Friday, June 27, 2008

Day 12: End of Another Week

This is the end of another working week - the second as I am counting from the submission of my visa application - and though I haven't achieved any major milestone in the last few days, I end this week feeling far more content and in control than I was last Friday. There are several reasons for this, but the biggest one surely is that I could instill a bit of discipline in life. I start travelling starting next Monday, but I have to watch out and not lose control again. The next week is sure going to be rough, as I am mostly staying away, with limited access to Internet, and attending so many meetings. However, considering that I haven't travelled since the 7th of May - OK, wrong, haven't travelled for work since then - this is going to be a bit of a break and return of normalcy.

Today there is also the big birthday party for Nelson Mandela in the Hyde Park, which I spent time watching. Mandela was late, but when you are 90, no one minds if you come to your birthday party late. It was labelled 46664 - that's the name of Mandela's foundation apparently, which fights HIV AIDS - named after Mandela's prisoner number. He was Prisoner number 466 interned in 1964. Mandela appeared and spoke very briefly - he talked about Free Nelson Mandela Concert at Wembly 20 years back [June 11, 1988 to be exact] and reminded everyone that the fight isn't over yet - and it was indeed a poignant moment. As I learnt from the broadcast, there were 46,664 people there in today's concert, I wondered how they managed that, unless they are just talking about the audience, which is limited by the number of passes issued.

Interestingly, there is another news today which relates to the worldwide campaign against AIDS. Today was Bill Gates' last working day at Microsoft - equally significant, as that signals the end of an era in all senses. It is impossible to think that Gates can ever retire, especially for my generation of people, whose entire adulthood was dominated by his deeds. Gates wants to focus on his foundation work, to which he was giving increasingly more attention over last decade and he, of course, has the richest foundation in the world.

I can not also miss mentioning another very disturbing piece of forecast which came in today - Scientists telling that this summer, by September, the entire arctic could be ice-free. That is truly shocking, considering that this is happening faster than anyone can imagine. A few years back, such predictions were made with timeline of early 2100, and definitely not before 2030. Now, it seems it will happen this year. And also, this is a kind of a sliding slope - Arctic Ice reflects back the sunlight, but once this is melted, the ocean that replaces it will absorb sunlight and in turn become warmer. Though we are possibly not talking about a Hollywood scenario like The Day After Tomorrow, this isn't comfortable news.

Such news also highlights another issue. The climate change is happening faster than anyone, including scientists devoted to its study, could imagine. The right wing thinkers, especially represented by the esteemed journal, The Economist [something that I read for many years, but then got tired of their extreme right wing views on Iraq, where they have admitted they were wrong, and environment, where they will soon have to admit they were wrong, again], tend not to believe that anything is wrong with human consumption and believes that the earth is warming up as a part of a natural climate cycle. Their problem in accepting the unsustainability of environment is equivalent to accepting that capitalism isn't a viable system of distributing and managing resources. This is exactly what I am getting at: It isn't. The capitalist thinking is predominantly an abundance thinking - there is no physical limit to resources available. In the areas where such limits are known, like in Earth's environment, the capitalist redeeming faith is that innovation, driven by the innovators self-interest, will create environment-friendly alternatives. The problem with this thinking is that it is abundance thinking and allows innovators enough time to come up with technologies and ideas when the conventional way of living is becoming increasingly uneconomic. In this area, as it seems, Hollywood will trump Harvard in scenario thinking, and we may not be left with the luxury of time to address the climate change issue.

Day 11

I did write something wrong on my previous day's diary, and I must start with a correction. I said that most of the legislation labour government passes excludes themselves - the public sector, by implication - and cited as example how on one hand, government is legislating against age discrimination but on the other, has a clearly ageist immigration policy. The correction is that the latest Equality legislation are indeed focused on the public sector, where the gender gap and ageism is very common, and it has been indicated that these legislation will be expanded in future to cover the private sector as well. So, I was not exactly correct in saying that labour government always excludes itself from its good-intent governance.

However, my point about the immigration policy will still stand. Britain has a fairly muddled immigration system. All the people like me, who wanted to come and settle in Britain because of cultural familiarity, has suffered from inconsistent policy and very bureaucratic process. As I said, a combination of casual paperwork from my company [while I shall fault them here, it is quite common among SMEs in the UK] and uncertainties in the immigration policy ate up my one whole week's work, and created lots of trouble for my Charterd Accountant as well. Though, finally, I got all of this sorted and sent the paperwork away, I have been now told it will take 14 weeks to process this - I am completed only two weeks of that - and regardless of the fact that my profession is International Business Development, which means I can't stay home, I have to wait. I am not surprised that the Home Office takes that long to process applications. As i went through the forms, it was needlessly long, repetitive and stamped with bureaucratic inefficiency. I was submitting the form for my 18-month old son, my wife and myself, and I had to fill out three forms totalling 120-odd pages. Apart from three pages in that form, wherein I disclosed my educational qualification and income over last year, and my name and credit card number, the rest were completely irrelevant. I am sure there is a reasoning beyond common sense why each one of us had to answer separately about our record on criminality, involvement in genocide, terrorism, assistance in terrorism etc. To give an example of the muddle, it asks whether I have been involved in terrorism and if yes, when and where. The guideline says clearly that if one's involved in terrorism, he would never get the visa. What is the point in asking when and where one was involved in terrorism here?

