QNahi – money or respect


No warning on earth can save people determined to grow suddenly rich – Lord Overstone

He calculated the movement of stars and heavenly bodies. He wrote a seminal book on Physics, which forever changed the way we lived. His thoughts became laws taught even today. He fell prey to greed and lost all his life savings.

You must have guessed his name by now. He is Sir Isaac Newton. In early 1700’s he invested in South Sea Company in England. South Sea Company obtained monopoly to trade in South Seas in exchange for assuming England’s war debt. Newton sold his shares for a handsome profit and watched with perturbation the prices of the shares climb further. He reinvested all his life savings only to watch them evaporate as South Sea Company bankrupted. He famously said afterwards, “I can calculate the movement of stars, but not the madness of men.”

QNet is a similar investment scheme that caught not the imagination but madness of men and women. It is a multilevel marketing scheme selling ‘products’ that are never heard, bought, or used. QNet strategy was to get more people into your network to invest in. The promised profits are humongous to say the least. Internet is full of stories on the ways members are recruited (read trapped) into the scheme. Every organization has to sell something. At QNet you don’t need to sell anything; just trap your friends and relatives and live off them. Ingenious! Until the cookie crumbled and the likes of Michael Ferreira are facing the music. QNet is the not first, definitely not the last to trap us with quick rich schemes. Which bring us to the question, what is it that makes us so gullible and fall into these traps?

Greed. The insatiable desire to get more with less effort. Let us take QNet itself. To find, trap, and extract money from friends and relatives is not easy. Actually, it is more difficult than your normal work. However, we believe it is easy money.  Before embarking on these quick rich schemes, can we work out the following equation? Hard earned money + respect > or < ill-gotten money. It boils down to value of respect, as the other two components are quantitative (money).

Respect is the only thing you truly earn while on earth that is real and lasting. That too respect that you earn for your honesty, ability and good nature. Not that respect which comes from use of power or bought with favors. How much value you assign for true respect is the measure of your value system.

Many of the QNet members trapped in the scheme are innocent but the inherent desire (a sin) to grow rich quicker and easily did them in. Many to extract themselves from the debts resorted to conning others into the scheme setting in a viral conning network. They valued their monetary loss higher than respect and took to conning. Why some decent folks took to conning?

Loss. Human mind cannot accept loss. Just close your eyes and try to recall the moments when you made unexpected profits. Few memories. Now try to recall unexpected losses. Right from 10 rupees the autowallah has fleeced you, to the investments that have gone wrong, memories come flooding in. Because we attribute profit to our abilities and loss to fate, deception by others etc. We conveniently forget that our profit has been someone’s loss (or less profit). To cover for this monetary loss some take to conning themselves forgetting that you can earn money back now or later but not respect.

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate in Economics, gave the formula for success. Success = talent + luck. Great success = talent + a lot of luck. Talent is what you are born with. Hard work is what you can do. Luck is what you cannot manage. Use your talent and work hard. If you are lucky, you are successful. If you are very lucky, you will be very successful. If luck is not on your side, your hard work, and talent give you the most lasting thing on earth. Respect.

Go for it!





Do, die or cheat


Honesty is the best policy. When there is money in it – Mark Twain

Last week saw two marquee financial giants ending up with the label ‘unfair’.  Mastercard is in the dock over card charges that it had added on to unsuspecting shoppers. Wells-Fargo, the big bank has taken a real beating in valuation and reputation for palming of products and services its customers did not ask for. I wish to leave details to the to the gurus to dissect and comment upon, it is time to reflect upon the issue of ‘corporate governance’ and why the best in the business fall flat on this critical aspect.

Recently I went to a bank looking for a safe deposit locker. Branch staff informed me that they have lockers to rent out, but…they wanted me to buy an insurance policy from their branch. Having seen this from a close quarter (I worked in an insurance company), I played along and asked for the details. Branch staff recommended a high cost, high- risk insurance policy (ULIP) which did not take into account my age or needs. Why?

