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Posts Tagged ‘Values’

ashokbhatia

Of Swollen Minds and Shallow Hearts

A vast majority of managers fall in this category. With money power ruling their lives, they cannot be blamed for behaving like robots, relentlessly chasing materialistic goals. With the heart playing a subservient role to that of the mind, analytical skills rule supreme. Intuition, feelings and emotions take a back seat, leading to rapid burnouts and build up of stress. We run into managers who are driven entirely by results, a prospect tolerated with much glee by top managements. Often, they lose the trust and confidence of their team members, resulting into a human relations crisis. External titillations offered by life provide transient moments of gratification. The inner glow of happiness eludes them.

This tribe, which puts a premium on the ‘I and Me’ approach to decision-making, experiences a hollowness within. Minds are whirling with ideas, indicating the dire need to practice brain-stilling, as…

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Those of you who had gone through my earlier post might recall the fact that the trauma of cardiac surgery was adequately compensated for by my Guardian Angels. On the positive side, other than a career breakthrough, pending family obligations got met successfully; marriages of both my children got fixed up in this period. Moreover, in subsequent life, I became a sort of cardiac expert, dishing out sage advice to my colleagues, friends and relatives.

Incorrect Choices and the Value Spectrum

This change was just a way for life to reinforce within me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did.

The strategic flaw in the scheme of things was that I had willy-nilly landed in an organization the value system of which did not match that of my own. It was my pumpkin headedness which led me to continue with the organization for as long as I did. Like a pilot in a flight hit by an enemy’s missile, I might as well have pressed the cockpit eject button much earlier.

If you are one of those who twiddle their thumbs wondering as to why I tend to place a high premium on sound values to be followed in business can rightfully blame my corporate career for the same. Having worked in organizations which were at two opposite ends of the value spectrum, I have seen at close quarters the perks of being value-driven and also the perils of not being so. That is how, in yours truly, you are apt to find a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front. The underlying belief is that business ships which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns to their stakeholders. When businesses are broad minded and give back to the society at large, they serve a higher purpose.

Our personal Brand Equity gets built by the kind of choices we makes and the kind of company we seek over a long period of time. The right strategy to follow in any career is to give due weightage to this single factor when choosing organizations we decide to work for. We consider this issue in some detail somewhere else in this compilation.

No Fault in Our Stars! 

When one undergoes a humiliating experience, one feels as if one has been simply used and thrown into a trash bin. One’s stock is down. The market is sluggish. Only bears, having come out of hibernation, rule.

The first response is to blame it on our stars. But it is the choices we make ourselves which lead one to suffer in life. We create our own destiny, so to say.

Shakespeare was bang on when he said that ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’ (Julius Caesar: Act 1, Scene 2).

A Chiselling Towards Perfection

One may say with a reasonable degree of accuracy that Life has indeed been wired to act like a Master Sculptor. Life has not learnt the art of sculpting by means of a correspondence course which was not even completed but left midway.

All this chiselling business, you see, comes in pretty handy in life. Each of these highlights at least one glaring deficiency in one’s personality. At the time it happens, it startles one, much like a nymph surprised while splashing about in her Jacuzzi in the comfort of her home and hearth. Shock and disbelief quickly follows. A deep resentment gets felt, in the vein of what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this.

Eventually, once reason starts returning to its throne, a pitiless analysis follows. Root causes get identified. An action plan to address these gets made and then worked upon. A better self emerges. Weaknesses often get converted into strengths. It is as if our Guardian Angels are gently nudging us to mend our ways, develop healthier attitudes, acquire better working habits and enjoy life better.

All of us have villains in our lives. With any change in the family setting or in the organization we work for, the name and the face of a villain alone changes. The element of villainy simply refuses to go away.

Perhaps all these villains keep popping up to show us our place in life. They teach us the value of humility. The day we are feeling on top of the world and patting ourselves on the back on the successful accomplishment of a long cherished goal, fate, donning the mask of a villain, quietly sneaks up from behind and hits us with a nail studded club.

Blessings in Disguise

In a way, these turn out to be blessings in disguise. If these do not happen, we are likely to trudge along on a straight and narrow path. We are apt to keep wallowing in our comfort zones in a protracted state of procrastination, refusing to budge from our prejudices, much like an obstinate Balaam’s Ass!