But, anyway, returning to my day, the day ended with the news that Conservatives have won in Henley by-election, the seat that was vacated by Boris Johnson, the newly elected mayor of London, and the labour candidate has come fifth, even after the Greens and the British National Party candidate. Gordon Brown could not possibly have hoped for a worse first year, but I do think he is having a slight bounce-back, now that there was no new scandals in last one week or so.

I also noted, worryingly, a lack of work ethic in some of the work places I manage. Without going into details, I have noted that while I see that a number of Indian professionals would want to come and settle in Britain, their work practises remain far from 'professional'. I am still struggling to get a management structure in place in India, and I did not know that it would prove as difficult and I shall still be looking around for suitable members to create a management team which is dedicated, ambitious and imaginative. I do sometimes feel that we picked a wrong city to base our country operations. Hyderabad has a tight labour market, limited indigenous skilled labour and a lackadaisical work culture not very unlike Calcutta. The key difference is that Hyderabad is more modern and materialistic than Calcutta, so people want more money and has less fear of God. If I was to do it fresh today, my possible candidate cities would have been Mumbai or Chennai, which has abundant supply of skilled people and a consistent work ethic. To be honest, I would have also considered Calcutta, that is more because of my level of local knowledge and availability of God-fearing skilled people, but I would know that a business starting from Calcutta has very little chance of making it on a national scale.

On my personal level, I am supposed to do a Literature Review for my university coursework and I am deciding between whether to do this on the work of the enterprise agencies or on marketing of a country, in my case, India. I have to do this quickly, as another deadline is looming, and I have only three weekends to cover this. I am in Northern Ireland most of next week, taking Partho around and working on my company's web strategy, and will hardly have time to work on anything else. So, I am set for another round of panic, and I am trying hard to avaoid this.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day 10

I had an unexpectedly good day as work is building up again. I started early in the morning - and this is always helpful as I consider myself a 'morning person' - and got some work done. My day was good as I could intervene and part-solve a crisis, read books, and even our accountant told me that I should not consider there is a closed door and if I need money, I should indeed turn to him. I couldn't expect more surely.

One issue resurfaced again. This whole thing about long term/short term thinking. I would think this is a bane of modern society - the inevitable drift towards short-term thinking. It is not about people, really. It is about how things are structured. Professional Management, Democratic Politicians, Public Listed Companies - by their very nature are biased towards short-term thinking. I am not saying that this is necessarily bad - politicians should not start thinking Long Term like Robert Mugabe, surely. And, also, quite obviously, there is no set rule for what is short term and what is long term. We deal with a publishing company which has recently gone into training, but their thinking is so attuned to the publishing mindset, we find them very short term in our business context. However, it is impossible to explain to them why it is so, as they can't ever see it.

I am still reading Bush at War. This makes a fascinating read. This gives out an insider's view of Iraq's reconstruction work. Fascinating how a bunch of smart men can come together and be rendered completely ineffective by petty politicking. Rumsfeld appears to be the villain of the piece as I read it. However, as one closes the book and thinks, one sees the real problem. Leadership. In this whole story, Bush was a very casual leader, almost uninvolved, in fact, almost disinterested. It almost seemed he achieved what he wanted to achieve by becoming the President. He appeared a good guy, throughout, jovial, humane, but not in control. Not analysing, understanding what is happening around him. He may have had good ideas, but no intent or ability to implement any of those.

I must mention here why this seems to be an useful read for me at this time. Well, I see some of my current mistakes reflected here. For last six months, I have been running the business in a hands-off style. I accepted this as inevitable, as I am based in the UK and the operations are in six different countries. But I do feel that I am not in control, and even if I have good ideas, things don't get done. Partly the reason lies in my personal discipline, focus - which I am trying to shore up and get in place. But, also, there is an element of lack of interest, self-doubt, which affected me over last few months. Somewhat like Bush, as I started the job, I almost got what I wanted, and forgot to define the next level goal. I am trying to become a visionary and a theoretician, but I / we haven't reached that stage yet. This is something which I should urgently address - not just in these 100 days to sort out my own priorities and focus, but also being hands-on and actually by seeing ideas through to execution.