Targets. It is the pressure to deliver the numbers – do, die or cheat. When it comes to survival (failure not accepted), objective of sales staff is only one – find a sucker. More skilled you are at the game higher are the rewards. Growth, bonuses, increments follow along with the ultimate carrot – international trip for the top performers. There is a linearity at play in this moral degradation. Better the destination, bigger the rip-off. European destination will lower the scruples of sales team more than a trip to good old Bangkok!

Toshiba, the Japanese technology giant, had targets (called Challenges) which had to be met one way or the other. Challenges were tough to say the least. Quarterly sales targets that were double that of last quarter were rolled-out few days before the close of the quarter. To survive, the way out was simple – cook up the numbers. Which they did, until the truth unraveled last year revealing $1.2 billion of overstated profits.

Two years before that at another Japanese firm Olympus, the same story played out. Pressure to deliver outstanding performance while the business prospects were bad tempted the honchos at these companies to opt for fraud than accept failure. As its one time President said, “When the main business is struggling, we need to earn through zaitech (financial engineering)”

Profit, sales growth, market leadership…these words echo soundly in boardroom of every corporate. And rightly so. After all, capitalism is about creating value for the risk taker, triumph of human endeavor and stock markets correlate numbers with abilities. Until the truth unravels.

One of the key tenets of capitalism is ‘failure’. Bankruptcy laws and asset reconstruction facilities help companies tied over difficult times. Many corporations rose like Phoenix from bankruptcy. That is until greed triumphs over reason. In most firms, seeds of greed at sown at the top. The way the king is, so are the kings men. Corporate governance and fair practices codes are mere eyewash and publicity stunts until they become work rules. Who writes the rules and what are they?

Work rules boil down to employee reward system. “Only top performers are recognized and rewarded” is the message that gets around, will result in the attendant behavior. What is top performance? Only numbers? Take the case of my branch manager. If he had advised me not to take an insurance policy, as it is not in my interest, would it count as top performance or non-performance? In a corporate hospital, a doctor who does not prescribe needless antibiotic and expensive tests will be a top doctor or a liability? Answer to these and questions such as these will clean up capitalism and customer will benefit.

Do not get me wrong. Targets are essential for organisations to thrive and grow. Targets need to emerge out of the goals that the organization needs to set out to serve and should not end up being heartless numbers. Morality, not profit, should be the goal of the organization and its honchos.

Who will tie the morality bell around the capitalist cat?



Priceless or less price


“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing” – Oscar Wilde

Reliance Jio’s datagiri has captured the imagination of everyone. Impressed by its free voice and cheap data consumers are thronging to Reliance outlets to get their share of the new freebie in town. As is the norm, no one cared to read the fine print – there are quite a few of them – to get on to the free (for 3 months) and cheap network.

Contrast this with the anticipated launch of Apple’s last flagship phone – iPhone7. Long queues of people standing all night outside Apple stores to buy the latest iPhone is not uncommon. Apple’s phones are atrociously expensive. Cost of each one is equal to per capita income of millions of people across the world.

Here is the surprise. In a space of few days people are queuing up to buy the cheapest and the also the most expensive mobile phone solutions in the world! It is not common for Indians to buy the latest iPhone at a premium in the grey market. But the same Indians are salivating at the prospect of cheap data plans from Jio! Price is a great weapon in the armor of marketing men and it is plays with the psychology of consumers. Who does it work?

Sale! Sale! Sale! Whoever didn’t get caught out by these words splashed across billboards and media ads? We are happy with a 50% that we got in the sale (what do these outlets do rest of the days?!). It gives us a psychological high that we have used our intelligence and saved money on a purchase. Did we use our intelligence or justified our conscience of buying stuff we may not really need? Just think.

How do we get fooled with discounts? Just look at these two image below:


Product is the same (Philips), vendor is the same (Amazon), final sale price is the same (Rs.2,890). You will most probably fall for the offer in the right side image. Why? Look at the discount percentage – 9% vs 17%. We all like more discount don’t we? How can the discount be higher in one than the other when the final price is the same? Just look at the MRP. On the left it is Rs.3,190 and the on the right it is Rs.3,490. MRP has been increased to give a higher discount! We are greedy (mistaken to be smart) and grab the higher discount ignoring the fact which is the MRP. That’s the psychology of pricing at work!