We cannot change others. But we can look within and be open to change ourselves. That is indeed possible.

While at school, I won many prizes in local as well as in national level essay writing competitions, but never on the subject of scripture knowledge. However, I do believe that if the concept of reincarnation is believed, whatever Life leaves incomplete in us during this life time perhaps takes it up with missionary zeal in our subsequent lives!

In other words, the earlier we shape up, the easier it is. The choice is entirely ours!

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/a-not-so-plummy-encounter-with-an-arm-of-the-law

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/01/17/some-more-encounters-of-a-weird-kind

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/the-karma-operating-system)

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“So, Mr Bhatia, what do you think?” asked the tough looking beak-in-chief. I had just been ushered into this mandarin’s plush office. A cup of tea had been duly arranged, with few snacks in tow.

Across the road, the sea was going about performing its normal task, its mighty waves relentlessly pounding the rocks, roaring and frothing. The night sky was clear and a mild breeze was blowing. The moon was enjoying its usual saunter, its soothing light creating dancing ripples on the surface of the sea. It was a scene which was designed to soothe any soul in aguish.

But my soul was in torment. The heart was aflutter. The brow was furrowed. The pride of the Bhatias was wounded. You see, life had so far never prepared me for being treated as a criminal of sorts. Having been a law-abiding citizen all along, I was not used to being interrogated and that too so very late in the day. Having been held in captivity throughout the day, and asked to pen down my responses to a long list of obnoxious and repetitive questions, the nerves were all of a twitter. All this had happened under the stern watch of some of the junior beaks who looked much like a bunch of dreadful villains straight out of a Bollywood movie.

I eyed him narrowly. Obviously, the beak-in-chief’s looks were not much to be written home about. He reminded me of Sir Watkyn Bassett, the magistrate from the canon of P G Wodehouse. Nature, when planning this unique specimen, had endowed him with bushy eyebrows, a pencil moustache and a prominent jaw which would have prompted even someone like Adolf Hitler sit up and take notice. His eyes were a bit too keen and piercing for one who was not an Empire builder but a mere revenue official of a senior cadre tasked with milking businesses which, in his opinion, had many skeletons made of unalloyed gold stored in their cupboards. Revenue officials all over the world happen to be a class apart; particularly, those in India are well known for their deep distrust of businesses. Guilty till proven innocent is their credo. Shakespeare, I suspect, would have etched out Shylock’s character based on an earnest and conscientious taxman hounding him for concealing his royalty earnings.

I summoned all the Bhatia courage, resilience and tact and gave him an artificially sheepish look.

“To be frank, I feel like crossing over the road and drowning myself in the sea,” I bleated weakly.

All gibberish, of course, designed to deflect, deceive, distract and bring in a temporary rapport between me and the party of the other part. His relief on hearing these words, containing as they did no reference to the facts of the case, was great. He smirked. A sarcastic smile adorned his visage.

The dialogue with this officer of the law continued far into the night but I would spare my audience all the boring details which, if mentioned here, might promptly put them to sleep.

As P G Wodehouse would have put it, one of the several difficulties which authors face when telling a story is as to where to begin it. If they take too much time building the atmosphere and etching out the characters, the audience may simply decide to junk the narrative and start checking their social media updates instead.

On the other hand, if the author were to permit his narrative to take off like a rocket to the Mars, the public simply starts twiddling its thumbs trying to figure out what is happening. They simply walk out on the hapless soul, leaving it a wee bit clueless, much like an Olympic athlete who dazzles with his performance in a stadium which happens to be empty and utterly devoid of humanity, thanks to a raging pandemic.

Allow me therefore to go back a little bit in time. Assigned a senior management position in a small company operating out of a small town located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, I had somehow been sucked into the eye of a storm since past several months. Thanks to a two-timing junior employee and an array of operational goofies, the revenue authorities had been persuaded to suspect something fishy going on in the operations. A detailed investigation was underway for some time. The authorities, as is their wont, were keen to quickly size up their pound of flesh and make my employers cough up a sizable sum without delay. My feudal sense prevailed. A close friend from my college days who had risen to a senior position in the same department of the government elsewhere kept advising me informally throughout the sordid process.

