Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thirukadaiyur: Religious Business

Shashtiabdapoorthi, Bheema Ratha Santhi and Sadabhishekam are very important decennial events for Hindu men, atleast in Tamil Nadu. I wouldn't go into details of each, you could Google and figure it out yourself. But it would be worthwhile to surmise that Thirukadaiyur is the place that one goes to when they hit 60, 70 and 80 to offer prayers to the Divine Being. You may either click here or here to get more information. Despite whatever I claim about my leanings on religion, mythology interests me a lot.

Well, what interests me equally is management.

I went to the temple, recently, on my father's 70th birthday to perform Bheema Ratha Santhi. And in Thirukadaiyur, I observed excellent practice of management principles. The temple and its happenings reminded me an excellent market place, replete with fierce competition. While Thirupathi is a very large market with many unorganized players, Thirukadaiyur is a perfect oligopoly. There are just a few, what I would call long-life pooja, service providers.

  1. Division of labour: Each of the service provider had a great organization structure. While the main vaathiyar is the CEO, the initial archanas are performed by an employee (junior kurukkal) before handing over the client to a senior kurrukkal for performing homams. Not only that, the front office is manned by another set of staff with primary responsibility of ushering in the acquired customer. Players in the client servicing and hospitality industry have loads to learn from these set of efficient operators. Everyone has a distinct role and process is followed to the hilt. 
  2. Usage of common infrastructure: The temple management is quite business-friendly providing a set of infrastructure that the operators can use, more like plug-and-play. Be it space within the temple or the musicians (read mela thalam) or even the elephant. I was pleasantly surprised to see that despite extreme hostility between different operators, the common resources were being used quite effectively without any tensions. It was quite funny to see the pachyderm marching up and down the corridor from the entrance gate till the main door of the temple, meticulously accompanying the couple who perform the pooja. In fact, I am sure that the elephant probably has such a huge practice that even if the mahout is not there, it will do its job.
  3. Partnering: Photographer and the hotel staff are the business partners. It is a win-win two-way relationship. The photographers also double up as collection agents.
  4. Packages: What I found discriminatory about the pooja is that there was a different package for poojas for Brahmins and Non-Brahmins. I don't know what is the difference between these two packages. If I have one suggestion to these religious men. The packages should not be based on caste but ability to pay by customers. The service/package could differentiated be based on the duration of the homams.
Most importantly, the business runs on word-of-mouth. One customer leading to the next. But that doesn't mean the businessmen of religion take it easy. There are good customer service practice, there are marketing collateral in the form of small shloka books and even presence on the Internet.

The entire structure is so good, even God can't complain! Though, He or She may want a cleaner temple.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Business and Driving

Earlier, I had posted about how we make strategic decisions when we chose a route to reach a destination. A cheap(er) imitation from Thinking Strategically, a brilliant book on Game Theory by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff.

A look at my car would reveal to anyone that I have been rather impatient in my driving. The reasons could also be that I have not honed my skills. But many a times, it would just not be my fault. The road is full of morons. So, about a couple of months back, I decided not to get too competitive on the road. I realized that my goal is not to be first, it is to reach the destination safely without causing any harm to self, my co-riders and anyone else on the road. I also decided to stick to reasonable speed limit. I observed that in city it doesn't matter how hard you press the accelerator, you will certainly pull the brakes on red signals every few meters. Most importantly, you just don't gain time.

But coming back, there's certainly a lot of commonalities between driving and businesses.

  1. Availability of resources is limited: While in business it could be raw material, people, partners...the most important limitations in driving is the road. Whether you drive an inexpensive hatchback or an expensive limo, there is only that much tarr-ed surface. Demand is so high that any additional supply is usurped, quickly.

  2. Highly regulated: If the Company's Act is the bedrock for organizations and establishments, the most essential barrier to entry on the roads is the license. And just like businesses, you get a different license based on the market you want to drive it - two wheeler, four wheeler, heavy vehicles...
  3. Competition: Companies can be categorized based on their size. Similarly, one's presence on the road is measured by the vehicle driven. While larger presence has an impact, there is enough room in the markets and road to allow everyone to exist. But then everyone is fighting for a space and to reach faster. While drivers may not have the same common goal like companies in reaching out to same target audience, the common element is the direction. In that sense, racing and businesses are more similar.
  4. Strategy: Both driver and an organization has a fixed strategy, but make suitable changes based on the situation.  

