Vishnu and Shiva temples

This post may add to Aadisht’s contention of Shaivism being superior to Vaishnavism. Earlier this month I’d gone with family to this place called Avani, some 100 km east of Bangalore. The main centre of attraction there was this 10th century Shiva temple that had been built by the Gangas.

As we got off the car, I was pleased to see the signage of the Archaeological Society of India. I’m in general not a big fan of temples. I find them to be overwhelmed with “devotees”, and way too noisy, and more importantly for some reason I’m not allowed to use my camera inside temples. So I was pleased that this being an ASI temple there won’t be any worship in there and so I can take pictures peacefully.

As we entered, though, I saw a number of priestly figures standing around the entrance, and one of them shouted “no photo in temple, no photo in temple” (i was in bermudas and a t-shirt, and wearing a backpack and camera bag so looked foreign types). I just nodded and went on. And then another priest accompanied us, and performed the pooja to the idol.

The temple at Avani is that of Ramalingeshwara, a version of Shiva. Now, the studness with Shiva temples is that the idol is extremely simple. It’s just a penis. And it’s not hard to make, and more importantly it’s hard to break, since it’s monolithic, and usually without any portions that can easily break off. Contrast this with Vishnu temples, where the idols are of actual human figures, with arms and legs and ears and noses and fingers – all made of relatively thin pieces of stone, which makes it easier to break.

So think of yourself as an invader who for some reason wants to defile a temple by destroying its idols. The very nature of idols in a Vishnu temple makes your job simple. All you need is to give one strong hit which will break off a nose or a toe or a finger – not much damage, but enough to defile the temple and render it useless for the purpose of worship. But get to a Shiva temple, and you see one large penis-shaped stone in there, and you realize it’s not worth your patience to try break it down. So you just loot the vaults and go your way.

And hence, due to the nature of the idols in these temples, Shiva temples are more resilient to invasion and natural disaster compared to Vishnu temples. Aadisht, you can be happy.

Managing stud work

I begin this post with an apology. About two years back I’d promised that I won’t write any more on Studs and Fighters on this blog, and I’ll save all that for my forthcoming book. Unfortunately, since then I’ve managed not more than one page of my book, and that too has been in the last couple of weeks. I realize that by not writing about studs and fighters here, I’m losing that perspective of thought entirely, because of which I’ve not been able to write my book.

So, Chom (a friend) raised an important point during a discussion earlier today. He said that people who are studs, after they become “managers” (in which case their job is solely to manage other people. Think of someone like a partner in a consulting firm), start angling for more fighter work for their team.  That they seem to forget all their studness, and assume that all the people they manage are fighters.

I had argued earlier that once the partner of a consulting firm stops doing day-to-day work, the quality of work at the firm suffers. This post is an extension of that. So what Chom says inherently makes sense. Here’s why.

Stud work is risky. There is a good probability that it may not be completed. So when your target changes from the “total impact of work done” to “number of pieces of work successfully completed” the whole equation changes. You are not looking for those “big wins” from your team, any more. What you need from your team is a high rate of delivery, and a large number of projects that are completed. If you get big wins, that is just a bonus. But all you care for now is the number of wins.

So you start taking on more fighter work, and letting go of stud work. After all, it is now rational for you to do that. Your own working style can sit aside.

Comparative advantage and competitive advantage

So there are two reasons why you could be employed. Comparative advantage and competitive advantage. Let me explain.

In international trade, there is a concept called “law of comparative advantage“. Let me explain with the classical (and simple) example. Robinson Crusoe is marooned on an island with Friday. Now, let us assume there are two productive activities on the island – catching fish and cutting wood. Now, Crusoe can catch 10 fish an hour, while Friday can catch 5. On the other hand, Crusoe can cut 3 trees an hour, while Friday can cut 2. Clearly Crusoe “dominates” Friday, and the latter is much more inefficient. So does that mean that Crusoe can just have Friday for dinner one day?

While the intuitive answer might be a “yes”, the law of comparative advantage shows otherwise. While Friday might be inferior to Crusoe in both activities, he is “less worse off” at chopping trees than he is at catching fish. For example, let us say that if left to himself, Crusoe would spend 3 hours fishing and 2 hours chopping wood every day. That would produce 30 fish and 6 trees of wood.

