Monday, 18 December 2017

The illusion of control

The scene is a typical Indian services quarters from the 90’s – the kind of sub-600square feet dwelling blocks the government usually provided to their lowest rung employees back then along with a meagre monthly salary. The camera zooms into one of the balconies of that building – a young man is staring into the night view deep in his thoughts – his small home in the background. There are celebrations in that house that night, as he has bagged a job in the esteemed Indian railways – about 5000 rupees per month plus benefits – something that the whole colony is excited about. But he has an alternate career in sports, knows that he has it in him to strike big but somehow things have not worked out as he had hoped. Although the offer in railways is very lucrative, he feels that it is a dead-end in life, and would take him nowhere close to what he has dreamed…

At this moment, his elder sister walks up to him, notices he is worried, and gives him words of comfort – saying he is destined to become a great man. She reckons that someday, he could even end up at a top position in the railways. The young man just smiles at her soothing words but the conflict in his mind is evident – he is struggling to accept the current reality and wants to know where destiny takes him in life…

****

The young man has now moved to the SER (South Eastern Railway) headquarters at Kharagpur, a handful of people have gathered in a small railway quarters in Kharagpur to watch India play the WC finals of 2003 against Australia. Tendulkar gets out pulling a slower ball from McGrath in the first over and everyone knows the match is gone! The same young boy gets up and walks into the kitchen to make tea for others. He is already feeling depressed that his life has come to a standstill, and is visibly upset. There are voices from the other room who start discussing that Kaif, Mongia and Yuvraj were contemporaries of their buddy at the under 19 level. But they have moved on to represent the country in the world cup, but somehow things have not worked out well for their friend. He listens to their conversation feeling sad and knows they mean well for him, but destiny has been cruel to him so far! Would his destiny ever change? Or would he live as a ticket collector all his life?

****

We all know where destiny took him!


****

Rahul proposes his love for Priya in college. She says yes and soon they become the cutest couple in college. Rahul gets good grades in tests whenever Priya wishes him with a red rose. During campus interviews, Rahul is able to secure placement in a very high paying MNC overcoming tough competition from his peers. Priya always feels that Rahul is her lucky charm and that she gives her best performance in exams / interviews when she speaks to Rahul. They believe they are lucky for each other. They want to get married and stay together all their life so that the lucky charm continues all their life…

Today, Priya is settled in the US after finishing her post-graduation from a top university. She is married to Arun, an US based NRI. While Rahul is settled in Mumbai with his wife and 2 kids. Rahul and Priya broke up 2 years after they graduated from college - Rahul wanted to crack CAT and pursue a career in management in India, while Priya wanted to pursue MS in US. Soon, the lucky charm started ditching them, Priya got rejects from most universities after a great GRE score while Rahul’s 2 attempts at CAT did not yield any positive results. They seemed to struggle for even trivial issues at workplace and missed delivery deadlines, got reprimanded by seniors for errors in their delivery, found the going very tough during appraisals and struggled to get even a 5% increment. They fought with each other whenever they managed to meet up on weekends amidst their coaching classes. One fine day, they decided it was enough and called it quits to go their own paths.

When they look back at their relationship from college days, they keep thinking whether it was their love for each other or the supposedly “lucky charm” that kept them together for 5 years.

****

Pooja thinks that she is born lucky and whatever she predicts comes true- like the outcome of a cricket / soccer match. During a college sporting event, her college team needs a highly unlikely 5 wickets to win in the next two overs while the opposition needs just 10 runs. She predicts that the opposition will be all-out within 1.3 overs and to everyone’s surprise the opposition chokes dramatically and does manage to lose, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! This incident enhances her reputation among her friends and she starts to predict outcomes of national matches on TV and it turns out to be right all the time. She then tries her luck at stock market and strikes gold within the first two months. She thinks her life is set!

Today, Pooja has lost over 3lakhs rupees in the stock market. Although some of her picks have delivered good returns, there have been big crashes as well leading her to doubt whether she was born lucky in the first place.

****

Po wants to go watch the dragon warrior selection matches in the palace on the hill. He does not get tickets. His dad gives him a cart of buns to go and sell at the event, which he is not able to drag on the steps because of the cart weight. The gates to the event close before he enters and he feels unlucky that he has missed watching his favorite heroes perform at the event.