As the episode unfolded, however, it transpired that I was suffering from a misplaced sense of loyalty to the company. My brand equity was at its lowest ebb. The credibility of the technical department which was the real defaulter in the matter was somehow much higher. In me, the company found a ready villain who could take the rap for the unfortunate incident.

Once the case had assumed a shape, I was given the marching orders and left to fend for myself. If I myself had been in the position of the owners then, I would have reacted similarly but perhaps in a gentler and more humane manner. In fact, had the company followed the principles of natural justice and an equidistant approach to all functions, the probability of a corporate embarrassment of this kind could have easily been nipped in the bud.

Subsequently, I had learnt that the matter had dragged on for quite some time and had got finally resolved on mutually agreed terms.

The stress suffered over a period of 18 months of the investigation eventually led to a cardiac issue popping up, duly followed by a long period of rest and recuperation. The family moved in to provide unstinted support and I was soon up and about, living as normal a life as one could wish for.

A great thing about the harsh slings and arrows of life is that even when we feel that there are dark clouds on the horizon and not even a single ray of hope visible anywhere, our Guardian Angels wake up and decide to offer us an olive branch. For the past several years, I had not ventured to seek greener pastures in the town my wife and I made our home. The impression was that for a person like me having a senior position in a company, backed by a package which was otherwise fine though not something to write home about, it was well nigh impossible for me to secure another assignment with a matching, if not higher, paycheck, especially in a town which did not boast of many industries.

A Good Samaritan amongst the broad circle of friends I had came up with an olive branch in the form of a suitable position in the large organization of which he was a key decision maker. An offer got made and was duly accepted. Some nine months after I had lost a great degree of my self confidence, personally as well professionally, I now had an opportunity to turn a new leaf and rebuild it.

This change was just a way for life to show me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did. I realized that one’s brand equity is built over a long period of time. Once built, it becomes like the fragrance of an exotic flower. It travels much ahead of one, often opening up new vistas, offering a wider canvas for one to perform and excel at whatever one undertakes to do. The observant ones amongst those around us are surely able to size us up much quicker than we can manage to do ourselves.

I would urge my audience to take my suicidal intentions – conveyed to the stern beak-in-chief – with a bowl full of salt. Close friends who have noticed the Bertie Wooster streak of resilience within me have held that amongst their circle of pals, I shall be the last one to ever consider a deliberate attempt to kick the bucket.

My idea of mentioning this nasty episode in my life is not to play the victim card and seek sympathy from my audience. I just thought I could share with others what I learnt in the process. My mistake was to not to keep a tab on the ground realities myself. Instead, I practiced partial abdication, mistaking it to be delegation. Trusting some colleagues who had an axe to grind with the company was another. Like the incident mentioned above, there are many others which can also be captured here.

Life, as you all know, is not a bed of roses. It is not a social media platform where narcissism alone rules. It also makes all of us undergo major setbacks. This is indeed its unique way of chiseling us out of hard rock and giving us a better shape.

But with each harsh chiseling, one had somehow managed to wriggle out of the throes of a deep V-shaped depression. One had risen from the remains of one’s dead self. Mighty forces of positivity had prevailed. The chin had yet again become high. The stiff upper lip had come back and the sky had once again turned a cheerful blue. A leap in the professional affairs had eventually come about.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/about-me

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/planning-a-career-with-an-owner-driven-outfit-consider-some-of-the-values-followed-by-such-businesses

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/of-a-mom-bassett-and-the-allure-of-policemens-helmets

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/divine-grace-works-all-the-time)

 

 

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ashokbhatia

Often, we hear that age is a mere number,
But also wonder if it makes us dumb and dumber;
Unless proper and timely steps are taken through channels right,
The chances of our becoming dull happen to be bright.

The body needs all the care and affection it can get,
The mind needs to be kept active, not to forget;
The soul needs nourishment of a different kind,
Otherwise it is left in torment and in a bind.

The zeal of youth makes us leap light-heartedly into traps,
The spirit of adventure keeps us wandering off the known maps;
Romantics at heart, fragile in maturity, we jump at gold coins with strings attached,
We behave like zombies, often getting disappointed over chickens un-hatched.

