Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Another Day at Work

“Sorry, I didn’t get your name,” she said with an accent that sounded a little too normal than what is heard in this part of the world.

Mentally, I was in the vacant space between two very interesting tasks I had listed for my workday. Physically, I was in a crowded cubicle in a cloistered corridor in a cramped floor of a marketing office. Hey, the world itself is crowded and the planet is cramped, what am I complaining about!

I was expecting yet another of the continuous stream of pretentious agency folk that were filing along this corridor over the past couple of days. They had no choice as it was the only path to the coffee machine and I had no choice as there was no other seat vacant on the floor. Sometimes, the voices carried over from the closed meeting room next door, perhaps when someone wanted a quick escape from all the storm in the teacup inside. Strong, confident, assertive and the kind of adjectives that self-help writers attribute to successful orators could very well have been written about these voices. I was later told that none of the content was nearly decently good. Sigh! And so the hours drifted noisily by.

In all this flurry of activity, the voice this morning was, well, different. For one, it wasn’t carried from the bad acoustics of the room next door, it was right next to where I was. And neither was it any of the ‘pitch’-tones people assume when they hijack the stage in this line of business. It just sounded like the tone one uses to ask for directions to the nearest metro, or to the nearest coffee machine, maybe. It was authentic. I looked up and saw a lot of people talking animatedly and located the face behind that one voice. 

Locks of ruffled golden-brown hair falling around her face, dark eyes, sharp features- well, everything traditionally considered beautiful. All stereotypes, but then again, what made it all any good is how effortlessly she carried it off. Her beauty, as it appeared, is her brains- A strong, independent young lady indeed. Born a century or two ago, she could have been the chosen muse of a maestro or a poet. Now, she’s a fine woman making her way in business.

My friends-those that know my idiocies and idiosyncrasies- tell me that I’m bad at writing poetry. I must admit, I managed to pen only two decent verses over the years. But I tried today yet again; I gave up in an hour. Then I realized I could always write good prose as I had for years now… in classrooms, in exams, in business. “Why not!” I thought, “a tribute it would be.”

Later in the day, I found her business card on a desk near mine and picked it up. It looked minimalist and well crafted. ‘Co-Founder and Business Head’, it read. I turned it around and found the following two lines:
She left him for a better writer.
She left him a better writer.

Talk about serendipity…

-Mach

Gurgaon, Oct'16

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It's a Con(sultant)'s Life

I’m a consultant, a ‘con’sultant. One of the group of tens of thousands of people in tens of organizations who claim to be masters in their trade, who claim to know about running companies better than the people who run companies, though many consultants have never run a real company- let alone build one. Well, that’s the charm of it all- you get to tell people how to mind their business!

Come on, you can’t deny it’s fun! Ever taught a little kid how to hold a cricket bat? Imagine now that little kid is a Sachin in the making. And imagine the teacher being someone like me whose knowledge of cricket ends with ‘an over has 6 balls, and they use just 1 ball really to bowl all 6 times’. Yeah, that ironic!

Now that we got that out of the way, here’s what we do in a simple sentence: “we ‘guide’, ‘mentor’, ‘lead’ the legacy of yesterdays’ great firms to the bright dawn of the tomorrows”
(Please don’t tell my boss I put it in 1 sentence, he’d treat anything shorter than a full presentation ‘deck’ a blasphemy!)