Now, if Crusoe were to spend all his 5 work hours exclusively catching fish, he will have 50 fish and no wood. He can trade the extra 20 fish for 8 logs of wood from Friday (Friday demands 5 fish for every 2 logs of wood, since that’s his opportunity cost). So net-net Crusoe is better off by 2 logs of wood. The trade similarly leaves Friday also better off (compared to the situation if he were alone on the island). Now you see why Friday keeps his job.

So in a “comparative advantage” job, you keep the job only because you make it easier for one or more colleagues to do more. You are clearly inferior to these colleagues in all the “components” of your job, but you don’t get fired only because you increase their productivity. You become the Friday to their Crusoe.

On the other hand, you can keep a job for “competitive advantage“. You are paid because there are one or more skills that the job demands in which you are better than your colleagues. You have a “competitive advantage” in those skills, and that is what you are paid for. Here you can expect to be treated better than your comparative advantage colleague would. You can even expect for some of your “comparative advantage” colleagues to be assigned to you to take your load off on those tasks you don’t enjoy a competitive advantage in. And again I’m not saying you need to “dominate” your colleagues.  All you need is one “axis” along which you are clearly superior. And you’ll get the “competitive” treatment.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself why your job exists. Check if you work because you have a competitive advantage, or if it is merely because of the “comparative advantage” – that your presence frees up time for the more efficient people. If your job belongs to the latter category, I think you have reason to be more worried.

Quiet Dissent

Sometimes when someone asks you to do something that you don’t want to do, your instinct would be to not do it. However, in certain situations it might unnecessarily offend the person who asked you to do it, and you may not really enjoy fighting with him/her. On the other hand, doing it would be like simply listening to what that person said, and effectively inviting him/her to run you over (figuratively) at the next opportunity, so you would want to avoid that.

In such situations, I follow this policy of quiet dissent. I do whatever has been asked of me, but make it a point to register my dissent. I ensure that the person who has asked me to do the job knows that I didn’t like doing it; and by doing the job, I also try to communicate that I don’t mean any disrespect to the person who asked me to do the job, but that I’m opposed to that particular idea (me doing that job) of his/hers.

You might find it strange that the usually firebrand me is espousing moderate ideas such as this one, but I think I’m just being pragmatic, and I’ve found this technique to be quite useful in dealing with people you don’t want to piss off – because it’s not profitable for you to piss them off. Of course there is the chance that that person may not understand the subtlety of the action, and might interpret your voice of dissent as disrespect to them. I think if anyone thinks like that, they deserve the disrespect.

CTR

Ok this is a post that has been delayed by about a couple of weeks. One of those things that has been in my head now for a while so writing it. So some two or three Sundays back (more likely to be two) I went to the famous CTR in Malleswaram for breakfast. For the first time ever. Yeah I now it’s supposed to be a classic place and all that but it’s only now that I’m getting acquainted with north/west parts of Bangalore so had completely missed out on this so far.

So as per what several people had told me at various points of time in life, the Masala Dosa at CTR was brilliant. Unparalleled. The difference between CTR and Vidyarthi Bhavan is that the former makes masala dosa just the way that other restaurants do, but only much better and tastier. The dosa at Vidyarthi Bhavan is a different animal altogether and am told the has very different composition to what is made in other restaurants.

There is another important difference between CTR and Vidyarthi Bhavan and thats in terms of service and crowd management. Vidyarthi Bhavan does an excellent job in this regard, striving to “rotate table covers” as quickly as possible. Within moments of you taking your seat, your order gets taken, the dosa arrives, as does the bill and a look from the waiter asking you what the fuck you are doing there considering you have finished your tiffin. Extremely efficient from the point of view of the restaurant (in terms of maximizing capacity) and for customers looking for a quick dosa, but not so from the point of view of people who want to linger for a while and chat.

Unfortunately the one time I’ve been to CTR (2 sundays back) I was in a bit of a hurry since I had to go attend a quiz. Maybe the intention of the restaurant is to allow customers to sit for a while and chat up, but I don’t know if you can actually do that since at any given point of time (reports might be biased since this was a Sunday morning, 9am) there are four people waiting for you to leave so that they can grab your seat. This large crowd that is in waiting is also I think a result of slow service at the restaurant (simple queuing theory – for a given arrival rate, the slower the service rate, the more the average queue length).

There were some simple tasks in which CTR didn’t do so well. For example, making a customer wait for ten minutes before you take his order is not only ten minutes wasted for him, it is also ten minutes of absolutely unproductive “table time” – something that a fast food place like this can’t really afford. And then the ordered items also took a long time to arrive (again, most people at CTR have the same order – one “masaal” so I do hope the make dosas “to stock”) – but then their kitchen capacity may not match up to the capacity of the seating area (which isn’t too much). You pay bill at the table itself rather than at the counter which means you sit there for even longer. And so forth.

