The Cuban Affair and a friend

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I read these papers with fervent devotion as one would read the revelations of God in a holy book for the very first time.

Few nights have been more satisfying than the one I was fortunate to experience a week ago. It was purposeful, engaging, and life-affirming. These moments that put you in the zone of ‘flourishing’ have to be treasured, and probably understood better to recreate them more frequently. I was just sifting through some documents that preceded a probable nuclear catastrophe.

My final assignment for the Negotiation Course was due in a couple of days. We were to present our analysis on a real-life negotiation drawing parallels from the strategies and tactics learned in the course. We chose to work on the negotiations between the US Government and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis – a negotiation that probably saved humanity. I was first introduced to the affair through the film ‘Thirteen Days.’ The film portrays the decision making in the high offices of the US government during the crisis, closely based on the book ‘Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis‘ by Robert Kennedy, who as the Attorney General during the period had a close view and say on what was happening. I’ve rewatched the film more times than any other film, each time drawing lessons in leadership, communication, and decision-making. I’ve also caught with the book. The Cuban Affair was among the reasons why I chose the course on negotiation. Now, it was coming a whole circle. I was going to end the course with an analysis of the crisis.

But it was not the first time I was working the subject. All through the term, I’d been trying to do a write-up on the subject from a negotiation strategy perspective. I read articles and the even the screenplay of the film. But I get did not get too far. Rather, I did not exert myself enough. But now, I had to do it.

I began my research with a benign ‘google search.’ It threw up a bunch of articles on the crisis. I had read many of these earlier, I was looking for something more potent. As I scrolled down, I noticed the National Security Archives link. It contained documents pertaining to the crisis. It was an epiphany. I could now read the exact words that Premier Khrushchev wrote to President Kennedy. I could also read the CIA evaluation of various responses to Soviet Missile build-up in Cuba. The same documents that the Executive Committee for National Security would’ve used to base their decisions on.

I read these papers with fervent devotion as one would read the revelations of God in a holy book for the very first time. For the first time, I experienced the thrill from a first-hand reading of such documents.

Despite my interest in the crisis, it had never occurred to me to look for the real papers.  Now, it has opened up to me a huge area of curious engagement. I will go on frequent online hunts for more such discoveries and this may provide fertile material for books and novels.

.  .  .

A friend messaged me today with a reading he found interesting. We had shared a flat during my Summer internship. He was a student of economics and was interning with a data-driven journalistic firm for the summer. But he had his vision set on the economics of drugs and traveling to unusual places. He rattled off stories on drugs and his econometric modeling on the taxation of robots. We connected instantly due to our wide-ranging interests, especially world travel and cultures. I hardly expected him to be interested when he asked me about the book I was reading, a historic novel on Samarkand. But that set off a long conversation between us. He narrated his travel experience in Kazakhstan and treated me to his photos and videos from the trip. Later, our favorite thing was to figure out and catch up with the international film festivals in the city.

While we parted ways within a month, he kept a tradition of sharing the interesting culture stuff he stumbled upon. A few weeks ago he had sent me some Turkish songs, which I had forgotten about until today. As I listened to those songs today and texted him back, he said that these days he has developed an interest in philosophy and was currently reading The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. I was happy for his interest in philosophy and told him about my own small introduction to philosophy through The School of Life.

We couldn’t prolong our conversation any longer, it was already 1 AM in the night and I had to attend to my assignment on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I knew that he had an interest in history, so I let him know that I was working on the Cuban Affair and casually asked him if he’d ever watched ‘Thirteen Days.’ He said he had. I wished him good night and shared the link to the National Security Archives on the Cuban Missile Crisis I had discovered, hoping that he’d share the excitement I had for these papers. Yup, he did.

I returned to the historic papers reflecting on what a night it is turning out to be. As we journey through life, we across some wonderful people even if only for a brief month. Such briefness should not let us belittle the potential of these relationships. It was a reminder for me to be open to people all the time and create possibilities for life-affirming relationships.