A lady who had a souvenirs shop in a tourist place before going on a short vacation, instructed her staff to reduce the price of some of the items as they were not selling fast enough. When she returned all these items were sold out! Surprised she checked and found that the staff mistook her instructions and increased the price of the souvenirs. Customers (tourists) mistook the higher price products to be of better quality and purchased them! Another example of psychological power of pricing.

A famous marketing guru shared his observation in a Chinese factory that makes shirts for different brands. On a table were stacks of shirts made in the factory. He observed one employee stitch a premium brand label to one stack while another employee stitched a bargain brand label to another stack of shirts! Price is linked to the brand and not the product. Bata got famous through its product pricing. Starbucks keeps raising its price while the coffee beans prices are falling! A cheap Rolls Royce would lose its charm immediately while a pricey mobile from a bargain brand is viewed with suspicion. When you use a product, you state its price and your status!

There are laws (like MRTP in India) that protect competition from predatory pricing. However law is weak when it comes to tackling supernormal profits pricing practices. Pharma companies are among the guiltiest in the lot. Martin Sherkli of Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of a life-saving drug price from $13.50 to $750 as he felt obliged to give profits to his stake holders. Recent controversy over Epipen from Mylan Pharma also falls in the same category.

Information asymmetry (what the seller knows but the buyer does not know) is what causes dissatisfaction in consumers and provides the manufacturer the pricing power. When buying don’t look the price but the value of the product in our life. As always we need to exercise caution while buying. If we need it, we should buy provided we can afford it. Period. Price is an exchange of money against goods but it should not be an exchange of our intelligence for a product we may not need.

Caveat Emptor – buyer be beware!





Deals and dreams


Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make – Donald Trump

True to the sign of the times a mobile company rang the final bell on a company that once dominated the desktop. Verizon Wireless has closed a deal to buy Yahoo’s internet business for an all cash $4.8 billion bringing an end to an era in tech history. Yahoo, once the poster boy of the tech world, the opening para in the digital history of the world, is now reduced to being a footnote in the same history. What a fall!

Two Stanford engineering students went to Yahoo in 1998 to sell at 41 million their small company which wanted to send the visitors to its site to other sites and earn money. Yahoo again walked away angrily at the price quoted by that same small company which now grow big at $5 billion. That small company was named Google! In February 2008, Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo for $44 billion, a price Yahoo felt it was too small to sell itself at. Eight years is a long time in today’s world.

It is a season of mergers and acquisitions. Yahoo’s deal comes after the great grand acquisition of LinkedIn by Microsoft for $26 billion. Two marquee companies which led the tech revolution have now been gobbled up. The question everyone asking as is always done is, will these mergers and acquisitions work? History of M&A is littered with more disasters than winners. A look at some of the M&A’s will help set the right perspective before we examine few win and most fail.

Worldwide some of the most successful M&A’s are: Disney & Pixar, Sirius and XM Radio, Exxon and Mobile. Bad ones that top the list are Benz and Chrysler, Mattel and The Learning Company and Sears & Kmart. Really, really bad one’s are Quacker & Snapple, Sprint and Nextel, AOL & Time Warner. You can read more details about these M&A’s here http://www.cnbc.com/2009/12/29/Top-10-Best-(and-Worst)-Mergers-of-All-Time.html?slide=15.

Closer home we have had our share of good, bad and ugly mergers providing rich fodder for management theory and strategy. Cases like Hindalco-Novelis, Tata-Jaguar, Mahindra & Mahindra- SCHONEWEISS were a source of pride as Indian companies bought over western companies. Back to the question why M&A’s fail?

On the face of it one company buying another to become big seems easy but isn’t. According to Harvard Business Review, between 70 to 90% of all M&A’s fail. Here are few reasons culled out from various studies:

Hubris: Quaker bought Gatorade and made it a success. Buoyed by the success, Quaker went and bought Snapple without complete study. Result a financial disaster and body blow to Quaker. Each M&A is different.

