Thursday, June 02, 2016

Raghuram Rajan, Dosa, Public Speaking and French Hésitation!

It is difficult, actually impossible, not to like Raghuram Rajan, Governor of Reserve Bank of India. He has a charming face and a disarming smile. He looks intelligent and when he speaks knowledge pours. Unless you are Subramanian Swamy, you are bound to take a liking for this gentleman. In fact, I love him!

Then there is an equally accomplished Arvind Subramanian, the Chief Economic Adviser to Government of India. Whether you like economics or not watch this joint interview. No, I am not trying to pit one against the other. Rather I want you to observe how these two men speak.

As a young professional, I once attended a public speaking workshop. During the workshop, we had to make presentations. I had assumed that I was, if not accomplished, at least a confident speaker. I was in for a shock, the feedback from the trainer crushed my confidence. He pointed out that between each sentence and within them, I had used many aaa's (read stammer), elongation, and pauses. If you still can't visualize, notice the difference between the way the Governor and the Adviser speak. While the latter uses a lot of extensions, repetitions, pauses and hesitations, the former's thoughts flows like a river. He doesn't pause, there is almost no stammer.

What does stammer and hesitation or their absence indicate? 

If one is able to speak without any pause or stammer it indicates mastery over the subject. The rate of delivery and the rate of thinking are in sync. They buy time for the brain to formulate the thought to be delivered. Imagine them to be the hourglass icon or rotating circle which appear on your computer while it loads.

According to my candid trainer, they are to be avoided. They are not acceptable.

The French are different

Au contraire, there is French, a language that I am learning, currently. The one thing that strikes is how the French liberally use long pauses and hesitations while speaking. Surprisingly, they are an important part of the language. In fact, it is even part of the course where one learns how to use them!

So, to stammer or not to stammer? 

Personally, if I am aware of an answer my brain would not require the time to formulate it. Of course, then there is preparation. Preparation can train the mind and ensure elimination of the thinking process. And here is why I love Raghuram Rajan. Even when posed a question on dosa and economics, he doesn't seem to consume many pauses. That certainly reflects his comprehension.

To answer the question as to whether stammer, hesitation and extension is acceptable, it is no. At least as far as speaking in English is concerned. And certainly not in the corporate world.

I presume a state of speaking coherently comes with in-depth acquisition of knowledge, understanding of its implications and honing of articulation skills.

As for me, I don't foresee reaching that state in near future. D'où, I seek refuge in French. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

How To Quit Smoking & Other Addictions?

In 1995 when I was pursuing Hotel Management at IHM, Chennai, a new young F&B Services lecturer during his introductions mentioned that he was a smoker. After his eloquent spiel, he encouraged that we ask him questions. Without a second thought I asked him why he smoked. As soon as I had done with my question, I realized the folly. The whole class was laughing, not sure whether at his position or at my mindlessness.

Anyway, he took it well and explained how smoking increases the nicotine level in the body and with time when the levels come down, there is a desire to smoke again and maintain the levels. And thus the addiction.

Soon after that I picked up smoking. From 1995 till about 2000, I smoked. Of course, I was never a heavy smoker.

Then on January 1, 2001, I decided to quit. It was no resolution. It was just a desire to quit. And I did. For a pretty long time. Then suddenly one fine day, I lit a stick in 2006. Since then I have had a discontinuous relationship with tobacco.

Do you suffer from an addiction - smoking or drugs or a relationship? Relationship? In my opinion, loss of a loved one or a break up, can cause similar and probably more stress than withdrawal from other forms of addiction.

How do we overcome addictions?

I am no expert either in medicine or psychology but I have experience to share. And I know that this is not a holistic view.

Here are my "two cents" on the subject. In my opinion, the major contributor to addiction is the periodicity and frequency. If you are a smoker, one would understand this better. In my case, the smoking was always at certain points. Here is how my day burned. At 10 am soon after reaching the office, then at around 11.30 during a tea break, the essential post-lunch smoke, evening tea break and, finally, at the end of office hours. It was clockwork.

Interestingly, I never have had the urge to smoke on holidays or when I am at home. If my professor was right the nicotine levels should have reduced and thereby increasing my urge to smoke.

So this is my hypothesis. It is not necessarily the nicotine or any other chemical as the case might me. More important is to become aware of the "habit". More than anything else, the withdrawal symptom sets due to abstinence.

The most grueling aspect of kicking an addiction is to actually go through it. The disruption of pattern causes stress and emotional suffering. Often we are not adept at handling such situations even if we have undergone such experiences in the past. As I said, I am no expert on addiction but I find an experience recounted by Dan Ariely very relevant. In the video you will hear about Dan talking about an injection that he had to take to counter a liver problem. Not necessarily the same scenario but in  my opinion reward substitution is an effective way to manage addictions. If you are not a braveheart, then a diversion may help deal with the misery.

Of course, time is the biggest healer. Perseverance and patience helps. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Why I hate Jugaad?

Jugaad has come to define Indian innovation. Books have been written about it. It is being glorified and acknowledged in B-schools.

To those uninitiated, it is the innate ability of Indians to find innovative solutions to problems faced. The uniqueness is that they are created with the least possible resources.

Initially a fan, I have come to think of it as our bane. It best represents the Indian mindset. Don't get me wrong, there is a need for people to be frugal but that should not be the only way of life. Certainly, jugaad is something we all Indians must try to overcome.

Why Jugaad?

As I said, Jugaad is the child of lack of resources. As a nation that is still emerging from being a third world country, we have been trained to do with what is available. For us everything has to be cheap and best. It has become ingrained into our subconscious. Short-cut is now hardwired into us. Even if we have resources, we will still think of cutting corners.

What does it actually mean? 

Jugaad is not innovation it is adaptation. It is manifestation of larger inherent ailments. It is:
  1. An indicator of our short term thinking which means that we are limited in our urge to find a holistic solution. Thinking big and real innovation as a result are lost cause.  
  2. They are certain recipe for danger. Safety and security is not even an afterthought.  
  3. They also indicates our rebellious nature. To rebel without a cause. Which in turn means immaturity. This is the worst aspect of our conditioning. Our need to bribe and break rules (honking, going on the wrong side of the road, spitting & dirtying, refusing to wear seat belts or helmet...) is a result of our inability of appreciate and accept even bare minimum standards and be disciplined. 
Yes, jugaad makes us more adaptable and resourceful but kaam chalao is primitiveness. As human beings we should grow continuously while retaining elements for adaptation. That's how we have become a better race.

Jugaad is a malady and we need a proper course to weed it out. Not a short way to fix it.