We all know where Po’s destiny takes him!


****

There seems to a common thread connecting these stories? All of them try to elucidate the effects of luck and destiny. Many people interpret these two words differently. But the one that most people seem to agree on is that luck is an instantaneous thing – something that effects the outcomes of our current situation. While destiny is more of a long-term thing – it is what we are entitled to do in the larger scheme of things. A small event in life like a job interview today or a football match tomorrow could be affected by luck, while destiny or fate is what affects in the long run. When a strong team bows out of the competition in a shocking manner, it could be attributed to luck or one-off bad event. But when a strong team with world beaters (say South Africa in cricket) keeps bowing out due to rain/luck or some other factors every single time, then the question definitely arises on the destiny of that team whether it is ever fated to win a trophy

Luck is usually a measurable quantity. Of all the likely events that are going to happen, some could be favorable to you and others might not be so much. You could use probability to count how many times you got lucky. But destiny or fate is something which cannot be determined. Many thinkers / eminent personalities / philosophers have spent a lot of time thinking about destiny and how to measure it, but it is something that is unfathomable. Yet, it is something that affects us greatly in life. If we were to link it with pure statistical terms, luck would be correlation – just the association between two events happening because of chance, while destiny is the real ‘causation’ – the real reason why things happen in a particular way.

Don’t worry about lucky charms – they come and go. The best part about life is we don’t know what we are destined for. We tend to worry about small things. Standing in the balcony of that railway quarters, young Mahi worried what would life turn out to be. Would it be any fun if anyone went to him right then and told him that his destiny would be to hit the winning six of the world cup final? We have to live in the moment, take control of what is controllable and play the game of life in the best manner possible. What is in destiny would eventually come to us. This is true in every field and in everything we do in life. Maybe that 3BHK apartment by a dream builder is your life’s ultimate desire at this phase of life. If you don’t get that/closely miss it due to bad luck, you might feel depressed. But if you are destined to own a villa, no one can stop you from getting it eventually. So, do not worry about seemingly important things now, because destiny always has the bigger picture in mind for you.

One thing the ancient people have concluded is that everything in life is controlled by your past actions. Although this might not be entirely true, it helps to explain the sudden unexplainable events – somebody rising in their field suddenly without any support, a miraculous escape from a sure shot death, etc. ‘RuNaanubandha rupeNa pashu patni suthaalaya’ - Destiny is nothing but a result of our past actions. So, if you are seemingly stuck at some point in life and feel life is being unfair, just remember that the only way out is to write off that past debt is by continuously giving your best shot at all things you do and hoping that things eventually turn out good for you. And finally, acknowledging that a higher force is responsible for the results of our actions would immediately comfort us in sad times and help us stay humble and grounded in happier times.

Another common occurence is that a lot of people interpret these ancient philosophies to undermine natural talent and hard-work. At times, people even get complacent thinking that things are anyway going to be controlled by destiny - Waqt se pehle aur nasseb se jyaada kuch nahi milta, so why put in the effort. This is exactly the opposite of what those philosophies stand for. It is absolutely essential to put in hard-work and improve our skills. It is only by doing this, that the effects of past actions would be nullified and things start turning around. What is more important, however is to not lose focus when things don’t seem to be going the way we like and persist with the efforts such that eventually there will be a worthy reward.

On the personal front, the year has been a demonstration of destiny in action. I tried do too many things and expected too many things too soon. I wanted very quick results for my seemingly heavy efforts, while I now realize that the efforts were average at best, minuscule at worst. I guess I was just hoping to get lucky with without putting in the real hard-work required for the results. The year has made me realize that there is no point in trying to control the uncontrollable and brooding over not being lucky on seemingly important things. Destiny will pan out itself eventually and it is better to let go of the illusion of control and concentrate on the putting in the efforts, in the hope that turnaround would happen when the time is due! And the most important thing is I've learnt that the only way to become better is by perseverance. I plan to continue the same efforts in the next year and beyond. My personal experience has been that whatever is destined would be much greater and better than what can be ever desired! The earlier we make peace with that, the more we can try and live in the present. I wish the coming years would turn out very good for each one of you and may your destiny bring you all those things that you ever wanted and much more. Wish you a happy new year!

