Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Diary: What I learnt last month
My Linkedin status update - that failed deals sometimes spark positive developments - brought forth a number of sympathetic comments. Some curious, because I was vague; some sympathetic, from those who gave weight to the failure part, and some cheers from those who did not. Those comments were helpful in cheering me up as well and restored my usual playfulness which invariably comes back to me at my own 'dark' moments. I love this, as I can see my own silliness and afford a good laugh. I am at one such strange moment.
I have done it again, dear god! I have again wasted my time in trying to work with a Kolkata businessman, and naively assumed things have changed since I last cared to see. And, I am back to where I was - just that, this time the run was far shorter and my experience helped me confront issues earlier in the life cycle of the project rather than leaving it for later. But, while it lasted, it was a full spectacle of small-mindedness, idiocies and the lack, indeed a complete failure, of imagination, which plague most business enterprises in the city. I must also mention the complete lack of ethics and the respect for other people's time, which, some day, with the hand of god and the market, the business owners in Kolkata have to sort out themselves.
But, in any case, I have learnt my lessons. I should have realized it earlier - Kolkata businessmen are usually big fishes in a small pond, and they are destined to remain that way. In terms of imagination, it is a strange place - you don't need much. All you need is connections - that way CPIM has turned Kolkata quite akin to China - and all these businessowners really know is how to pay their way through. of course, I am extremely bitter and therefore a bit biased, because I wasted an enormous amount of time working with one such pretender, and currently licking my wounds. But, then, it is time for me to have a good laugh at my own silliness, the fact that I ever believed that a modern, service oriented business can ever be set up by any of those petty-bourgeois babus, and reminding myself of my 10 year old maxim of staying out of entanglements in Kolkata.
I have also learnt one of my shortcomings. My belief that anyone can do it in life is an ideological statement, but not very practical. Or, to justify further, anyone can actually do it in life, provided THEY try. I almost assume anyone can do it in life and they will try - that's nonsense in a practical business perspective. In a reflective mood, I sat down and started counting how many people I have come across in last two years who I assumed would really try and then saw that they did try for themselves, and I did not have many. I could only recall one lady, married to one of my friends, who showed significant determination and ambition, and despite fairly trying circumstances, followed her own agenda and is currently on the way of sure success. And, yes, another lady who worked with us who was entrepreneurial from the word go and could have done much more if we provided her enough support to channel her energies.
But, otherwise, I could only recount lethargy, a desparately reactive attitude where people did take salary as a right and a happy-go-lucky life as a given. My assumption that people will stretch themselves to realize their full potential fell flat: who actually cared about full potential? I think a majority of Indian workers, who come from the government families, where they have seen their parents work not too hard for a modest but assured income, start their life with that view of life. I have no other explanation for the strangely reactive, almost fatalistic, behaviour I have seen so far.
Or there is one explanation that may hold some water. The fact that by a strange set of circumstances, I was always looking at the wrong sample. This sample set is mostly ladies in their 30s and 40s, mostly married, with good English [so privileged] and with an almost set in stone expectation out of life. One can possibly see why demographically it may indeed be the wrong set. But even if I accept that this is not representative of modern Indian work ethic [and indeed, I am talking about forty to fifty people at best], it is indeed an issue one needs to think about. Besides, I don't mean to draw a sexist assumption. The only two silver linings I saw in the whole set are indeed ladies with the same background, and the men I met fell far short of those benchmarks anyway. But, I had to conclude that there is some work to be done in terms of work ethic, especially in pushing employees to believe that they have to take responsibility of their own lives, develop continuously and contribute - indeed, it is their duty to contribute at work whatever is the circumstance or the constraints.
In this whole discussion, I still think this self-responsibility part is the most important. Without generalizing, I must say many people in India are so hopelessly caught in this job thing. The change is happening fast - the organizations are outsourcing work and this will only accelearate in the post-recession years - but the free agent nation that will take advantage of this changing workplace is missing in action. The society is not prepared - parents want their children to go to work every morning and come back in the evening, even if this means a demeaning existence and a paltry salary. The individuals who will try to break the mould and create something new without the slavery of a day job are still looked down upon. Then, there is the EMI slavery, where people bought - mostly - cars [and in some cases, houses], beyond their means and would want to waste a greater part of their life just earning enough money to keep paying the monthly payments. The policymakers also want to create jobs - being completely oblivious that in a modern economy, this means encouraging entrepreneurship, as the freewheeling money-printing days of government giving a job to everyone is over. So, this whole structure needs to be shaken at the core and people need to be thrown out of their comfort zone - to discover that there is an alternative future, more attuned to today's world of work.
That's my positive development. I have learnt my lessons and I shall start afresh.
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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
- Theodore Roosevelt
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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