 ZOMBIES

When advanced in age, our optimism fades, no longer making the spirits lift,
A feeling grows that our guardian angels no longer care to bear a…

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I confess I have never had the chance of listening to the prattle of tender feet around me. However, this does not mean that I do not observe kids. I do so, with all the shrewdness at my command. When they giggle and stare at public speakers, the latter are all of a twitter. When they seek protection money from their wannabe step fathers, the soul cringes. When they use paraffin wax to douse fires, one sickens in horror. When they decide to extract a revenge of sorts from cabinet ministers who have reported their smoking endeavours in the shrubberies, one draws appropriate conclusions. When they celebrate their birthdays by either putting sherbet in ink pots or by going AWOL to enjoy a dinner and a movie, one gets overawed with the kind of courage they have.

Having suffered at the hands of such obnoxious kids as Thos, Seabury, Edwin the Scout, Kid Blumenfeld, Peggy Mainwaring and Kid Clementina, I have willy-nilly come to the conclusion that these kids need not be derided and mocked at. Rather, they deserve to be treated as role models for most other kids who would infest our planet in the decades to come.

Their parents need not be pitied and censured. On the contrary, they need to be applauded for the unique contribution they have made to the society at large. One, they have delivered roguish kids who are totally self-centered and can tackle the harsh realities of life with a chin up attitude. Two, they have demonstrated the kind of nerves of chilled steel they have by bringing up kids with such modern values as hatred, disdain, habit of questioning authority, strong faith in falsehoods and fake information, bullying and knowing which side their bread is buttered on. Those weaker than themselves get trampled upon and squished like crawling insects under a pair of size 11 boots. As to stronger bullies, they analyze their psychology, bury their egos and become submissive ‘nodders’. Social recognition, a rapid rise in a rigid hierarchy and accumulation of wealth is bound to follow them in due course.

A Set of Futuristic Values

What I am driving at is simply this. To prepare kids for a glorious future, we need to revamp our education policies. Parents –whether of the present or the aspiring kind – need to be clear as to the set of values which would serve their offspring better in the times to come.

Besides teaching them the virtues of the likes of Jesus, Rama, Krishna and Mahatma Gandhi, kids also need to be told of the sterling qualities of such figures as Satan, Ravana, Kansa, Duryodhana and Dushasana. Villains such as Sher Khan (The Jungle Book), Scar (The Lion King) and Tai Lung (Kung Fu Panda) could see them surviving the harsh slings and arrows of life with aplomb.

They need to be imparted skills as to how to thrive in an environment of hate, untruth, dishonesty, skulduggery, bullying and hoodwinking the weak and the vulnerable while sucking up to those who happen to be in power. A high degree of proficiency in hypocrisy is what they need to be egged on to achieve.

Hating the ‘Other’

Armed with a hateful attitude, they would prod the not-so-blessed kids into achieving perfection.  In any case, concepts like empathy, harmony and compassion are already passé. To teach them to love their neighbours no longer makes sense. Best opportunities come up for those who are selfish and have deep reserves of hatred towards the ‘other’. These could be people of a different race, religion, caste, creed, skin colour and economic wherewithal. Children need to be groomed to operate in an ecosystem of hate.

The Perks of Lying

Being glib liars, they would waltz through their lives in a smoother manner. The market share for truth is shrinking with each passing year. The market for falsehood, misleading data and fake news is zooming. By adopting a value system along these lines, explaining one’s conduct to either an aggressive boss or a nagging spouse would be far easier. Many of our leaders who have the unenviable task of governing countries have already perfected this art.

The Art of Cheating

A related core life skill is that of cheating. Fraud is a global industry which is recession proof. Companies do it all the time. Governments routinely resort to it so as to protect their public image. One is never too sure of the quality of data being unleashed upon the gullible public, whether regarding economic progress or public health. Reneging on sovereign guarantees by invoking a force majeure clause is set to become a norm.

Even when faced with a raging pandemic, human ingenuity in ripping off hapless patients has never been found wanting. Many healthcare professionals are capitalizing on the fear of the pandemic and laughing all the way to their banks.

Civic Disobedience

With a questioning mindset, innovations would rule the roost, propelling our civilization faster on the path of evolution.  The merits of standing up to those in power need to be driven home in a ruthless manner. In fact, with youth unrest spurting in many countries, we already have an inkling of the shape of things to come. All such protests produce a younger generation of leaders who would improve the delivery of services to a lay citizen. Homo sapiens will make mighty strides in all their endeavours.