PS:
1. Images subject to respective copyright owners. Source: Google images.
2. Movies referred to in the post: MS Dhoni: The Untold Story chronicling the life of Indian star cricketer and captain, MS Dhoni and the superhit 2008 animated offering from Dreamworks: KungFu Panda.
3. Comic strip from Dogbert can be found here.
4. Some fictional scenarios are used for illustrative purposed and bear no resemblance to any real-life people.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

"In the next five years, I see myself as a middle-management professional in one of the top companies of the world, helping their growth in the process of helping myself grow. I would have acquired the best techno-managerial skills from an esteemed premier institution - like yours :). I want to grow in the industry to as high position as I can where I have the power to bring a change in the working practices for the organization. I want to observe the entrepreneurs closely so that I can learn the intricacies of business from them."

I was scanning through some of my archived mails from 2009 and found this in one of the MBA interview documents that I had prepared. Notice how the 'like yours' is added right after the “esteemed premier institution”. I did not even know which institute would even call me for an interview, let alone offer me admission to the course. It was a generic statement added just to earn brownie points from the interviewer. Ah... The extent to which we would go to please the colleges to take us in!

Another eventful year 2014 has ended! The above document which I found dated back to late 2009 – it was the serious preparation time for MBA entrance tests, group discussions and personal interviews. It has indeed been a full five years since then! I wish each and every one of my readers a very happy and prosperous new year 2015! And this time of the year is usually a good time to look back at the years gone by, to plan for the years to come and to be thankful for all that we have been able to achieve. With that in mind I thought of reviewing the above statements that I prepared as compared to what I actually wanted, and how things actually turned out.

What was written v/s what I wanted?
Back then in late 2009, I was stuck in an organization without knowing what exactly the right career path was for me. Being a software engineer, I loved writing code, debugging and relished the challenges that programming offered, but I failed to see how all of these fit with the bigger corporate goals. Even the world’s largest mobile phone maker that I worked for was going through a very bad phase with no long-term goal/strategy in wake of cut-throat competition in the market. I was too frustrated with the daily work being done in our smaller teams. There was politics, biased decisions, the proverbial ‘glass-ceiling’ and most importantly, loss of precious hours on futile and pointless discussion about product features without out an actual implementation plan for any of them.

So, when I said I wanted to be in the ‘middle-management’ having ‘techno-managerial’ skills with ‘power to change working practices’, it all boiled down to one simple thing – I emphasized on getting things done with some ‘quick-wins’, in a way that it brought returns to the company, rather than sit and discuss about a thousand eventualities, most of which would never happen anyway! And the last part about ‘entrepreneurs’ was added only to know how much of a risk setting up a new business would entail – something which I was curious to know, even though the probability of me setting up one was very minimal at that point of time.

The part about faster career growth, higher salary, and a reputed institution branding were some of the things conveniently left out in that answer. I wanted to attain financial security for me and my family, attain personal happiness and make my parents happy. All those things were like a given which came with MBA – something that the interviewer and interviewee had already agreed to. Who does not want a higher salary anyway? :)

What did I learn in this time?
So, I thought I had it all planned for the next 5 years, and all I had to do was stick to that plan and execute it to perfection. It seemed all set – career, life, love –everything! The five years saw too much happen on all of these fronts – some turning out good, and some not so much or in some cases, outright tragic. I did manage to flatter some of the professors of a reputed institute with those well-prepared answers and survived the rigor of a tough MBA curriculum (once you cross the initial few days, it is quite an enjoyable experience anyway). I got into a company and career track where ‘quick-wins’ and fetching ‘incremental returns’ were a daily mantra. While earlier I used to lament about how slow things moved, the pace with which things happened in the new domain and roles were such that sometimes, I just prayed for things to slow down. All in all, it has been a wonderful five years, every experience teaching me something new and helping me to discover a bit more about myself.