I shall end this conversation commenting upon one announcement British Government has made on Wednesday. Harriet Harman announced that the Government will bring legislation to stop all forms of age discrimination. The ministers believe that we are becoming an ageist society, and something needs to be done quickly. Age discrimination at workplace, including in the recruitment process, is illegal since October 2006. One can't advertise for 'young enthusiastic sales assistants' any more, nor stop a near-retirement worker to be sent for training. Or, to be accurate, people still do that, as these are deep-rooted habits, till someone flags this up. However, the government still believes that there is widespread discrimination in the other walks of life, in health care for example, and they are planning a comprehensive law to ban that. Technically, a birthday card with an ageist message will become illegal once this legislation comes in place [it will already be counted as an offence if this was sent to a colleague].

However, this is all very good, until someone looks at Government's own work practises. I shall talk about migration policies. The policies are specifically biased towards younger workers. For example, for the Tier 1 migration, which is high-skilled migration, one gets extra points for being less than 30 year old. The earlier version of this - the Highly Skilled Migration Programme, one that I used to come to Britain - gave extra points to people less than 30 and had a lower requirement level too. While the rationale is easy to explain, this is certainly ageist. I am not sure why a corporation can not use this rationale - building a workforce for tomorrow - to hire younger workers. This is possibly the key problem with this labour government - they exclude themselves from all their good-intent governance.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 9

I guess I am somewhat superstitious in many ways. It is tradition mixed in my mind with habit. There is this old Bengali saying about Tuesday being a good day to start things. This is ingrained in my mind, and however much I try to appear rational, I invariably tend to start things on Tuesday. This is something I shall surely never admit - but there is no point denying that I do think this way. It may not be exactly superstition - as I don't mean to say that I don't do anything on other days of the week - but some sort of prefernce and habit that I live with. In that sense, my week tends to be a Tuesday-Monday week.

Today was a fairly eventful day. There are a number of social relationships that I had to work on. This is interesting, as I am otherwise not very social. But, somehow, I did work on a number of these relationships today and had to do something about it. I also realized that I am wasting an undue amount of time on chat - something very tempting in the always-on world, but one has to reign in how much one does of it - and tried hard to cut down on the time I spent. I thought I can easily save at least half hour to an hour for pure uninterrupted work by cutting down on one or two chat relationships.

Also, I noticed that I have this obsession with email. I treat email almost as chat, always refreshing my gmail and office webmail pages in the hope someone replied to emails I sent. This is of course a clear waste of time, and I must get used to waiting for emails.

I am reading 10 Rules for Strategic Innovators by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. I bought this book looking at the title of its chapter 4 - Why tensions rise when NewCo borrows from CoreCo - an omni-present fact in my life. Very interesting book, otherwise, too - innovation is one area which private enterprises have mastered better than in any other form of organization. My current occupation - developing an overseas presence for a company predominantly focused on a regional market - involves continuous strategic innovation and change in processes, values and attitudes. I am hoping that time spent reading this book will be helpful in my job.

Day 8: The Monday

Here I am, in the second week, and as I reviewed my last week, I thought with satusfaction that I have achieved many things that I needed to, cleared many pending to-dos, and feeling a bit satisfied that I feel in control of my life. How much of that is due to this focus strategy, and how much is due to the simple fact that I am not travelling now and hence have more time and more predictable life style, it is difficult to tell. But, indeed, travel is surely life-wrecking, specially when one is trying to adjust to a new culture, give time to family, study a new subject and keep fit at the same time. I know my respite is only short-lived, and soon, come September, I am due to travel quite a bit. So, I am trying to make the best out of what I have - the next 90 odd days to fix my life!

There are quite a number of issues I need to address within this period of sanity. First, where am I going to stay. This is not about going to Northern Ireland or not, which, I am now convinced, that I need to do if I have to do my current job effectively. However, I do think I am at that stage in my life where I need to consider what I am doing next - not just this job but the next 10 years - before taking a decision. Indeed, going to Northern Ireland makes sense if I look at next few months, but the moment I look beyond, the choice isn't so obvious and I need to take a considered decision. In this context, the issue of whether to go back to India some day and when is important too. Lots of people keep advising me that I am wasting time staying away from India, and missing out on many emerging opportunities while I play this game of living through difficult life with myself. As I admitted earlier, I feel inclined too, but I am yet uncertain whether this comes out of my yawning for a comfortable life or for opportunities.

