[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

So you want to be a top performer?

After a long hiatus with my writing, I took advantage of the winter storm lockout this weekend to write a blog and posted in LinkedIn!

“Who wants to be a top performer rated as “exceeding expectations” and “outstanding talent”?” on @LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/who-wants-top-performer-rated-exceeding-expectations-krishnamachary

If you are in any corporate environment, you might find it useful. Please check out and share!

Funny Life Quotes

Life is sometimes serious and at other times, outright funny!

On our way to the day care, Rishi, munching a chocolate, “Daddy, I am going to show Ms. Kristen (his teacher) the chocolate in my mouth!”.

Me: “That’s not a bad idea, Rishi!”

R: “Bad Idea? Good Idea Daddy!”. I cringe for blurting out a wrong phrase!

A few minutes later…

R: “Daddy, I ate all the chocolate, I can’t show it to Ms. K now!”

Me: “Oh! that sucks!”

R: “That’s a good Sucks Daddy, not a bad Sucks!”

Me: I just stumbled upon a funny life quote – there is good and bad in everything, including things that suck!

For the love of learning a new sport

If I could, I would have picked up Squash. Emerging from what many would call mid-life crisis – a phase of life when you know you got to be doing something else, but know nothing more about what that else is – I recently picked up a less intense, but equally addictive sport, Tennis.

Who doesn't get inspired by that?

I don’t recall ever seeing a Tennis court growing up in India. Yet, I religiously read The Hindu’s SportStar magazine and go for war with my brother to own the center page blow up of Boris Becker. Over the years, I generally watched all the grand-slam finals – just for the love of Tennis and the kick of its corner to corner, head-turning rallies. Not to mention the compelling changes in the way the game is played these days – thanks to Federer, Nadal and now, Djoikovich.

Last fall, the dormant Becker in me finally decided to show up. At 36, I committed to learning yet another sport. This idea was certainly not new to me. I taught myself to roller-blade when I was 24 and to snowboard when I was 26! But I haven’t played an active, outdoor, athletic sport since high-school where I made a vain attempt to earn a spot in the district field hockey team. So this time I was absolutely ecstatic signing up for beginner lessons at the Warren Racquet Club – I now have one more way to get my receding HDL cholesterol back up! Besides, one of my best friends who has been playing for a few years now kept reminding me that once you start playing Tennis, you won’t give it up for life. I knew exactly what that means now that I meet tennis partners who must be in their 70s and even 80s. Let’s not go into the details of how many of these older buddies kick me around the court.

Over the last few months, this new commitment has taught me the big difference between knowing and doing. I knew the rules of the game, have seen the best shots in slow motion, have mercilessly critiqued the world’s best players for playing up to their potential, have read best of the articles on tennis for over a decade. But…that’s a big fat BUT, I could not hit the ball into the court for many many days.

With help from the left-over athlete in me spurred by a relentless desire to improve, I have upped the game to the point where I not only get the balls into the court, I even pull a few winners occasionally. I have also taken bold step to sign up for the USTA 3.0 Adults League – I am in Business!

I read somewhere that Life is simply a combination of keys and locks. All one must try is to match the right key with the right lock, then, satisfaction and happiness prevails.

You might wonder why I started off with Squash then? I don’t exactly know. Perhaps, it will remain the greatest sport I never played but read everything about since I am just about halfway done with reading how Trinity College’s squash team continues to remain at the top of the college squash circuit [Run to the Roar: Coaching to Overcome Fear].

inside outside

?

eyes windowing reality
heart rhyming eternal tunes
mind seeing surreal images
love exposing unknown self
soul searching precipitous destiny
time vaporizing leftover memory
me
roving inside and outside

Next Match: RedBox vs. NetFlix

Few years ago, we started off with a BlockBuster service to get DVDs by mail and also pick up a couple of in-store free rentals. I liked the in-store deal because I could rent newer movies which usually have a long wait for home delivery.

And then, NetFlix came, conquered BlockBuster with streaming movies and TV shows in addition to the mailed DVDs. They really nailed the deal for me when they streamed via my Wii console, for no additional charge. When the BlockBuster store around where we live closed, we gladly cut the cord from my BlockBuster and switched to NetFlix. Too bad, BlockBuster didn’t copy NetFlix’s strategies even if they couldn’t creatively compete. The rest of the market voted just as I did and blockbuster is limping its way to RIP.

After using NetFlix service for a while, we noticed we were streaming movies more frequently than we were watching the DVDs. Despite the lack of good selection and low-quality streaming video (on 56′ TV), we preferred to pick and chose to watch whatever and whenever we want. Laziness chimed in too, NetFlix DVDs would lie around our entertainment center for days before we got to it. Over time, I figured we weren’t watching more than two movies a month through mailed DVDs. Besides, NetFlix had same queuing issue when it comes to newer movies available for immediate shipping.

Redbox One Billion Movie Rentals!

Around this same time, we finally bought a Samsung Blu-Ray player. Not wanting to wait for NetFlix shipping, I tried renting over night Blu-Ray rentals from RedBox. Blu-ray is spectacular – if you haven’t tried it, run, not walk, to check it out soon, RedBox solved the one problem I had with both BlockBuster and NetFlix: instant access to newer movies. So the combination of RedBox + Blu-Ray, I was royally sold.

We have since discontinued NetFlix DVD mailing service, but staying with streaming, though its usage has gone down even while NetFlix is beefing up its digital catalog. I have written about NetFlix before and I continue to use them as lessons on strategic thinking.