Here’s a summary of the five main things which I learnt with respect to long-term planning in the last five years:

1. World changes every day and so should our priorities and plans: Even when Sachin Tendulkar batted on wickets that were bowler friendly, he batted so beautifully that a score of 300 was always possible in an ODI. But once he got out, there would be few more quick wickets and new batsmen found it hard to adjust. India was always forced to revise the projected score to 250-270. The same is the case in most fields. You can never accurately predict what would happen in the next few days. And things quickly change with disruptive innovations coming in almost every day. Even when I quit Nokia in 2010, it was still the world’s top phone manufacturer. But their devices unit ceases to exist today. And the company itself has faded away in the phone market! It is very important to continuously evaluate your plans and see if it makes sense even today. What seemed a best career choice two years ago might not such a good thing to do today. Hence, it is always important to prioritize in order to stay relevant.

2. Being happy is one of the most difficult things to plan/achieve: You could buy a house, a car, earn a promotion, or have crores as your bank balance. You could sail through a tough professional course, get a promotion and double your salary every 3 years. But the most difficult thing to achieve is being happy with what you do. What is the point if you are stuck in a job which you don’t really enjoy doing in spite of having all things mentioned above? This might be different for different people – so, it is not always higher salary or a great or even having a great car to commute to work. So, it is very important to find out what exactly makes you happy and then plan towards achieving them.

3. It does not matter how many steps/turns you take as long as you are headed in the right direction: I have come across people who always hold back on doing stuff just because they fear that it might “not look good on their resume”. If your job is a real dead end in terms of pay/work, why don’t you quit? “It might not look good on my resume”. If you are really interested to pursue higher studies now, why don’t you do it? “It might not look good on my resume”. Why can’t you do a hands-on role after doing a MBA if it really gives you the growth you always wanted? “Because it might not look good on my resume”. You must be getting the drift now. Nothing can be preposterous than this! As long as you are headed in the right direction, it just should not matter what things would look on the so called ‘resume’. If you are able to explain the real rationale behind your decisions, things always will look good on the resume.

4. There will be adversities to disrupt execution of your plans: Life is uncertain and there will be adversities, unexpected things that bog you down. I have seen people just give up on their goals when these things happen, and crib about them later on saying ‘If only I had got it done then, my life would have been so different’. A better attitude towards handling uncertainties and adversities would be to go back to point one, ie, evaluate and reset your goals. For example, if you failed to get admission to that top college this year, would it be in your best interests to try for it next year? And if the answer is yes, then just go for it! As long as you are headed in the direction of your dreams/passions, the minor impediments should just not matter.

5. Designations don’t matter, nor does the current pay: This one is solely for the people in the corporate world. I often see people in my org looking at some of their batch-mates in totally unrelated domains and grumbling ‘Look at that girl. She is already an ‘area sales manager’, while I am just an ‘accounts officer!’ or ‘The guy from our class has already got a six digit monthly salary and we are still getting peanuts here!’ and so on. It is absurd to be comparing yourself to someone because the kind of work/domains for the two be totally different. And the work that they do there might not at all be something to your liking at all. Maybe if you swapped roles with that other person, you would not enjoy your life/work as much as you would now. So, instead of making foolish comparisons, all that we need to focus on is to stay market-relevant in our passionate area, strive to excel in that and constantly believe in our abilities!

So, where do you see yourself in 2020?
For most people in their early 20s, the answer to this question pretty much remains the same – complete professional courses/training, secure a high paying job, buy a house and/or an expensive car, get settled in life, get married to your college sweetheart, etc. It is once you get past that stage, little bit of disillusionment sets in – whats next? Would you revise your goals? Would you realize the futility of planning for the future and give it all up? It is here most people start doubting, disbelieving, giving up, doing something outrageous, questioning their existence, etc in search of a bigger overall goal of life.


Yes, these things are all but natural feelings of emptiness once you have achieved/are close to achieving what you set out to achieve. But the most important of all to consider in all these is your happiness. If you feel happy doing whatever you are doing right now, then just continue to do it and excel at it so that you earn a good name in your field. If you feel there is still a lot of scope to improve from where you are right now, just continue putting in your best efforts to get to wherever you aimed to be. And if whatever you are doing is not making you happy, just try experimenting to see if there is some other thing which makes you happy. I understand that there would be a high risk and a lot at stake if you want to switch into an alternate career if you are at later stages of your life, but it is always better to take a calculated risk to understand yourself better, rather than not having tried at all. In simple words, in the next five years, we just need to aim to be happier and better persons than what we are right now. At least if your efforts are in the right direction, then all the other things will automatically fall in place. And that exactly would be my answer if I were asked this question in any interview. What would be yours?