The second issue is what I am going to do. To be absolutely honest, I am not doing anything upto my satisfaction at this time. I am not talking about job satisfaction - I must flag here because I have never seen any of my Bengalee friends being able to understand anything beyond job satisfaction in life. But this is the key problem of the focus strategy. I shall put it this way - I woke up one morning seven days ago, and decided that I need to focus on pending things, because I am losing control over my life. So I did - I cut down on all things unnecessary or unrelated, and focused on what I am doing. Benefits are undoubtedly great, and I have regained the control, more or less, which I lost earlier. But, what if I focused on the wrong thing, the wrong way? Let me be specific. As things stand now, I want to do my job well and complete my Marketing Management studies which I am committed to. I want to sort out my home in Calcutta and a few other properties in which I have an interest. And, then next year September, I may go to full time studies and complete a business degree - that's the plan so far. However, if I am asked what is the rationale of this plan, I have no answers. All my life I would have followed one mistake after the other, as I lost control of my life by making a mistake and then trying to focus on the path to clear up the mess. I never had a chance to stand back and ask myself whether this is indeed the path I should go down.

One of things playing in my mind now is to leave the corporate/business career altogether and do something which I think I would like to do. I have International Development Management in my mind. My plans, as it stands now, is to keep doing what I am doing for one more year, meet my commitments to my employers and our other business partners, set the structure right and make it sustainable, and then take an one-year sabbatical to go back to the university and restart my career in another field. I am very keen to do this, and know that I have the necessary 'madness' in me to pursue such an option. This will help me to be apart, different, from my peers, which I always want. There is a bit of risk,, but as far as I am concerned, there is much less risk in following one's heart than in wasting the life doing something which one does not believe in.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Day 6 & 7 : The Weekend Really!

I am sure I can be forgiven to combine the last two days together. Diaries almost always do it, governments do it too; combine that with the fact that I did not do anything much, it looks perfectly justifiable.

This has been a weekend in a long time when I was relaxed, did not have to work and did do things which people should ideally do in the weekend - cleaned the car, shopped, bought books, watched movies. Though I have just now turned down an invitation from a friend to go play Tennis in the Park to write this blog, this has been a near-perfect weekend.

Also, importantly, I restored some of my reading habits. Started reading a long-overdue 'State of Denial' by Bob Woodward. I have read his Bush at War and Plan of Attack earlier, and did decide to go ahead with this 500+ page tome. That says a lot about his writing. As one reads, one may wonder - how does this guy know so much - and feel as if the author was sitting right there with Bandar Sultan, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Bush when they discussed things. It feels incredible, but two things make it believable. First, this is Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, after all. Second, he sounds totally honest, impartial, his Bush isn't a hard-headed fool [as in Michael Moore] but an ambivalent idealist, out to avenge his dad's defeat, and someone who was tutored in world affairs by none other than Price Bandar Bin Sultan, Saudi Ambassador to the United States, the all-powerful international fixer, whose fame/ infamy comes from many things including the recent corruption probe in bribing by BAE for sale of military aircrafts to Saudi Arabia.

I also bought a number of books, despite stopping to buy books altogether a few weeks ago. This was primarily sparked off by the store closure of the local Books etc. store. I knew they would be closing for some time, as Borders, the owner of the chain, has decided to close all stores in the UK. I bought a number of good titles very cheap, one on Logo Design I wanted to buy for a while, essays on Entrepreneurship by Luke Johnson, Anthony Seldon's Blair [which cost me an amazing £1] and John Kampfner's Blair's Wars. I also landed up with a cheap copy of Alan and Barbara Pease's Definitive Guide to Body Language, and Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss. All of these on my reading list now - and I must do this within these 100 days too.

I also spent some time planning my return to India in two year's time. I am clear in mind that I want to go back to India in a few years. But the question is when and what do I do there. The next few years clearly needs to prepare for that, and my priorities should clearly be guided by what I want to do next. While these things need to be sorted out over coming days, this thinking helped me to clarify my priorities clearly - I came here to study, upgrade my skills and get international work exposure. Everything else should be secondary now, and I should focus completely on upgrading my skills and knowledge and getting exposure to International Business. I have my work cut out for next couple of years, but the preparation to go home must start soon.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 5

I behaved as if today was Friday, and thank god it was. I almost got used to this British habit of switching to weekend mode at 2pm on Friday. This is curious considering that I have to work most of Saturdays and Sundays as well. Of course I forget - I am possibly looking at a slightly relaxed Sunday because from now on, day to day operations in our Dubai office is being looked after by our Recruitment Director. I am still involved in business planning and new business development, but she is the one our Dubai representative is supposed to call if she needs anything urgently. That will allow me to relax on Sundays, for the time being, at least.

