Monday, January 30, 2006

E-education

There is a raging discussion on Ryze business networking forum – What is the next billion-dollar idea? There are many ideas which got discussed, including a science of communicating with the dead. But, on a more serious note, someone mused – ‘e-education is the most under-funded idea of all time’.

Precisely, it is. I mean in the context of the huge possibility that electronic delivery of education opens up, it got nowhere so far. If you compare the idea with similar education ideas like Evening Classes and distance education, and see it in the backdrop of the accelerated era of the internet, it is actually going nowhere so far. It is still largely in the domain of training, largely as a training manager’s toy, an intellectual fancy and confined within a few pioneering projects.

Well, no denying that there are great companies, cool technologies and the University of Phoenix. But, where is the amazon.com of e-Learning/ e-education? Where is the billion dollar Expedia of Online Learning? Where is the habit changing eBay in the education market-place? I do see electronic learning so far to be devoid of its heroes and darlings.

There may so many reasons for this revolution betrayed. For one, education has always been a domain of gray hair and conservative ideas. It is politically sensitive too - governments do not want businesses to play around with education. And, overall, it is execution, of both the policy makers and technology providers, that is letting the idea down.

Well, i must concede the idea exists and is fairly deep-rooted than it seems. I was surprised - and that was an understatement - when I saw the National e-education project of the Government of Myanmar [those lying generals dont even allow internet access in the country]! So, yes, the idea is there. But, everywhere, it is Professor XYZ from Shahjalal University [well, just a name - I dont mean anyone] heading the project, trying to create a classroom as opaque as the real one on the internet. No wonder, so far, all such attempts have been rejected by the consumers.

Time now, for a Jeff Bezos! Would someone come forward, please - with similar guts and ambition? It is indeed an idea in search of an entrepreneur.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Idea of India

Was secular India a colonial dream? Thought up by an English educated elite with no connections with the people on the ground? Were these thoughts impractical, artificial and merely an empty rhetoric?

Time we revisit this, and ask ourselves these questions again and again. The last 20 years have put the Indians in an unique position – with a sense of power and confidence in front of the world, but ever more insecure and confused about their own identity, and what they stand for.

Recently, I have re-read that brilliant essay on Modern India, The Idea of India [by Sunil Khilani]. An wide array of Indian Intellectuals have also written extensively, each trying to reach a definition of Indian-ness. We had various visions and representations of India’s past and its present, and dreams and plans for its future. But, today, it needs a clearer answer – on the wake of the carnage in Gujrat and spreading High Technology industry in Bangalore, the global buzz on India and the decay in its inner cities, the confusion in its higher education and the confidence of its global elite – what India stands for.

On a personal note, I have always been a Bengalee first and then an Indian. I have felt threatened by the advent of Hindi, thought it is unfair to have so much centralization of power in such a diverse country and always felt a certain oneness with people in Bangladesh, who belong to a different nation.

For me, India is not only a geographical entity or a picture in the geography book. It is not a picture of Bharat Mata, nor my ration card [I don’t know why I have one, and why Indians treat that as an identity] nor my passport. It is not my nationality – as I said I am a bengalee first – nor my language [I speak little Hindi] or my culture [I am well versed with Hindu mythology and religious texts, but my culture is more defined by its liberal and humanist interpretations done by 19th century ‘Renaissance’ intellectuals of Bengal].

But, I am an Indian – true to heart. I love my country. That is my identity. And, it is a political one. As an Indian, I am free to have any private religion, but must treat every other religion with respect. I must value humanity, do everything to help peace and prosperity in my community and in others, and I must accept diversity as the way of the world. True to this thinking, I must put my faith in the rule of law and parliamentary process – above my natural tribal inclinations to impose my Bengalee-ness over everyone else.

Returning to the initial question, secularism was central to Indian-ness, a key concept which enabled the political formation. Without secularism and diversity, India will not exist, and will degenerate into tribalism which many newly independent African states have done. It will not be democratic and follow the routes of other states where Military took over as the only force acceptable to everyone. It will not have a rule of law, and since each of the communities are large and self-sustaining, if there is no parliamentary arbitration, it will break up into pieces.