Culture: Daimler was a German company which was “conservative, efficient and safer”and Chrysler was “daring, diverse and creating”. If there is an example of culture effecting coming together of two companies this is it. The culture gap between these companies was wider, deeper and tumultuous than the Atlantic. It is something no P&L or analytic chart can map or worse predict.

Paid too much: Microsoft walked out of the proposed deal with Yahoo in 2008 when asked to pay beyond $46 billion it offered. Yahoo once walked out of deal to buy Google at $5 billion . One company on different sides of the table and both turned out to be ruinous for Yahoo. What is the right price? Your guess is as good as anyone else.

Due diligence: Hewlett-Packard acquired British software maker Autonomy for $11 billion in 2011 and ended up taking a charge of $8 billion on its balance sheet a year later. Reason, HP discovered false accounting details, fudged numbers and much more financial malfeasance on part of Autonomy ‘after’ the acquisition. Simply put, bad due diligence by HP. Closer home Diageo and United Spirits (Vijay Mallya’s company) and Global Trust Bank and UTI Bank (now Axis) merger are examples of failed due diligence.

Customers: Many pharmaceutical companies committed the mistake of making the acquisitions work rather than focusing on acquiring customers. Dissatisfied customers are easy prey for competitors.

Mergers and acquisitions are not bad and many companies have grown inorganically thanks to buying out talent and ideas. Facebook today is an amalgamation of Instagram, Whatsapp and many more small entities which added value to its core offering. Google’s big channel is YouTube which is an acquisition.

What makes an M&A a success? The search for the right formula is on and may never be found. Deal making is much a science as it is an art.






Games we play


You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation- Plato

Pokemon Go, the new augmented reality game that has captured the imagination of millions across the countries where it was launched. It is a game that has added billions to the value of Ninetendo, the makers of the game. Created by John Hanke of Ninatic Labs an ex-Googler who had earlier created Google Earth, it asks the players to step out of their homes to catch Pokemons’s using Google maps functionalities.

It is a craze like no other. Reports of people trespassing into neighbours’ homes to catch pokemons to people crashing into each other walking on the streets with their heads bent down to track the location of their pokemons on their maps to a man who crashed his car driving while playing the game are abound. Mind you these are adults!

In half a decade mobile games have grown to be a big, very big industry. An overview of mobile gaming industry drawn from various research reports gives the right perspective. There are approximately 1 billion mobile gamers in the world. The industry is worth $12billion dollars. True facts: Clash of Clans earns $1.2 million every day, Candy Crush $1million a day and Kim Kardashian (yes!) about $750,000 a day! What is it that drives us to get addicted to mobile games?

As people we have a very important need – happiness. For many happiness is equal to success and social recognition. Mobile games fulfil both the needs. You win in a game, you are happy which makes the brain release the happiness hormone dopamine. Brain remembers the equation; happiness =playing. After sometime dopamine release reduces and to increase the same you play more. And then you are addicted with attendant consequences of not playing – withdrawal, nausea, mood swings and much more! There is a lot more than technology in the design of mobile games.

How does the mobile game industry work? A company creates the game puts on Apple store or Google PlayStore or even a direct link though the first two options are preferred. To generate traction after launch, mobile companies use mercenary companies who will artificially inflate downloads of the game for a price.  The game (!) is to get into the top ranks of Apple App Store and Google Playstore. According mobile analytics consultancy Distimo, if an app is in the top 100 and gets featured, it will jump 42 places on Android market and 15 places on the iPhone App Store.  Top 25% of apps in iPhone store generated 15% of all revenue. This translates into big numbers in business terms.

Once up there the challenge is to build stickiness and virality. Almost all games are free to download and play. The challenge of the game sellers is to migrate the free players to paying ones. The paying gamers form just 0.15% of the total players. There are some who pay thousands to get ahead in the game! Industry has a name for them – whales! For example, you are stuck in CandyCrush and need to move to the next level, you can buy on the store steps to make it easier to clear the level. The other challenge is to keep the free players continued to be interested in game hoping that he/she will upgrade to a paying member. It is done by social proofing the player. You can update your level in social media, say Facebook and hope to get wowed but will get booed if you are at a lower level than your friends. How to be on par or even ahead of your friends circle? Buy those extra moves to help you get ahead and boast to your friends! Psychology marries commerce perfectly on the mobile!