That’s what we say we do. Now, what consultants do depends largely on where in the ladder they are:
Image result for macleod hierarchy
Fig. MacLeod’s Company Hierarchy
  1. The ones at the very top build relationships with clients- over golf or dinners or lunches or board rooms- nothing inexpensive- and sell them along either of the many lines parallel to 1. selling a life jacket to a person in a swimming pool (who knows  how to swim, btw) or 2. selling a Sherpa in the Himalayas a boat, showing him how global warming would flood his little mountain hut- yes, I mean the movie 2012! Yes, it’s 2016 already!
  2. The ones at the very bottom- mind you, our consulting firms are ‘flat’ organizations- are more of a versatile and flexible coterie, jacks-of-all-trades, so to say: their work involves these broad dimensions-
i.    Doing anything and everything from being concierges to the aforementioned ‘networking’ initiatives of the big guys to building solutions- all those things in Word, Excel and PowerPoint that Microsoft makes money from to writing works of fiction they call ‘collateral’. The first time I heard the word, I thought someone had been collateral damage and I wondered if that was me
ii.    Being quick and psychic: when the boss needs something, he needs it ‘yesterday’
iii. The ability to structure a complicated and dynamic stream of thought- like this page of nonsense that I made a story out of
iv. Making fiction appear truer than truth itself- every number and claim needs to be either proven by calculation or be sourced from a trusted external reference

Brownie points if you have a good memory of names and can match them with at least 98% accuracy to flavors of coffee/tea or can mix a killer drink.

We consultants love extrapolations and calculations based on trivial assumptions here and there. Like 90% of here, and 95% of there. But we need ‘References’ to validate those assumptions, because when those poor buggers that have built a reputation for finding good numbers say something, they must be right. We often hear seasoned consultants say 90% of these reports are wrong 95% of the time- well, there you go!

Did you know Consulting is one of the most respected and well-paying careers one can build over a lifetime? And it doesn’t come easy- 12-13 hour workdays, 14-15 hours a day work-weekends, non-existent vacations and perpetual fire-fighting, most importantly putting out the fire on one’s own ass- are the norm.

Look at the bright side: few other careers give such perks as this- travel, world-view, exposure, learning! But the best of it all is we get to play dress-up; ‘thou must dress up one step higher than everyone else in the room’ is the first canon of consulting- near impossible when you are travelling with just a tiny cabin case and wearing the only suit you carry during the red-eye flight to the client’s office on a Monday morning.

But hey, it’s not all work and no play-we have families too. And they love us. When they see us. Some of them. I guess.

We consultants have a work-life balance too, just that it is never quite balanced. Firstly we need to ‘create’ time to see our families, and secondly when we do, we end up talking so much consultant-speak that our parents just think we are overworked and our wives/girlfriends look at us with awe and adoration. For the first few months.

A few weeks ago, I was telling my dad that retirement is just the cusp of transition between maturity and decline stages of a product life cycle. Just last week I was trying to explain a dear female friend of mine that the marginal utility of yet another pair of shoes reduces exponentially after the third pair. Both of them just told me to take the jargon and… well, enshroud it in the posterior of the human anatomy. Something in me must have evoked a homogeneous response from two diverse personas that are geo-spatially and temporally separated, I wonder what that must be...


-A Consultant

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bloody first-world problems!

Recently, I have been working on a consulting engagement for a Disaster Management Agency of one of the first-world nations; there had been reports of a fraud in flood insurance claims disbursal. While my job involved figuring out how to predict and avoid such a mess in the future, the task also carries digging into the past and identifying the events that led to the current state of affairs, so to say.

As I ploughed through transcripts of thousands of conversations, I realized how vastly different the concepts of “devastation” and “homelessness” are between the people of that mighty nation versus the perceptions of our own compatriots here in India.

People there seek government grants and insurance claims (funded by taxpayer money) to repair the wall paint in their basements and to replace consumer electronic appliances- clothes driers, room heaters et al.- that have been damaged in a flood. For a large part, the rest of their homes, the superstructure, the rooms and the rest of their furnishings are more or less intact. And they speak of their homes as being ‘devastated’ and of themselves as being ‘homeless’ when they had to empty parts of their homes that are being repaired.