There is only one India, the secular democratic one. We dont have a choice. Far from being elitist and disconnected, the founding fathers have opted for the most sustainable model of the nation which is so diverse.

Friday, January 27, 2006

After The Vote

Today, very interestingly, every single British Newspaper, I mean the kinds you see people reading on the tube or train, have pushed their usual diet of sob stories or scandals to Page 3 and beyond – and screamed ‘Guys with the bomb win the ballot’!

Well, Hamas winning the Palestinian election has shaken up everyone a bit, not just the government ministers. I am surprised that they are surprised. Remember, I have no first hand knowledge of the Middle East politics, but knew just what the same newspapers were feeding me.

So I knew that Palenstinian Authority under Fatah was corrupt, ineffective, a bunch of politicians who are completely out of touch and unashamed money-grabbers. I knew that Israel send tanks to West Bank and Gaza whenever they want, or bomb whoever they don’t like. Also, from the same newspapers, I learnt that Hamas is a social organisation in Gaza, running schools and hospitals – and from my knowledge of other ideologue parties elsewhere in the world, I guessed while they might be regimented, but they were usually honest and even efficient.

I never thought it is very convenient or pleasing to have a few bombs dropped next door – it is not a very exact business, and so far, for all the mythology, intelligence agents were never as good as Frederick Forsyth and Tom Cruise made them look. So, if I was living in Palestine, I would have been aggrieved, not to mention the feelings of being robbed, neglected and forgotten at the same time! And, then, suddenly, I am told to vote – with two choices, one inefficient, ineffective, corrupt and tyrannical party whose goons roam with guns and rob me and my country, and the other, a regimented sort, but who are fighting the people who bomb my house every other day, run the schools and at least doing a few things correct.

So, what would I have done under the circumstances?

I am sorry – I would not have voted for Mr. Bush! He was not on the ballot.

And, yes, I would have expected Mr. Bush and rest of the world to be fair about it – not say, 'uh! nah! we can not talk to these guys'.

Hamas now stands for Palestinian people. We got to accept that and talk to them. We have learnt by now – we can not wish palestinians away.

Think, we thought they don’t exist and gave the land away to some other people we were guilty about. But they refused to disperse and take flight - like another community had done 2000 years ago, and kept telling us that we must hear them out.

They are still trying their best to tell us that they exist, and they want to be treated on fair, equal and humane terms [exactly like the other community that tried for 2000 years!]. It is better that we listen now. I would have really expected a headline – at least one newspaper – pleading, “Come On! Now Hear Them Out!”

Thursday, January 26, 2006

To Vote Or Not To Vote

Did I not vouch not to disclose my political opinion? Especially if they are not exactly conducive in the uni-polar, post-9/11 world! Lo, I almost told you!

But, on our republic day, as I read the US Ambassador putting India’s vote on Iran on balance with India’s access to civilian nuclear technology, I had to think. I think everyone in India should start to think - what’s going on?

Let me clarify. It is not about India should vote for the resolution. Yes, we should – not a question. Politics of the world has been conducted with little consideration to what one would call ethics, and the consequences so far have been disastrous. We need to inject a little consistency and value above our naked self-interest, and it is in no one’s interest to have another state going nuclear.

So, India should risk its ‘deals’ with Iran and vote against it.

But, for the sake of getting its ‘deal’ done with US? I think we should be very careful before thinking that way. Two reasons:

One, it will be foolish to expect that voting for the resolution will give us the nuclear deal. It will not – this will be judged on its own merit, quite rightly, and on the broader considerations of America’s geo-political interest. This administration may not leave a legacy which will be followed through, either by John McCain’s or by a democratic administration. So, the two issues are quite separate, even from a self-interested point of view.

Two, while there are lots of people in India who are quite happy about the attention that India is receiving from US of late, one has to remember that US interests in India are purely of that of a foot soldier. While I have doubts whether George Bush even cares about common American Servicemen’s lives as long as he can spin the media, I am under no illusion that the only interest United States may have in this ‘friendship’ is commerce [on largely unequal terms] and a geopolitical agenda to contain China. Let me ask how many of my countrymen want to die – even for a noble cause like protecting American lifestyle [and the idea that freedom should be available for the chosen few to do whatever they like] – against Chinese armies, and I guess I would get a very different answer from what the current optimism shows.