So I switched off today and did not do much. But I dont really feel guilty. So far, this has been a good week, work-wise. I managed to achieve certain key things, and covered ground on a few critical issues. Managed to get a job offer and refuse it. Thought about certain specific career goals and as that crystalizes in my mind, hopefully I should be able to work to a plan. Started a slow recovery of my reading habit. Regained a lost friendship, perhaps. So, in all, I can sign off for the weekend now, cheerfully.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day 4

I am writing this post at 6:30pm. That by itself is an admission that I haven't done much today so far, despite the frenzy my morning started with. I have seen this - frenzied mornings for me do not work - and I eventually don't get anything done through the day. The days when I can take a few minutes to write down what I want to achieve always work better. This is possibly a psychological thing, but then I can't possibly escape that.

I am possibly being a bit harsh with myself saying that I haven't done anything. I spent hours on phone, selling, sorting out issues etc. Had written different emails, answering those which were lying in my inbox for a while. Well, the whole idea of this 100 day project was to practise focus - on things that I must do - and I was supposed to work on the web content and design of the new training business website today. While I did review bits and pieces, and spoken to Partho, who is putting it together, I haven't done much of substance. I can say that the day isn't over yet, and I am only taking a break, but so far, there are no signs that I shall get anything meaningful achieved today.

A friend - well, a long lost one - read the last few days of my blog and sent out an email asking why I am writing the diary in public. I did not respond to that email - as it came during the frenetic morning. But this diary is both what Julia Cameron will call 'Morning Pages' - a meaningless blabber in an attempt to remove the artist's block - and a self-conscious exercise to document a very critical period of transformation in my life. These are fairly crucial 100 days for me. I shall stay home for most of it. I am hoping to give the business I run a new direction, as well as answer a few critical questions for my career. Hopefully, I shall move down the road with my Masters studies too, which will open up interesting possibilities. And, hopefully, I shall rediscover my habit of reading - something I completely lost in the last six months.

But, my friend's letter first. She makes a few interesting points - each one I needed to answer personally anyway. She asks - why I don't want to go back to India? why do I think India does not offer enough options? Why can't I see the change that is happening in the country? I must admit I grapple with these questions everyday. Living this hard life in the quest of a Permanent Residence in a country where I may not live forever appears an absurd proposition. Opportunities in India are enormous, and I feel tempted every day. I can indeed see the change.

However, I came to Britain not to settle, but to learn. I wanted to expand my horizon. I am not the typical tourist or settler, I am a traveller. I wanted to study, work, know people and values. Did I want to make money? Funnily, not really, though I may end up getting some money in the end. With my travellers' eyes, what I saw in Britain was impressive - a rich, matured society - not very unlike what the British travellers to India in the late Mughal years would have seen: Abundant opulence laced with unending arrogance, complacence and a state of denial. I know, like those visitors to India hunderds of years back, world belongs to the hungry, to the curious. I know the future belongs to countries like India. And, my job is, like Abraham Lincoln, 'to study and get ready, as perhaps my time will come'.

So, I shall surely go back to India, when my education is complete. The education about the world, not the degrees, because I am sure I shall continue to be useless with my degrees as I always was. Evey person I meet - in Dubai, London, Dublin, Belfast, Mumbai or Manila - comes with a bit of that education. I shall give myself a number of years of this, and then surely go back.

My friend says, look beyond Calcutta. Well, that may not be - my India starts from that city. Each one has different goals in life. Not everyone will measure their success in the same manner. For me, the measure of my success in life is the number of opportunities I created, not how many I took. By that measure, I should surely go back to Calcutta - because the opportunity to create opportunities is maximum there.

All my life I wanted to be different. This possibly comes from my very homogenous start of life - an affectionate and affluent family, a close circle of friends and relatives, school next door where everyone knew everyone and a life eased with comfort and familiarity. All my life, since then, I courted discomfort and uncertainty, and always took greatest pleasure in talking about how I came through the difficulty. Funnily, once I came through the difficulty, I managed to seek out a new difficult situation. Sometimes, as right now, it feels like an unending game with myself, which has no significance to anyone else, which I always played. I always hope that someday I shall stop playing and get serious. Someday, stability will matter to me, I shall look for comfort. However, for the moment - I am content to be curious, happy to be hungry and humbled by the knowledge that the end-game isn't in my hand.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 3

Two posts in a day should count as work, shouldn't it? That's what my 100 day agenda is doing to me. I am trying to keep as many commitments to myself as possible. But bad habits are really really hard to scrub off, so I had to struggle for most of it. However, I guess I am getting there.

I was sluggish and tired the whole of today. I guess yesterday's efforts got me. I always prided myself being a hard worker when I worked. But I am sure this is age - I am almost old now, though I want to deny it as much as I can - and I do feel this when I am off-routine.

