The Chamrajpet model of leadership

When you are doing a group assignment (assuming you’re in college) and you get assigned your share of the work, the assumption is that the allocation of work across team members has been fair. Good group leaders try to ensure this, and also to split work according to the relative interests and strengths of different team members.

Except that there are times when team members get the sneaking suspicion that the group leader is pulling a fast one on them, by following the “Chamrajpet model” of leadership. To understand what the Chamrajpet model is, watch this video, from the beginning of the Kannada movie Gowri Ganesha (the video below has the full movie. Watch it if you can. It’s fantastic).

For those who couldn’t understand, Lambodar (played by Anant Nag) needs to get to Chamrajpet but doesn’t have the money. He befriends two guys (who also want to get to Chamrajpet) and convinces them to share an auto rickshaw with him. He convinces each of them that the “other” guy is his (Lambodar’s) friend, and that they should split the fare equally. This way, he collects the full fare (and a bit more ) from them put together.

It is a fairly common occurrence in group assignments for one of your teammates to tell you “you do part 1. This guy and I will do part 2”. There are times when this is a fair allocation (when part 2 requires twice the effort as part 1). If the teammate is a Lambodar, however, he might have pulled a similar allocation with the third teammate (telling him “you do part 1. I’ll do part 1 with this guy”).

In a way, these are the perks that sometimes come with leadership.

The only way you can deal with it is to follow the advice at the end of the movie – “Beware of Lambodars”.

Business School WAG files – changing diapers

I had mentioned about a year back that I’d start a series here on being a “business school WAG”. I’d written this one post and then the series discontinued itself.

This email I just received from the IESE WAGs group, however, merits blogging.

The email sent to me says:

Dear All,

Please see below.

A small thing but it makes life so much easier ?

And the forwarded email (below) says:

I am glad to announce that starting today, mums and dads of our MBA will be able to properly change diapers in IESE. You can find the changing tables in bathrooms F-200 (gentlemen) and G-100 (disabled). See pic enclosed.

I hope this series will become more active starting in January when I’ll become a “proper” business school WAG (by temporarily moving to Barcelona).

Which reminds me, I need to put fight to get my visa before that.

Ladder Theory and Local Optima

According to the Ladder Theory, women have two “ladders”. One is the “good ladder” where they rank and place men they want to fuck. The rest of the men get placed on the “friends ladder”. Men on the other hand have only one ladder (though I beg to disagree).

The question is what your strategy should be if you end up on top of the “wrong” (friends) ladder. On the one hand, you get your “dove“‘s attention and mostly get treated well there. On the other hand, that’s not where you intended to end up.

Far too many people at the top of the friends ladder remain there because they are not bold enough to take a leap. They think it is possible to remain there (so that they “preserve the friendship”) and at the same time make their way into the dove’s good ladder.

Aside 1: The reason they want to hold on to their friendship (though that’s not the reason they got close to the dove) can be explained by “loss aversion” – having got the friendship, they are loathe to let go of it. This leads them to pursuing a risk-free strategy, which is unlikely to give them a big upside.

Aside 2: A popular heuristic in artificial intelligence is Hill Climbing , in which you constantly take the path of maximum gradient. It can occasionally take you to the global maximum, but more often than not leaves you at a “local maximum”. Improvements on hill climbing (such as Simulated Annealing) all involve occasionally taking a step down in search of higher optimum.

Behavioural economics and computer science aside, the best way to analyse the situation when you’re on top of the friends ladder is using finance. Financial theory tells you that it is impossible to get a large risk-free upside (for if you could, enough people would buy that security that the upside won’t be significant any more).

People on top of the friends ladder who want to preserve their friendships while “going for it” are delusional – they want the risk-free returns of the friendship at the same time as the possibility of the grand upside of getting to the right ladder. They should understand that such trades are impossible.

They should also understand that they might be putting too high a price on the friendship thanks to “loss aversion”, and that the only way to escape the current “local optimum” is by risking a downward move. They should remember that the reason they got close to their dove was NOT that they end up on the friends ladder, and should make the leap (stretching the metaphor). They might end up between two stools (or ladders in this case), but that might be a risk well worth taking!

PS: this post is not a result of my efforts alone. My Wife, who is a Marriage Broker Auntie, contributed more than her share of fundaes to this, but since she’s too lazy to write, I’m doing the honours.


Vaastu Shaastra

My apartment has allegedly been built according to the principles of Vaastu Shaastra. I wasn’t particularly particular about this – in fact, I wouldn’t have minded my apartment NOT following the Vaastu Shaastra if that meant I could get it for cheaper. One such apartment wasn’t available, though, (I presume that market is illiquid), so I settled on this one.

There are several aspects to Vaastu Shastra, at least a subset of which has been followed while designing my apartment, but I will focus on one – the position of the master bedroom. Vaastu Shaastra dictates that the master bedroom be in the south-west corner. I can think of a few practical reasons for this, such as not being woken up with the first rays of sun, and getting the South-Westerly monsoon breeze.

The problem, however, is that the Southwest monsoon is now over and the North-East monsoon has begun. And my bedroom is insanely hot. Irrespective of what windows I open, the South-Westerly location means that most of the time the room is deprived of the cool rain-bearing wind blowing over Bangalore from the North-Easterly direction! From a practical standpoint, the design is not great.

While I believe that most of our “traditions” and “customs” have some scientific backing, my problem is with blind implementation – reading the letter of the ancient rule rather than with the spirit.

And with Vaastu Shaastra, based on the wind patterns here, my sense is that it was not designed for Bangalore, and we have just followed the rules here without analysing their merits. The Vaastu Shaastras, I suspect, were developed somewhere up north (in the Swat Valley, perhaps?), where there was no North-East monsoon. Hence these cool rainbearing winds have been completely left out from the calculations.

And our builders, in their infinite wisdom and guided by televangelists, have decided to adopt these Shaastras by the letter without suitably modifying them for local conditions.


PS: Thinking about it, the Vaastu fascination is to cut decision fatigue when it comes to designing residences. It provides automatic formulae to lay out the house, so you can mindlessly design it and not feel bad about not consulting an architect.


So I’ve been trying to overcome my self-imposed taboos on online shopping, and trying to buy things online, especially brands and sizes that I already know and items that offline shops don’t stock much of.

As the title of this post might suggest to you I’m trying to buy shorts. I’ve had to decommission several pairs over the last couple of years for a number of reasons – some became too loose, some too tight, others wore out, more are fading away. And the lack of inventory of shorts in my wardrobe means that I end up wearing this one red pair pretty much everywhere.

While the beauty of online shopping is supposed to be that you get massive variety, and the long tail can get served, the problem is that the way sites are designed makes it hard to discover them. Here are two images, one each from Amazon and Jabong.

So I have two basic problems with the shorts that are available for sale online, based on these two sites.

  1. Too long: Check out the Jabong picture here. First of all, Jabong groups shorts and “3/4ths” (when did those abominations even become a thing) in the same category. But they are nice and allow you to specify length. I said “thigh length” and this is what they show me:
    Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 6.25.31 AM
    I mean, shorts by definition are supposed to be short right? I grew up in an era when Pete Sampras was bossing Wimbledon and shorts of this length were classified as “bermudas”. If you look at the image above, save a couple of “sports shorts” (it’s sad that Jabong doesn’t even allow me to filter those out, since I’m not looking for them), they’re all knee length! Which is too long for a pair of shorts!
  2. Too narrow: Jabong refuses to admit that there is something called “relaxed fit” (even for cargos). Amazon has no fit filters for shorts. And the shorts all look like they’re just truncated pants rather than shorts. The difference between shorts and pants (apart from the extent of leg they cover of course) is that while the latter are narrow, shorts are more relaxed, and shouldn’t stick to your leg! And this is what Amazon shows me (while Amazon has a separate sportswear section, it continues to show sports shorts along with the regular shorts. They even showed boxers. There is no option to specify I want the button-zip-belt kind of “casual wear” shorts):

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 6.36.03 AM

All of them are way too narrow! Of the radius where they get stuck to the thigh when you sit down leaving you with the potential embarrassment of pulling them down when you get up.

I had ranted during an earlier attempt to buy online about the difficulty of sorting through inventories so I won’t go into that here.

All I have to say here is that it seems like “shorts” don’t mean what they used to, and I’m extremely unhappy about it.

Taking the easy way out

Taking the easy way out is a concept that is much frowned upon, especially in India (though I must confess I don’t have enough exposure to other cultures to have noticed this). When you take the easy way out on something, people assume that you’re cheating – like you’re using a cheat code in a computer game.

For example, purists believe that if one were to get the good karma that one deserves by going to Tirupati, it will accrue if and only if you were to walk up the hill on foot. People who take the easy way out by taking a cab or bus uphill apparently don’t get as much good karma.

During festivals such as Sankranti, people who buy the sugar candies and the eLL (sesame) mixture from a shop are again frowned upon, given they are taking the easy way out rather than preparing them at home. Employing a cook is similarly frowned upon, as is taking an auto rickshaw or a cab rather than a bus.

And to take an example that long-time readers of this blog might appreciate, fighters tend to view studs with derision since the latter seemingly get things done without putting in the same amount of effort as the former.

Ok I might have claimed in the past that my pieces are usually long on analysis and short on rhetoric, but as you can see, this is not one of those pieces. All I’ve done so far is to give examples of something that I don’t agree with.

And the reason I don’t agree with the view that taking the easy way out is wrong is because it is done if and only if it’s optimal. Notice that in all the above examples, there is no free lunch. Taking the easy way out comes at a cost, and reflects a set of trade offs. To take the car up Tirupati costs money, and the opportunity of experiencing the supposedly electric hillsides – and benefits are uncertain anyway in religious matters. Employing a cook or taking an auto are efficient if you value time and convenience, for example.

While I agree that there might be some cases where taking the easy way out might be short-termist (you might be ignoring “tail risks”, for example, which allows you to use an easy pricing model, or by using a calculator you may not develop your long-term arithmetic skills), in most cases it is considered decision.

In other words, there is no problem with taking the easy way out as long as you have fully understood the costs and benefits (including any tail risks) of the method that you’ve chosen to adopt. There is no absolute virtue attached to labour – labour is always a means to get to an end. Once you digest this, you will have no hesitation in taking the easy way out.

Darwin Awards in Investment Banking

Some 20 analysts from Goldman Sachs and 10 from JP Morgan have been dismissed after it emerged that they were cheating during some mandatory tests during their analyst training program.

As the article says, it is not unusual for bankers to assist each other when it comes to tests in mandatory training and compliance, since they are seen as being time consuming and repetitive.

In that sense, that these guys copied or helped each other is not news. What matters, though, is that they got caught in the process. And that is unacceptable for a banker.

If you look at how investment banking has been shaped over the last decade or so, there have apparently been several people who have fudged stuff – from financial results to key rates to benchmarks, and gotten away with it because they haven’t got caught. And they continue to remain successful bankers.

So in the banking culture, fudging is okay, but getting caught isn’t. By getting caught fudging in tests during their training program, these analysts have betrayed the one skill that is necessary for being a successful banker, and for this reason they have been rightly weeded out.

It’s like the Darwin awards, except that for these guys it is only the end of their careers in banking.