So, what am I trying to say in this muddle? I am actually saying that India should vote against Iran, because even apparently civilian nuclear facilities can produce the raw material for deadly weapons, but also rethink whether it needs the US support for its nuclear programme, and what the goals and objectives of that nuclear programme should be [or whether India needs nuclear energy at all].

As for US friendship, I guess it is important to be friendly with every country. But on equal terms, if possible. And, for that, Indian Government needs to spend more time building friendship with Pakistan,, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, Iran [by working with them on equal terms, by promoting business and such things] – and less time worrying about what US will think.

Google, China & Orwell

There is a huge uproar as Google said they will self-censor their Chinese search engine. While it is giving in to the Chinese government, some of the criticism in plainly cruel – like saying Google’s message ‘Don’t be evil’ translates into ‘We are greedy’ in Chinese.

Particularly, Sergei Brin is on the receiving end – I am not suggesting that there is a racial bias and his Russian origins are not forgotten in this controversy – because he happened to justify the action saying “I didn't think I would come to this conclusion -- but eventually I came to the conclusion that more information is better, even if it is not as full as we would like to see”.

There is indeed an Orwellian feel about that! But I still love Google and the way it organized my life, and changing it. I love the simplicity, the freeness, and the innovation – if you are challenging that, look at Google Maps or Google Local!

Far from being Orwellian, I think Google represents what is good about capitalism – innovation, far sight, customer-mindedness, so far. It is unfair to compare them with Microsoft, which, despite its strategic genius, is about copying, bullying, bad products, and mostly money – they have been this way for a while now. There are lots of Microsoft-lovers who kind of believe in a ‘pure, original Microsoft’, but that logic leads to say what a monster Wall Street can make out of a pioneering innovator!

Think – Google chose the second best option in China as otherwise, there would have been freedom to search without Google in China. Having used Internet Before Google, I am certain that was not an alternative.

Arctic Monkeys and Another Thought

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am no music buff – much less rock music – and will wonder why I am talking about a rock band suddenly.

Because, I celebrate the Internet!

I am keenly watching what Internet is doing to the ‘copyright’ industry.

I was on the receiving side of the dotcom bubble bust. But always believed the Internet was far from dead. I still remember a very skeptical friend told me that the day I buy grocery online, that will be the age of the Internet. He said that no so long ago – in 1996. And, here we are, every time I order my month’s supplies from Tesco online, I do recall the statement.

So, what is there about Arctic Monkeys?

They are a Sheffield Indie band, which has gone onto release the fastest selling rock album ever in history! The buzz is – 2006 is going to be the year of the monkey! Wondering why you have not heard of them yet? They are the first mega-band [brand] of the download generation – and promoted themselves on the internet to start with.

The dotcom bust – if you want to return to this subject – was more of a demonstration of failure of greed-capitalism. This has happened many times before, most notably in 1840s, that time it was railways, and did anyone think that the age of railways were over after the bust in 1840s?

In fact, I will make an uninformed comment [before my economist friends come back with data and arguments] : any major technological innovation in modern history – I mean the era changing ones, the ones Joseph Schumpeter would have identified as having long term impact – immediately brought forth a bubble of speculation and a terrible fall, mostly at the cost of lay investors.

While technology has changed our life enormously, such speculative bubbles always robbed commoners’ resources and accumulated it with the profiteer [I can think of Railroads, Automobile, Internet off my head]. So, when someone talks about ‘what is the next billion dollar idea?’, I see next hoard of robber-barons waiting in the wings.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ethics in the post 9/11, post WTO world

I am reading ‘One World’, by Peter Singer. Professor Singer is one of leading thinkers in Ethics, and this is a significant effort revaluing ‘ethics’ in the context of a post-9/11, post-WTO world.

A surprisingly balanced work, and a very good read – survived the Croydon-London Train test, and I could read it straight through. Despite the complexity of the subject, it is a pleasurable read.

While it does not question the world order, and only attempts to interpret it, Professor Singer tends to show how the modern capitalism, and more practically the current US administration, is working against itself – its core ethical foundation, the philosophies of Adam Smith and John Locke, or the principles that established a rule of law.