This post is supposed to be a part of this series that I was writing some four years back examining the Supply Chain practices and delivery models at various fast food restaurants in Bangalore. I have only one observation with respect to CTR and based on that I don’t give it very high marks in terms of supply chain and delivery efficiency. However, the dosa there is so awesome that I’m sure that I’ll brave the crowds and go there more often and might be able to make better observations about the process.

NED Open

Happened today in three places. Chennai went in the morning, Bombay early in the afternoon and here in Bangalore in the evening. As part of the introduction to the finls we had written “if you are satisfied with the questions kindly let us know. If not, write to us in civil language and we will look into it”. I would encourage you to use the comments thread on this post to do the same.

Some personal comments at the end of it:

  • It’s insanely tiring for a single quizmaster to do a quiz this long (72 questions + LVC in finals). I can hardly talk right now and was shouting myself hoarse towards the end of the quiz (and as if it wasn’t bad enough, there was a tiebreaker to be conducted)
  • 72 questions plus a LVC is way to long for finals. True to the nomenclature of the quiz, I noticed several teams and part of the audience put NED towards the end. That it was late in the evening did matter i think. But again thinking about it, isn’t it fair that people put NED at the NED quiz?
  • One art I need to become better at is in terms of dividing points between teams in cases of partial answers. But then the problem there is however you do it, some team is bound to crib
  • Given it was such a long quiz, I was quite low on energy towards the end so probably did a worse job of point distribution, funda explanation etc. than I could have done
  • One needs to recognize that the concept of the LVC has been designed with an intention to irritate, and so some teams are bound to get pissed with it. As long as the audience enjoys you are good
  • One mistake I did (and I did this several times) was to continue wiht a question even after one team had given a “good enough” answer, and then finally give points tothe team that had originally given the “good enough” answer. This both wasted time as well as pissed people off
  • At the end of the quiz i was feeling so damn tired that all I wanted to do wsa to go to Dewar’s wine shop on St Marks Road and buy myself a bottle of Amrut Fusion and finish it off. But then, NED happened.

Compensating Teachers

This is yet another of those things which I’ve been thinking about and have been intending to write about for a long time but have never gotten down to it. Pinky wrote this excellent post on the topic today and that has got me thinking. To quote her,

A bad teacher makes a bad student. A teacher who looks at teaching as just another job is doing no good to anyone. She neither grows in her life nor contributes to the positive growth of a kid.There have been a few teachers in my life who i have tremendous respect for, not because they taught me effectively enough to pass in their subjects but because they taught me to listen, think and speak!

I don’t have any solutions yet but I thought I should just put some bullet points here, just to try and give a structure to the problem. Let me know your thoughts

  • If we consider a person’s salary as Society’s recognition of his/her worth, school teachers are not recognized enough
  • Abysmal salaries drive away a large number of potential school teachers away from the profession
  • Love for teaching is important, but if teaching pays as abysmally as it currently does, the opportunity cost of doing what you love is way too high for some people, and so they end up in other professions
  • We have a market failure in teaching – how do we run a school profitably while paying teachers competently while on the other hand keeping fees reasonable, and not resorting to any subsidies?
  • India suffers from what I call the “official’s wife bug”. In the 60s and 70s, the teaching profession got flooded by women who weren’t really looking to make much money, but more to just pass some time and use their bachelor’s degrees rather than being housewives. This has fostered a culture of low schoolteachers’ salaries in India. People who weren’t looking to make money out of teaching crowded out those who found the opportunity cost of the low salaries in teaching too high.
  • McKinsey interview level arithmetic: assume a school having classes 1 to 12, 4 sections per class, 40 students per section. 8 periods a day 5 days a week gives a total of 12 * 4 * 8 * 5 = 1920 periods per week. Assuming each teacher can take 5 classes a day (or 25 a week) we will need 77 (round it off to 80) teachers. Number of students is 12 * 4 * 40  = 1920, so essentially 25 students have to pay for one teacher’s salary, and this is apart from expenses towards school building, maintenance, overheads, etc. McKinsey level handwaving. 10 students have to pay for one teacher’s salary. Doesn’t sound feasible
  • Primary and secondary education is simply way too important to be left in the hands of unmotivated disinterested people, but that seems like the situation we are in (I dont’ mean to say all teachers are unmotivated or disinterested; just that the situation doesn’t incentivize talented motivated people to enter the profession).
  • Universities attract talent by allowing faculty to make money by other means such as consulting and organizing for-profit courses. Will something like that work for schools? And no, I’m not talking about private tuitinos as the other source of income. Is there something else?
  • Government intervention is not a solution. In a place like India it will only end up messing up things further and draining more money from the system.
  • In the pre-IT era, teaching salaries were more competitive (with respect to competing jobs) than they are now, so they could attract better talent
  • I wonder if it is only in India that such a large proportion of school teachers are women. This is just a general pertinent observation, and has nothing to do with the rest of the post
  • The officer’s wife model was good when it started off – some motivated people came into the system because fo that. Just that the system is not sustainable and we’re facing the problems of that now and because a lot of school managements fail to take into account that the model isn’t sustainable

