Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

My blogs – So far!

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[Updated on October 11, 2016.]

My recent “professional” blogs on LinkedIn here:
Demystifying Continuous Performance Management
Life Lessons from Originals – a wonderful book by Adam Grant
Interviewing for Hiring: Nobel Laureate’s Advice
Leadership Learning
Self-healing Systems

A few personal blogs on education, society and stuff.
If you don’t see beauty, you are not seeing
Notes from a talk by K B Jinan, the activist, designer and disruptive educationist.
Geshe Dorji Damdul on Mindfulness:
HH Dalai Lama’s confidante’s take on mindfulness.
Remembering Dijkstra
My talk on some of the quotes by the eminent computer scientist Edsgar Dijkstra.
Turning Around Universities
My notes of a talk by Prof. Deepak Phatak on how MOOC can dramatically change the role of a traditional University.
Gen Y For Dummies
Had a good time attending the NASSCOM (Pune) session on Gen Y management.
The Loss of Innocence – The IIT, Then and Now
A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious and rooted well in the “local” ethos.
Mathematics for justice!
Can we divide something between people such that everyone is guaranteed to be satisfied?
Let’s Talk Dirty!
That’s right. I do want to talk about things dirty.
Watch Thyself!
What do I do when I see an accident?
Wages of Inequality – P. Sainath’s lecture in Pune
Will we ever stop wearing our ideologies on our sleeves and instead focus on the human side of the story?
Can we ever read History with an open mind?
As an 11 year old in the 9th grade, untouched by any “ism” and totally oblivious of the label p-secular …

And here are some personal musings!
Some Poetry recital (काव्यवाचन) on Soundcloud!
Sharad Joshi Interview
“I see a lot of parallels between the socialism of the first Prime Minister Nehru and the so-called development-politics of PM Narendra Modi.” Always insightful to know what this iconic leader has to say on the issues that confront us. (Translated from original Marathi.)
Uniqueness of Religious Regions of Maharashtra
Religious Geography of Maharashtra – now that’s one scary academic sounding topic!
Tale of Two Relocations
My experience of two relocations – first in the year 1993 to the USA and then in 2001 to India.
दोन स्थलांतरांची गोष्ट
“तुम्ही भारतात परत का आलात?”
बोलाचे साहित्य बोलाचेच विश्व, रंकाचे धन आणि रावांचे कवित्व ॥
विश्व मराठी साहित्य संमेलन!
आता तुम्हीच काळजी घ्यायला हवी…
A poem by Shankar Vaidya.
One year of JM – FC road one way plan
Serious issues needing urgent corrective measures. (August 20, 2010)
Was ist Mitaan bitte?

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

February 22, 2015 at 7:32 pm

If you don’t see beauty, you are not seeing

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jinanNow, that’s a very intense version of the common adage – beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Isn’t it? That was K B Jinan, the activist, designer and disruptive educationist. (Here is a link to one talk by him.)

We routinely come across quotes and anecdotes that dazzle us when we read them. Most of them are nothing more than glorified cliches that wither away soon. But some stir you and get etched in your mind. Here are a few such that I heard from K B Jinan at the Mindfulness Conference (October 7-9, 2016), organized by Just Being. They are not platitudes. They appear ironic and counter intuitive and open our eyes to some stark reality that was not apparent earlier. (We marvel, how did we not think of it!) Beware, they are not to be taken too literally – some are really outrageous. So, sit back, relax, read and enjoy.

Language corrupts, and how! Let’s see. Where is Delhi? Up north, right? And where is Kerala? Down south. Good. So if we drop a ball in Delhi, will it roll down to Kerala?

Children don’t need toys. It is an affront to their intelligence to give them miniaturized reality. Don’t give them a kid chair, let them sit on a normal chair and watch what they do with it!

Every generation has to reinvent. Period. Think why the nature has not stopped giving birth to zero year olds. (Otherwise it would have preferred to give birth to 90 year olds!)

Spirituality is the last ploy of the mind. (Milarepa)

In our quest of knowledge, we have stopped being human beings – we have turned into human knowings.

Reasoning is about what we know. What about the unknown then? Reasoning short-circuits comprehension.