First, RedBox is available in locations that are practically a shout away from where we live. This one idea in itself might be a big winner. It’s ironic that the fast-disappearing BlockBuster stores could have easily stayed to do this cheap, over-night rental thing! In any case, until the other guys can provide Blu-Ray quality streaming and newer movies, RedBox neighborhood kiosks will continue to be prosper. I won’t be surprised if other companies soon flood the market with Kiosk-based services. CoinStar, which owns RedBox, had long established strategic partnership with retail establishments that helped introduce this potentially golden-goose innovation.

Second, by virtue of overnight rental, RedBox is eliminating a typical lazy consumer behavior. At the risk of paying more, I am forced to watch the movies overnight and return them, opening up more revenue for RedBox from the same DVD. Not only that, I am now more inclined to rent (even more revenue!) another newer movie from RedBox sooner than later. What used to be BlockBuster and NetFlix’s proposition, “Keep the DVDs as long you want”, is now wasted asset which otherwise should be making money! So RedBox is re-defining the a strategy which NetFlix previously re-defined which BlockBuster had previously defined. May be RedBox didn’t do this consciously, but at least a good strategy is emerging. This is classic business strategy at work.

Third, RedBox is aggressive about promoting the newer movies, in spite of the studios forcing delay between the day home video is released and the day kiosk rental is available. Nothing beats the joy of watching a good new movie late at night in your own cozy family room, that too on blu-ray and 56′ wide-screen home theater. Add to that the magic number of a $1 rental ($1.50 for Blu-ray) – I think we have a wholesome deal as sweet as mass-market American deals are supposed to be.

While NetFlix and the dozen or so aggressive competitors are vying for the online streaming business, RedBox, in my opinion, is firing on all guns around American neighborhoods. Especially around communities where internet streaming may not as popular as urban centers.

And don’t forget an important, but somewhat subtle proposition: RedBox is silently gaining brand awareness through well-designed, well-placed kiosks across high-traffic locations. If the same spots were to go for advertising, I bet they cost a boat load. Just take Wal-Mart alone; Millions of Americans who walk in and out of Wal-Mart everyday bestow their eye balls on a RedBox kiosks. More and more of these by-standers will be tempted by the site of people queuing up in front of attractive kiosks. Within America, RedBox may soon be as recognizable as Wal-Mart or McDonald. In the marketing world, that awareness is priceless.

Blu-Ray quality streaming may come soon but the idea of renting discs will stay at least for another few years. That is a compelling reason for RedBox’s to keep a watchful eye on the streaming technology as well as consumer wants and behavior choices. If CoinStar can could keep up with both, I am certain they can become the smartest innovator in the self-service segment converging convenience, retail and entertainment.

Next Match: RedBox vs. NetFlix

PS: There is one competition that usually goes unmentioned: Local libraries. They rent free rentals (mostly DVDs, very few offer Blu-ray) but they have the same queueing problem as NetFlix, especially since library rentals are usually for a week. Perhaps, RedBox will soon hit the queueing issue as more folks start embracing it.

One Innovation’s Long Journey to Rest Rooms across America

Waterfree Urinals

Over the last few weeks, the rest rooms around the floor where I work have been renovated along with brand-new installation of sparkling beauty – water-free urinal wall fixtures.

Their curvy finish and mac-ish design make you want to use them, except there is no handle to flush. You are left to admire it from 12 inches away never having to touch it. Which is a good thing if you are apprehensive about germs spreading through the flush handles. I have used these urinals on and off in recent past, but it feels little different to use them every day. I have to get used to keeping my arms from reaching out for the flush handle!

Over the years, innovation in the toilet segment has tremendously saved water consumption. I have seen toilets with two flush handles at the top – one on each side for urinal (less gallons) flush and other for non-urinal (more gallons) use. The ultimate urinal is one with absolutely no water needed, saving millions of gallons of water per urinal per year. This is indeed an environmentalists’ dream invention. Besides, these innovators have the once popular kodak-formula for business model too. Once the urinal is installed, it will need annual replacement trap-cartridges – a container with special liquid that traps the urinal and sewage gases out of the ceramic fixture.

What I did not realize was how long and how hard it was to bring this innovation to the market. From this Wired article, “Pissing Match: Is the World Ready for the Waterless Urinal?” it likely took a decade for this innovation to reach the building I work at. Apparently, the water-free technology has been commercially available since 1991! I didn’t have a clue that plumbers, of all the people, would pose a huge threat in bringing this technology out to the masses. Apparently, plumbers felt they all would soon go out of business. That’s unlikely – the need to move water to/from every building will keep the plumbing as a profitable business for a long time to come.

One thing I am not entirely not sure is the odor. I have this awkward feeling that if you don’t flush down with water, the odor from the ceramic walls will eventually add up. It is entirely possible that ceramic will not retain any fluid traces, but who knows. Of course, time will tell soon as I use these daily.

Nevertheless, a decade and billions of water later, hip water-less urinals are finally going to adorn rest rooms across America.

Beauty in Zen Philosophy

This Zen Buddhist riddle touches the deepest part of my soul so well that I could just meditate on it forever without feeling a bit tired.

Q: How long should you stay at something?
A: However long it takes to get what you came for.
Q: How do you decide what you came for?
A: You don’t, you discover it.
Q: How do you discover it?
A: You notice what isn’t there anymore when you feel like leaving.

You need to be a person of certain nature to have the patience to seriously ponder this riddle. If you do take the time to ruminate on this, you will be rewarded with an illumination that’s priceless. It may even do exactly what riddles and poems are supposed to do: change your outlook on Life.

The reward in this discovery is the next...

There is a sense of spontaneity and now-ness in the first answer. Listen to your soul to know how long you should stay at something. But how did you arrive at this ‘something’ to begin with? Intriguingly enough, the last question answers that. You arrived at this ‘something’ when you felt like leaving the previous ‘something’.