Now to the social effects of mobile gaming. A big and devastating one. Mobile gamers, both children and adults, are suffering from attention deficit issues, carpal tunnel syndrome (your wrists that ache from using mobile too much), Texting Thumb and many other digital diseases which we didn’t know even a decade ago. Our anatomy, nor our brain has been gamed to play these games!

Playing in the sand, running to catch insects and butterflies, cricket match fights…can digital world ever replace this world of ours? If it does, it is our mistake. Keep the mobile phone away to play real games which helps you make friends and also makes you better humans.



A quarter that’s half full


India is the greatest functional anarchy in the world – John Kenneth Galbraith in 1960’s

It was a summer solstice like never before. 25 years ago on June 21, 1991 India changed forever. By force or by chance. P.V.Narasimha Rao was sworn in as India’s Prime Minister exactly a month after the brutal assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. He unleashed a swathe of economic reforms which changed the face of India forever. The sleeping tiger was stirred to action.

As we complete 25 years of liberalised India, it is time to take stock. My good friend Kartikeya Kompella has edited a book containing views of the stalwarts of India who saw, participated, precipitated or furthered the liberalisation process. Very well compiled book (What’s Changed, available on Amazon India at 1991 prices!) that gives you more than a glimpse of what’s changed or didn’t in the last 25 years and it’s a must read for all. Bollywood, brands, media, women, philanthropy, education and more has been covered. One miss, I felt. Markets, money and real economics. Kartik is not money minded and hence is excused!

When India got freedom, we were unsure what path to take to build an equitable India. Make money and then distribute or distribute while we make the money. Nehruvian socialism as an idea was torn between the riches of the west and the socialist Soviet bloc. Choosing the middle path, we aimed for mixed economy. Straddling two paths we ended up nowhere. Mixed economy ended up with being a mixed-up economy. Crony capitalists and mafia dons ruled while jholawalas either wrote long articles which no one read or sat in dharnas which no one noticed or even worse ended up being naxal sympathisers.

The 1967 Hazari Committee report is an eye opener. It laid bare details of the shenanigans and strategies applied by industrial houses to play the license raj. The licenses were taken not to build and create a new India but to block others from growing big. The strategy was simple. Apply and take a license to set up an industry but sit tight on it with no action. It prevented others from getting a license thus killing entrepreneurship. “I will not grow, I will not allow you to grow” was the strategy of big corporates. Corruption was rampant and the masses got stuck in the morass as the few pocketed the licenses. Public sector undertakings became the biggest source of industrialisation and also employment with concomitant inefficiencies and bureaucracy.

Crisis is the mother of reforms. In 1991, such was the magnitude of crisis in India that 40 tons of gold was pledged with Bank of England and 20 tons was pledged with Union Bank of Switzerland to get $2.2billion dollars of loan to mitigate the crisis. A plane was charted to carry the gold bars accompanied by finance ministry officials! From the crisis emerged the reforms and Manmohanomics under the stewardship of Chanakya Prime Minister.

After 25 years of reforms have we achieved economic freedom? Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parekh and many more such swindlers gave pain to countless Indians who wanted a share of the new liberalised India. Banking is out of reach of many and money lenders rule the roost in many places leading to tragedies. Mutual funds and life insurance firms did not cover themselves with glory. Far from educating or selling these instruments many big firms converted them into quick rich schemes. Life insurance agents sold their soul and indulged in mis-selling for that alluring foreign trip. Social security in terms of financial security is distant dream for many Indians. True freedom comes when an individual is economically free. Not rich but free.

In these 25 years the world has given up on communism as an economic idea and then gave up on capitalism based on the tragic scenario in the past decade. Western model of capitalism has come into question with the 2008 financial crisis. Joseph Schumpeter’s prediction that socialism will emerge from the decomposition of capitalist society may come true. The emerging economic order is an interesting to watch.

India’s next 25 years are more critical as we have the youngest population in the world. Reforms will make them or they will make reforms. History is in the future and is going to be made by our children.