“We plan for things to happen in one year, ponder over it for 2-3 years and it somehow takes 5 years to finally get executed”
- Great philosopher :)

PS:
1. Securing admission into any professional course follows a lots of sequential steps like score in entrance tests, group discussions, SoP writing, etc and not based on professors getting impressed in one single interview. It has been depicted only to set the tone of the post
2. Video courtesy : youtube; Movie: 'Love aaj kal'- used to depict the feeling of emptiness/disillusionment once goals seem achieved

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

IT in government services: my first-hand experience

Technology enabled analytics might be bread and butter for many of us in the IT/analytics industry. We get to see that in the past one decade, technology services has really redefined the way we did things – be it banking/retail shopping/social networking. But is it really changing anything in the public sector organizations or government agencies? There is some amount of computerization to the extent of getting computer generated bills/applying for documents online. I have always believed in the power of IT to improve the existing processes in the government sector. A real life incident in the past month just showed me how technology coupled with analytics has already made its way into the functioning of the government services sector and is looking more and more promising as we move forward.

The Trigger
It all started with an inland letter arriving through regular mail to our house a week ago (snail mail they call it, in comparison to the faster e-mail). It had a notice from the Bangalore traffic police asking us to pay a fine of 100 INR because our Honda activa had violated a traffic rule 3 weeks ago. The details were mentioned as:

TYPE OF VEHICLE: MOTORCYCLE
DATE: 12/05/2014 09:00 AM
PLACE: SHANKARA MATT CIRCLE, BASAVESWARANAGAR
DESCRIPTION: PARKING NEAR TRAFFIC LIGHT/STOPPING ON ZEBRA CROSS
REGN NUMBER: ********181

Now, this was a bit confusing when we checked back. Among my family members, my bro and I are the ones who use the ACTIVA. These days it is just me, mostly for commuting to and from office. And the day in question was Monday, and there was no way I could pass through Basaveswaranagar, early in the morning. And chances of my brother using it were ruled out. Gut feel told me that something was fishy but was not able to narrow it down to anything. A year and a half ago, we had received a similar notice for breaking a traffic signal, but then the spot of violation was nearer home. And we had simply ended up paying the fine that time, trying to rationalize that maybe we had indeed committed the offence. These notices come after 3-4 weeks after the offence has been committed and the timings/places/type of offence given is so hazy that it forces you into thinking that it might as well have been you. Even on this occasion, in spite of having a clear memory of not having taken my ACTIVA to anywhere near Basaveswaranagar on that date, I thought to myself that maybe it was some other place, but the vehicle could be indeed, mine. And, like the previous time, I decided to pay the fine online when I spotted the following on the last line of the mail notice:

For proof of offence, log on to www.bangaloretrafficpolic.gov.in

Wow… It seemed to me as if the authorities had complete telepathic powers and wanted to leave no doubt in the mind of the offender! I decided to check it immediately and logged into the website. And true to their word, they had these links up there:

Links on the traffic police website allowing to search for information

There were few technical issues on the site, like non-compatibility with an office network and non-compatibility with web browsers like Chrome/firefox and when I finally managed to get it right on IE, this was the dialog that popped up:

Pop-up showing the nature of offence

And when I clicked for proof, this is what loaded (to my surprise)

Shankar Mutt traffic signal and a vehicle crossing the line

It also gave a zoomed in view of the vehicle:

Blue pulsar zoomed in to view the number plate

I could not believe my eyes! I cross checked every character on the nameplate and it was the same as my vehicle’s. Even my brother came and checked it again for confirmation. But the vehicle in the picture was a Bajaj PULSAR while my vehicle was a HONDA ACTIVA. Was it a criminal case of someone cloning our nameplate? Was it some fudging of the image on the website? Was it just a simple error, which we were not able to spot immediately? We could not say! But one thing was clear – it was not us who had committed the offence. And that was such a relief!

But I was too involved now, having found out that it could be a case of data anomaly. I had to get to the root of this issue. So, I decided to contact the traffic enforcement authorities for help. I scanned through their website and found nothing helpful. Fines could be paid online, or at numerous BangaloreOne centres in the city or even at their ‘traffic management centre’ main office. I decided that I would go to the main office directly with the notice, my vehicle and documents and ask them directly what was going on.