It is no globophobic [to use Ernesto Zedillo’s term] work, but one that embraces the modern world for what it is, but also evaluates it against its fundamental ethical principles.

If you believe in modern civilization/ capitalism, but wondering whether this is a sustainable system, you may want to include this in your reading list.

Looking at the Top of the Pyramid

I return to the Bottom of Pyramid concept yet again.

Of late, I have been engaged in creating business models for a training company, which wants to enter India with an offering of English training courses.

I was excited because it is indeed a huge opportunity – the largest population in the so-called Anglo-sphere [a political concept dear to heart of conservative political thinkers in Britain and United States, a super-commonwealth], millions of people with some English knowledge locked inside and a changing educational environment – the business made so much sense to me.

We drew up a business plan and the following were key observations and ideas for the market entry:


  1. The thriving BPO industry makes training English a big business opportunity.

  2. There is a huge market in metropolis, especially Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, and the largest training centres must be located there.

  3. The product offering – and the global brand – must be positioned as niche, priced at a premium, and must be seen as the ‘Mercedes’ of English training.

  4. Advertising will be the key in establishing the brand, and we must plan to cover satellite channels extensively.

  5. There will be lot of demand in the corporate sector and hence we must be able to tailor products to suit the needs of this marketplace.

As you will notice, each one of these are correct assumptions and strong drivers of business, and hence, they have been planned for very rightly. But, then, we knew the following too:


  1. The BPO industry employs about 400,000 people out of an Indian population of 1,100,000,000.

  2. Only 6% of India’s population lives in its top 24 cities.

  3. There are not many Mercedes in India. In fact, many global, premium brands have been disappointed with the ‘India experience’. [In fact, the same is also true for China, the darling of global business, as a market]

  4. Satellite Channels reach less than 1% of India’s population.

  5. ‘Corporate’ sector represents only a very tiny minority of India’s workforce, a puny proportion of its GDP and has very little ‘rub off’ effect.


Why did these numbers and observations not worry us? Why did we plan for a business which will only cater to possibly only the top 2% - 5% of India’s population, a market place which, to a large extent, already quite familiar with English [after all, that’s the 2% which hooks up India as a part of the Anglo-sphere], and catered by about 12 global training brands offering similar products.


Instead, let me offer you this imaginary picture [no, not our plan, because we will never get funded for this]:


  1. A tried-and-tested method of training English, delivered through 2000 outlets all across India.

  2. Serving more than a million learners every year, enabling them to understand, read and talk in English.

  3. Offering training in the learner’s native language – so the class happens in local language, making them understand English words and bridging them to English culture.

  4. Not costing more than $40 per learner,

  5. But allowing the business a margin of $1 per learner per year.

This will need a different approach, different ways of funding, different ways of looking at things. Global ‘Mercedes’ brands will not do, because these come with an inherent logic of 'margins must be worthwhile'. If there is a trade-off between margins and markets, only a very short term view will settle for margins, and most 'global mercedes' brands follow that. Also, venture capital imposes its own requirement of matching the margins that it can gain from another industry, let's say, trading. So, a profit maximization approach will never lead us to do this business, even if the opportunity is plain and clear.

But then, many businesses, Sears, Walmart, IBM and many such corporations, never started with the 'margins' logic. That is a contribution that MBA schools made in business policy-making. It confused the means and the end, and so far, clouded the 'concept of the corporation' to a large degree. However, I shall keep faith in the enterprise of our business leaders - such failures, probably many such failures, will make them return to seek markets again, ahead of margins.

Montmarte

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Scarlett Johansson - more on MatchPoint

Here is Scarlett Johansson - on relationship - in the context of her role as Nola. The short interview is here - as long as MSN does not change or remove the page.

I shall preserve the best bit of this interview in case they do.

Q. In your opinion, what’s the difference between love and lust? A: Lust is very selfish, and love is very selfless. You just think about the passion inside you, whereby with love you are really thinking about the other person.