So next time you drive, think you are conducting a business. A serious one. And if you are one of those who need to deal with road rage, here is a wonderful read. Helps!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't Break That Coconut

Today, while on my morning walk, I saw a school kid waiting outside a kutty (small) Vinayagar temple with a coconut in his hand. His mom urged him to break the coconut. Apparently, his exams were starting today. Breaking the coconut is an integral part of the Hindu culture. I remember myself doing it just last week when I took my parents to a temple for a pooja.

On my return, I found pieces of coconut and shell scattered around on the road. It upset me a bit. I wondered why should one waste a coconut. When I was young, my dad told me that coconuts which were offered to God in this manner, referred to as sedurkka selutharthu in Tamil, was picked up by poorer sections of the society and consumed.

Now, as I saw those pieces of coconut flesh on the road plastered and dirty, I wondered to myself, if any person with even a bit of self esteem would pick up any of those pieces. It also doesn't augur well for the one performing this mindless act. They are wasting an expensive product thinking the God, if at all (s)he is there, will be happy. Now, I am quite certain that that God will only be sad about it.

But while I have grown to become an agnostic tending to atheism, I have realized that many such rituals were started to provide some meaning to our lives, often has profound meaning. So as usual I googled to find the meaning behind this ubiquitous act. And here is what I learned. But look at how we have adapted this ritual. Though I must say that this act of breaking the coconut on roads is more of a Southern phenomenon.

If at all one wants to pursue this act, do it well so that there is no wastage. Otherwise, you could simply offer it fully to some poor person. Or simply give it to the maid at home. With impoverishment so rampant, I am sure that that one coconut will provide good nourishment to a family at least that one day.

But certainly the meaning behind breaking the coconut has been lost in translation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Salman Khan Is Right?

As usual, there is something new for politicians and media to do. Salman Khan, on the eve of his much-awaited flick Dabaang, told a Pakistani Channel that the 26/11 attacks were hyped because "elite people" were targeted.

Why is everyone pouncing upon poor Sallu? In my opinion, he has made a great assessment of how media works and how human beings behave.

Now, I have couple of questions. Try to answer to yourself honestly. Top of the mind responses are better.

  1. Which are the top two structures that come to your mind from the 26/11 attack?
  2. Do you remember places which all the TV channels and media focused on?  
Here's some more.

  1. Do you remember the name of the terrorist caught for German Bakery case?  
  2. Do you remember the places affected in Coimbatore blasts? You probably might remember the Leader who was visiting the city, then. Do you?
While he is correct in his assessment that the more 'influential' people targeted more high profile it becomes, in 26/11 case, I think it is the structures and buildings. I urge that every communications person should develop such judgement that Salman has exhibited. I think terrorists understand this well. Interestingly, when I had suggested my client Dax Networks to implement Wi Fi on Dal Lake, I gave pretty much the same reasons. I told my client that if we do a project in Srinagar, we will get maximum mileage. Even a small event there rocks the media across the world.

I am currently re-reading Tipping Point. Interestingly, the book has great model for the communications industry. All the models in the book - Connectors, Law of Few and Stickiness - apply to this industry where 'hype' is the business.

More on Tipping Point and Communications once I finish reading the book.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Employees In The Era Of Social Media

Till such a time that we discussed and gossiped in the real world, it was fine. 

Then somewhere Web 2.0 happened. All of us, who were till then laymen and consumed content, were vested with extraordinary powers to create and distribute content with far-reaching impact. It has become a strange world, since then. Free-speech has assumed new proportions.

Couple of days back, I had this conversation with a friend who works for one of the largest IT Consulting companies in the world. He told me that as part of the recruitment process, the company does scan the blogs of applicants. Now considering that I intend to be a salaried employee with no interest in the entrepreneur-adventure, does my virtual verbal diarrhea have any repercussions for my career? Considering that it is easy to be watched and tracked, does my online outbursts hurt my chances?  