Compare that with the ‘floods’ here in India. All we have is the only basement level, where all our possessions are, including our own bodily selves. A few feet of rain water in the house and we don’t even bother to call it a ‘flood’. What can we do- this is an annual occurrence in our many flood-prone areas. In fact, we have gotten so used to it that we kinda miss it when it doesn’t happen that year. Even those multitudes that live in ramshackle shacks don’t call themselves homeless or devastated in floods. They just pick what they can and go where they can wait out the storm; and once the worst is past, they come back and start rebuilding it all with whatever the flood has left behind.

They don’t wait 2 years for the government to give grants or aid to rebuild the houses. Perhaps because we know that we can count on the certainty of another flood more than we can count on the certainty of government grants here.

I am not saying we are awesome or anything. Nope, not at all. Tonight, I’m working a presentation for the aforesaid assignment that would be discussed in board rooms several times over the next few weeks. If things go well, it may even lead to a million dollars changing hands over the next few months. A million dollars of money spent on painting someone’s basements or replacing a rusty, flooded clothes dryer in the ‘developed nation’. A million dollars that could potentially build a few hundred concrete houses in flood-zones in an ‘underdeveloped’ or a ‘developing’ nation.

But hey, what can I say… the price of a human life after all depends on the time zone one is born in.

Trouble is, I can't not work and tell my boss all this tomorrow...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Would I do that if I were paid so much more?

“Who smokes beedis these days!?” said my friend.
“Quite a lot of people that can’t afford cigarettes…” I replied automatically.

We were in a corner booth at a quaint, charming place called Koshy’s early this morning. This place is quite popular with the locals for its English breakfast, but I noticed how much the place looked like your typical eatery scene from the pages of an a British novel. It was quite early in the morning and we barely beat the church-crowd by just a few minutes to get a seat in this deli.

On this occasion, that strong beedi smell that intruded our senses came from a few night watchmen we just passed, catching up during their morning tea breaks. As we made a quick arithmetic, we realized that those watchmen must be making no more than 4000 bucks a month and probably had quite a large family to fend for. A simple pack of cigarettes (at 200 bucks) is almost 5% of their monthly wage and it was obviously a luxury they can’t afford. Now, I could go on giving a discourse on the deterrent effects of a price hike or on the unintended side-effects of other tobacco forms people resorting to. But not today. Not this morning.

This morning, what my friend said just brought up a few questions that have been going around in my mind:

“How much is too much?”- What would it take to make me feel ‘Enough now, I don’t want more’?

“Why do people do the same things every day? And how could they wake up every morning to be the same ?”

“What would make me do so-and-so?” and this could be anything as wide ranging as giving up something to murdering someone. (Disclaimer: I don’t have any plans to actually do these. Yet.)

Every time any of these pop up in my head- oh, and they pop up randomly more often that I’d like- they are accompanied by the song “Little boxes” (originally by Malvina Reynolds, made popular by Walk-off-the-earth) playing in the background.

Truth be told, I just don’t like bend in the question mark ‘?’ (Never could scribble that bend properly by hand). That and the fact that it bugs me to not have means of finding answers. This train of thought had just left the station when I was startled from my reverie by the waiter bringing in my breakfast.

Perhaps it was the rising sun seeping in through the French windows or the lack of air conditioning on a warm, cloudless day. Or I just needed more sleep. After all, it’s a Sunday and I should’ve been in bed at this obscene hour…


PS. If you find the answers to these questions or other important ones like ‘how to draw the perfect ‘?’’ or ‘how to survive a lifetime eating Maggi’ (with lead and all), do write to me and rescue yourself from the drudgery of waking up to the same day, every day.

-MaCh
Bangalore, 7th June, 2015

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let Go…

That’s the secret- Letting go…

More of the small/trivial things you let go and the sooner you do it, more will be the peace you’ll have and you’ll have it sooner too.

It is true that these smaller things take up little spells of our time, effort and mind space. Also true is the fact that we usually tangle ourselves in a gazillion of these small things- day in, day out- and they add up. Ask yourself, when was the last time your mind was empty- utterly, totally empty- of all thoughts. Sitting quietly on a park bench, our mind goes for a jog alongside all the people strolling in the park- he’s fat, she looks good in the sun, look at that cute kid, god how I wish that stupid bird would shut up and so on. When you are not too occupied with your head inside your smartphone, that is.