Bullying and Nodding

The meek do not inherit the earth, so to say. One cannot be like my friend Gussie Fink Nottle who is tongue-tied when it comes to proposing to a female he feels attracted to. One has to be groomed to be a dasher. If one’s Dashiness Quotient is high, one can hope to achieve goals better and faster. Bullying and pushing others are habits which help one at all stages of one’s life.

But when it comes to those stronger than us, and those who are in power, one has to kowtow to their mighty egos. Becoming a professional ‘nodder’ and a thorough Yes-person is bound to bring home the bacon.

Proficiency in Hypocrisy

Scriptures impart our kids moral lessons which are much past their expiry date. Some of you may recall my having won a Scripture Prize while at school. But you may not be able to point out how that knowledge had ever helped me to wriggle out of the prospect of a saunter down the aisle. Invariably, it was Jeeves who always came to my rescue.

The guy who said that our thoughts, our words and our actions should be aligned was surely an ass of the first order. What works these days is exactly the opposite. Let us say you hate your government or your boss. If you say so openly, you could either be found cooling your heals in a jail – without the option, of course – or keep missing some juicy promotions in your career. If Bingo Little were to confess to having blown up his allowances on some sporting endeavour, the dove of matrimonial peace would hastily pack its bags and abandon his home and hearth.

Enabling a Faster Spiritual Evolution

Kids armed with such futuristic values would play an important role – that of hastening the process of spiritual evolution of our species.

Someone, whose name I forget, spoke of survival of the fittest. What I propose here, if followed by conscientious parents and our education policies, will surely lead us to nurture kids who would not only survive but also do well in the times to come.

If this were to happen, one could safely peer into the future and grunt in satisfaction in much the same manner as one would after having put down the hatch one of the lavish spreads dished out by Anatole. The soul, weighed down by current anxieties, would get revived.

Couples in the reproductive age bracket, whose unions get blessed with roguish kids, will be assured of a very bright future for their coming generations. By inheriting the combined loopiness of their parents, such kids would ensure a rapid spiritual growth of all those around them – the aunts, the uncles, the nurses, the governesses, the headmasters, the teachers, the priests, the sports coaches, the drivers, the liftmen, the gardeners and many others.

Some of you are already raising kids who are disobedient and undisciplined at home. Outside, they happen to be gun toting monsters. You deserve to be richly complimented for the many sacrifices you make for your progeny. Your decision to expose tender minds to inane television shows, inappropriate content on social media and violent cartoon shows is obviously helping.

Making Kids Hotter  

Even those amongst you who are convinced that I happen to be mentally negligible would agree with me that all kids need to be groomed into becoming ideal citizens of their respective nations and make a positive contribution to society through their ability to hate, lie, cheat, bully the weak and by learning the refined art of sycophancy, cozying up to those in power. They need to use resource and tact to break their eggs and whip up sumptuous omelettes for themselves and their near and dear ones.

Kids these days are already hot stuff. We need to take immediate steps through proper channels to make them hotter in the decades to come.  Bringing up losers is surely not your idea of having fun in life. Scripture knowledge has limitations. Character development centered on such values as love, respect, humility, compassion and empathy takes bright kids on a negative trajectory.

Who Can Bell the Cat?

Who can bring about this change in our thinking? Perhaps not our political leaders, many of whom hide their dictatorial ambitions behind a thin veneer of democratic principles. Our mandarins thrive on opacity and an innovative capacity to come up with roadblocks to whatever is proposed. When combined together, both love an obedient, subservient, meek and complaint public. For them, a vibrant, independently thinking and questioning citizen is a highly undesirable commodity.

Closer home, Lord Sidcup may not approve of the idea but deserves to be sounded out on this fruity scheme. I believe it is safe to interact with him over internet these days. I would not run the risk of being torn from limb to limb.

Perhaps Rosie M Banks and Bingo Little can be persuaded to spearhead a revolution of this kind.

Another possibility could be someone like Stiffy Byng or Roberta Wickham taking up the cudgels. When it comes to propagating values of the kind being proposed by me, their credibility is bound to be much higher. A promotional drive by them, directed at parents, would strengthen the foundations of our civilization no end. Education ministers and mandarins across different countries who do not pay heed will run the risk of either their hot water bottles being punctured or cell phones getting pinched.