Jinan came down heavily on the language and the words. He confided that there came a point when he stopped reading and started experiencing. That rewired his cognitive abilities. Interestingly, the young guru Nithya Shanti, who was in the audience, shared a Sanskrit adage that said the following.

When a teacher teaches, he throws words at the disciple – and then pulls back the words and lets the meaning stay with the student.

I am tempted to end this note with the line that Nithya Shanti makes his audience say after him every time he dispenses some gyan-byte, so here we go.

How wonderful!

(Do check out my earlier blog about the session by Geshe Dorji Damdul.)

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

October 10, 2016 at 6:16 am

Geshe Dorji Damdul on Mindfulness

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domdulToday, at the Mindfulness conference organized by Just Being, I had the opportunity to hear Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul, Director of the Tibet House(New Delhi) and the official translator of His Holiness The Dalai Lama. He shunned esoteric philosophy and kept it simple, profoundly simple. At every stage he urged listeners to question what he was saying, and accept it only if they felt convinced. Here are a few things that stayed with me.

He quoted the 8th century Buddhist monk Shantideva to explain how, to address misery, one has to look inward, and not outward. When the earth is covered with thorns, and you wish to walk over it – will you think of covering all of it with leather? No. You just cover your two tiny feet and walk over the thorns.

Ignorance and self-centered attitude – these two attributes create a facade of guarding you, but end up destroying you. He narrated a story to explain how anger made one opt for a choice that one would not have made under the free will. It is a deceptively simple story – read carefully.

Recently in Delhi, when a bus barely brushed a motorcycle – and scratched it – the youth riding the bike thrashed the bus driver to death in a fit of anger. Imagine that, somehow, the boy was told ahead of time that his bike was to suffer a few scratches due to negligence of a bus driver. Let us say, then he was given two options when that were to happen – (1) reprimand the bus driver, tell him to be careful, and fix the bike for a thousand rupees, or (2) get angry, show strength, beat the driver to death and go to prison. Can there be any doubt about what option he would have chosen? Didn’t the facade of strength and courage created by his anger made him choose the course that he would not have chosen of his free will?

A counselor in the audience asked – should one advise mindfulness to a person who is in an extremely agitated state? Geshe countered – when you have a garment covered with mud, would you use detergent on it right away? Won’t you first rinse it in plain water a multiple times and only when it is free of mud would you not use detergent to remove the stains?

Interestingly, Geshe’s views on “expressing anger” were counter intuitive, and identical to what the Management Guru Adam Grant says in his recent best seller Originals. (Do check out my blog about Originals.) When you vent your anger, in the short term, it creates an illusion that it is helping you calm down. But it feeds the anger. It is a widely perpetuated myth that the anger may simmer inside you, and explode, if you don’t express it. In fact, expressing anger is harmful. It is a bait – don’t fall for it!

There was a lot more to his speech – but let me stop here. Do share your comments. Add your take-away if you were there!


Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

October 7, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Interviewing for Hiring – Nobel Laureate’s Advice

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So, the million dollar question is: are you prepared to keep away, albeit briefly,  the belief in your expertise, intuition, heuristics, judgment, out of the box thinking, intelligence, cleverness and what not; and follow a rigorous algorithmic process for interviewing candidates?

Read more to find out how Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s advice applies to recruiting. >> Read the blog on LinkedIn.

Image on left: Courtesy Abhijit Bhaduri abhijitbhaduri.com


Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

February 21, 2016 at 10:55 am

Leadership Learning

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leadershipWhen I received an invite from a large software company to speak, I felt nice for two reasons. First, they thought me worthy of a talk on “Leadership Learning” and also because this initiative was started by my colleague when he was with that organization!

My objective? After an hour of talk I wanted everyone to feel that the hour was well spent – and each carried with them some sense of deja vu, a few  AHA moments – and of course curiosity to explore more on their own. So here is a brief account of what I shared with them on August 13, 2015.

Everything we see around us is complex – organization, family, society. Everything we have to tackle is complex – be it performance reviews or raising a child. How do we tackle complexity? Complexity can not be confronted with complexity.

The answer is K.I.S.S. – “Keep It Simple, Stupid”!

The celebrated Gall’s law goes like this: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.