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Fishing: A personal reverie, systems simulation, and sustainability challenges

blue fishing boat
Gone fishing

As we entered the lecture hall today, we saw ten placards spread around the class. The twin professors were already there to usher us in. They asked us to form teams of three and sit behind one of the placards. Blue Lagoon, Salmon Fry, Atlantic Crew, Brave Sharks – some of the names on these placards.

When all of us were seated, the professor asked us to guess what we expected to be doing today based on names on these placards. I looked around and found that the names on these placards had a common theme relating to ocean and fishes.

“Are we Pirates?” a classmate asked. The professor denied.

A few more guesses later, it was revealed to us that we were fishing companies. We were going to fish.

Fish, fishing, fish markets, the ocean – these are magical to me. I could observe them with awe for hours. In Chennai, one of my most favorite activities was to walk through the little fish market that ran parallel to the beach. In the evenings, you’d see women seated on both sides of the road with fishes of different sizes and colors brought in from the sea by their menfolk only a little while earlier. You’d feel the cool breeze of the sea and your nose would tingle from the ocean smell of fresh fish. You’d hear the names of fishes crooned by the sellers to attract buyers. Just beside the sellers would be the other women who cleaned and sliced the fish that the customers had bought, an additional service that you have to pay for. People ambled from vendor to vendor, wide-eyed, and all along pregnant with the excitement of a delicious fish dinner later in the night.

I think the certain thrill is because fishing is the only act and fish is the only food that still retains the primeval adventure of hunting-gathering that is no more in poultry or meat or other common food. Most food is domesticated and raised in captivity, while most fish still comes from the untamed sea.

With this elevated mood, I was all set for the simulation. We owned ships which we used for fishing. We would be competing with the other teams in the class. Our task was to increase our net worth by the end of the ten rounds. Our revenue came from our catch. Our decisions were limited to two things. One, we could buy and sell ships; two, we decided where to send our ships – deep ocean, coastal ocean, or keep them in the harbor. Each had its own cost. The decision on where to send your ship rested on the expected catch per ship which was determined by where our competitors chose to send their ships.

One of our team members who knew a little about this game warned that this was about sustainability. The teams would buy a lot of ships initially to rake in the revenues but they do not account for the fact that the stock of fish depletes as every team indulges in over-fishing. The average catch per fish then drops to a nadir that it is not economically sustainable to operate the business.

From this insight, we tried to formulate our strategy. While we understood the perils of owning too many ships, we also understood the need to have enough ships in the initial stages to rake in some revenues. The broad idea was to buy more ships initially and auction the ships when there is still demand for ships in the market. If we’re too late, the competitors would figure out that low fish stock and would not be interested in buying the ships. We debated what would be ideal time to start selling the ships. One said it shouldn’t be before the sixth round, another said that it might be too late. The professor leaned in to listen as we discussed our strategic options.

The game began. It was year one, the catch was good. Both coastal and deep ocean were equally attractive. We bought a few ships. And then, into the fourth round, a gap developed between the profitability of coastal and deep ocean based on what the other teams decided. We had to play a guessing game about where the nine other teams would send their ships. Being overly rational, we started to simply assign our ships equally to diversify our risk. A round later, we managed to sell a couple of our ships. One team which had too many ships on its balance sheet was desperately trying to off-load it. It came to a point when they were tried to sell their ships at a price lower than the price of a fish!

The game came to a close. The team with the most ships was at the bottom of the table. We were in the middle. It was expected. We followed a risk-averse strategy, we couldn’t have hoped for more returns.

We then played another cycle of the game. This time with the addition of an ‘association’ formed out of one member from each team. The association met after every three rounds to discuss matters regarding industry regulation. However, the decisions made are not binding on the members. But the association did not have any impact on the game, in fact, no decisions made. The association was hijacked by a few loud voices who believed they understood what was happening in the industry and also had the solutions to it. Much of it was targeted at the player with the highest number of ships who was raking in a lot in revenues. No one spoke about the need to protect the resources.