Would you have any suggestions?!

(Inputs from Mr Satish Pande, an ardent fan of P G Wodehouse, are gratefully acknowledged)

 

(Related Post:  https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/the-gallery-of-rogue-kids-in-plumsville)  

 

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ashokbhatia

In order to commemorate 125 years of the Chicago address of Swami Vivekananda, Integrating Spirituality and Organisational Leadership (ISOL Foundation) had recently organised a World Congress on Vedic Foundations of Management Science.

Several luminaries and experts in diverse fields addressed the gathering, which was inaugurated on the 11th of September at the Breasted Hall, The Oriental Institute, The University of Chicago. Distinguished Trinity and ISOL Awards were presented on the day. The event concluded on the 13th of September, 2018.

The Inaugural Session started with a Welcome Address by Dr J L Raina, Chairman of ISOL Foundation. Vedic Mantras were chanted by Mr Ashok Vyas, followed by a Welcome Song penned by Mr D V Shastry.

Prof Sunita Singh Sengupta, Founder ISOL Foundation, welcomed the delegates and presented a Background Paper.

The Inaugural Addresses were delivered by the following:

  • Ms Neeta Bhushan, Consul General of India in Chicago
  • Dr Larry…

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Dustedoff

I have been watching with increasing despair and sorrow these past few months as India has teetered on the brink of disharmony and violence, hoping against hope that it was just a passing phase. There were moments when I felt things were looking up, for instance, when people of other faiths—not just Muslims—came together at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere to oppose CAA and NRC. There were times I told myself it was getting better, that India was essentially secular, and that divisive forces would eventually be defeated.

Then the Delhi carnage happened. Many were killed, even more injured. Property was destroyed, people were forced to flee their homes. Curfew was clamped. We mourned. Not just for the dead, but for the way the hydra-headed monster of hatred, bigotry and violence had again reared its head.

I have lived in Delhi for most of my life, and to see the city…

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ashokbhatia

ethics and values

We do not necessarily need a degree from Harvard to realize the difference between right and wrong. The Moral Compass within us is capable of telling us if we are on the right path.

Human values form the inner core of our personalities. These keep nudging us to be good human beings.

If ‘Values’ are the cause, ‘Ethics’ are the effect. If our value system is in place, our outward behaviour and conduct shall be ethical. Same is true of organizations, where the underlying culture determines the response of its key managers to tough business situations.

A company which believes in human values would handle a separation differently. When ramping down a business, good performers could get helped to secure career opportunities elsewhere. A star performer who has made up her mind to leave would get treated with great respect, thereby making her a valuable brand ambassador for the company.

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ashokbhatia

Ravana, an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, was not only a great scholar but also a capable ruler. He had a great taste in music and had mastered the veena. He is said to have been an expert in astrology and political science. He is also believed to have written a treatise on Siddha medicine.

He is described as having ten heads which are said to represent his knowledge of the six shastras and the four Vedas. Folklore has it that even while lying on his deathbed, he imparted valuable wisdom to Lord Rama and Lakshmana.

Much like powerful CEOs of large corporate bodies, Ravana had the necessary knowledge and skills to steer his kingdom to great heights. But his sheer pride, arrogance and a tendency of stifling dissent did him in. His obstinacy, and intolerance towards dissent, eventually led to his fall from grace.

The fact that…

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When leadership deficit leads to a compromise on values  

It is understandable that our business leaders keep biting their nails trying to beat the competition. But when they chase business goals by compromising on their core values, they eventually get caught in a regulatory web and start losing customers. Their brand image takes a serious hit.

Consider the following instances:

The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster 

For a space exploration agency of the stature of NASA, revenues and profit were not the motives, but it appears that deviations were indeed made from standard safety protocols because the top leadership put a higher premium on expediency. The now infamous O-ring pressure seals, supplied by a Utah-based contractor, served as the cause of the crash.

The O-rings had been tested to perform in 40-degree Fahrenheit or above weather conditions. On that fateful morning in Florida in 1986, it was only 18 degrees. NASA knew it was an issue, but hours before the launch pressed the contractor to “green light” the launch. Robert Ebeling, heading a team the concerned contractor’s employees experienced with the O-rings debated whether they could knowingly approve that the O-rings would not fail.