This law is essentially an argument in favor of underspecification: it can be used to explain the success of systems like the World Wide Web which grew from simple to complex system incrementally, and the failure of systems like CORBA, which began with complex specifications. Gall’s Law has strong affinities to the practice of agile software development.

I then talked about inversion – and other counter intuitive techniques to look at the complexity which give us dramatically simple perspective to address complexity.

We were always taught to mug up  answers to get good marks, right? But in the real world we know that it is all important to ask the right questions. (What’s the use finding correct answers to  wrong questions?)  Learning is important – but un-learning is more important! I was told by my teacher to un-learn my procedural language training – “otherwise you will program Fortran in C++” he told me!  Vikas Joshi (Founder, Harbinger Group) once told us how one should deliberately create knowledge gaps by entrusting tasks outside  people’s expertise – so, you avoid creating silos of expertise and induce collaboration.  And as the chief people officer of Google (Laszlo Bock) has famously said,  letting the inmates run the asylum works the best!

What is the simple mantra of Success in the corporate world?  Believe it or or not – it’s “Helping others drives success“! Instead of aiming to succeed first and give back later, giving first is a promising path to succeed later!  (But if you do it only to succeed, it probably won’t work.)  This is not an extract from some sermon, but findings by the most highly rated professor from Wharton, USA – Adam Grant.  You actually don’t need to give back – but better give forward. If someone helped you, help someone else.  He also talks about presentation and negotiation. Conventional wisdom tells us that one needs to dominate the conversation, to be assertive, to win an argument. Wrong. If you want to lead someone to your conclusion – you need to do that on their terms! And, instead of dominance, you need to focus on prestige. The motivation has to come from within.

Intuition – don’t we love it when  we seem to know things – but don’t know how we know them? It’s a startling fact that the intuition, or heuristics, often leads us astray. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” shows us that we are often complete strangers to ourselves – and that’s a frightening thought!

Laszlo Bock cites a study in his book where more than 2000 interviews were recorded. The naïve observers were shown the slices from each interview beginning with the interviewee knocking on the door and ending 10 seconds after the interviewee took the seat. Observers provided ratings of employability, competence, intelligence, ambition, trustworthiness, confidence, nervousness, warmth, politeness, likability and expressiveness! For 9 of the 11 variables thin slice judgment correlated significantly with final evaluation of the actual interviewers. is it not scary?  Point is, as Kahneman explains, we constantly make up stories – and then seek evidence to corroborate those stories.

We advise young people to emulate successful people.  Is that good enough?  Remember, successes can’t tell us what not to do!  When failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible.  Looking at failures is more important.  Example: Start up companies and venture capitalists.

At the end I shared what Vikas Joshi shared with fellow Harbingers about leadership during our Annual Award event.  Do take this test of leadership.

How do you experience different people around you? Do you pay attention to differences?
Do you know how different people experience you differently? Harder question – as you go higher, mirrors get curved!
How do people experience themselves when they are around you? That’s the hard test of leadership.

Then I invoked Gandhi.

I believe, irrespective of the ideology, Gandhi was the epitome of leadership. Why Gandhi? Imagine – when even a  telephone was a luxury, forget Internet, he had the mass following across the length and breadth of the nation. The way he excelled in the third test was beyond compare. He made every ordinary person feel like a freedom fighter, not just a patriot, through simple acts – be it wearing khadi clothes or walking along the Dandi march.

As someone said – गांधी एक आंधी थी जिससे तिनका भी आकाश चढ गया!

Gandhi was a typhoon, that catapulted even a straw to the sky!

Thank you.

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

October 2, 2015 at 6:13 am

Sharad Joshi – Four Decades of Farmer Agitation and Politics

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Courtesy Loksatta.com

Courtesy Loksatta.com

Sharad Joshi, the thinker economist, who led historic farmers’ agitations in the eighties turned  eighty this year.  An ardent votary of globalization and free market economy, it is interesting to read his unsparing and candid commentary on the farmers’ issue, the state of affairs, the current crop of farmer leaders, Modi and Sharad Pawar. 

Translated (abridged) from original Marathi interview in Loksatta, Sunday, August 30, 2015. Interviewer Satish Kamat Email: pemsatish.kamat AT gmail DOT com.