Soon, the fish stock in the ocean went to zero. The industry crashed.  Everyone, along with the player that owned the highest number of ships lost. Self-regulation did not work. Everyone was a loser in the end. Even nature. It was a tragedy of commons.

It was half past ten in the night, well past the scheduled class time. We had to break for the night, quite reluctantly. The simulation was surprisingly effective in demonstrating the tragedy of the commons, and self-preservative decision-making that leads to this outcome. When we discussed in our team if we should propose a rule of alternating between coastal and deep ocean fishing for the whole industry, we dismissed that reasoning it would hamper our revenues.

But it is not just a game. This situation is too close to reality that it is terrifying. Over-fishing is a danger that is imminent. Today, there are parts of the ocean that are wiped out of fish population. How the world’d oceans could be running out of fish is an interesting BBC feature that narrates the danger we face. Meanwhile, countries like China, who have exhausted their own fishing resources are now subsidizing and sending large fishing carriers into African waters, hitting the livelihood, the food source, and the marine resources of the African coastal nations like Senegal. This could be the next biggest geopolitical tension.

Last year, I had picked up an interesting travel book on a related theme. In Following Fish: Travels Around the India Coast, author Samanth Subramanian chronicles how fish intertwines with the history and the culture of the coastal regions of India. He explores it through food, religion, history, fishing communities, sport, ship-building, and many more. It is a riveting read. Recalling the book reminds me of the smell of the ocean.

A couple of days from now, we will return to class to apply systems thinking to the fishing simulation and do policy analysis to tackle issues of tragedy of the commons and sustainability. It is all very important and critical to our world. If we continue to do business as usual, my enjoyable walks in the little fish market, the livelihoods of many a people, the fascination of the ocean, and the above-mentioned author’s chronicles would become a thing of the past. It would be a shame to lose our blessings.

.  .  .

The simulation is MIT Sloan School’s Fishbanks: A Renewable Resource Management Simulation. It can be accessed by anyone. Try your hand at it.

This is what I’ve been up to

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Finding a way out

I’ve been quite a drag over the last couple of weeks. I shall jot down what I’ve been up to during this time. Maybe it’ll help me feel better about them.

Our merger and acquisition classes have begun. M&A is fascinating. For one, there is a lot of drama involved in M&A’s. The period of courtship is often the most interesting phase, and of course, a majority of well-intentioned M&A’s turn sour. We’ve been going over some interesting cases in the healthcare and media space. With every new concept, I look to find a similarity in the dating and relationship domain. It is astonishing to find this closeness. Should there be a ‘break-up fee‘ in romantic relationships too?

My negotiation classes have been going steady. We’ve been foraying into multi-party negotiations. Selling my company to a big form, bagging a massive deal with a critical client, and negotiation salary – some of my accomplishments over the last few negotiation sessions. The roleplays and mock negotiations in every session is exciting. But I’ve begun to doubt the effectiveness of these roleplays.

I was a participant and a firsthand witness of a private protest. It was a live demonstration of organization, negotiation, conflict resolution, and leadership. I was as wrong as I could’ve been on predicting the trajectory of this protest. I have some enduring lessons to take forward. In fact, this event will be among my greatest learning moments at b-school.

I’ve finally completed the two books I started a few weeks earlier –  What they teach you at Harvard Business School and How Stella Saved The Farm. The later was a wonderful little management parable about innovation, leadership, organization, and change management.

We have been working on a marketing strategy simulation this term. We run a beauty product firm with a few brands. We are tasked with launching and positioning brands, determining the pricing, the promotion, and the distribution, while also investing in research and development for future launches. We did quite poorly in the first half of the simulation due to poor positioning and spreading resources thinly across too many brands. Last night, we made some amends.

I’ve also been working on a sourcing strategy for a ferrochrome producer in India, as part of a corporate competition. Too much reading about mining leases, chromite ore, and South Africa.

Catch up soon.