And for the hyper-sensitive, attention-deficit youngsters of today (of which I am one myself), it takes very little to push them over the tolerance threshold- dusty roads, vague signboards, faulty grammar, ill-typed mail, wrong colour of a picture, you name it. Ironically, some of us, we are bugged even by our own less-than-perfect work of yesterday.

I can’t even begin to think why it is this way with us. I don’t even think I know enough to dig into the reasons. But here’s what I recently learnt from a patient, sagely boss (yes, some do exist): Let go.

The perspective he gave was quite interesting in that it was simple; it got me thinking. Everything is done by people, and no person is perfect- neither in what they are, nor in what they do. But they do things nonetheless, for whatever reason. Now, it ain’t possible for us to take everything upon ourselves. (Yeah, we have enough things to do already) So, let go- let people do what they have to do. And you get down to do what you need to.

Call it delegation, call it tolerance or as Dale Carnegie says, “Don’t saw sawdust…” and see for yourself… Hakuna matata!

-Mach

Bangalore, 28th Oct, 2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

With all due respect…

Says everyone, but I’m sure nobody- not one- means it, ever. No matter what they say about themselves, everyone has a huge bloated ego and when you say something to their face that they is contrary to their beliefs, it is certain that they’ll fight tooth and nail to refute it.

Hence the prevalent use of terms like ‘with all due respect’, ‘no offense’, ‘with due consideration’ etc. intended to ameliorate the situation. Ironically though, when people use these terms, they seldom mean it and that leads to hilarious circumstances sometimes- hilarious to the audience, I mean. These situations are far from hilarious to the speaker and to the recipient; the recipient will take offense, without exception and the speaker will have many an indignant person to deal with.

So the next time you tell your boss something that starts like this- “with all due respect sir…”- take my seasoned word that it doesn’t matter at all what you say after the phrase. That time you say ‘no offense…” to your colleagues, boom! These four words uttered and alea jacta est!

This doesn’t mean we are doomed to mollifying idiots’ egos. Unless you are Caesar or you just don’t give a hoot for the person, (read, the very last time you talk to your ex-boss), there’s pretty much just one thing that could save you- sarcasm. Copious, witty sarcasm. It saved my ass twice, I’m sure it’d come to your rescue too…

Hasta la vista!

Mach
26th October, 2014

Bangalore

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Friends

Recently, I’ve moved to a new city. Being just out of college, all friends from before moved to different cities for work. So, I just happened to have moved into a new circle of friends. And things changed.

These are loud, totally random and unpredictable, binge eat and drink like a fish; their apartment is a pseudo dump. But over the past few months, I liked hanging out with them- it’s easy, natural and somehow I felt at home there with them.

That was totally unexpected for me- I mean, this is not the ‘me’ I knew. So, that got me thinking- have I been keeping bad company before or I didn’t yet know what this new company is doing to me. Here are some things that struck me in retrospect:
  • These guys don’t have facades- no pretences. Doesn’t mean they don’t do stupid stuff or have their privacy. Just that they don’t have anything to hide. We respect one another’s secrets.
  • No patronizing. All of these are elder to me at least by a couple of years. And of course in better jobs and all too. But I always felt an equal among them.
  • Not judgemental. I have done stupid things with them. Shared with them many of the dumb things I’ve done before. Yet, all I got from them is the more-than-occasional friendly gibe and lots of poking fun. Never disrespect. Never dislike.
  • Not criticising- accept me for what I am- the flawed, idiosyncratic, moody me.


Now, the friends I had before were also similar, but in varying degrees of these characteristics. I seem to have found another of my quirkiness but I think I also stumbled upon the secret for finding good friends.
Cheers to friends! Cheers to us!

-Manish

9th October, 2014
Bangalore