I indeed am off-routine. I am sure I have sleep deprivation to start with. But also long hours of working in front of the computer is getting me. I had a terrible headache most of today - which led me to drink coffee, something I rarely ever do. I am a tea-man, out and out, and pride myself of my colonial heritage. But today, my mild colonial self was not enough to overcome the tiredness from yesterday, so I had to inject a high dosage of caffeine to remain awake.

Did I work much today? I definitely did not do what I intended to do. I am terribly behind schedule on writing the web content for our site, and I keep postponing it every day. However, I did work - on budgets etc [how much I hate that], established a few new contacts, spent an hour talking about a business opportunity [I haven't given up on being an entrepreneur yet] and also made up my mind on committing another year to what I am doing.

This was something which was bugging me for a while. I am obviously not satisfied the way I am treated, my work is treated in the company. But it is possibly that stage in my career when I should not walk out in the first sight of a difficulty. This is possibly my key mistake as an employee. I am good - committed, honest, intelligent and entrepreneurial - but my key problem is that I know that. I know that I can survive anywhere, and my skills, since I am multi-skilled like a true Gemini, a Jack, will be in demand in some form. So, everytime I am disappointed, I walked out. This has gotten me nowhere I must add. It is important for me to keep the faith in myself for once and see things till the end.

This will take a bit of effort, indeed. First of all, it is impossible for me to run this business from London. I got to be either in Northern Ireland, or in India. I shall choose Northern Ireland at this time. This will be a huge change, but I guess I have no choice, unless I decide to leave. And, I have decided not to leave, to give this job at least another year whatever the costs may be. If my focus is changing one thing, this is certainly it.

Day 2

That was yesterday.

Already I missed one commitment - writing the diary every day.

I have an excuse - I did write a lot yesterday. The story was not very dissimilar from that of rest of my life. I took up a Masters course in Marketing Management in the midst of all the chaos around me. Lot of people told me I was very brave; but I guess the real reason was that I did not think. However, I run into expected trouble with coursework, which was due yesterday. A case study on a Dutch Kitchen Manufacturing chain - Bruzyneel Keukens - and I was supposed to give them suggestions on the factors they should consider while designing a new supply chain in view of their growing retail operation.

I knew my colleagues in the class were working on this for a long time. They did loads of studies on supply chain. I did take out books on supply chain from the library, read the table of contents, and kept them for an appropriate day when I can really read them and write an excellent piece of coursework. Of course, that day never came.

I have lots of excuse. I was travelling. I had enough trouble at the business front. And I did make those excuses. I wrote to my tutor and the course director on 16th requesting an extension of the deadline. And, even to my surprise, spent the day of 16th expecting a reply and not starting to work on the case study.

So, on 17th morning, yesterday, I got this mail from the Course Administrator that I can get an extension of upto 15 days. But, I have to fill out an application stating my reasons, and then the faculty committee will decide whether that is valid enough. They can accept or reject my application, and in case they reject it, the marks will be capped at 40%.

She presented me with an interesting, but not too unfamiliar, predicament. I could then rush - that was 11am on the last day already and I hadn't even read the case study - and run the possibility of getting it all wrong and fail. Or I could take the time, apply with reasons, and come back with a more prepared work. In case my application is successful, that will result in higher grades. In case it is not, I shall still pass.

So, which option did I take?

Of course, almost instinctively, I excused myself from work, shut down my mobile phone, logged out of email accounts and spent the next eleven hours to meet the impossible deadline. When I finished, late at night, and emailed the work just before midnight, I thought I had some good ideas but the execution could have been much better. In fact, I thought I had some great ideas but just did not have the time to crystalize it and write it better.

Funnily, this has always happened in all my exams in life. I was always last minute, I was always in panic, I always had great ideas and I never executed well because it was too last minute. This is an interesting trait, and something which I must get rid of if I have to achieve anything substantial in the next 35 years of my life.

But, also, as I think now, my reaction to that form and appeal have been very interesting. By any sort of reasoning, I should have applied for the extension. However, I did not and took the risk instinctively. I must admit that I am kicking myself now when I am thinking with a cool head, but I can not deny my aversion to any kind of application form. That felt like really being a student, and yes, I felt distinctly uncomfortable.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 1

I had a rather terrible start of my 100 day project - my alarm clock died! Well, I set it up for 6am, and managed to get up only at 7:30, so by the time I came to rescue it, the poor Chinese free-giveaway clock was at its last gasp.

Then I opened my mailbox and was presented with my last month's mobile bill. I usually clock about £20 a month, but this time, it would be £102, all because of an inadvertent call to my sister spanning 50 minutes on my birthday, which cost me £80 by itself. The sad fact is that I never made that call; it was my mobile phone inside my bag, with an unlocked keypad, which decided to dial the number.