Four decades ago, an urbane 40 something left a plum job at the United Nations and settled in a village near Pune (Maharashtra) to experiment with farming. His foray in agriculture confirmed his belief that farming could never be profitable in India, as the market prices of farm produce are not linked to the production costs. He spearheaded two major agitations – one of the onion growers in 1978, and the other of sugar cane and onion producers together in 1980.  The politicians who used to pay lip service to farmers’ plight woke up from their slumber. They realized that farmers could no more be taken for granted. Some of them did manage to build bridges with him to weather the storm. Following are the excerpts from his interview by Mr. Satish Kamat.

On the current leadership of farmers.

While it is good to find many farmers’ organizations taking up the cause – I find them bereft of vision. They are mostly copying what I propounded decades ago without checking it’s relevance in today’s times. It was the market price then, but now it is about water management and crop control.  These leaders may appear successful in pockets, but in reality they are extremely ordinary people without any solid understanding of the issues.

You agitated only for the well-to-do farmers – the onion and sugar cane growers.

Onion is linked to the political sensitivity and sugar cane is about economic elasticity. Maharashtra’s share in national onion production is 40%. I knew that if I took up these crops we could choke the nation. One has to also think about one’s ability to sustain the agitation. How could I do that with the marginal farmers and landless laborers? It was a part of our war plan.

You were apolitical in the beginning, then went as far as sharing  stage with politicians of all hues who had barely any interest in farmers’ issues. In 1985 Sharad Pawar in opposition supported you, and then in 1988 VP Singh, Chandrashekhar and Vajpayee attended your rallies. Even the extreme right wing Patit Pawan was your ally in some agitations. What gives?

At various stages of our movement I was looking for allies to work with me. But unfortunately Sharad Pawar’s casteist position proved to be more powerful than our economic agenda. For better market prices people were with us, but they voted for Pawar during elections.  We couldn’t shake off influence of caste among our followers.  One more thing, Pawar’s allegiance to the co-operative movement has always been stronger than his affinity to farmers. That was the legacy of his mentor Yashwantrao Chavan anyway. Their primary interest was ensuring uninterrupted flow of money from the center for the co-operative movement. As for agriculture, for example, today he is endorsing what we said about GM crops 25 years ago. I often joke – Pawar gets it drip by drip! As for elections, we had no choice but to resort to electoral politics as we needed to create a pressure group inside the assembly and not just outside. Unfortunately we failed.

Your agitation was known for the way it focused on women participation. Have women really become empowered?

Our 1985 Chandwad women’s convention was historic. Women account for eighty percent of farm work – but hardly get their due share. The bonus for us was that these women, once convinced, got their men folk into the movement. We were the first one to raise the issue of reservations for women. But I am against political reservations. It has made women as corrupt as men and they have lost their faith in their own strength and abilities.

In 1980 you toured Vidarbha and that region has participated in the movement in a big way. But it’s also where farmer suicides are prevalent. What should be done about it?

That’s a fact. I believe I taught them to fight but never managed to prepare them for calamities such as what they face today – that’s my failure. When one is on the verge of suicide, there needs to be someone or something that could give them strength and persuade them away from that decision. We could not create such a system. It’s also about the cultural heritage of the region. Had it been some other society, they would have indulged in thievery and plunder – but Vidarbha farmer chooses to embrace death in desperation. Fact is, farming that is solely dependent on the water from the skies is not sustainable. Water management is the key.

You have always stood for globalization and the free market economy. Debt-free farming, and not waiver for debts, was your mantra. Do you believe the current Government can change the face of farming?

Even today I remain a strong votary of globalization. Freedom is the most important value and I believe I could convince farmers about that. But now the situation has turned far more complicated. I see a lot of parallels between the socialism of the first Prime Minister Nehru and the so-called “development-politics” of PM Narendra Modi. It is clear that both are anti farmer. For Modi Industrialization means development. Period. This is the Government that brands onion as an “essential commodity” – how to confront such a regime is the key problem before farmers. Dishonest Government and weak leadership are the bane of today’s farmers.

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

September 3, 2015 at 6:49 am

A poll on my Facebook persona

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I am curious how my Facebook presence is perceived.  I would like my friends – and also those who follow my posts – to respond to this anonymous poll. It may help me mend my ways!


Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

February 22, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized