A brief note about a talk I gave at a large software company.
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.)
Gen Y For Dummies
Had a good time attending the NASSCOM (Pune) session on Gen Y management.
Uniqueness of Religious Regions of Maharashtra
Religious Geography of Maharashtra – now that’s one scary academic sounding topic!
My talk on some of the quotes by an 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.
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?”
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 …
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.
बोलाचे साहित्य बोलाचेच विश्व, रंकाचे धन आणि रावांचे कवित्व ॥
विश्व मराठी साहित्य संमेलन!
What do I do when I see an accident?
आता तुम्हीच काळजी घ्यायला हवी…
A poem by Shankar Vaidya.
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?
One year of JM – FC road one way plan
Serious issues needing urgent corrective measures. (August 20, 2010)
When 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!
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 the 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.
When a senior person goes “When I was your age …“, what do you think a Gen Y really wishes to say? “You know what – you were never my age!“. When Ganesh Natarajan (Zensar CEO) told this story – it reminded me of the school counselor who told us parents – “You know what – you were never teenagers!”
Ganesh went on to claim that the single biggest obstacle in having a harmonious relationship between Gen Y and Gen X is the inability of the Gen X to “let go“.
The Gen X is often left wondering why the Gen Y isn’t excited by the great stuff offered to them. The catch, according to Prakash Iyer (Kimberley Clark Lever) is – what is “great” in the eyes of Gen X is hardly so for the Gen Y.
And then there was Mohit Gundecha (Jombay), a Gen Y himself, who put forth the best advice.
When talking to Gen Y just be 100% transparent. Give them the advice that is best for them, not for you or the company. They are just too smart to not understand if you are anything but transparent. One can’t afford to be reactive with them – you have to be predictive. Don’t go by what they did in college – it will most probably be (at least in India) not by (their) choice. So let them do what they want to do.
And then came the killer, that could only be believed because it came from a Gen Y himself.
Don’t think that “command and control” strategy is irrelevant for Gen Y! The old-fashioned managerial behavior is okay, nay even necessary, if the context is right.
Anshoo Gaur (Amdocs) declared that Gen X and Gen Y are not different. He set out to explain, in engineering-speak, that we ought to compare Gen X and Gen Y along two orthogonal axes, viz. “what” and “how“. On the “what” axis, they are the same, and differ only on “how“. So, his advice was, identify the invariants (i.e. “what“) – e.g. values, performance – and work on them. Don’t fret over the “how“.
The tail-piece was a story narrated by Ganesh about his conversation with the management Guru (late) C K Pralhad about education in India. On a Delhi Mumbai flight Ganesh rued about the Indian education system (rote learning et al) and Pralhad shot back – “As a thought leader, never ever think of persuading the Government to change our education system. If they do that, they would ruin the India story!” To oversimplify – Pralhad’s rationale was that it doesn’t make sense to be liberal with the youngsters. The Indian system, that stuffs student’s head with rote learning, is okay – as the students get ample time to ruminate over it later to make sense of it! Now that’s a kind of shocker, right?
Thank you NASSCOM for a thought provoking, and entertaining, evening!
Disclaimer: This note is my interpretation of what I heard which may or may not be what the concerned speakers meant!
Religious Geography of Maharashtra – now that’s one scary academic sounding topic! But after I skimmed through a delightful note by Prof Anne Feldhaus, I decided to attend the talk and boy was it wonderful! Here are my notes. Disclaimer: I have paraphrased what I heard and I am no academician myself.
As Prof. Suhas Palshikar spoke in Marathi about late Prof. Rajendra Vora, in whose memory the talk was organized, the sari clad elderly Caucasian American lady with snow white hair was seen nodding appreciatively. A small disappointment then when Prof. Palshikar announced that Ms. Feldhaus would be speaking in English.
Ms. Feldhaus talked about six patterns that have created regions bound by common threads of faith. These patterns were stories, body images, goddess sisters, numbered sets, biography of saints and pilgrimage.
She narrated the story of the birth of river Karha. Arjun and Nakula in search of water, toppled the kamandalu of a sage and thus was born the river Karha. They ran for their life with the sage in hot pursuit. Whenever the sage would get close, they would throw a rice grain behind them. The grain would turn in to a shiva-linga and the sage would stop in his tracks to worship it! That explains the Shiva temples along the bank of Karha. The villages around Karha, in a sense, signify a region defined by this story.