Who said philosophy, that too Zen philosophy, is easy?

We always will have a ‘something’ to stay at. The only conscious or sub-conscious choice we have is to let go of this ‘something’, so we go to the next ‘something’.

Do you realize how the “notice” on the last answer circles back to the “something” in the first question? no? never mind.

What you came to ‘discover’, the reward, in this ‘something’ is really your next ‘something’. Zen is Genius. This is Life. This is exactly who I am.

And, I am not really as nutty as you might have concluded.

India’s Education System – What to make out of it?

There is a group of journalist who blast India’s education system as horrendous while another group hails it as the next best thing for other educators to learn from!

Here is what a recent WSJ article titled “India Graduates Millions, but Too Few Are Fit to Hire” has this to say:

Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What’s more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.

Don’t lose heart just yet. A 2008 NYTimes artcile titled “Losing an Edge, Japanese Envy India’s Schools” has this to say:

Despite an improved economy, many Japanese are feeling a sense of insecurity about the nation’s schools, which once turned out students who consistently ranked at the top of international tests. That is no longer true, which is why many people here are looking for lessons from India, the country the Japanese see as the world’s ascendant education superpower.

What the heck is an average reader to make out of this?

Mass-produced graduates..

I am not any expert in India’s education, but for my personal interest in the subject and the credential as a product of India’s education system having spent about one half of my life in the classrooms of an average sub-urban public school and corridors of a private engineering college.

My take is India’s education system produces exactly the kind of graduates it is designed to “mass produce”. Since our schools (factories) and classes (production lines) are dealing with minds (of teachers and students) instead of machines, what results is simply a spectrum of output quality – many good ones, some bad ones and rest fall somewhere in between. Given the factory model with prescribed academic syllabus, I do not think any school or any teacher can mint 100% great pupils year after year – even with 100% great teachers.

By the way, did the WSJ article’s author and the HR executives referenced in it all jump straight from heaven? I mean seriously? They all must have went through the same damned Indian educational system and now that they are at the top of the food chain, they are looking down and blaming it?

Don’t mistake my angst for denial. Heck, even the much-adorned American education system is begging for change! So, indeed the Indian education needs wholesale, transformational changes! But that’s not an excuse to write-off the system altogether. Which is why I think both the articles above are somewhat ill-conceived and poorly positioned without context.

An quote by Paul Tosto summarizes my thought perfectly:

Hand-wringing over education seems to be a national pastime…The other guy always seems to be smarter. The other country always has better ideas. Our kids will end up chumps in the global economy unless we do what those guys do, etc.

The WSJ article reflects a narrow authorship and refers to the NASSCOM Assessment of Competence (NAC) employability tests that have been developed the BPO and the IT industry! While those two industries have been a boon for India, by no means they represent rest of India’s economy. Moreover, it is not as if only IITs and IIMs produce the stellar students. The growth engine of India is primarily fueled by the good load of students produced by the average schools and colleges in the last 20-30 years.

A while ago Fortune magazine chronicled the training facility of Infosys in Mysore, India.

..after the job offer, comes the real test: eight hours a day at Mysore studying lines of Java code, attending team-building workshops, and learning to differentiate the do’s of global workplace etiquette from the don’ts.

The sad truth is India’s colleges are not designed to impart employable skills. They exist to provide theoretical knowledge minting “raw” graduates with unparalleled uniformity. Like it or not, every employer has to mold, train and coach them to some extent to make them employable! A talented kid emerging out of India’s system of education is a by-product of that kid’s own commitment to learning, her parents commitment for positive support, the effect of indulgences from societal & peer pressures, and last, likely the least, the formal educational system she was part of.

Ultimately, the problem with India’s education sector is one of a systemic immaturity and solution has to be multi-pronged:

  1. Enrollment at the primary / secondary levels must improve.
  2. Parents and family members must play an active engage in a kid’s off-school learning.
  3. Learning curricula must aim to produce well-rounded graduates retaining certain level of individual character and innate uniqueness. Education must balance art, creativity, music, sports, thinking skills, behavioral, inter-personal skills besides the science, math and language.
  4. Government must privatize the primary / secondary educational services. Not only will that meet the growing population’s demand but will also stabilize quality.
  5. Most importantly, career development programs must start at the middle schools.
    Career development programs should expose the students to wide-range of post-secondary educational opportunties.
  6. Society at large, including corporations and formal/informal industries must actively partner with schools and universities to set right expectations on what’s needed from students after graduation.

It is all easier to list than getting it done. We have decades to go before we can convincingly enroll, educate, graduate and employ India’s younger generation. Until then, start thinking about how we must shift the paradigm and redefine education as we always knew it.

Keshav – New member of Family!

On April 4th, Harini and I were blessed with a boy as a new addition to our family. Rishi picked Keshav as the name of his choice for his little bro. Though we were very anxious, He has embraced his brother pretty well so far. We are slowly settling down amidst the hurry burry. I am getting used to diapers and 2-hour sleep schedules while Harini is beginning to see a “bright” future dealing with all the boys around the house.

Thanks to wishes from everyone.

Team India is the World Cup Champions!

It is truly a happiest moment for me as well as all the Indians across the World. May this moment be frozen in time. May the billion hearts forever be as joyous as today.

Dhoni – you are a gem of a Captian and you deserve every bit of it. Sachin – You have it now, the boys did it for you, with you.

Team India brought home the lost legacy and nailed its place as the greatest cricket team in the world! They touched the sky!

The team India that made dreams come true!