Any thoughts on this? Any possible solutions? Of course it’s not possible to implement any macro-level solution. All I’m looking at is a school-level solution. How do you plan to run one school (of size I mentioned in my bullets) sustainably while ensuring teachers are paid adequately enough to not scare away interested people?

Why Kannadigas are Inherently Lazy

There is something about the weather in Bangalore. There is something about the weather in Bangalore that perks you up. There is something about the weather in Bangalore that most of the time you really want to do something, to be active, to go out, walk around, lead an active life and all such. The first few days I spent in Bangalore after my return from Gurgaon in June I spent literally jumping around. The weather was so uplifting. It filled me with so much enthu for everything in life!

So I was wondering why people usually classify Kannadigas as being inherently lazy. As one of the professors in my JEE coaching factory used to say “naavu Kannadigarige aambode mosaranna koTTbiTTre khushhyaagiddbiDtivi” (if someone gives us Kannadigas dal vada and curd rice, we’ll live happily forever, and we will forget about working hard). Basically implying that we are inherently not too ambitious, and that we are generally laidback about stuff.

Thinking about it, I was wondering if the wonderful climate of South Interior Karnataka has to do with this (people from North Karnataka and the coast are supposed to be fairly hardworking, and are not known for their laidbackness unlike us Old Mysore people). I wonder if this laidbackness is because our wonderful weather has spoilt us. Spoilt us to an extent that we don’t really need to normally fight against the odds.

So I was thinking about Gurgaon, the other place where I’ve recently lived in. Gurgaon has horrible climate. Maybe a total of one month in the year can be desccribed as “pleasant”. Most of the time it’s either too hot or too cold. Temperatures are extreme. When it rains the whole place floods up. If people in Gurgaon are happy it is in spite of the weather and because of it. And therein lies the reason why people from there are traditionally more hardworking than us people from Old Mysore.

Blessed with such wonderful climate, we don’t really need to fight the odds. If today is too hot, we can put off the job for another day when we’re sure it’ll be cooler. If it rains too much today, we know that it’s likely to be dry tomorrow and can thus postpone it. Essentially we don’t need to put too much fight. When the weather is good, we are all jumpy and enthu and do our work. Which allows us to wait and sit when the weather is bad.

The man in Gurgaon, or in Chennai, or even in Raichur, however, can’t afford that. The likelihood of him having a good day weatherwise sometime in the near future is so thin that there exists just no point for him to postpone his work thinking he’ll do it when he feels better. This means that he is culturally (rather, climatically) conditioned to work against the odds. To do stuff even when he doesn’t want to do it. To essentially put more fight. And so he avoids that “inherently lazy” tag which people like us have unfortunately got.

I’m reminded of the second case that we did in our Corporate Strategy course at IIMB, from which the main learning was that sometimes your biggest strengths can turn out to be your biggest weaknesses.

nODi swami, naaviruvudu heege.