After this fairly tragic start, I set out to do an agenda for the day. This is something which always helped me - listing out all the things I want to do and wish to do. I learnt a lot of this from my former supervisor at NIIT, who made endless lists for almost everything she handled, and amazingly, followed all the lists and mostly achieved everything she planned to achieve. I realized now that given the terrible state I am in, my first priority would be to get organized.

Setting the agenda worked a bit. I prioritized on my visa application - as this is complicated and I am absolutely on a deadline and my current visa runs out on 20th June. A call to my visa consultant brought some good news, that they are happy with the documentation [finally] and they are sending this over to the Home Office. This process has been terribly demanding, due to the rather lethal combination of inconsistency at Home Office, and the callousness my employers treated me with. It was only a late intervention by one of the directors saved my day, and I shall surely remain grateful to her for that. But this was terrible - I was told that I would not be given an employment contract after I joined the company, and the whole issue remained unresolved for more than six months - which created complications in my record keeping and my National Insurance contribution. As I paused and thought about this for a moment, I also realized one big flaw in my character, that I am not assertive enough - I should have walked out there and then, and this whole willy-nilly thing about loving the project has no value in the real world. But, anyway, this is past and this is sorted now, and time for me to move on. Point noted - I am sure I am not going to make the same mistake again - and hopefully this should add into my change agenda.

Let me return to the list. The great thing about starting with a list is that as you do one or two things in the list, you tend to get a momentum. That's exactly happened to me. The next thing on the agenda was to complete the Partner contracts, which I immediately set out to do, and amazingly, got this sorted out in a few hours. That is the power of few 'focused' hours! I haven't been able to do this for almost a month, always missing commitments on this. But now, suddenly, I have an working copy in my hand, and I felt significantly upbeat by the mid-day.

Which made me go out for lunch! Something that was unthinkable at the beginning of the day! I knew Mark Simpson, the Sales Director of Linguaphone, for many years now, and he has always been kind and helpful. It was always a pleasure meeting him, and I relished the opportunity today to meet him for lunch and talk to him through the business problem that I have at hand. Essentially, it is a business model issue which I need to solve - something that I would love to solve and almost know the answer to - but it is my lack of motivation that's coming on the way. I am in a situation where we have a clear problem and an outline of a solution, but no one who is interested to listen and help out. So, I tried Mark, and as one would guess, he was surprisingly receptive to what I had to say. He can't solve the problem for me - this is something I need to sort out at my end - but it is a good start to be able to talk to Mark and get his words of advise.

So, after lunch, amazingly, I discovered how much of my problems actually sit inside me. By then, I was upbeat and positive, and a fairly disappointing interaction over email with our accountant [my interaction with accountants were always disappointing - possibly the accountants are trained to use their imagination in only one way, for evil things] could not diminish my spirits. By then, I have decided to give it a go - a final push to this business without having the trappings of expectations. I have always derided the short-termism among the business executives; however, I could see that a pure short-term approach is invariably helpful to feel free of baggage. I have now set myself a short-term goal, slightly beyond the 100 days but not much further, and decided to throw everything at it before an exit. Yes, exit, as I was reminded the golden rule of exit, as practised by Australian cricketers. Exit when everyone asks why you are going; not when they question why you should not.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Next 100 Days

I have been writing this blog for last three years, and this has been the place to come to when I felt like writing. I have never taken it seriously [despite proclaiming to do so], but posted endless essays on complex subjects with a 'know-all' pretension, which I seldom display in real life. I suspect this is my hidden desire to be seen as a learned man that made me write, though in person, I am too painfully aware of my shortcomings and hence, more often than not, I keep my mouth shut.

I must admit there was another reason behand starting to write this blog. Then, I just read Julia Margaret Cameron's 'Artists' Way' and wanted to follow her trechniques to 'unblock' the writer in me. Well, yes, that's a clear admission of pretension, but I did believe [and still do] is that I can make the million dollars I want to make by writing. You may call this delusional, but I reached this conclusion from the other end of reasoning. I realized that I am hopeless as an employee, too temparamental and creative, to be ever considered a star in any organization. I want to be an entrepreneur, but I am also too fickle, and doubt whether I have the necessary tenacity and ruthlessness to succeed in today's business world. I also lack, completely, the easy self-assurance that a consultant should bring to table; I am rather full of self-doubt, more like an always inquisitive academician. I never buy lottery tickets, and given up on the hope of making it to Indian Test Cricket Team more than three decades back. But I would still want to make a million dollars, and as one can see, I don't have much option left.