Khan way of Transforming Learning

Listen, you want a glimpse of the future of education? How about Bill Gates vouching for it?

Even If you already know of Khan Academy, still take a few minutes to watch this latest TED Presentation. If you are patient enough, Bill Gates will join Sal Khan on stage around the 18th minute.

I stumbled upon Khan Academy last year, and since that time, he has gone from “somebody” to “the man”. His vision is rather unbelievable – educate the world for free on every topic! His story and rise to limelight is a worth a short film.

This story has been inspiring to me in many fronts. For one, he is making things happen for real. When million others are simply dreaming or talking about just ideas, he is out changing the face of learning, still one day or one video at a time. The realization of his vision in just the last few months is really commendable. They have create an innovative software to facilitate a non-invasive, individualized learning – augmented by the thousands of tutoring videos. Not only that, behind the screen, the software captures tremendous data for the teachers & tutors to evaluate a student’s performance and to have a constructive, thoughtful discussion for further learning and improvement. The best of today’s teachers are manually collating these type of data which takes away the time from focusing on their only goal of positively influencing the development of the students.

When most innovators are behind the startup wagon with a hope of making it big in an IPO, Sal is running this as a non-profit, a social enterprise as I like to think of it. I am certain money is never going to be an issue – even if Gates and Google don’t care for them, scores of philanthropists will line up to write a check for some who is truly impacting the lives of so many people across the world.

Let’s not forget, next to the gift of life, the second best gift to give anyone is education. If he can do that in a simple, easy way that anyone across the globe can use – I salute he is indeed “the man”.

Khan Academy already has a pilot program with Los Altos school district that is showing great promise. Now that he has assembled a fantastic team (I wish I could be part of this team and their mission!!), they are all set to fundamentally transform the way learning will happen in classrooms. No other company, including Microsoft, has been able to introduce this type of transformation. Which is likely why Bill Gates is backing Sal’s vision, besides using it himself to teach math to her daughter.

We need all the other dreamers to take Khan Academy truly global across languages and villages on a mission to educate the masses. Any takers from India?

A road well taken

On a bright, humid summer morning, she is walking along a trail deep in the park. Tranquil surroundings, smell of fresh air, and the lullaby of running water from the stream – she felt thankful for everything. A few other morning joggers pass over exchanging courteous nods. From moment to moment, her thoughts wander away into the inglorious past. But she quickly recovers to stay in the moment and relish the liveliness. Yet again, next moment comes, she is lost thinking something about a promising future. Thankfully, her third eye is keeping her in a steady pace through the trail.

Until she runs into a three-way intersection.

Regaining total awareness, she slows down heading towards the groomed island at the center of the intersection. The other two trails leading away from the intersection seem alien. She isn’t quite sure if each will lead to the same kind of experience she has just had in the last 20 minutes. One appears too dark for the morning. The other seem to become narrow within a few yards so she couldn’t make anything out of it.

She takes a moment to turn around and appreciate the trail she came in from.

“May be I should just go back the same way, It sure is worth another trip.”

She is reluctant and quickly gives up that notion. She squeezes her eyes to see as far deep as she can into the trail on the left. It sure feels more inviting. But that’s just a feeling though, they both look more or less the same from where she is. She grinds her teeth for wasting too much time on this trivial thing, but she just can’t make up her mind which one to move on. Yet, she is sure she wants to go the trail as good or better than the one she just came in.

She takes a sip from the bottled water. The digital watch reads 7.44 AM. She wants to be home by 8 AM or at least by 8.15.

She can hear someone breathing hard, rushing to cross over from the trail she came in. A black Labrador swirls around her followed by a tall guy who slows down to look right into her eyes.

“Do you need help?”

“I am all right. I am wondering which way to go”

“Well! Take the one on the right, you will be in good company plus you will love the view of the downtown a mile or so down”

She thanks him as he jogs down the trail to the right. He doesn’t look back and she is still double-minded.

“Do I care for the view?”

Just as she swipes the dripping sweat off her chin, an old couple walk into the intersection from the trail on the left. They look happy, chatty and wanting to talk. She wants to ask their opinion of that trail but decides to just wish them a good morning even as the couple pass staring at her. They fade away into the trail behind her.

“I have always followed my intuition, let’s just move on the trail to the left”

“Wait! Why wouldn’t I enjoy the view of downtown? I haven’t been here before…”

“What the heck am I doing here? This is stupid. What’s the big deal? Just go with whatever!!!”

She begins to walk towards the trail on the left.

“Why should today be any different?”

“You know what? Let it be different. For once, I am going to give a break to my intuition and instead take someone’s advise!”

She turns away heading towards the trail on the right. A few yards down, it becomes narrow, rough, and rather smelly too.

“Is this the company he was talking about?”

She can’t find any signs of other joggers. The morning breeze seem to have vanished and the air feels awfully dry.

“Where did all the chirps and lullabies go?”

Finally, she runs past a mom jogging with twin infants in a stroller. She finds it strange that both the babies are crying louder than all other noise around while mom is busy on the phone. Mom was too busy to bother a smile, so she picks up some pace wanting to get home sooner.

A few minutes later her cell phone vibrates with a text message. She checks the phone slowing down a bit but wobbles and steps on a beer can. The left over beer slurps across her shoes and a bit on her left leg.

“Crap!”, she yells.

She wants to clean it up right away, except all she has is one last sip of water. She wants to get home right now.

“How far is this damn thing going to go? I should have stuck to my intuition!”