I have made some positive mentions about one of my ex-employers. But completely avoid writing anything negative about any of my employer, present and past. And, clients are absolute no-no. So much so, I usually think twice before writing anything negative about a brand. 

Call me a coward, if you want, but am rather very apprehensive about being very vocal on Internet.

Earlier, I had written about Customer Service in Social Media Era. The reason for social media becoming spitting bag is that it is easy for individuals to do so. Now, who wants to go to a website and fill out forms or call a 10 digit number, only to press a few more. But more importantly, social media has become top priority  within the Customer Interaction Management industry.

I had this conversation with an extreme social (new) media enthusiast. He felt that it is absolutely fine with someone expressing his views in the public space. If I recall correct, he said that every individual is also a consumer. And that one should share their experiences with brands so that others can make an informed decision. Quite valid, I think.

It was widely reported that an employee was asked to leave after he made some reference to an institution in a blog. The employee and the employer both denied that the separation had to do anything with the post. In another case, an employee in a client servicing industry tweeted with negative reference to an organization because its staff bus was being driven rashly. While, his employer and the organization didn't have a relationship in India, they were working together globally. There was no damage in this case, thought it did ruffle some feathers and left a bad taste, I heard.
So, what is the desired behavior? Should companies monitor an employee's online avatar? Can social media acts of employees be considered exclusive of his work area behavior?  

As I mull over these points, I am reminded of this profound quote from the blockbuster Spiderman about power and responsibility. I still remain confused.

Many companies, today, have evolved behavioural guidelines for employees. While I have not seen one, myself, I think it would certainly be drafted in such a way that it covers any liability arising due to employees' net act. On a side note, have you read any Sexual Harassment policy? Gives me jitters!

And, oh yes, Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi will go down in the history for being two people who lost their jobs due to Twitter, whether directly or indirectly. Now, I am mighty scared.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Charger, Charger, Everywhere! Not A Phone To Charge!

Considering that the life of a mobile phone is about two years, the one thing that outlasts its purpose is the humble mobile phone charger. Most of the others, like the head phone, batteries, data cable...either meet their ends before or rather not kept as memorabilia. That distinction somehow goes, quite naturally, to the charger. It is one accessory that is the most essential for a mobile life. Yes, battery is. But battery is an 'integral' part of the handset, whereas the charger has high visibility in our daily lives.

Over the last couple of years, at home, we have manged to build a museum. While the defunct handsets themselves get tucked deep into some drawer, the chargers have managed to be on the 'surface'. They usually get bundled at one single place with the chargers currently in use. Now, when you have to retrieve one, you are faced with a situation reminiscence of the programs on sexual habits of snakes in Discovery and Animal Planet! Yes, you could also imagine noodles or spaghetti.

It could be also a behavior peculiar to myself. But then, it led me to wonder as to why can't there be standards in phone chargers! I am sure you would have gone through this experience at some point or another when your phone will be low on charge and you will go searching for a charger. But as life would have it, that particular day, no one would have the charger for your phone. Alas, it leads to mobile comatose.

I wonder if this would come under the purview of International Telecommunication Union? Or would Mobile Manufacturers Forum be responsible for such initiatives?

While, I will have to admit that am not technically qualified, but have enough grey matter to deduce that standardization is not an impossible mission. But why would there be different types of chargers in the first place? Manufacturers might claim that they use a different type battery hence a different type of charger. I doubt it. I strongly believe that in the technology world anything and everything can be standardized. Now, the mobile brands might just be doing this in the name of differentiation and customer lock-in. I am not sure if both make sense. 

But thankfully, looks like the world is already moving in that direction. Imagine a world where you do not have to worry about carrying a charger along when you travel because you will certainly find a pin, pretty much like you find a pen to fill those slips when visiting a bank. The Total Cost of Ownership of mobile phones will come down. And most importantly, the e-waste might reduce considerably.

Most importantly, I would not have to see different breeds of charges rolled up in compromising positions at home!