A couple of weeks ago, the Mumbai auto and taxi drivers were again on a strike protesting the increasing popularity of fleet taxis in the city. It is audacious in the first place that these unions demand a regulation in a market where they don’t want to provide the basic levels of service, yet protest against fuel price hikes and the rise of such competition. A union leader had this to say during the strike, “They will eat into our core business if they continue offering point-to-point pick up and drop.”

But the union leaders need not worry about such competition. This is because the core business of autos and taxis in Mumbai is no longer providing public transportation services. It is teaching negotiation skills.

Recently I read this article about why Warren Buffett succeeded in what he does best – investing in the best of companies. The factors which were listed in that article can be used to predict the level of success (assuming the absence of extraneous factors such as luck, chance opportunities etc.) which an individual can get in any field.

From that list, I filtered out four rules which are needed to succeed in any new venture which you have started out or are planning to. Below are these four rules and a brief description of each.

1) Ability – The first rule of success states that you need to have the ability or an aptitude for that thing. For example, being able to analyze financial statements and accounts of a company requires you to have a knowledge of the various ratios and parameters which make a good investment good. Or, if you’re planning to be an entrepreneur, you should have the aptitude of networking and being able to be calm in the face of uncertainty, for years, if need be. The ability or the aptitude for a certain thing is the foundation on which future results can be built. A person who faints at the mere site of blood cannot hope to become a cardiac surgeon.

Buffett has mentioned the importance of thissin his famous “circle of competence” quote. Both Buffett and Munger stick to their circle of competence while selecting their areas of investing. An individual should likewise analyze the areas he or she is good at and stick to those.

2) Interest – Being passionate about the subject is another criteria for defining success in any area. Unless you put your heart and soul into any task, it is ridiculous to expect a comparable amount of output from it. Doing things half-heartedly will not only result in a lot of leakage of effort, but also will result in you fizzling out before too long.

3) Willingness to Learn – As you gain expertise in a subject, it may be very tempting to feel a sense of perfection creeping into your mind. Aiming for perfection is good, but it is also prudent to keep a learning attitude, no matter how long you have spent in a particular field. Be it a simple task such as changing a light bulb, or a multi-layered complex project like building a bridge, there always could be a better, more efficient way of doing it. It is being open to criticism, learning from own and others’ mistakes, and generally keeping your antennae in an open frequency to absorb better ideas which keep floating in from the people you meet.

4) Belief – I would like to define this fourth rule as broadly as possible. This is because different people have different methods of following this. Some people call it faith, or hope. Some call it self-esteem or confidence. Some may even refer to this as patience and persistence. And I would go far to say that this is also where the ‘luck factor’ comes into play. Assuming you have jumped into a new venture, and have rigorously followed the first three rules. But thanks to the way the world generally is, and particularly to Murphy’s Law, things may not work out the way you want, or at the pace that you desire. This is when the fourth rule, Belief, becomes important. This is when you would need to ‘pray’ for all the luck you desire. This is when you sit back and say to yourself, that “I believe in myself and in this venture”. This is when you batten down the hatches. Belief is what will get you through the thunderstorm. And when the skies clear, you can go back to starting to follow the first rules again.

Starting out a new venture can be a very difficult and stressful task. You may come out winning on the other side or be battered and bruised beyond recognition. But you can be sure that the experience will change you for the better. The knowledge and the experience that you gain from it will no doubt help you immensely in the future – either while growing your current venture, or while starting out in your next. Following these four rules will ensure that it is more often the former.

Confusion is the first step to enlightenment

This may seem to be an off hand remark about some esoteric zen philosophy but every time I say it out or think about it, I realize more and more how true it really is. Confusion results from a question. The question results from the desire to know something. The question results in the individual finding out the answer to the question. Finding out the answer to the question leads to enlightenment. And so you have it. Confusion is the first step to enlightenment. There, I’ve become a philosopher.

Dharma rocks, yo!

What’s with the sudden increase in the incidents of shoes being thrown at politicians all around the world? Recently India has witnessed a rapid rise in such incidents, most of the targets being politicians. The latest incident is that of a school teacher throwing his shoe at Congress MP Naveen Jindal. Has it now become the choice of protest for us? Has burning effigies gone out of fashion? Why the hell am I posing so many questions?

What started out as a moment of boldness by Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the journalist who threw his size 10 shoes at George dubya Bush as a farewell gift is all set to metamorphosis into a national phenomenon. And luckily the targets have been well-chosen. Politicians. Now that is a group disliked and hated by members of all communities. And with the general elections coming up, the emotions of the public are likely to be on the edge. And that is why I fear we could have a tipping point very soon. Iraq is already training the next generation of shoe throwers who can aim better and harder. If the politicians don’t get their act right, the day is not far when the audience will let out a shower of dirty muddy shoes on the local neta when he comes out the next time promising bijli, sadak, and pani or asking for votes.

And as usual the MBA part of my mind strategises how I can make money out of it. I’m wondering whether it would be a good idea to buy shares in footwear companies. If the demand for such shoe hurling increases, then companies will have to ramp up production and I will make some serious capital gains. Or should I start a shoe polishing shack near the venues of election rallies. I can encourage people to shine their shoes before they let their anger out on the netas. For 5 Rs more, you can get a premium shine with extra polish to get some extra shine (on the neta‘s face).

However you can count on the cunning politician to convert even this ridicule into a thing of pride. They’re most likely to say, “People have thrown shoes at me and at my opponents too. I respect them for that. But what I am here to proclaim is that I have been hit by your shoes for the most number of times. That shoes shows how much you love me. If you elect me, I promise to open new shoe shops in your town. We can have annual shoe flinging competitions where the best thrower will get a chance to campaign for me in the next election. So I ask you to please vote for me.”  Remember to press the right button. Our election symbol is shoe polish. You provide the shoe, we provide the polish.”

To paraphrase the whole trend, I will borrow a dialogue from Frank Miller’s 300

Common Man – A thousand billion citizens of the Indian Republic descend upon you. Our shoes will blot out the sun
Politician – Then we will fight with your soles (souls?)

One of our professor’s explained today in class the famous statistics/myth which says people generally use only around 10% of their brains. Einstein, it was said, used just a little. The professor went on to say how using this 10%, humankind had sent a man to the moon and achieved so much else. There is so much potential still left if man just puts his mind to it.

I say, even with using only 1% of the mind, humankind has wrecked so much havoc in the world. To what heights would one go if one were able to use 100% of the mind?

One more attack happens in Mumbai. Hearing such news has become routine nowadays. The latest attack which happened in South Mumbai, in 5-star hotels and in CST railway station was one of the worst in recent times. This time there were no remote detonated bombs. This time terrorists literally walked in, and started shooting. What were the police doing? CST is just opposite the BMC headquarters. Isn’t there supposed to be proper security? The Maharashtra State Police headquarters is at a walking distance from the Taj Hotel. So is the Mumbai Police Headquarters. When will the government learn? How many more lives have to be lost? Has the state devoted itself to kicking out North Indians out of Mumbai? Its time you start kicking the ‘right’ people out of Mumbai, those who carry out such attacks, not those who come to Mumbai to earn a decent living.

Every terror attack now comes as a predictable sequence of events. The attack happens, the PM condemns the attacks, so does the Home Minister. There is a probe set in. And we await the results. Until the next terror attack. Is the government asking for ‘A Wednesday?’ The worst thing is that people will hail and salute the ‘spirit of Mumbai.’ Mumbai will again wake up tomorrow as if nothing had happened. The spirit of Mumai? What a load of bull. It is not the spirit which brings it back to its feet, but apathy. Apathy towards the condition of the common man. The familiar reactions are ‘We were not affected by it. Why should we stop going about our daily lives?” “I have 4 mouths to feed, I have to go to work.” “Who can postpone the inevitable?” Is this what the spirit of Mumbai is all about? Turning a blind eye to the daily sufferings of fellow citizens.

Tomorrow the spirit of Mumbai should not wake up. It should instead take a long vacation. And it should not come back until the government has taken concrete measures to protect its citizens from such blatant attacks. The whole of India needs to think hard and long, are we safe in our own country? Am I alive today just by luck? Where is the safety of the common man who may get gunned down anytime due to the lackadasial approach shown by the authorities time and again.

Change was required in the US, and the people voted. A bigger change is required here. The message we need to send out to the government is we do not want you to give any condolences. We do not want you to condemn the attack. We want action. Can the government guarantee that?

Updates (Saturday)
* This attack has turned out to be one of the worst and boldest terrorist strikes in the country. It shows yet another glaring failure of the authorities to ensure safety for the common man. The impunity with which terrorist can come and attack any city in the country is shameful on our part.

* The PM has invited the ISI chief to help in the investigations! Cmon which world are you living in? Calling the people who have trained and helped to propagate these terrorists will in no measure help the investigation. The Indian government should stop being diplomatic about it and start calling a spade a spade.