A few more minutes of jogging between the trees and unexpectedly, the full morning sun from the east catches her attention. And there it is. Leaning over the edge of the trail, She gets a glimpse of the river and past it, the spectacular downtown. Everything seems refreshing all of a sudden. The skyline is shining like a glorious Kohinoor diamond. The ferries and ships line up the waters as the peak hour traffic is buzzing across the riverside parkway.

“This is gorgeous”, she wishes every morning was as spiritual as this one. She takes the last sip of water, throws the bottle out in the garbage bin and looks up.

Her heart misses a beat. A massive airplane is ferociously descending down into the downtown’s tallest skyscraper.

Try try touch the sky! India

This Saturday may be Sachin's most precious day...

Today, India stole from the hands of Pakistan a well-deserved win against a roaring crowd from great country side of Punjab. On a day like this, the people of India love their cricket team to death. (On other occasions of failure, the same players get virtually hunted and verbally beaten, getting psychologically killed!)

Indeed, today was a moment of pride and honor for players and the whole nation. Every single player in the team worked hard for this moment and they won’t go to sleep tonite until they celebrate the heck out of their souls. A world cup Semi Finals is perhaps harder than Finals – more so because it hurts so much to get this far and not make it to Finals. In some sense, the teams fought not to win but for not to lose. You will shed your last pint of blood to escape going through what went on between the ears of Afridi and Aktar in the last few balls of the match.

Reclaim lost legacy and nail it!


In the first innings, the Indian players got burned down by Pak’s impeccable bowling. Yet, the team India rose out of the ashes to stage a spectacular show under the lights.

The Team India rarely gets their act together on a consistent basis. The last two matches will likely go down in history books as great cricket leading up to a world cup finals.

What’s remaining on Saturday is for Team India to show that it can cough up fire out of ash to nail its lost legacy as the world’s best cricket team in the world. Sachin Tendulkar will bet his entire fortune to be frozen in that moment through eternity.

A billion fans will be holding up our torches so the eleven tigers can scale through the darkest, farthest part of the heaven to kill the roaring lions. Go Team India Go! Try try and touch the sky!

Love and the joy of Fatherhood

I have no clue how the last few months has rushed past my consciousness. Harini completes her full-term this week as we eagerly await the arrival of our second one. It seems as if it was only yesterday we started talking about a second child. As the ensuing months simply sprinted for me, I reckon it has been awfully tardy and burdensome for her.

Add Rishi to the equation and She can spend days elaborating on what it takes a go through a monumental 2nd pregnancy with a 2.5 year old constantly buzzing around your head. Don’t bother adding a clueless father to that equation, it gets really ugly.

Needless to say, I have been slipping by without a deep sense for what we are getting into. Of late, Rishi has been reminding me of the upcoming new release by saying ‘I love you, daddy!’ about 10 times within an hour. Over the course of a day, he must be uttering those words hundred times over between me, Harini and her mom. I cannot fathom what must be going on in his innocent mind, I do see he is preparing to face the reality of sharing his parents. Though he knows how to share toys with others, the moment he realizes what it means to share us, especially mommy, his tender heart is going to be sore.

One thing I am thankful to Rishi is he has shown me how to love. Shame on me, I didn’t realize it in the years that I have been married but better late than never. With the way Rishi loves us and expresses his love, I cringe with a sense of guilt that I am unable to reciprocate with same vigor and authenticity.

As part of our bedtime routine, I will read whatever book he choses that day and then we go through our motions of hugging, kissing, turning off the lights etc. I finally wrap him in his blanket and say “Night-Night, Rishi” and I walk out of his bedroom, just about to close the door…

“Daddy, Are you going to sleep with Harini?”

I lose my breath for a second.

I pause, “Yes, Rishi. Good Night! Sweet Dreams!”

“OK Daddy…”

Rishi loves Puzzle


I am glad he doesn’t say anything more because if he did, I would be in tears. I walk away with a heavy heart mixed with sense of love, warmth and guilt. It is with these subtle moments he has been giving me the precious joy of fatherhood.

I constantly question if all my love is self-centered around my desires. I am as much in love with my music or adventure sports or reading. Is all the myriad things that I get attracted to same as my love for Rishi or Harini or our to-be-born?

I wouldn’t trade anything else for the moments I spend with them but neither can I imagine going for months, if not days, without spending sometime with my other love affairs – reading or writing or playing tennis or whatever. Is it egregious to feel so? Thats the question I grapple with these days.

Dare to go on a war with your Imagination

For anyone who is looking for reasons to write, Poems can be a great inspiration.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was they brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terror clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forest of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

With the sight of a gorgeous tiger in mind’s eye, William Blake derived the inspiration to extract those beautiful words out of his imagination. Here is a good study guide for the Tyger Poem.

Tyger by William Blake

It’s a fantastic poem that reminds me time and time again that writing, in any form, is act of bravery. You wage a war inside your mind against your own imagined inspiration, be it a tiger or a sunset or a baby. When the words finally but slowly draw out and settle down in front of you on the screen, you are winning. You actively engage in the battle for a while until you get a satisfactory feeling that you have rescued your fair share of words out of your imagination.

Then, you engage in a joyous craft of literary peace making. You re-read the whole passage while your inspiration takes a back seat. You clean up words that seem burned-out in the process of extraction and polish sentences that came out awfully raw. You rehash certain ideas lost in collateral damage. At last, you stop. You just birthed with at most care and love a wonderful piece of writing, .

You walk away as a proud creator, knowing all too well that you love to wage this war forever and ever.

For the love of bullet trains and bonsai trees

Much about the Japan’s earth quake and tsunami is being recorded and seen. Given the proliferation of cameras, this event is perhaps as close to real for rest of the world as can be experienced virtually. The tenacious Japanese will quickly recover or recreate the property damages, but nothing can compensate for the precious lives lost in one of Nature’s worst outrage.