Teaching is a Performance Art: Experiences and Lessons from a Teaching Session

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Creating the learning moment

A week ago, I experienced a most exhilarating moment in recent times. I had taught (co-created and led) a session on marketing. The participants seemed to have enjoyed and gained something from the session. I was glad that I took this opportunity, which I was hesitant about earlier, and did not think it would turn out the way it did. More than these, I discovered something about teaching.

Leadership and storytelling are essential ingredients that go into effective teaching.

A friend had roped me in for this session that was intended to be a knowledge sharing exercise on ‘the 4Ps of marketing’ with the junior students. I was thoroughly excited by the opportunity. I’ve believed that good teaching is among the greatest things to be experienced in human life. Few things inspired me more than what ‘great teaching’ did.

In coming to a b-school and going through the case method, my experience and opinion of teaching have only grown. In a b-school classroom, the teacher plays an even more nuanced role. It is here that I’ve experienced the ideals of teaching – to not teach but facilitate learning by making the participants think, discuss, and make a decision. The teacher leads the class.

I’ve had the fortune of participating in the classes of very good professors in my school. When the professor is on a roll, there can be no greater hero. Secretly, I wished that I had the opportunity to teach and sometimes caught myself fantasizing – stimulating curiosity, fostering argument, delivering the ‘aha’ moment, creating new neural pathways and transforming the thoughts of the participants.

However, before I agreed to take the session, I had some concerns that I went over in my mind. Everyone knows 4 Ps, would I be able to add something qualitative? I also feared that the session may turn out to be a bad experience and hit my self-esteem hard.

But I did not want to let go of this opportunity. I agreed. Then began my most anxious and agonizing twenty-four hours. What should the content be? What should be the structure? Will this example useful at all? My anxiety was nothing less than what a presidential candidate would go through as he prepares his speech.

I went about asking my friends for suggestions – what challenges had they faced in applying these concepts, what would make these concepts interesting, and many more such questions. I gained some important insights from these conversations.  A friend thoughtfully suggested that I should think about the manner of interaction with the participants – to put up a question and let them volunteer to answer or randomly pick on people. This was the most helpful advice. I knew from my class experience that randomly picking people was much more effective. I decided to go with it.

I had understood that it is not enough to go into the session with just the substantive content and hope to make it effective. The words I spoke, the enthusiasm I exhibited, and the attitude that I held would matter. I carefully planned my opening statement to the participants.

I was a complete mess as I prepared for the session. I could not take a structured approach to the preparation. But as I got closer to the scheduled time and I saw a structure and style evolving to my plan. I felt better. Even eager to deliver what I had.

In hindsight, having gone through this exercise once, I can now think about this a lot more clearly. I will go ahead and line out how I prepared for this. There were broadly two things I had to prepare myself for – the first was the content I was going to deliver (rather co-create), the second was the teaching manners. Both are equally important. The structure was the base on which these two components stood.

Content:

  1. I reflected on the learning moments I’ve enjoyed in the classroom – it was the little exercises and the brainstorming that was most effective – and tried to incorporate it into my plan
  2. Use content that reflects you and personal. While I brainstormed for ideal examples, I felt conviction only when I landed on a product that I had thought about earlier.
  3. Another way to make the content unique to you is to use an example from the industry that you know better than others. In my case, it was the airline industry. Using this meant that I was not only delivering the understanding of certain concepts but also may end up creating understanding about an industry that at least one or two in the audience may develop a further interest in.

Style (once well-versed, it would remain more or less same):

  1. I recollected certain teaching manners of professors that I found effective – cold-calling, Socratic dialogue, intently listening to the student participant, rephrasing what the student had just spoken – and then consciously tried to adopt it. There is another technique that I didn’t consciously plan but something that just happened. It was building up a series of wrong responses from the participants and then delivering the ‘aha’ moment.
  2. Sometimes I was cold and unkind and had to take the role of the ‘boss’ to put the participant in the ‘situation’
  3. I used hashtags on slides to evoke amusement and interest. The hashtags opened up a new channel of communication that is not overtly brought up during the presentation by it is there and designed amusing enough to engage the participants at subterranean level. I’ve found this to be effective, and this is something I’m going to follow in my general presentations too.
  4. I gave an amusing title to the session. ‘Romancing the 4 Ps on a Saturday Night’ sounds more interesting and specific than ‘4 Ps of Marketing.’