Advice – no advice


“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B.White

It was a typical morning post (forward) on Whatsapp. It was for those above 40 and the way to live life in your 40’s. It exhorted “spend that money, explore the world, don’t slave and save for your children as you may make them parasites”. You get the drift. Reflecting upon these points, closed the message and looked up another one. “Financial planning mistakes in your 40’s” was the title. Chastising the middle aged crowd for dipping into their retirement nest and not planning a legacy for their children so that they can lead start over their peers…I bet you have read similar ones. Question: both are sound advices, but which advice to follow?

After jokes the one thing that social media is flooded with is advice. 8 successful habits of sportsmen, 10 things not to do and 15 things to eat, how to be a millionaire and the likes. There is no subject that is left uncovered- money, health, relationships, parenting etc. Surprisingly most of the advice is contradictory and ever changing like the life above 40 advice/s cited above. Butter and ghee were a no, no but a yes, yes now. How to know what works and what doesn’t?

In 2008 his company invested billions in quadrupling their stake in an energy major. In a few months his company ended up licking massive losses running into several billions. His company then bought $2billion worth bonds in an energy utility company. Now they are worth $878million and in a few months may be worth zero. The investor is Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway. 5 out of 10 investment advices you receive are inspired by Warren Buffet. If what’s good for Buffet is not good for Berkshire, then what’s it worth for you and me. Don’t copy the lifestyle and portfolio of Buffet but try to imbibe his discipline and hard work in your investments. No surprise that Buffett never advises!

Do advisors change their advice? You bet. The best of these turncoats are on the business channels. One day they are out their giving cocksure projections on companies and the market with buy or sell recommendation. Few days later they are back telling you to do the opposite! What has changed, the circumstances! It is as good as looking out of the window and predicting the weather. If they know so much why don’t they go out and earn those billions instead of giving free advice to you? Think.

English language has complicated the plot even more; we got two words ADVISE and ADVICE. First is a verb and second is a noun. In more practical terms, advice is what you get when you ask for a recommendation. Advise is what you get sometimes without even asking (salesman’s advice). (Any English experts can guide and clarify here).

“Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment” advised Polonius to his son Laertes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 3). Bard is right once again. Like the advisors on business channels who change their views based on circumstances, we also need to get the right context for your inspiration. If some great man wakes up at 5 am don’t ape him and wake up at 5 am (and go back to sleep at 5.05 am!). Check how and why it is beneficial for him when he wakes up at 5 am and also check when he hits the bed in the night. Also, it is dangerous to follow only one habit of a successful person. Follow few more also and importantly check if those habits suit your work and plans.

What drives us towards seeking this free advice and chasing role models is a psychological trait called Survivorship Bias. Story about a man who came from a small place in rural India who made it big in Bollywood without any godfathers is inspirational. What is not shared is the story of thousands of similar men and women who probably with more talent didn’t make it. All or nothing is a great story when we read about the ‘all’  and is not when you read about ‘nothing’.

Good diet, physical activity, reading, honesty and helping others are the good advice which we all received from our parents and teachers which are good enough to lead a happy life.  The best advice you can get from the inspirational men and women is their dedication, their struggle, their never give up approach and their hard work. If you adapt those attributes, if not successful, it will definitely make you a better human being.




P.S.: One man said, “I get so much advice on Facebook and Whatsapp, but where is the time to implement as I’am always on Facebook and Whatsapp!”

Crisis of Chrysalis


Childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day- Thomas Hardy

Much has been written – smuttily, commercially, and crassly- on the suicide of Pratyusha Banerjee who captured the hearts of many India as Anandi the child-bride. She was hailed as a child prodigy in the field of acting and a great future was envisioned. Sadly, her life came to an abrupt. RIP Pratyusha.

This blog is not another salacious piece on her life or of her partner or the case. Having seen probably half an episode of the serial starring her (I’m a serial killer!) I lack the emotional connect to the individual. What I wish to reflect upon is the tragedy of child prodigies. Is there is a crisis of chrysalis? Why many a promising bud fails to bloom to be the charming flower?