In the middle of all the oohs, aahs and wows, there is also wide recognition of both Japan’s preparedness, as well as it’s disaster relief efforts. Anything man-made is “no more than a dust in the hands of Nature” so we may never perfectly design a building or a city or a relief operation, but the Japanese have absolutely demonstrated what superior engineering, thoughtful planning, religious preparation and most importantly, careful execution, by authorities as well as citizens, can do to minimize loss. We don’t have to make a big deal out of it at the moment, but given the scale of nature’s double whammy we must soon recognize that it is Japan’s design prowess, strict adherence to engineering codes, and earthquake drills that saved more lives than what eventually will have been lost. Obviously, the rest of world got a wake up call and has been keenly watching to learn from every second of Japan’s experience.

Calmness in Chaos

Personally, my siblings and I have long been admirers of Japanese for their culture, work ethic and determination. Growing up in southern India, we lived in a very old house with toilets detached from the house out in the backyard and so we had to walk a bit to answer nature’s calls. No offense, we actually named our toilet as, you might guess, “Japan!”. We used to yell “I am going to Japan!!!” before we ran through the back door. That was a silly-but-serious way for the siblings to keep the fascinating Japan accessible to ourselves.

Call it luck or destiny, my brother-in-law was a scientist in Japan (incidentally researching earthquake resistance of specialized concrete) and so my sister moved to Tsukuba shortly after they got married. Later, my parents too had a chance to visit Japan. All of them have nothing but admiration for this great country, its heritage and its people. No country is without shortcomings but what I heard again and again was Japanese were hallmarks for politeness, discipline, sincerity and mutual respect for fellow humans and nature.

A few days after the earth quake, I stumbled upon a personal blog written by a non-Japanese guy living somewhere in Japan. He had shared his first-hand perspectives of the post-earthquake events having experienced Japan and its culture more closely than average foreigner. Knowing that my family would better relate to this guy’s observations, I shared the article with them and my brother-in-law had this to say in response…

The preparedness of Japanese has always kept me mesmerized. Right from controlling air planes to picking up rags, these people do a perfect job. Guess, God must have put hard disks and artificial intelligence in them rather than neurons and tissues.

The other day i was talking to one of the Indians friends in Tokyo inquiring about their welfare. She told that the Japanese were simply adorable during such an havoc. It seems, they still greeted each other the same way and was ready to help this Indian friend of mine as if it was another normal day.

My dad responded with a beautiful poem written by 12-year old Rohith, who lives next door to my parents in Coimbatore…

Hit by tsunamis and earth quakes
Nuclear meltdowns and flooded lakes
Japan has suffered more than what it takes
To bring the earth down.

This is our little prayer
Its not much but it is larger
Than the ignorant layer
Of people who don’t care

Oh God! please save those people
Survival of the feeblest of the feeble
All the dead , they should be able
To reach heaven without fail.

To restore it to the ultimate peace
From the bullet trains to the bonsai trees
And to bring it all in one piece
You have to help them god, to make it through

I am not at all surprised that there has been no looting or public unrest in Japan. The Japanese hold their culture to highest levels of integrity – more so during times of disasters. I see no point in comparing them with other citizens across the world who looted their own cities amidst natural or man-made disasters. Many countries have similar values but only in Japan every citizen takes their cultural values to their heart and souls.

I join Rohit in wishing the Japanese further strength and resilience to “restore to its ultimate peace, everything from the bullet trains to the bonsai trees”

A fantastic cocktail of capitalism and corruption

Often I stumble upon on the same day, two different perspectives on the same topic. One of my favorite past time is to pick up random magazines from the library. The lucky winner the other day was The Progressive magazine. Very thought-provoking articles focused on current events in America, and with arguments that normally fly below the mainstream media.

Quite a few articles caught my interest due to the nature of the topics that I haven’t come across lately. An article, “Fighting Fire with Water” by Colman McCarthy, on the idea of pacifism was a great reminder of why the revolts in the middle east are so effective.

Another article by Luis J. Rodríguez, “the Latino vote” cleared up my common misconception of treating the entire Latino population in the US as one entity. On one of the panel discussions that the author was part of, an average American would have classified the panel participants as all “Latinos” but the author highlights that the only thing common amongst them was writing, if that.

But the best one was waiting just for me. The blockbuster article of the February edition was “The Rule of the Rich” by Bill Moyers. Some of you may know him from the PBS show Bill Moyer’s Journal – which I recommend if you are interested in thoughtful talk shows. The article is based on a rather lengthy speech he gave at Boston University in honor of Howard Zinn. Apparently, the Progressive article not available online in its entirety.

The article starts with defining the word Plutocracy (a new word for me and it means “state in which the wealthy class rules”) and goes on to open your eyes on why Richest Americans do not need the rest of America. The point of Moyers’ article is best summarized by this quote, ““There are two things that are important in politics, The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”. What you will realize, after reading his speech (or the article if you can get hold of the magazine), is how in the name of capitalism, American politics and governance has outright sold itself to the wealthiest in America. Here is a key part of the article to ponder

from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

Just a couple of days prior to reading this article, I was watching the PBS show, Need to Know and they had a fantastic segment on “Income inequality in America: An illustrated interview”. Try to watch the video on the link but the summary of it is that if this deadly canyon of inequality doesn’t stop, America may split into two parallel worlds.

If the trend that we’ve seen for the past 25 years were to continue over the next 25 years, I can’t imagine what the world would look like. Because suddenly you’ve got two separate education systems, two separate housing places. Two separate levels of experience. So, of course, I do not see how, in a system such as this, somebody that begins at the bottom can end up at the top.