Finally, the structure. I had a few considerations in designing the structure:

  1. The opening should be unique and captivating. Starting with theoretical concepts may be a damp start. After some thought, I decided to open with an exercise on marketing Ps.
  2. There must be a logical flow to the conversation. It must get deeper as we move forward in the session.
  3. The content mix is crucial is keep the audience engaged and prevent bored faces. Exercises, theoretical concepts, discussions must be optimally arranged to deliver a smooth experience.

In that one hour, all the twenty-five odd people in the audience contributed to the discussion at least twice. I heard that some people who were earlier shy of participation spoke out today. I believe that there were at least a few who had their own moments of high during the session as they gave their viewpoints. I also believe that there was at least one new thought that they took back with them.

But there was one thing that went terribly wrong that day. It was the feedback. I requested the participants to write a few lines of feedback and all of them, quite diligently, handed me pieces of paper. I later found out that most were vanilla feedback that said that the session was effective or that they loved it. This did not give me any insight on the areas I could improve upon.

But I realized that it was a mistake of mine not to guide them on giving feedback. I have faced difficulties writing feedback when my own professors have asked for it. You have five minutes and most of us end up writing generic points. I later a recollected attending a session, where at the end of the session the speaker gave out printed feedback forms that had segments with specific cues which enabled me to write out some meaningful feedback. That was an effective method. If not that, it is at least advisable to ask the participant to give feedback with a focus on certain parameters.

A few of them came to me at the end of the session and let me know how much they enjoyed the session. Among these were also a few seniors. A friend whose judgment I can trust also said

It was a night that would stay in my memory for a long time.

That night, I realized that a class means much more to the teacher than to the student participants.

That night, I realized that teaching is a performance art and great teachers are artists.

That night, I realized that it was sharing ideas that brought me the greatest joy.

.  .  .

Further Reading

  1. Here’s an article from ‘The Atlantic’ that explores teaching as a performance art: Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic

Closure: The end of daily blogging and thoughts on writing daily

close up of fruits hanging on tree
There is a moment when the apple has to be plucked off the tree. That moment is this.

I have not been writing here for the last ten days. In that time, I have been scripting new plans, working on some interesting class assignments and a few personal projects, agonizing over the lack of drive, reading a book, and in general, being dissatisfied.

I found out that taking a blog to a book is not going to be easy. I took almost an hour to edit my first post. I couldn’t bear to continue with the second post – reading it made me doubt if there was a book at all here. I’ve left it there. I’ve been too scared to pick-up the word file to edit. It’s been untouched since.

But then, I know this is my first time visualizing a book, and it is perfectly normal to feel inadequate and terrified as I do. Four months ago, I’d have scoffed at the notion of a book of my own anytime soon. But I’m here now. I must embrace the stress and the anxiety that comes with the process and keep my perspective intact.

I thought and rethought if I must continue recording my days on this blog every single day. I’ve done my goal, will publish my book, where is the motivation to go on? There was a magical discipline to this process, why would I want to stop it? I’ve gained so much, how else would I have ever put together 60k words! But with new pressing issues like editing my book and the opportunity to do other exciting work, I wonder if it is the best use of my time to write about my day? Also, my schedule has meant that the writing I was doing was speed-writing without much flavor. I was focussed on achieving my targets than the quality of writing. But then again, there has been a network of benefits. Can’t I spend just half an hour every day writing down? What about recording the b-school life and lessons?

I could go on and on. But what I’ve decided is this. I’m committed to writing and still committed to recording my b-school days, and there are interesting things happening here. I will record my learning, though not on a daily basis but at least twice a week. I will strive for a higher quality of writing.