However, as with most self-respecting individuals, it is time for me to call the bluff and do something real. This blog almost shows my character, wondering around - I was right about calling myself a 'traveller' - and I am feeling that I have reached that critical stage in my life when I must focus and do one thing well. Well, I said that before, as one can point out, but with every passing day, that agenda is becoming ever more urgent.

Of course, my life does not [yet] allow me the luxury of changing course one fine morning, as I wish. There are 'promises to keep'. I have treated these various commitments so far like an excuse - always diverted my focus in order to do something that I promised/ intended to do in the days of wondering around. It is becoming increasingly important that I get onto the doing mode, and while I keep the promises, I never never take my eyes off the ball again.

So, I shall try. I have set up an agenda for personal transformation for next 100 days. This is supposed to change everything - right from how I look to what I do, what I write in this blog, how I deal with other people, and what I ultimately do. I am planning to live a fairly regimented life, focused on promises to keep, and curb my usual nature. I am planning to practise humility [how vain is that statement, but how true] and not pretend I know the problems of Hillary Clinton, Gordon Brown and India. Well, I am painfully aware that I need to solve my problems first. I know I shall still be angry and sad, I shall still dream and plan, be nostalgic and be ambitious, but in the next 100 days, I shall keep reminding myself that I need to DO, not THINK.

Meanwhile, I shall turn this blog into a personal diary. Of my experiments with focus and a regimented life. Trust me, I have never lived a regimented life, never focused. I remember the exams I gave - always last minute, always passed, but that is more due to my intelligent guesses than my knowledge. I was happy about it - I used to boast that I could guess entire Modern Economics to get a decent pass in my post-graduation - but last four years in Britain has taught me that this is not enough. I really need to aim for the top, because nothing else really makes sense.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Duke of Edinburgh - A tribute on his 87th Birthday

Yes, to Prince Phillip, a tribute is due on his 87th birthday. A representative of a generation living in an empire in their imagination. Read some of his famous observations here:

Thursday, June 05, 2008

How Hillary Lost It

Clinton for Veep? What's in it for me? American Presidents do tend to think that they rule the world, and the world thinks that they are entitled to an opinion how Americans should choose their president. On a more serious note, everyone in the world seems to get affected by the choice of American President, and therefore the interest is real and practical.

So, I should have a say in who Obama, now that he is the Democratic candidate, chooses as his running mate. There has been a lot of speculation on Hillary Clinton, and Mrs. Clinton herself has positioned her candidature. She said she was open to the idea and have not conceded yet, apparently a gesture to be in the race. There was a talk about the Dream Ticket - Obama-Clinton Ticket - for a long time now, and people tend to believe that this will make a great combination and unite the democratic party, which stands bitterly divided. Obama himself has pronounced that Mrs. Clinton will have a role to play in his administration. Democratic super-delegates and leaders do seem to want it too - as Clinton in fact won most of the big states and Obama proved unable to attract White American Blue Collar workers, for whom he is too much of a change.

So, it does make political sense, and there are precedences of bitterly divided candidates making it to the winning ticket. The famous example of Reagan is being cited - he came in as an outsider, and then teamed up with establishment's George H W Bush and went on to win the Presidency. And, though Vice-Presidents have a small role, getting a strong candidate who can draw votes certainly helps, as having LBJ on the ticket would have helped John Kennedy to win Southern votes.

However, despite these apparent common sense reasons, Clinton has earned herself several disqualifying points along the way. First, she was a bad looser. She should have conceded the race long back and teamed up with Obama. She worked steadfastly to undermine Obama over last few months. Taking her on the ticket will now look like an act of convenience rather than conviction for Obama. Second, Obama-Clinton ticket will be too revolutionary. A commentator said - America has apetite for one revolution at a time. Third, throughout the campaign, various political observers and journalists remarked on Hillary's inability to look to people in their eye as she spoke to them. One Iowan democrat has also observed that 'she is George W in a skirt'. In an election where connecting back to American people is everything, she will be a great liability. Lastly, by dragging it for so long, Mrs Clinton almost made herself redundant. She will find it difficult to answer questions on Obama's credentials. Expect a lot of debaters quoting herself against her. Besides, she proved herself a divisive candidate and she has no place on an Obama ticket, which seeks to reunite America.

So, I am not alone when I hope/ pray that Obama does not choose Clinton as his running mate. Farhan, an astute political observer from Bangladesh [he is a friend and a successful business leader too], is praying that Obama chooses John Edwards. Despite my knowledge that Farhan is a great admirer of John McCain [he always was, even before McCain was officially in the race], I think he represents the sentiments of many like me who would want to see Obama as the next US president. John Edwards is less revolutionary, less divisive and more appealing to the White American Male Blue Collar worker. His candidature makes a lot more sense than Clinton's.

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- Theodore Roosevelt

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Will be to arrive where we started
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