Corporation, Profit, Politics & Corruption?

You know about six years ago I made a big decision to get a MBA from a reputed university. Which I did. But about half way into my short journey on business education, I realized I was losing appetite for corporate America’s lure. The courses I took, and some of the wonderful teachers at NYU made me discover what really clicked for me was the Social Enterprise Sector (Non-profit). I disliked finance, accounting and investment banking. I grew wary of Capitalism. Most students out of a business school get out deeply married to the ideas of Capitalism, I emerged crystal clear of its perils. The stories by Bill Moyers and Eduardo Porter reminded me of the heated discussions we used to have in the classes on corporate ethics, global economy and social entrepreneurship.

The subtle reality is corporate America is becoming monstrously huge and ruthless. The pointless year over year growth syndrome is driving corporations to seek wealth at any cost. Where the costs are too high, Washington devises clever policies to rescue Wall Street.

The agony is America is creating a fantastic cocktail of capitalism and corruption. The rest of the world is boozing the hell out of it.

Flaws in the hype around Startup Visa Act

Vivek Wadhwa wrote an article yesterday in BusinessWeek, Startup Visas Could Boost U.S. Entrepreneurship, in support of the proposed Startup Visa Act. The article purports that the Startup Visa bill, if approved, will result in “thousands of new startups”.

After you have read the BusinessWeek article, I suggest you also read Vivek’s brief summary report on skilled immigration statistics.

As outlined in the Business Week article, the summary of the legislation in itself has quite a few conditional clauses. I have to assume the detailed legislation that would go into effect, will have more specific gotchas. I am not sure how they arrived at all the numbers but within the boundaries that they have defined, I do not think we will see thousands of new American jobs – which is the goal of this legislation. It might create a few hundred American jobs, at best. We all can certainly pray for a Yahoo! to emerge out of this.

Note, I agree with his assessment of the immigration limbo (last but one paragraph in the article) on how skilled workers are jailed in the visa system, waiting for permanent residency. In my humble opinion, tying the skilled worker immigration fiasco with the Startup Visa Act is not entirely logical. I find certain flaws in the arguments and assumptions that Vivek is making in support of Startup Visa Act.

First, if an immigrant in the US has a business idea and wants to start a venture around it, they will find a way to do it. If there are legal ownership issues, they will find a resident or citizen partner to work with them. If someone landed in the US yesterday as an immigrant and dreamed up a brilliant idea last night, what they need this morning is money to make it happen! In its absence, they have to work their rear off through the network of known people to fund it. If this individual is passionate and aggressive, she will somehow find and pitch to VCs or enter one of the scores of startup / business plan competitions out there. As long as they can stay in the US legally, they will continue to look for ways to startup their idea. Case in point here: How Archana Patchirajan, who moved to the US only in 2004, launched her idea, founded a company with two other friends and secured funding from BMW.

As a matter of fact, I had gone through the process of forming a business so we could open up a retail franchise (this one) in our town in New Jersey. If things had gone right, we would have created at least 5 American jobs. We didn’t pursue it because the bank insisted a higher proportion of startup funds from our personal savings than we could pull. The accountant, attorney, and the bank executive who helped us didn’t question once about my immigration status – which was, and still is, H1B (very last stage though!).

So, as long as you are a legal immigrant, starting or owning a business in the US is not impossible. There may be a few immigrants who would take advantage of the Startup Visa Act, but it will not magically make thousands of skilled immigrants sprint overnight to Silicon Valley.

Second, the Kauffman report says

…India and China are racing ahead as centers of research and innovation. Further research may confirm what seems likely—that returnees from the United States are increasingly fueling this growth. Our interviews reveal these returnees typically went home because they saw tremendous opportunity in their home countries.

Greatest prospects for skilled labor is elsewhere

I would caution that anecdotal statement is somewhat misleading. Many of my friends have returned to India in last few years. A few of them returned specifically because they didn’t get a green card soon enough and got sick of being stuck with same employer and same job on a H1B visa. But the telling story is: Almost all of them returned to India, because India is the damn land of opportunity at the moment. They find wider range of jobs, faster career growth, better titles, higher pay in some cases, almost the same quality of life as in the US. In essence, they are simply as opportunistic as they were when they came state side. Let’s be clear: not everyone returning to India is starting a company there. I don’t have any research to back up that point but so is the quote above. Some returnees indeed start business there, immediately or eventually, yet the majority of India’s recent entrepreneurial growth is purely organic (read this and this). Internet boom and new media has opened up access to know-how and inspiration for all Indians, while India’s younger generation is doing the heavy lifting by embracing the culture of entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, American is wobbling, majority of industries have negative or stagnated growth, American corporations themselves are betting on their firm’s growth in International markets. For heaven’s sake, Chinese, Brazilians, and Indians are returning to their country because that’s where the greatest hope for the skilled person’s growth and prosperity is. Not because that’s where the next Silicon Valley is.

Third, if the Startup Visa were to “open the flood gates” (it won’t, but glad if I am proved wrong), it will be for the benefit of and because of Silicon Valley’s elite. The legislation’s clause mandates

“The investor must be a qualified venture capitalist, a ‘super angel’ (a U.S. citizen who has made at least two equity investments of at least $50,000 every year for the previous three years), or a qualified government entity.”.

I don’t exactly understand the logic of this restrictive “investor clause” but I suppose it was to prevent misuse. We can speculate what that misuse could be, but, this clause, by design binds and favors the Venture Capital community. That is good if some Venture Capitalist already knows you personally and can’t wait to cut a cheque in your idea’s name. If you don’t know anyone, then take a bus to South By South West (SXSW) or shunt coast to coast looking for business plan competitions.