As I write this, I feel a heavy loss inside me. I did not know that recording your life every day can be addictive and too absorbing to disengage. It is almost like a day not written about is not lived at all.

I will always remember these 100 odd days of my life. They have been very special to me and have opened new paths ahead.

To learning. To writing. To life.

PS: I will be here and will be writing, and am committed to growing this community.

Day 108: A thinking morning, modeling urban dynamics, and a bit of cynicism

crowded street with cars passing by
Snapshots from a city

With half sleep and a half breakfast, it’s a little difficult to start one’s thinking machines at 8:45 in the morning. But we had to: the first class of the morning was Business Dynamics. We played around with our beer game simulation model as we tried to arrive at the target inventory level that’s reduce the overall costs of inventory and backlog. We then moved onto a working on a problem in urban dynamics.

Such big-picture problems always have me more interested. The scenario was this: as employment opportunities increase in the city, there is an in-migration to the city with a lag of a few years. This influx of migration creates demand for services which further leads to business expansion and more employment opportunities. This would be our reinforcing loop in our causal loop diagram.

But this is only one part of the story. The population growth drives housing construction and consumes the land. As land is a fixed resource, the increasing housing stock limits the land available for business expansion, which then reduces the demand for labor and a concomitant decline of in-migration. This is our balancing loop.

It was simple enough to figure out the behavior of the system: the jobs will go up exponentially at the beginning and then tend to an equilibrium. Now, we had to figure out the variables in the system and decide which ones we will model as a stock variable and the one we will model as a flow variable.

Working with this problem, I seemed to get a better hang of designing causal loops and ‘stock and flow’ diagrams. But I did make my fair share of mistakes that now look blatant. At one point, I modeled a flow into the land variable. The blatant error is that nothing can make land to grow. Moments of learning.

Our model was ready. But there was a problem. One which our professors had built-in by design. On running the simulation, the jobs tended to equilibrium much before the land was depleted. Ideally, that should happen only when land is depleted. This was our home assignment: to find the crack in the model.

There was quite a bit a cynicism among colleagues today. A friend seated near said that whatever the model it would only be a poor reflection of the reality. But I believe that the comparison must be made with the other existing approaches to solving problems and not with the reality. Another colleague questioned during lunch how these approaches would help us in decision making in our careers. The broad answers I gave did not satisfy him. But the question was a sincere one. I hope we will get our answers as the term progresses.

Day 107: What they teach you at Harvard Business School

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Intense learning team discussion in progress

It was delivered today. I came to know of its existence only a week earlier and I had to have my hands on it as soon as possible. I have been excited about it ever since I discovered it. I’m talking about the book, What They Teach You at Harvard Business School by Philip Delves Broughton.

In my pursuit to convert this blog into a book, I was doing a little market research to find books that talk about the b-school experience. Initially, I wanted to figure out where my book belonged in the larger marketplace, I could then suitably position the book and refine the tone. As the book in question came up, I was thoroughly excited.

As soon as I got the book in my hands, I rushed to my room and started to read it. The author Philip Delves Broughton, belongs to the HBS Class of ’06 and was a foreign correspondent for the Daily Telegraph before he decided to try out business school. He chronicles the HBS life with all its components – the case studies, the environment, the class discussions, the cold calls, the learning teams, the stress, the fun, and everything else.

Into the first week of his routine at HBS, Philip writes:

My life had been reduced to school and this room with an air mattress on the floor and a picnic table from Costco in the corner. I lay there hearing every single noise…It took me hours to get to sleep that night as a single questioned churned around my mind: What have I done?

I too have gone through this ‘what have I done’ moment in my first month at b-school, and I believe many others would also identify with this feeling.

I see some broad similarities between Philip and myself. He says two categories of people come to b-school – the first, who know exactly why they came to a b-school and the second, who know they want a change but do not know of what kind and hope that b-school would provide them with fresh options. Both Philip and I belong to the second category. I believed that the general competence in business developed at a b-school would serve me better in my life.