In the end, the team wanted NASA to wait until the afternoon when temperatures would be closer to 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the pressure exerted by NASA—in addition to the wilting of the contractor’s senior managers—the company reversed its original decision and ended up giving the go-ahead for launch.

Alas, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven members on board.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fiasco

During 2016, Apple was set to launch the iPhone 7. Samsung leaders rushed into bringing Galaxy Note 7 into the market before Apple. Here also, market forces determined the behaviour of the company’s management. In a rush to beat the competition, a design flaw in the battery was overlooked. Safety standards were apparently compromised.

Within weeks of the launch, the phones started catching fire. A recall ensued with over 2.5 million phones sent back to Samsung. The company lost billions of dollars in the recall, let alone billions more in lost revenues.

The Boeing 737 Max Issue

In October 2018, Indonesia’s Lion Air flight plummeted to the ground shortly after taking off, killing all 189 people on board. Subsequently, in March 2019, a crash happened in an eerily similar manner in Ethiopia, killing all 157 persons aboard.

Boeing claims to work on such ‘enduring values’ as integrity and safety.  The company defines integrity as taking “the high road by practicing the highest ethical standards.” Likewise, safety is captured thus: “We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly,” the company suggests, and that “by committing to safety first, we advance our goals for quality, cost, and schedule.”

But to match the launch of A320neo by Airbus, said to be 15% more fuel efficient, Boeing moved fast and launched the 737 MAX nine months after Airbus’s announcement. Regulatory approvals were apparently rushed through, by simply declaring the 737 MAX to be merely a ‘derivative’ model of the company’s cash cow – 737. Technical changes of a material kind were apparently made, but the need for pilot training was never highlighted. The Flight Crew Operating Manual was not modified to reflect the changes. If this had been done, perhaps the pilots might have been in a better position to know what to do should the plane begin to behave unpredictably after takeoff due to the bad sensor data.

The common thread running through all these instances is the leadership deficit these organizations faced at the time. When values become mere words on a company’s website, disaster just lurks around the corner. As technology advances, the human angle can only be ignored at the risk of a great cost to the organization as also to the society at large.

Of revenue-hungry businesses and governments

World over, history has repeatedly taught us that when it comes to the Rajasic world of commerce, truth is a casualty. Cigarette and liquor manufacturers contribute to the exchequer and also keep their own stakeholders happy. Pharmaceutical companies keep peddling drugs which may have serious side effects on hapless patients. After holding up cholesterol as the main villain for cardiac problems for a very long time, suddenly we find that medical research comes up with results which are contrary to the original stand.

A recent example is that of the mad rush to bring in 5-G which rides on a much stronger dose of radiation. Nowhere does one see a reasonable debate on the impending costs of environmental degradation owing to a high dose of radiation.

The risk of data privacy

As businesses and governments go in for higher levels of digitisation, lay citizens who avail of products and services end up living in more transparent fish bowls. Individuals cease to matter. Somewhere in a data repository, they become mere numbers, coded by a binary system and mercilessly crunched into big data; data which is eagerly lapped up by the corporate world.

One who loves undergoing a Virtual Reality experiment is shocked to find that he and even his family members are denied an insurance policy because the body reactions detected during the said experiment indicate that he is likely to be suffering from dementia, a disease which runs in families. One who books a bnb apartment has to not only substantiate his true identity as a living person, but also establish that his past legal record is as pure as fresh driven snow. Personal interactions with a customer have ceased to matter in most digital transactions.

Hapless customers and citizens are no longer kings and queens; they are jacks of all trades who master none, let alone themselves or their own thought processes.

Political parties have already perfected the art of using Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to shape public opinion en masse. There are no bad politicos and good politicos. Scratch the surface and one would find that underneath they are all the same. In many countries, democracy is touted as a virtue, but just beneath its soft velvety cover can be discerned the cloven hoof of dictatorial tendencies.

Caveat emptor (or, buyer beware) is the only way forward!

Some lessons from Bhagavad Gita

Smart CEOs can perhaps look up to this ancient scripture to find some ways out of a quagmire of this kind. We explore this theme in the next part.

 

(Inputs from an IT expert and an aviation expert are gratefully acknowledged)

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/09/07/the-challenges-of-industrial-revolution-4-0-part-1-of-3)

 

 

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