I suspect quite a few VCs out there know entrepreneurs outside the US that they would like to fund and bring over to Silicon Valley, for good reasons – mentor and hook them up with best of the valley to eventually make a ton of $$$. Indeed, if such a legal framework exists, I would do it too.

One statistic intrigued me the most in Vivek’s Kauffman report.

In 2006, foreign nationals residing in the United States were named as inventors or co-inventors in an astounding 25.6 percent of patent applications filed from the United States, a substantial increase from 7.6 percent in 1998. Foreign nationals also contributed to a majority of some U.S. companies’ patent applications, including Qualcomm—72 percent, Merck— 65 percent, GE—64 percent, and Cisco—60 percent. More than 40 percent of the U.S. government-filed international patent applications had foreign authors. These numbers did not include immigrants who had become citizens at the time of filing.

Vivek asks, “so, why weren’t they becoming U.S. citizens and filing patents as Americans?”. Great question. Once you come into the US in a skilled worker visa category, the queue to the permanent residency and citizenship is enormously long. The irony is the Dream Act, whose primary focus is illegal immigrants, is taking up all the air time leaving no time or will to make the path to citizenship faster for skilled, legal immigrants. I bet very many of them will go on to start or own small (and big) businesses, spurring job creation across America.

No doubt, we need more Start-Ups, Not Bailouts but it largely must come from inside America, not outside. The Startup Visa Act will create American jobs, but it won’t make a dent on the job market or economy. Unless, of course, the Gods answer Vivek’s wish and bless US with another Facebook economy of some sort to spring out of it.

Benjamin Zander’s art of possibility

Last week, I was reading a book by Alan Fine, “You already know How to be great” and in it Alan writes about Benjamin Zander‘s method of “Giving an A” to all his music students right at the beginning of the semester in exchange for just one home work: Write a letter that begins with “Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because…”.

I have not heard of Benjamin Zander before but I was hooked. The clock had just crossed midnight and it was awfully quiet, yet I couldn’t help but try to learn a bit more about him. Soon, I grabbed my headset to watch on my phone his great TED Presentation.

What got me hooked was not so much the idea of “Giving an A” or Mr. Zander’s flamboyant stage presence at TED, but it was the contents of an actual letter from one of his students, a young Korean flutist,…

Dear Mr. Zander, my teacher,

I got an A because I worked hard and thought deeply about myself as a student in your class-and the result was truly magnificent. I have become a whole different person. I used to be negative about nearly everything, before even trying. Now I’m much happier than I used to be. Around one year ago I couldn’t accept my mistakes. I got mad at myself after every mistake I made. But now I actually enjoy my mistakes and I really learned a lot from those mistakes. There is more depth in my playing than there used to be. At first, I only played the notes, but now I’ve discovered something about the real meaning of all those compositions. Now I play with more fantasy. I’ve also discovered my own worth. I’ve discovered that I’m a special person because I saw that I can do anything if I believe in myself. Thank you for your lectures and classes because they made me understand how important I am and the true reason why I make music.

This kid really made it sound too simple but this exercise in imagination is hard. I need to imagine myself in the future, and then look back at my own life and further imagine what I learned, how I changed, what I achieved etc. While I need to do this exercise lot more thoroughly, I am already imagining the moments when I speak at TED.  When that possibility materializes, Benjamin Zander will be my role model!

If everything is invented, why not do it right? Source: royblumenthal

I recently wrote about Running our own race in life. I said, Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can.

What Zander’s suggests is for all of us to open up to imagining the perfect story of our own life. Not just imagine it, but Write it. See it.

Believe in what you imagined, after that, it’s a matter of living the endless possibilities.

In Praise of Atanu Dey – Deeshaa.org

Who is Atanu Dey? I know nothing about him personally and the little I know of him is what’s on the “About” page of his website – Deeshaa.org. What I do know is his writings. And what I aspire is to think and write like him.

I have feeble memories of when and how I stumbled upon this guy, must be early 2000s when Rajesh Jain was a dotcom heartthrob. But what a find: Atanu Dey is an authentic citizen of the sort that India sorely needs in millions. He is everything I want to be, but am not – at least not entirely yet.

With an education from more than one Ivy League institution, he could have been cruising now in a senior management job in corporate America but instead, he chose to focus his mind share on India’s development. He is most likely a omnivorous reader but more importantly, a free thinker and articulate writer. We may not agree with all his opinions, but he eloquently writes what he wants to say. I know not the hours he toils to compose his blogs, but I know what he ultimately writes are articles that you won’t find in reputed media. The topics, style and the tone makes me wonder they might as well be editorials for the day in mainstream media. That may sound as an exaggeration, so judge for yourself.

Atanu Dey writes on India's development @ Deeshaa.org

His writings are usually commentary on the state of politics, economy and education – primarily focused on India. But what distinguishes the commentary is its offbeat perspective and depth, which is generally lacking in the blogging community. For many bloggers today, being quick and quirky is more important than being deep and authentic. In that sense, Atanu is either naturally gifted to create a perception of depth or, as I believe, plows through background readings before constructing his arguments. To be fair, I should mention he occasionally throws diatribes that endlessly belabor his own notions.

Ultimately, what makes me return to his blog is that he is an ordinary and responsible citizen with no affiliations but lot of insights on current issues. In many cases, he does outline a vision for solutions too. Some day, he will be recognized in a larger stage for his authenticity and boldness, but until then, as Desh Deepak writes, he will be one of jewels in the overcrowded world of “restless, maverick and quirky Indian bloggers”.