A View From the Other Side

For the first time ever, a few days bck, I was involved in looking at resumes for campus recruitment, and helping people in coming up with a shortlist. These were resumes from IIMB and we were looking to recruit for the summer internship. Feeling slightly jobless, I ended up taking more than my fair share of CVs to evaluate. Some pertinent observations

  • There was simply way too much information on peoples’ CVs. I found it stressful trying to hunt down pieces of information that would be relevant for the job that I was recruiting for. IIMB restricts CVs to one page, but even that, I felt, was too much. Considering I was doing some 30 CVs at a page a minute, I suppose you know how tough things can be!
  • The CVs were too boring. The standard format certainly didn’t help. And the same order that people followed -undergrad scores followed by workex followed by “positions of responsibility” etc. Gave me a headache!
  • People simply didn’t put in enough effort to make things stand out. IIMB people overdo the bolding thing (I’m also guilty of that), thus devaluing it. And these guys used no other methods to make things stand out. Even if they’d done something outstanding in their lives, one had to dig through the CV to find it..
  • There was way too much irrelevant info. In their effort to fill a page and fill some standard columns, people ended up writing really lame stuff. Like how they had led their wing football team in the intra-hostel tournament. Immense wtfness. Most times this ended up devaluing the CV
  • Most CVs were “standard”. It was clear that people didn’t make an effort to apply to us! Most people had sent us their “finance CV” but would you send the same CV for an accounting job as you will for a quant job? Ok yeah I understand this is summers, but if I see a CV with priorities elsewhere, I won’t shortlist them!
  • By putting in several rounds of resume checking and resume workshops, IIMB is doing a major disservice to recruiters. What we see are some average potential corporate whores, not the idiosyncracies of the candidates. Recruiting was so much more fun when I’d gone to IITM three years back. Such free-spirited CVs and all that! This one is too sanitised for comfort. Give me naughtyboy123@yahoo.com any day
  • People should realize that campus recruitment is different from applying laterally. In the latter, yours is one of the few CVs that the recruiter is looking at and can hence devote much more time going through the details. Unfortunately this luxury is not there when one has to shortlist 20 out of 180 or so, so you need to tailor your CVs better. You need to be more crisp and to the point, and really highlight your best stuff. And if possible, to try and break out of standard formatI admit my CV doesn’t look drastically different from the time it did when I was in campus (apart from half a page of workex that got added), but I think even there I would make sure I put a couple of strongly differentiating points right on top, and hopefully save the recruiter the trouble of going through the whole thing.
  • I think I’m repeating myself on this but people need to realize that recruiters don’t care at all about your extra-currics unless you’ve done something absolutely spectacular, or if there is some really strong thread running  through that section. So you don’t need to write about all the certificates that you have in your file

The bottom line is that recruitment is a hard job, especially when you have to bring down a list of 200 to 20 in very quick time. So do what you can to make the recruiter’s job easy. Else he’ll just end up putting NED and pack you.

Relationships and IIT

So the basic premise of this post is that being in a romantic relationship is like studying at IIT.

Everyone wants to get into IIT. They do thipparlaaga to try and get in. They join expensive coaching classes. Some of them even move cities. They wait for several years giving multiple attempts. People work extremely hard. Still, success is not guaranteed. There is that luck factor. There is the day’s performance that matters. Some days are important than others. Cracking the JEE is a “discrete” job.

While preparing for JEE, everyone thinks that if they clear the exam, their life is made. They come under the impression that after JEE, life will become smooth. That they won’t need to put any fight for the rest of their lives. That all that matters for their future is their cracking the JEE. And so forth.

It’s only after people come to IIT that they realize that life is not the cakewalk they assumed it to be. It is only after they get there that they realize that life after JEE is quite hard. That it is necessary to work hard. That if they don’t work hard, they will do very badly, and might flunk. It is only when they get to IIT that it hits them. Some learn quickly but others get disillusioned and give up in life. Several people do badly. Some even drop out.

So it’s similar with a romantic relationship. Everyone wants to get into a romantic relationship. Everyone looks only about the “entrance examination”. Everyone believes (before they get in) that life ban jaayegi after they get into a relationship. And getting into a relationship is a “discrete” job. It’s about how you “perform” during those blading sessions. It takes that bit of luck. It takes those set of fateful events to happen together in that precise coincidence.

And it is only when you get into a relationship that you realize how hard it is (provided you haven’t been there before). It is like being in IIT all over again. You know that you will need to work really hard to keep it going (applies to both parties). It is a continuous job, and you need to continuously “perform”. The randomness is much smaller than it is during the “relationship acquisition” phase.  However, you necessarily need to work hard. There is no “stud way out”. Some people give up when they find this out and break up (drop out). Others understand and put in the requisite effort and sustain the relationship. And continue to work hard.

The thing with arranged marriages is that you are typically forced to commit as soon as you’re done with “evaluating” the other person. You don’t get to test the counterparty on their ability to work hard and keep things going. It is like offering someone a job as soon as he has cleared the JEE.

And I wonder if one can draw an analogy between marriage and (academic) tenure.