Monday, January 19, 2009

Day 2 of 100: Getting There

I almost wasted the whole day on my laptop, which refused to start in the morning - resulting in a panic that took the whole time away. I tried almost everything, concluding at some point in the afternoon that I have to go out and buy a new laptop, only to realize that how hopelessly dependent on computers my life is at the time - I was thinking of buying a DELL online! But, anyway, I could salvage the situation somewhat, though this did require a full hard disk format and rebuild of the operating system, and almost six hours of work backing up and restoring all data. A colossal waste of time - or in another way, an useful lesson to learn very early in my 100 day experiment.

The lesson is simple : don't leave for tomorrow what can be done today, and I just quoted Benjamin Franklin. I was to write an article on Bangladesh's election for a journal, and while I was almost ready on Saturday evening, I decided to sleep early and send it over on Sunday morning. I wanted to have a last review with fresh mind - so I told myself. But this was actually simple laziness that gets me some time, and this was one of the occasions. I was obviously cursing myself when my computer wont start in the morning, and recounting events in my life when I left things for too late. One of them affected me professionally: I was to write a guide for e-learning to be given out to participants in an exhibition and I left it for too late, only to be caught up in a situation where a family member got very ill and had to be taken to the hospital. My relationship with Mike, my supervisor, which was usually excellent and still is, took a nosedive on this issue - Mike justifiably thought I let him down big time.

I have noticed that I do well under pressure and many of my accomplishments, professional and personal, were achieved in a very short time. But that's no consolation, as I almost always told myself that I could do a better job if I had more time. And, the truth is - I never gave myself more time. I always waited till the last moment to work on something. I think this is a big negative in my character and I ought to work hard - and will do so rather publicly in this blog - over next few days to sort this out.

Yesterday, however, there was a good thing to report amid all this chaos. After a real long time, I tried writing by hand. The laptop was backing up and I was afraid to touch it lest it crash again. So, I took up pen and paper to write, only to realize how unaccustomed I got with that medium. Later in the evening, when I decided not to go to bed without first sorting out the promised essay, I picked up bits from whatever I wrote on paper, but then chose the medium I am most accustomed with - this blog's editor. Yes, over MS Word or any such package, as I am far more familiar with this interface now than anything else. This had an upside too - I got the article saved up on the blog archives. Some day, when the article has already been published [or rejected, as may be the case], it will take me a few minutes to publish it on my blog, in its unedited format. Voila!

Yesterday, I watched a lot of TV - couple of movies, one of them was an old classic, The Apartment. I have not seen this before - one where an ambitious employee gives keys to his apartment to his boss to fool around with a girl from office and thereby gets a promotion - though I have seen a similar story in the bollywood version, Life in a Metro, where Kay Kay Menon played the boss and Kangana Ranaut played the girl from office. I also watched Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher in The Guardian, an old movie yet again, but none the less, I like both the actors and it offered the necessary distraction while struggling to recover my files.

More TV, and it was interesting to follow Niall Ferguson on Farid Zakaria GPS yesterday. Dr. Ferguson was essentially saying that we are looking at long drawn out recession ahead of us, one where a situation like Japan's lost decade will be the best case scenario. He made an interesting point: He said that the current world economy is driven by a Chiamerica partnership, where the Chinese is producing and saving and the Americans are consuming and spending. He was suggesting that if this partnership falls apart in the weight of the recession - if the Chinese for example stop buying US treasury bills and start using their savings to generate domestic demand, start a massive social benefit programme for example - the United States government will have a particularly hard time recovering from the recession. They, in fact, may not be able to recover from the recession at all - like the British in the 1940s.

This is an interesting point. Because the Chinese have to do it anyway. The growth in China has already slowed and the situation is rather dire, by the reports I hear. China does not have a democratic society and therefore, is bereft of a peaceful mechanism to voice grievances and seek political reconciliation. In short, China can not elect a Barack Obama and make a new start. So, the government has to keep things going and keep things cool, and the most plausible way to do this is to offer a massive social stimulus - to fix its broken health-care system or to bridge the rural-urban divide may be - by spending some of the trillion dollar reserve they are sitting on. However, while this looks like bad news for the moment, as this will mean the US Treasury Bonds will have to be sold elsewhere and the interest rates will rise, this is not so bad news because this will mean the consumption will rise again, this time with a Chinese engine pulling it.

This, incidentally, means a significant shift of perspective for the businesses. Dr. Ferguson expressed his faith on America's ability to innovate its way out of recession. Very true, and I am certain a new genre of entrepreneurs are waiting in the wings to make the best out of this dire situation. They will have to grapple with a new reality though: How to design products and services and sell it profitably to billions of customers who live on less than one dollar a day. Yes, we have already talked about this in Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Call it Capitalism's last frontier, if you wish, but this is where the action will be, if the world economy has to move forward from the current mess we have found ourselves into.

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