Dealing with the government – over the years
Now, anyone who has lived in our country for a long time would know the difficulty involved in dealing with the government agencies, especially the service providers (telephone, electricity, gas, passport, driving license, etc). At some point in the late 90s and the early 2000s, these had become so messy and intricately woven mazes that the common man just felt trapped once inside. I remember going to get my driving license done at the RTO during college holidays, roaming around in the corridors, finding out who would be the right person to contact, observing the sea of middlemen bullying everyone right under the ‘Do not contact middlemen’ board. It had taken me 2-3 visits just to understand what needed to be done. And a further 4-5 visits to finally get a learner’s license. The authorities would be so lethargic and would take their own sweet time to get even the simplest of things done. When I went to get my passport done, we had waited in the queue for over 4 hours only because the authorities did not know how to enter the correct ‘supporting document type’ into the system. They had retorted to manual files, and kept chit chatting with one another all the while (students anyway have a lot of time to waste, no?). And then, there were middlemen/brokers who would charge a hefty amount just to get things done which the government would anyway provide for free, only to spare us the hassles. No one I know has got a PAN done themselves – either the process is too cumbersome, or the number of middlemen who do it for us are too many. One of the biggest complains that we all must have had with the government agencies would be the lack of follow up. Even after successfully submitting the application, the wait would go on for days (sometimes months/years) for you to hear back from them. Most of us would have faced this issue while applying for (landline) telephone or LPG gas connections.

Winds of change came in during the past decade with the introduction of IT in the public sector. Although the bureaucratic process was still cumbersome, the computerization of few processes made things better. Introduction of payment kiosks, one-stop bill payment/application submission centres like Bangalore One, webpages for all government agencies, etc made things a little easier. Even though the websites were badly designed, it was good enough to atleast find information and the right point of contact for submitting applications/ grievances. The online/kiosk bill payment facility helped to save time by avoiding the long queues at the counters. And most of the processes were still offline and had to be done via the cumbersome offline route.

Experience at the traffic management center
I left office quickly on a weekday afternoon and visited the police commissioner’s office infantry road to inquire about the wrong notice. I happened to visit the police control room on the 5th floor. There were server rooms, clean offices and all the police officers’ desks had sleek workstations resembling any other IT office in E-City/Whitefield. This was a pleasant surprise. I was told that the entire traffic operations had been moved to a completely new building called ‘traffic management centre’ (TMC) further down the street. I drove down to the TMC and even here the story was the same – basement parking, elevators with automatic closing doors, and high speed workstations – it was intriguing to note that these organizations were able to quickly transform themselves.

I went into the ‘Enforcement automation centre’, expecting to be re-directed atleast to 3-4 people and find empty seats with coats hanging on the chair. I was immediately attended to by a staff who asked me to occupy a seat, while the officer on duty came back from his break. I expected a long wait, but this staff asked me about the problem, logged into their portal and was able to retrieve the offence image on the desktop in a matter of two minutes! He asked me for my vehicle’s documents and acknowledged the mistake, and asked me to write a letter describing the mistake instead of wasting time by waiting! Not only was I pleasantly surprised by this person’s knowledge of IT, I was delighted by his concern for my time. This was something which was unprecedented in a government office, at least for me.

My complaint letter
The officer then arrived, and allowed me to finish writing my complaint letter. Once done, he scanned through the documents of my vehicle and the picture of their camera carefully in order to make sure that the offense was not actually committed by my vehicle. And then took the written letter of complaint with me. He even got the vehicle documents scanned in no time. As a documentary proof, he wanted a picture of my vehicle. I said I did not have a picture ready, but the vehicle itself was parked in the basement of the building if he wanted to inspect it. I was thinking if he would ask for the picture in a pen drive/CD ROM drive or even worse, a photo print of my vehicle, when he suggested, ‘why don’t you email it to me?’ and even gave me the gmail address of Bangaloretrafficpolice! He then told me that he would get back to me very soon with his findings.