Interestingly, in today's paper, I also read Woody Allen has given an interview saying that Scarlett - who is regarded as a Fashion Icon and one of the best dressed woman around - dont know how to dress. Taking a dig at her fascination for 50's style gowns, Woody Allen says that he did not want her to dress like 'My Aunt Minnie'! Ha ha.. As Scarlett Johansson commented - if she follows his advise, she will be wearing the white wrap-around all the time [which she wore almost all through the movie!].

Sunday, January 22, 2006

MatchPoint



I saw MatchPoint yesterday, the latest movie written and directed by Woody Allen.

As I was warned, it is not a characteristic Woody Allen movie. It is a very absorbing black comedy – very disturbing and very real.

Like all great movies, it had a personal message – as a character in the film puts it, “Hard Work is mandatory, but it is luck that makes the difference.”

Like all great movies, it builds the story around characters. It runs on a central powerful theme, and connects an array of characters around that – all stories lead to that the same key story.

What did I think of in the end? A good Cartier-Bresson photograph, where many elements connect to a central message, and communicates very personally to the viewer.

The story revolves around Chris, a tennis player who gave up after the ball hitting the net and dropping the wrong way. He comes to London, and starts as a tennis instructor, before he meets Tom, a wealthy man of an aristocratic family.  They become friends, he visits the family – where he gets respect and love for his hard work, strong self respect and ambition. Tom’s sister falls in love with him – and Tom’s father starts helping him out on her request. He moves into an office in the city, in a trading career, chauffer-driven cars and business courses sponsored by the office.

But he also meets Nola, Tom’s fiancée, a struggling actress from Boulder, Colorado – the sultry Scarlett Johansson. The attraction was immediate. They are very similar – Nola failing in auditions at crucial times but living up all her confidence and self over a drink. They get involved, at a particular moment of dejection when Tom’s mother, who does not like her at all, insulted Nola, as a matter of routine.

Then, Chris gets married to Tom’s sister, but Tom drops Nola, and settles for a girl who is liked by his mother. Nola disappears.

But then Chris runs into her again, in Tate modern, and starts a very passionate affair. Chris’ wife, all sweetness and very homely, does everything to get pregnant, but alas! It is Nola who gets pregnant. And she wants to keep this baby, and wants Chris to leave his wife.

Chris struggles. It is everything he stands for by then. Tries to tell his wife, but can not. He gets torn, and keeps buying time. Nola starts getting anxious, and starts demanding that Chris settles this. Chris starts lying, gets caught, Nola creates a ruckus, but somehow, with promises that he will tell it soon, Chris manages the situation. But, he is on edge by then – and he murders Nola, the unborn baby and also an innocent neighbor.

It was a shabby murder, full of clues, his name all over Nola’s diary. Detectives found it. As Chris’ wife finally announces that she is pregnant, the call from Police comes.

Knowing his life is on the edge, Chris destroys evidence, but again shabbily, and this time, a ring from Nola’s neighbor’s house does not get destroyed, dropping on the wrong side of the fence on Thames.

Even after Chris’ testimony, one of the detectives could make out how he has done the murder. He decides to dig deeper.

But, as he would proceed, one of the drug dealers in the area is found murdered, a ring from the dead neighbor’s house in his pocket.

Chris becomes a successful man, husband and parent. Life goes on.

I left the hall full of foreboding, a very personal message and a satisfaction that comes after a strong aesthetic experience.







France - Symbol of a Nation


What does it stand for? Aspirations to touch the sky? Freedom? Or a presence - artistic and masculine? But this moment in Paris captivated me. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Flights of Fancy!

Posted by Picasa Experimenting with my camera! Fly towards light - higher, higher, even higher - beyond sight and into imagination. Such moments occur - they are special. It is difficult to preserve the droplets of rain on my window-glass, lit up against the full moon. So I tried preserving it here.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Social Capitalists

Every January, this is one subject I return to. As you would guess, because there is this Social Capitalist award Fast Company gives out. But, in the core, it is an intriguing concept - worth exploring for anyone seeking to pursue a business career in our time.

So, what is it? Fast Company defines this as business with social impact, though that is a little vague, as any business has some social impact - positive or negative. Another definition attempts to define these as businesses which address a vaccum in the society, but i would think any innovative business attempts to do just that.