The Purush Sukta in Rigved uses the metaphor of human body to describe rivers. Interestingly, eight locations of the river Godavari have been likened to eight angas – body parts – of a woman; from head to toe.
Then she talked about seven goddesses, the Malai sisters, who once in a year visit their maher, i.e. home of their parents, from seven different locations. This religious event binds the eight locations.
Then there are these numbered locations – the ashta-vinayak, the 11 Maruti, the three and a half shakti-peeths and so on. These sets too define a region.
The holy places of he Mahanubhav panth are all about the activities of their founder, Chakradhar Swami, and his guru. The place where he slept, where he delivered his message – even where he went to the bathroom – are enshrined as holy places!
And the last, and the most significant, pattern that creates religious regions is the pilgrimage. The wari of Pandharpur being the most significant example.
At this point, she came up with two key observations.
Some of the regions overlap geographically, but, interestingly, they don’t meet! She cited Jejuri as an example. It happens to be near Karha, the annual palakhi of Janai originates from there, the Morgao of ashta-vinayak is not too far, one of the Malai sisters belongs to this place and the Pandharpur pilgrimage passes through Jejuri. However, folks who are passionately involved in one of the regions are often found to be completely oblivious to the other regions which exist there!
Her second observations was that, with one notable exception, none of these religious regions has metamorphosed into any administrative or political entity. The glorious exception being the wari of Pandharpur which united the Marathi speaking folks not withstanding the cast and class differences. She credited the wari with the creation of the state of Maharashtra.
Personally, it was a very different perspective for me, coming from an American scholar who has almost adopted Marathi as her language. To know more about Anne, do read this immensely entertaining note she wrote for her colleagues at the Arizona State University.
A few days ago I was asked to inaugurate the Jigyasa Techfest at IMCC and I chose that occasion to revisit some of the quotes by an eminent computer scientist Edsgar Dijkstra. I decided to take help of another eminent person, but from the arena of probability and randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT), to highlight one of the quotes by Dijkstra. I decided to begin the presentation with a poll based on a thought experiment by NNT.
Say, you are a cancer specialist. You have the the investigation report which shows no trace of cancer. Now, is it evidence of absence of cancer or is it absence of evidence of cancer? The show of hands in the auditorium indicated that the opinion was evenly divided.
The answer is: it is the absence of evidence of cancer. As there is always a finite probability that the investigation report may miss something, it just can’t be evidence of absence. All we can say is there is absence of evidence.
“Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence”
Get it? When you find bugs, that’s obvious. But if you don’t find bugs, it means exactly that and nothing more – you did not find bugs – period. You can’t vouch that the program is bug free just because you didn’t find any bugs.
Edsgar Dijkstra has some pretty entertaining quotes to his credit – more about those later in this blog. Right now let’s see some that relate to computer science, design and learning.
“Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”
Will you call surgery “knife science”? No! Isn’t the term Computer Science a misnomer then? Think.
“Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability”
How does one craft a good design? After asking this question, I stunned the audience with the answer: KISS! As you know, it’s an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid! So, when in doubt, always choose simple over complex. The problems we face are surely complex, but it is a well accepted principle that you can’t fight complexity with complexity. Simplicity is the right weapon.
“Perfecting oneself is as much unlearning as it is learning”
My programming mother tongue was FORTRAN. Later,the teacher who taught us Pascal warned us that unless we unlearn our FORTRAN ways, we won’t be able to exploit Pascal fully. Otherwise, he said, we would join the tribe of programmers who code in FORTRAN in any language! With so many new languages and programming techniques coming our way, it is absolutely critical that we develop the ability of unlearning old ways to meaningfully embrace the new new things.
As promised, let me quote three of the more famous, and entertaining, utterances of Dijkstra that amuse me no end.
“It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.”
“The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense.”
“The use of anthropomorphic terminology when dealing with computing systems is a symptom of professional immaturity”
Hmm. Think hard about the last one.
Postscript: I found another gem, that generated a great dialog when I posted it on Facebook.
“Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one’s native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer.”
Read this paper if you want to know how do we tell truths that might hurt.