The child prodigies are gifted with a very high IQ. What they do with that high IQ makes the real difference. Child prodigies excel in their fields and taste success at a very age. However, the fundamental error most commit is (try) being the best among the best and the rest. For all their intelligence, they do not strive to be original!

Who are they creators of new products, ideas or companies? The class toppers? Na. The creators are the ones who want be only. Class toppers make present things better, while the creators create new things. The creators urge to do something different makes them break from the mould and they build something new. Their objective is not to build a better mousetrap; but to build a world without mice. Their world is not made up of triumphing against other hard working students or employees. Their world is a blue ocean, in which they wish to chart their own course and build their own island. If Mark Zuckerberg wanted to top his class in Stanford, he probably could have. But he wanted to be only, which drove him to create Facebook.

The role of parents is very critical in managing child prodigies (or any child). It is not easy to manage fame and money – when they come or go, it is a flood – even for a grown-up. Imagine the stress on a child. It is often noted that parents get greedy of the easy money that their child is earning and quickly convert him or her into a money making machine. Parents end up stealing childhood from the child. It is not a surprise that alcoholism, drugs and psychiatric problems are far too common among successful child artists and sports persons in their teen years. Before writing this piece, read a few articles about Pratyusha. She was just 24 years but has experienced the combined trials and tribulations of 3 or 4 sixty year olds!

Question that faces every parent is this – how to shape the future of my child? The answer to that is a very simple but deep. Every child has only childhood. As an adult we can reconstruct our life many times over. But for a child it is the parents who create/build/manage the childhood and the child cannot create it. What you the parent, want to trade your child’s childhood with – money, fame, glory or failure? A happy child, when he grows up tries to create a happy world. An unhappy child will add to the misery of the world when he grows up.

O Henry’s “The guilty party” is a brilliant short story of a little girl who is dismissed by her father when she approaches him to play with her. She grows up to be a vagabond adult and is killed in a street fight. Her case is put up to God seeking maximum punishment for her bad behaviour. God declares that it is not the girl but her lazy father who is the guilty party. How true.

Now reflect, who is the guilty party in Pratyusha’s case? Her boyfriend(s), media, the other woman or her parents?




Man vs Machine


“I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans and I’m rooting for the machines” – Claude Shannon

It was a classic the world had awaited. Man was finally up against his creation- the machine. In February of 1997 six chess matches were played between Gary Kasparov, probably the great chess master ever and DeepBlue, the chess playing computer designed by IBM. The score ended 1-1 with four draws.

In March 2016 we had Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo defeat the champion Lee in the abstract board game Go, 4-1. DeepMind and AlphaGo are a preview to the Artificial Intelligence future we can look forward to. Is man finally meeting his match, the machine which he created?

Every day we are bombarded with the amazing skills of modern systems. Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, 3D printing, cloning etc are changing the way we live and enjoy this world. The technology that runs these machines is very high end – deep neural programming, search trees etc. Alphago today can predict 57 of the moves to be played by its opponent!

Humans are about intuition, machines are about ingenuity. The best example of this comes from the first battle between man and machine – DeepBlue vs Kasparov. In the first game on the 44th move DeepBlue made a wrong move which Kasparov quickly capitalized and defeated DeepBlue, a first victory for man over machine. In the next match DeepBlue defeated Kasparov after which Kasparov drew the remaining 4 games. What happened in the first match is the real story.

Computer games like chess are built (written code) using strategies which have been used by many players. In essence, Kasparov was playing the ghosts of few dozen grandmasters when he was up against DeepBlue. What then actually defeated Kasparov? A bug!

The wrong 44th move in the first match was a programming error – a bug! Here’s where we move away from machines. Kasparov was surprised by the silly 44th move but it was always at the back of his mind and spooked him. He didn’t realise that DeepBlue committed a mistake and Kasparov was guarding himself against such surprise moves which affected his natural game. DeepBlue had no such memory hang over and kept playing as if nothing happened. Human intuition carries emotional baggage, while computers/machines have just vanilla ingenuity to work with.

What sets machines apart from us? Sheer calculating power. In the chess game, to calculate 3 forward moves (3 for you and 3 for the opponent) would throw up 4.1 billion options. A computer can calculate that in 20 seconds. A champion like Gary Kasparov would require 43 years, without even taking a bathroom break!