The second similarity is that both Philip and I did not come into a business school with a typical background in financial firms, consulting, or even technology. Just as Philip with his journalist background was low on excel and powerpoint skills, I too had a minimal exposure to any aspect of businesses.

I think the salience of this book is that Philip while being an HBS insider, reflects on his experience as an outsider. This perspective helps bring the readers closer to the book.

For me personally, I’m already taking away a few points from what could be the most pristine b-school experience. Philip’s description of the cases and the class discussions give me something to take away and emulate the lot at HBS. I was pleasantly surprised when I read Philip’s narration of ‘The Case of the Unidentified Industries’ – a version of which our financial statement analysis professor had us do in the class.

In my last quarter of b-school, this book would let me set my own b-school experience against the grander backdrop of the HBS experience. It will also allow me to reflect and consolidate my learnings as I move into the corporate.

Day 106: Test run wisdom, meaningful motivation, and my first systems simulation

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A nice little town

“If you were to test a product that is to be launched in the metro cities, where would you test the product?” Our marketing strategy professor threw this question at us.

“In a similar metro city. It will have similar characteristics to that of the launch market.”

“In a city with a diverse set of population. The capital city of New Delhi would be a good fit as it has a wide range of demography.”

“In a tier-II city. No one might notice my product in a metro city.”

After three or four responses from the class, the alternatives saturated. The professor explained his logic. It would be wise to test the product in a tier-I or a tier-II city for two reasons. First, it ensures that there is not much hullabaloo and the competitors do not notice the product. Second, in the event of a failure, the brand is less affected as there is less visibility in these cities.

.  .  .

The more we are in real situations of leadership the more we understand that building and caring for our teams are immensely critical than any strategic operational plan we may come up with. Just a couple of days ago my colleague in the student-run committee brought up the issue of too much work, no fun, and the junior members feeling unappreciated for their effort. I felt exposed. Getting great output from the team is not enough, it is important to keep them motivated. These skills are called upon in various situations – in student-run organizations, in one’s learning team, or in competition teams.

As I wondered about this, the power of analytics seems to have figured what I needed. This HBR article on motivation showed up on my LinkedIn feed: What Not to Do When You’re Trying to Motivate Your Team

The author begins with a startling question: “How many of you have ever received a compliment from your boss that actually offended you?”

I ran my memory to recall the kind of compliments I had paid my team members. Could I have offended someone?

The author then lists the kind of motivation techniques that could have a negative effect – high praise, insincere compliments, effusive expressions of public appreciation as compensation. Then, in a helpful manner, suggests a few ideas that model meaningful expressions of recognition – asking for the story behind their work, let them know how the person’s work has contributed to the larger goal, acknowledge their personal costs behind their accomplishments.

I have unknowingly used these better ideas of meaningful motivation at times, but it was not conscious. Now that I understand it better, I’m determined to be more meticulous about the recognition I give to those working with me.

.  .  .

In the Business Dynamics class today, we built our first simulation model using Vensim. We modeled the beer game. The system behaved the same way as the graphs we plotted after our game. This is extremely cool. But I need to spend time with the reading material and examples to get a good hold of it.

Day 105: Gatecrashing a class and the power of analogies

reading the book
Metaphors are not just for Shakespeare 

It was seven in the evening, my scheduled classes for the day were over. But I had nothing planned for the next couple of hours. There was a class on Strategic Thinking and Problem Solving, which I had not subscribed to, taken by a professor whose classes I had enjoyed the last term. I decided to attend it. I was also under mental stress due to problems I could not solve immediately. I decided that the structured environment of a lecture hall would offer relief with the professor as the soothsayer than be alone and let random thoughts weigh my mind.

The professor identified me immediately and asked what I was doing gatecrashing his class. Of course, as was the norm, I had to pay a small tax in the way of class participation.

For a second, I thought I were in a literature or a creative writing class, as the words analogy and metaphor were mentioned. But the professor was talking about the use of analogies and metaphors in problem-solving.