When I left their office then, I just felt good that I had invested time wisely. Of course, there was still mystery shrouding why I was sent the notice in the first place. However, the quick acknowledgement by the authorities that it was indeed a mistake from their side and the subsequent help they offered in following up was really commendable. They had not only setup an automated surveillance system that would track offenders, but also backed it up with proper training to the officials on the possible errors it might cause.

The follow up
I was at home that evening around 6.30 PM when the landphone rang. The person on the other side asked for my father and then kept asking me questions like he was a matrimony broker! He had questions on my education, work, and family background and I was wondering if it was some stupid RJ pulling a prank on me. I played along for some time and then, he introduced himself as the officer whom I had met a couple of hours ago. He had traced the vehicle as a pulsar with number ending ‘484’ instead of ‘181’. It was the way in which the pulsar fellow had painted his nameplate, the ‘4’ on the nameplate looked like a ‘1’. And that vehicle had a whooping nine cases of violation, all of them in the same place! He said that I don’t need to mail the photo of the vehicle and can relax as they had found the root of the issue and could consider the case as closed!

Number of repeat offences commited by the blue pulsar
Closing thoughts
I had just thought I will mail them the photo of my vehicle and absolve myself from any liability and forget all about follow-ups. Owing to my past experiences with the government agencies, I never expected any follow up from them. Though, here they were, coming back with a follow up within 2 hours of the complaint, having traced the real offender in their database even before I could mail them the photo of the vehicle! They had surely exceeded expectations this time. The experience this time was certainly lot different than any of the earlier interactions which I have had with government agencies. Some of the key takeaways from this experience were:


  • Surveillance systems and real time analytics have already made their way into the police departments. So, next time you think of jumping the red because there is no cop watching, beware! 
  • Technology is no more a taboo for the employees of the government sector. They don’t need ‘computer guys’ to operate these systems anymore. The employees realize that these systems ultimately make their jobs easy and are very keen to learn.
  • Private firms (both local and MNCs) have realized that there is huge value in partnering with the government and are competing to grab a share of this valuable (till now overlooked) segment. Ex: Mindtree provides the IT systems for evidence management and Bosch Sicherheitssysteme GmbH (Germany) provides the camera/video recording equipment for surveillance to the BTP.
  • There is lot of scope for technology and real-time analytics to further improve services provided by the public agencies. And the administration has already taken huge steps towards implementing some of these.

Implementation of technology and automated systems in governance is really capable of bringing radical changes in the coming days. I am really optimistic for the future. Are you?

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Great Expectations - Part 2

Read part one onf the post here

A very popular story taught in moral science classes speaks of a king who ruled over a prosperous land, was very wealthy and rich, and loved a lot by his subjects. However, the king could not sleep at night due to some anxiety or depression. Lot of physicians examined the king and tried to suggest a remedy for this unique problem but none of them seemed to work. Finally a learned priest examined the king and told his ministers that all the depression and anxiety would be cured, if the king slept for one night wearing the shirt of a happy man!

The ministers thought it was such an easy thing to find a truly happy man, as the country was vast and fertile and everyone in the kingdom were rich and prosperous. However, when they went in search of a truly happy man, they realized that everyone in the country had one or the other reason to be worried. The minister said that he fought with his son, the dukes said they were troubled by the turmoil in the neighboring states, the farmers were worried about making more money for the future, and so on and so forth. The search party was about to give up their quest for a truly happy person, when they found on the streets, a beggar happily singing and whistling.

Upon speaking to this ragged poor man, they found out that this man was truly happy. He had no money, no home and lived on the streets. But he seemed happy and content with what he had and expected no more. They took him to the king, only to realize that this beggar had no shirt!

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A bunch of MBAs including me reported for work in a new company after college and we were immediately put through a rigorous training session, which involved us picking up technical skills like programming, data crunching, the ubiquitous office, statistics and analytics – all in a span of three to four weeks. And at the end of the month, there were back to back tests which grilled on all these topics.