In the future to be built and managed by computers and machines, we are in danger of working and living without emotions. What are humans without emotions, feelings, mistakes and failings? A monkey with a typewriter has one in a million chance of coming up with a Shakespeare’s quotation. That does not make the monkey a Shakespeare, worse it does not make Shakespeare a monkey!

In an Issac Assimov’s futuristic story, a man is caught with a surprising skill. He can add, subtract and multiply without any machines and the authorities wonder what the use of such a skill is!

Human essence is about human existence as much as human existence is about human essence. In the race to build a better machine, we may end up making a poorer version of ourselves. Beware! Lest Claude Shannon’s words come true.




PS: Claude Shannon (RIP genius) who expired few days ago was the first man to visualize computer as a chess player. Back in 1949(!) he published a paper, Programming a Computer to play Chess.

Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye!



Success = Some Talent + Luck
Great Success = Some Talent + A Lot of Luck

Daniel Kahneman, 2005 Nobel Prize Winner

He was a terrifying fast bowler. With unexpected bowling style and fierce pace he could walk into the current team of West Indies or any country today. He just played just 27 tests for his country and deserved to play more but couldn’t. Same story with this man from India. He was an exceptional spinner of the highest quality. Would have been the lead strike bowler in the current Indian team. However, he never played a test for India. What denied them the glory we believe they deserved, when we look back at their abilities and capabilities?

Luck. Fortune. Fate. These words are used by us to describe our own failures and tribulations that engulf our lives. But success. It is all because of our hard work, intelligence, strategy…and more importantly, don’t we absolutely deserve it! Luck as a factor in success, has been given less weightage than what it deserves.

What is luck? Being right at the place at the right time with the right…that’s luck. Michael Lewis, the bestselling author, attributes his career break to be seated next to the wife of a Wall Street big wig at a dinner. It was she who forced her husband to give a job for him at Salomon Brothers, which was the place where we future of Wall Street as we know today was being shaped. He learnt a lot about Wall Street which he used to writing his books. If he was at any other seat at the dinner, would it have been Michael who?

On a philosophical front, it boils down to fatalism and determinism. Fatalism holds that things will happen to you no matter what you do. Que sera, sera – jo hona hai, woh hoga.  Determinism holds that what you do is part of the universe’s chain of events and you just play your part. Question which we need to address is, how to deal with the factor of luck that is so prevalent in our life?

Gratitude (thanking our luck) should be the first attitude. No matter how talented you are, just imagine if you were born in war torn Syria or Afghanistan your chance of success is less than someone with half your talent but was born in a more free and entrepreneur friendly country like USA. Hence it is important to recognise freedom of speech, food security and basic comforts as a blessing which many do not have. 1 in 9 go without food every day in this world. If you had had your breakfast, lunch and dinner you are among the 8 who are lucky to have 3 meals in a day. Start counting many such lucky things in your life, it will make you a different person.

Now to some research on luck. It has been found that gratitude increases our willingness to contribute to the common good. In an experiment at Northeastern University USA, research subjects were stoked to feel grateful. They and a control group were given an opportunity to take actions that would benefit others at their own expense. Subjects in whom gratitude had been stoked were subsequently about 25 percent more generous toward strangers than were members of the control group. Gratitude makes the world a better place.

Even more interesting is the study that reveals that recognizing our luck increases our fortune. University of Miami researchers in an experiment asked a group to note all the things they are grateful for, a second group of things that irritated them and the third to do nothing. Researchers found that those who felt grateful of things were happier, slept well and experienced less aches and pains. Other two groups did not find any improvement.

Recognising luck helps in controlling another dangerous trait – ego. As E. B. White once wrote, “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” As they say, count your blessings. And remember to share the proceeds of your blessings with those less blessed.

Please help luck feel lucky!



P.S: The West Indian fast bowler is Colin Croft and was born in the era of Garner, Holding, Marshal and Roberts. The Indian spinner was Padma Shivalkar who was born in the era of Chandra, Prasanna, Bedi and Venkat.