An analogy is when you can identify the broad specifics of a particular situation elsewhere. Improving farming is like fighting a war. The enemy in farming is the environment, the weapons are the fertilizers and pesticides, the military intelligence is the weather reports, the allies could be the supporting agricultural policies and the high tech missiles are the GMO varieties.

During the 1990s, Intel adapted the steel analogy to anticipate a possible disruption in the microprocessor industry. Andy Grove, Intel’s CEO at that time, purportedly referred to cheaps CEOs as the digital rebar.

“Could we be the Toys R Us of office supplies?”

We moved on to metaphors. Purifying water is a balancing act. This metaphor was used by a company to develop a new concept for a water purifying device. Just as the right side is balanced with the left side in a balancing act, in water purification, there is a need to remove what is harmful without filtering what was good.

Of course, bad analogies could lead to wrong conclusions.

This HBR article talks about the use of analogies by strategists with some good examples: How Strategists Really Think: Tapping the Power of Analogy

Day 104: Cailles en sarcophage, the Sultan’s Message, and Blackcurrant tea

restaurant outside view
A peek into luxury restaurants

… an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine …

– From Virginia Woolf’s The Lighthouse

Last night, I had an interesting assignment that was due. It was a Product and Brand Management assignment on luxury brands. Based on first come first serve we could choose to cover the luxury brands industry we were interested in. I chose restaurants. My task was to give at least three luxury restaurants and describe what set them apart.

My choice of restaurants was driven by interest and exposure to the gastronomic world through food shows like MasterChef, food books like My Life in France by Julia Child and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl, hours spent browsing food blogs, and of course food films.

But picking the luxury restaurants proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. I knew I had to pick one from Paris. I decided to start with films. With much excitement, I tried to figure out the restaurant the General mentions in the film The Babette’s Feast, which is famous for cailles en sarcophage (quail in puff pastry). It was the restaurant Café Anglais but a google search revealed that it had shut down and even the building was demolished. Then I moved on to the film The Hundred-Foot Journey – the story features a one star Michelin restaurant nested in the French countryside but it was fictional.

I resorted to googling. When that too didn’t work out, I went to YouTube. After experiencing a couple of vlogs in Parisian restaurants, I stumbled on a video that was useful. Picking the first restaurant took a little long but it was quick after that. I wanted to ensure that restaurants were from different parts of the world and the cuisines were entirely different.

Here’s a brief of the restaurants I covered (do look at the videos, they’re are delicious):

1. Geranium – ‘Thoughtfulness can be tasted’

A Michelin 3-star restaurant based in Copenhagen, it focusses on nouvelle Nordic cuisine. They strive to create delicious but also well-balanced and light meals. There is heavy use of herbs, flower, and other ingredients.

Some dishes:

  • Wild herbs, grilled asparagus, melted pork fat & melted Vesterhavs cheese
  • Tea from blackcurrant leaves

Take a peek: Geranium

2. Le Louis XV – Alain Ducasse á l’Hôtel de Paris

Again a Michelin 3-star restaurant based in Monaco, it serves cuisine inspired by the French Riviera. The experience of pageantry is its undeclared motto. But as notions of luxury have undergone changes from the 20th century, the restaurant has taken up refurbishing work to be more in sync with the modern notions of luxury. The interiors of the restaurant are decorated with frescos, oil paintings, and mulberry wood. The staff is attired in designer uniform.

Some dishes:

  • Turbot “au naturelle” with chard and calamari
  • Guinea fowl from breast cooked on open fire

Take a peek: Alain Ducasse

3. The Dining Room

Set in a colonial mansion in Bankok, the focus is on modern Turkish cuisine. The interiors have an Ottoman ambiance. The inspiration for the menu comes from in and around Turkey including foods from the street markets of Istanbul. The dishes are creatively named and each one has a story behind them.

Some dishes:

  • The Sultan’s Message: a plate of pigeon seemingly lying on a pool of blood – cherry sauce
  • Bosphorous Black Mussel on an edible shell

Take a peek: The Dining Room

That was quite a culinary trip around the world, wasn’t it?