On one fine day, there were two tests scheduled – one in the morning on data models and SQL, and the afternoon exam was on MS-Excel. Although I was very confident on programming and statistics, the data pull or SQL was something which I was being introduced for the first time. And all the questions asked very tricky. After spending sometime in the industry, I now know that all these questions were direct rip-offs from the now so familiar stack-overflow.com. But that time, all the questions seemed very difficult and I fared really miserably. During the lunch break, I was feeling so down and depressed, I did not want to eat nor wanted to study for the next exam. I just went to a meeting room and sat there thinking. A tear or two escaped from my eye. And usually sadness leads to more sadness. I remembered about the tough part I was going through even on the personal front and life seemed so depressing at that point. I had fared so bad in spite of being very passionate – be it the profession or the personal relationship!

It is at that moment a realization hit me. It just struck me from nowhere but the thought was very powerful – “In life there are no successes or failures. It is just that you/someone expected too much or too little from yourself!". That was enough to immediately calm me down and stop feeling depressed! I smiled at the simplicity of the thought. But it made perfect sense. We categorize ourselves as successful/failures only because of the expectations we set for ourselves. And if we do set unrealistic expectations, we are doomed to fail and feel sad more often than not. Quite simple, yet so powerful!

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Consider this: By the time you turn 18 and are having a perfectly happy life in school/PU college, expectations are built up on getting into a very nice professional course. Suppose you do choose engineering (because, well, do you need a reason?) and get into an engineering college, expectations are built up aroung bagging the most coveted job offer from the campus. And lets say you managed to do that and landed in (where else?) the IT biggies, you feel successful and remain happy until you see your buddies planning to quit for better opportunities/higher studies. Again, expectations start building up and you feel tell yourself that you’ll be successful only if you got that coveted seat in the top ranked college. And after working hard you do manage to get into a top technology / management college, that’s when the expectations come in fours and sixes! … ‘listen ya! he is doing MS itseems, he should get atleast $120,000 package after college’ or ‘oye, heard she got into that top ranked MII, she will surely get minimum 50LPA package after two years’

Expectations are everywhere. And in today’s fast paced materialistic world, the expectations are never ending but always too high! People want instant results… They want a bike, a car, a house, and a eight digit bank balance by the time they turn 30! Graduates from engineering don’t want to go through the grind of technical jobs. They expect onsite roles in Amreeka within 2 years of joining! Fat people join gymnasium or aerobic and expect to lose more than 10 kg within a month! Even though their parents might have served in the same position for more than a decade, professionals expect promotions every year! Isn’t this too much too soon? And what happens when these expectations don’t get fulfilled? Depression, stress, anxiety, visits to career counsellors, psychiatrists, drugs, anti-depressants and what not! Do we really need to go down that route?

Even relationships are not exempt from this unrealistic expectation menace. Everyone wants that perfect partner who understands them without even having to speak or struggle. They conveniently forget the essential communication aspect which goes into making a relationship work. And adding to all this is the self-glorification tactics due to the advent of social networking sites. Even before you get to know the person, your expectations are set so high that the relationship is on thin ice even before it has begun. How often have you seen marriages/relationships fail these days due to mis-communications/failed expectations. And then there are few of those relationships which you never thought will last but have continued to do well just because the couples involved were willing to talk and set the right expectations.

The next time you feel really depressed or sad for someone/something, just pause for a moment and think – was it because of setting the expectations wrong? Maybe you under-estimated something or did not factor in some important considerations. More often than not, communicating and resetting expectations helps a lot. On that day when I realized this in between the exams, I just said to myself, ‘alright! Maybe I have fared bad in this one skill. That does not mean I have failed. Let me continue to focus on my strengths and achieve some quick wins. I can always come back to the weak areas later’. I went back to the next exam with a totally different approach...and yes, I did really well :)

A lot of people expect things for themselves because of comparisons they make with their peers. If you did really well in your job and did not get that onsite offer which your friend got six months ago, just sit back and think for some time. The situation was different, the evaluation criteria were different, and there was an entirely different scenario then. And instead of fretting about it and sulking, just speak to the leads involved and set the expectations very clearly so that next time you are clear on what you wanted. Success might not come exactly when you want it, but do realize efforts do pay off sooner or later. And yes, don’t just feel sad because you don’t have things in your life. Life does test you a little bit before things start going the way you want them. As the street urchin in the above story proved to us, if all that you expect is happiness, you can be happy even without a shirt. Right?

PS: Title credit - Charles Dickens famous novel. Used it as it made sense. Copyrights belong to their respective owners :)