* A sincere salute to the ATS officers, the MARCOS unit and above all the NSG commandos who handled the whole situation with the expertise and competence expected of them. Wish the same could be said for our inept politicians.

Three days are all you need to understand someone deeply
Three days are all you need to discover their foibles
Three days are all you need to fall in love all over again

Three days are all you need to feel the pain of their tears on your chest
Three days are all you need to see the sad goodbye in the swelled up eyes
Three days are all you need to make the everlasting wait unbearable

The rise in global crude prices, and the rapid increase in inflation has hit the Indian consumer hard. More so for the airlines. There is no longer the kind of buzz that was seen in airports just a couple of months ago. Flying has been toppled from its pedestal as the most preferred way of traveling. People are starting to turn back to railways for a slower but cheaper way to travel. This is evident from the lack of queues for the security checks, the empty seats in the departure lounges and in the airplanes itself.

I can see a few passengers lazily strolling about the lounge, having coffee and chatting. They choose to ignore the PA system announcing the final boarding call for their flight. Only when the desperate airline officials start asking passengers individually whether they are traveling by that flight do they realize that the plane is waiting for them. They get up, grumbling at the half-wasted coffee (even though the coffee there is awful) and throw it away to make way to the bus.

Kingfisher Airlines still continues to pamper its ‘guests’ but bother other passengers (and possibly make them envious) through multiple pre-boarding calls. Their air-hostesses are still the best-looking.

While in the line, I think however much we may learn in MBA, we’re still ill-equipped to deal with other cultures. While I’m standing in the line, a man (possibly Japanese) respectfully bows down, gestures with one hand wishing to cross the line to get to the other side. I wonder what would most of us have done in his place. Just shove and push? Or maybe spill out a perfunctory ‘Excuse me?’

Once in the plane, through the window I can see something which makes me squirm. Airports boast of being technologically modern, with conveniences of all possible kinds. But I can still see a lady sitting in a wheelchair being pushed by an airport employee in the hot Chennai sun. Why such treatment? Aren’t the buses supposed to be handicapped friendly? Why can’t she board the air-conditioned buses which all the other passengers use?

The flight has ended. The airplane has stopped. Here goes everyone out of their seats fetching their baggage from the overhead storage. Why are you in such a hurry uncle? Let the doors open, let the ladder be positioned. Do you want to jump out and break your bones? Relax India.

I still remember the earliest instances of me sitting in a barber shop. After cutting the hair, he used to take out this strange looking instrument, insert half a safety blade in it and then proceed to shape the sideburns and the back of my head. It was a strange but ticklish feeling. I didn’t dare move at that time.

Fast forward to the present day when you have fancy razors with n number of blades. According to a story by the Economist, it took 70 years after the invention of the safety razor to come up with a razor with two blades. Since then the number of blades has been rapidly increasing so much so that they almost seem to follow the famous Moore’s Law. And just like my computer hardware is behind in this race, so is my shaving hardware. I still use a measly two-blade razor. And I have to dig and scratch to get a smooth shave, nothing like what the ads show, one quick stroke and its done.

I’m taking the example of a specific company but I’m sure the others in this market do the same as well. We had the Gillette Sensor, then Sensor Excel, then there was the Gillette Vector (one of the worst razors I must say), then Mach 3. Recently I heard about the five-blade monster, Gillette Fusion.

I’ve also heard that there is a battery operated version too which vibrates. Talk about an oxymoron. When logic says that you need a steady hand while shaving, why would anyone need a vibrating razor? I shudder to think of the consequences of misguiding it…

But with regards to the number of blades, I have always wondered how close is close? The continuous increase in the number of blades has promised a closer shave with each improvement, but the question which comes to my mind is “What is going to be the tipping point?” How many blades would you need on a razor before one of the blades peels out the skin too. Yeah, then your cheeks would be baby red, and probably you’d cry louder than a baby too. That would be a classic law suit in the making. But strangely, the safety razors have been pretty safe.

Maybe I’ll get my chance when the six blade version comes out. Or is it already here? Till then I’ll practice my cuts and nicks with the good old two-blade version. Or for those who want otherwise, here’s a guide to good shaving. I haven’t read it tho’. I’d finish shaving faster than the time it takes to read it. Maybe I’ll read it before the day of my wedding.

One of the most important functions of post-offices was (is) making sure that mails reach you on time.
One of the most important functions of email providers is making sure that some mails don’t reach you at all.

Inspired by an ad.