6 months as well.

Apart from investor losses, there are many things to fret about the idiotic behavioural characteristics of Donald Trump. I cannot list all of his misdeeds here in this post, but suffice to say that my audience is well educated and well read to have followed his idiosyncratic logic and actions over the past many months. The latest shocker is his abrupt pulling out of U.S. troops from war-torn Syria and also from Afghanistan. Trump has lost most of his experienced cabinet members, the latest being General Jim Mattis, the Defence Secretary, who could not take it any more. Please read his resignation letter to get the full import of his resignation – Jim Mattis Resignation Letter in full

And so on and so forth……….the Donald Trump saga plays on in Washington, much to the detriment of U.S. itself – the most affected folks are the U.S. citizens and the U.S. allies; and the U.S. economy is getting damaged due to Trump’s battle with China (on this point, I agree with Trump’s aggressive manoeuvering against China). The Mueller investigation is producing more indictments and more accusations against Trump, and Trump is increasingly getting nervous. And, to cap it all, the mid-term elections in the U.S. delivered the House of Representatives to the Democrats, so it is going to present a bed of thorns to Trump by stopping most of his executive decisions and investigating his tax returns, and what not. Of course, the U.S. Senate is going to be controlled by the Republicans, but they need the support of Democrats to hit the magic number of 60 votes in the Senate to pass big legislation such as the spending bills (Republicans have only 54 seats).

Though I live in Singapore, and have nothing to do with the U.S. Politics, unfortunately I need to know almost everything that is going on, as stupid actions of a sitting President of the U.S. damages the entire world – again rather unfortunately. Nothing much can be done by remote observers, except to write a blog post and actively discuss such stupid actions in social networking sessions. Most news media publish controlled content as no one wants to offend the U.S. – so fake news is becoming the norm on the other side of Trump as well, if you could decipher what I mean!

Though I supported Donald Trump when he was elected President of the U.S. after Barack Obama (I have published couple of posts on his election), over the past 18 months or so, I have become disenchanted with Trump. He needs adult guidance, and people like Jim Mattis provided that guidance to him. But he despises good folks with serious advice, as he has repeatedly demonstrated via the Cabinet exits which have continued non stop. This shows that Trump is not a good “manager” of people and resources. He makes very random statements and commitments (without a shred of advanced thinking) to solicit the support of his strong conservative base; but as the mid-term elections demonstrated, he has lost significant support amongst women and minority voters, both of which he has alienated constantly.

The bad deeds of Donald Trump are countless to list. But I am most concerned about his idiotic and erratic behaviour, which urgently requires the sane and sober counsel of senior Republican politicians. He is not going to get that advice, as now almost everyone knows that honest advice providers are going to be short lived in his administration.

How to deal with the most powerful idiot in the world is the question of the day. If we can resolve this question, the world can get on with its future business. May be Trump requires advice from Singapore Government, as he would not follow any advice from America’s long standing allies in Europe (like Angela Merkel). Or, should we hope for his impeachment on impeachable grounds soon?

Cheers, and have a great Pre-Xmas Weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd December 2018