I shall rather try a definition by example. Grameen Bank in Bangladesh [and in the world thereafter] is a Social Capitalist kind of a business. It works at the BoP [I hope C K Prahlad had finally managed to take over this acronym and changed it from good old 'Balance of Payments' to 'Bottom of Pyramid'] - providing credits to poor people who are not credit-worthy for most banks. It stands on an innovative business model [the very accurate understanding that the god-fearing poor people, specially women, are better in repayments than resourceful industrialists, and also they can be charged more in interest as the supply of credits are limited, and the need is greater], usually operates at a lower per unit margin, but targets larger target audiences. And yes, it works on a vaccum - not of any other kind but the kind of vaccum left by the failure/ demise of the welfare state.

Many successful businesses of the future will definitely be built on this model. This is an essential aspect of global capitalism in its maturity - it has to now grow beyond the niche and expand into mass, if the essential entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism is to be sustained. It will also bring the growth and demand, as Prof. Prahlad rightly suggests, and keep opening new spaces in the maturing global economy.

Without scaring anyone, let me also mention why this has to happen. With time and technology improvements, the share of return on capital - either in profits or in terms of payment for 'intellectual capital' - is growing, mostly at the expense of the share of wages in the total payout. But this payout for capital is mostly invested in creating capacity, while the wages are usually spent on cosumption. So, the rich economies are somewhat tilted towards creating capacity excess of consumption - save for occassional corrections like an war. Hence, growth in consumption must come from bringing more people into buying from the system [from the informal production, service and exchange arrangements that still persist], by integrating emerging economies, by extending credits to the poor, or by enhancing and integrating their productive capacity - mainly through education and cultural interventions. So, it is natural to expect that growth - and business successes will increasingly come from such ventures, which are led by a new generation of capitalist pioneers, venturing into the new 'Wild West' of global capitalism.

Am I trying to slip in some communism in this? Not at all - the global markets are huge, and there is enormous potential, as Prof. Prahlad pointed out. Marx was foolishly optimistic that this capitalist surplus system will create an intolerable imbalance and reach its limits within a generation or two [and he was writing in 1860s]. He had not even seen cars, the middle classes, software and emerging economies, let alone Social capitalists.

I shall rather follow what another, more farsighted visionary said, this time it is Louis the XIVth, "It will last my time. After me, the deluge."

More On New Disney

The big news today is that Disney will buy Pixar for $7 Billion. Now one can understand Steve Job’s enthusiasm about Bob Iger. In fact, Disney and Pixar were almost parting ways before Bob Iger. Surely, Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs did never get along well.

But, anyway, that is not the news. It is an indication how things will move in Disney now. I did have a Wow! feeling when I saw ABC TV shows will now get distributed through iTunes, to be downloaded $1.99 an episode. Well, we all knew it was coming, but then we could all see it was NOT coming. The copyright thinking, which was a last century paradigm, based on an 18th century invention, was coming on the way of technological progress, and would have clobbered Hollywood the same way it destroyed the established music companies.

So, what everyone was expecting a bit of creative destruction. The new business models already were being talked about - as in this set of Fast Company articles. But then Disney moving in to buy Pixar, and trying to create vertically integrated digital studio, will change the game and accelerate the transformation of Hollywood.

Give a thought for George Lucas though! He is the one who funded Pixar in the initial stage, but could not see beyond the obvious and sold it to Steve Jobs for $10 Million in 1986!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Covent Garden!

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Poetry - on the Northern Line



I stepped from plank to plank
So slow and cautiously;
The stars about my head I felt,
About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch,--
This gave me that precarious gait
Some call experience.


Nothern Line had 'severe delays' today, yet again. That's quite normal though: I am now used to service disruptions, minor and severe delays, and the infamous 'Northern Line Minutes' [which is approximately one and half times as long as minutes-as-we-know-them]. But, truth be told - I also picked up these lines, current favourites and one on my workstation, by Emily Dickinson, on a Northern Line Train.
Perfect for a traveller's, or an entrepreneur's, soft board, but why do you find these on the Northern Line? You can see God has only kind of humour - irony!

Simplicity

I loved Linda Tischler’s cover story on Simplicity [Fast Company, November 2005]. And, this month’s magazine carries a feedback, from none other than Al Ries. And, he goes on saying - “May be it takes a woman to see what’s really happening in Consumer Electronics. All the articles written by men have focused on ‘convergence’, a concept that is making products more complex." I am one of those who are scared of manuals and remote controls, so three cheers for SIMPLICITY!



Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Mystery of Capital - Reading Today

I started reading a very interesting book today - Mystery of Capital - by Hernando De Soto. It had a very interesting proposition, hence a pull on me.
It is quite a task reading a book on morning 7:54 Croydon to London Bridge train, and of late, I am using this journey as a screening period for books to read. If any book survives the journey and still keeps me interested, I would try to read it till the end; otherwise, change the book when I get back home in the evening. Mr. De Soto’s book survived this test today.

Whatever I read so far, it makes a very interesting point. The research and observations are aimed at answering that never-ending question - why poor countries are so poor - and attempt to develop a rather unique thesis. It rubbishes the claim that poor countries are poor because of its culture, lack of entrepreneurship etc. Mr. De Soto, rightly, points to those thousands of entrepreneurs driving a taxi, selling food on roadside stalls, vending titbits on the street corner - and challenges the proposition that people in the 'developing' countries lack the enterprise to develop themselves.

Also, he challenges the proposition that these countries do not have resources. By his estimate, the locked up resources - capital - in the hands of world’s poor is enormous, many times the size of financial assistance that can be ever be given to them. But, as he points out, this capital is locked up because the poor countries does not have proper systems of property rights, systems and awareness make this capital useable. And, also, most rightly, points out the enormous bureaucratic hassle involved in getting a property registered [77 steps with 31 entities in Egypt], to get a five-year lease contract on land [111 steps over 4112 days in Haiti] or formalize an urban property[168 steps over 13 to 25 years in Manila]. The book recounts the stories of how it takes 269 days to start a business - and clearly points out the waste that prevents developing countries from developing.

A rough estimate of this 'locked up' capital comes to $9.3 Trillion, many times the total foreign investment these countries are going to receive. Mr. De Soto draws on the history of now developed countries, and how their recognition of property and sophisticated financial and property recognition system helped accelerate their development. This is a powerful argument - in fact, most of Marxist friends will accept the core of the argument to be correct, though they may have a different view of desirability of such a system.

Do I agree with this position? Yes, I do. I do believe that overhauling the property laws and making it easy for people to access and use capital will stop an enormous, bleeding waste in our economy. Also, this book - in its spirit - corresponds to one of my key faith that an economy like India can become truly and sustain-ably prosperous when its own internal enterprise is unlocked. It is painful to see that our governments are leaving no stones unturned for getting foreign investment, but have done little - so far - in making it easy for local businesses to get started, access capital and get their rights recognized.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The New Disney & A thought

My Sunday agenda never works – two weeks into 2006 and it already looks like the infamous ‘New Year Resolutions’. So, I am changing the model a bit and will try to post every now and then, as I feel like.

I did two interesting things today. One, read a very interesting article on the New Disney under Bob Iger .. great to know that they are already licensing ABC TV shows to be downloaded from iTunes site [and of all shows, Desperate Housewives] - $1.99 an episode, which can then be viewed on an iPod. Exciting, because this will lead to more such innovations. Arcane licensing laws have been standing in the ways of progress for far too long. The demise of music industry, finally, is getting noticed and people are changing their business models. This article about Disney and how Steve Jobs is now all praise for Bob Iger points to a new realization inside Disney.

Second, I went over to a local meeting of Chartered Institute of Marketing today, first time but liked it. This session was on e-Marketing, which is an emerging and intriguing discipline, and I believe it is an important skill to have for anyone. As I focus myself on education, and increasingly e-education, this is one expertise which will be quite key in building my business.

But, the moment of the day deserves a special mention. This came when a participant in the CIM seminar asked the presenter, Dr. Alan Rae, what his personal experiences has been with eMarketing. I shall not get into what he said; but it was that moment of insight, when he started saying – “I can tell you one thing – the world never wants to buy what you want to sell. The first 18 to 24 months in any startup experience is that tussle, you trying to sell your vision and world trying to communicate to you the need. You survive if you listen!’. How profound, yes, touché!

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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