Types of waste

Picked from a six sigma class

  1. Overproduction: Creating module/report that is not required
  2. Inventory: Having staff that are not needed, procuring hardware not used
  3. Extra-processing: Unwanted route of approval & unnecessary steps
  4. Motion: Avoidable physical movement of goods and people
  5. Defects: Poor quality, not addressing requirements and anything that leads to re-work
  6. Waiting: Making people on board wait for work, tools or infra due to prolonged review
  7. Transportation: unwanted movement of goods, documents for approvals and review
  8. Intellectual: Using skilled workforce for mundane tasks and unskilled workforce for complex tasks leading to rework and strain.

All these made me wonder how much of our day to day work is actually relevant and productive.

Cultural sensitivity (terms)

During the cultural sensitivity classes today I learned 2 new concepts.

  1. ETHNOCENTRISM vs ETHNORELATIVISM
  2. Monochronic vs Polychronic

Monochronic time: Time is the given and people are the variable. The needs of people are adjusted to suit the demands of time – schedules, deadlines, etc. Time is quantifiable, and a limited amount of it is available. People do one thing at a time and finish it before starting something else, regardless of circumstances.

Polychronic time: Time is the servant and tool of people. Time is adjusted to suit the needs of people. More time is always available, and you are never too busy. People often have to do several things simultaneously, as required by circumstances. It is not necessary to finish one thing before starting another, nor is it necessary to finish your business with one person before starting with another.(1)

To summarize, in monochronic societies people work around schedules, whereas in polychronic societies, schedules are worked around people.

Ethnocentrism: A simple way to conceive of the three stages of ethnocentrism is in terms of attitudes toward cultural differences: those in the denial stage deny the existence of cultural differences, those in the defense stage demonize them, and those in the minimization stage trivialize differences.

Denial: People in the denial stage do not recognize the existence of cultural differences. They are completely ethnocentric in that they believe there is a correct type of living (theirs), and that those who behave differently simply don’t know any better. In this phase, people are prone to imposing their value system upon others, believing that they are “right” and that others who are different are “confused.” They are not threatened by cultural differences because they refuse to accept them. Generally, those who experience cultural denial have not had extensive contact with people different from themselves, and thus have no experiential basis for believing in other cultures.  A key indicator of the denial stage is the belief that you know better than the locals.

Defense: Those in the defense stage are no longer blissfully ignorant of other cultures; they recognize the existence of other cultures, but not their validity. They feel threatened by the presence of other ways of thinking, and thus denigrate them in an effort to assert the superiority of their own culture. Cultural differences are seen as problems to be overcome, and there is a dualistic “us vs. them” mentality. Whereas those in the denial stage are unthreatened by the presence of other cultural value systems (they don’t believe in them, after all), those in the defense stage do feel threatened by “competing” cultures. People in the defense stage tend to surround themselves with members of their own culture, and avoid contact with members from other cultures.

Minimization: People in the minimization stage of ethnocentrism are still threatened by cultural differences and try to minimize them by telling themselves that people are more similar than dissimilar. No longer do they see those from other cultures as being misguided, inferior, or unfortunate. They still have not developed cultural self-awareness and are insistent about getting along with everyone. Because they assume that all cultures are fundamentally similar, people in this stage fail to tailor their approaches to a cultural context.

Ethnorelativism:

Acceptance: In this first stage of ethnorelativism, people begin to recognize other cultures and accept them as viable alternatives to their own worldview. They know that people are genuinely different from them and accept the inevitability of other value systems and behavioral norms. They do not yet adapt their own behavior to the cultural context, but they no longer see other cultures as threatening, wrong, or inferior. People in the acceptance phase can be thought of as “culture-neutral,” seeing differences as neither good nor bad, but rather as a fact of life.

Adaptation: During the adaptation phase, people begin to view cultural differences as a valuable resource. Because differences are seen as positive, people consciously adapt their behaviors to the different cultural norms of their environment.

Integration: Integration is the last stage in one’s journey away from ethnocentrism. In this stage, people accept that their identity is not based in any single culture. Once integrated, people can effortlessly and even unconsciously shift between worldviews and cultural frames of reference. Though they maintain their own cultural identity, they naturally integrate aspects of other cultures into it.

Redmi: FOMO genius

Majority of Cellphones purchases worldwide are triggered by two basic events: First is the celebration/festival/bonus/windfall which is the occasion for an indulgence into a luxury item. Second, is the need based emergency purchase due to your old device going Kaput or stolen. Unfortunately both of the purchase decisions require instant gratification which cannot be solved by precarious flash sales. So who is buying them and why? How is that Xiaomi (北京小米科技有限责任公司) a company that does not have any brand recall, advertising, store/physical presence or offer any warranties able to do $10mn worth of business in 4 seconds ever week? (100,000 phones @INR 6,000/- sold in 4 seconds every 2pm on Tuesday on Flipkart)

Like any Chinese product, specs wise it is at a 20-30% discount to similarly priced models but what is the nudge that is prompting a million Indians to risk their money without touching/feeling/testing the product? Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary had once said “passengers will crawl bullock-naked over broken glass to grab the cheapest tickets”, but is cost the only driving factor for this mad rush?

6,000/- is a considerable sum in India and the online reviews (at the only authorized seller website) is quite pessimistic. Almost everybody is complaining of the battery life issue and heating problem. Major problem in India where there are not many avenues to charge the cellphone and mobile is the exclusive means of employment and socializing for many Indian urban middle class. So a dead/discharged phone = loss of pay. A huge risk!

It is the classic case of FOMO (Fear of missing out), the entire purchase is converted into a game and 2pm every Tuesday people log on their screens in the hope/anticipation of getting lucky. It’s a strange buyer behavior I see where seemingly rational people are behaving impulsively. In such frenzy sales, the need for the purchase only arises AFTER the sale / event is announced.

I have known people who can spend the entire weekend indoors (watching youtube or wasting time). However the second you tell them that you have locked them in, they will have the urge of taking a stroll outdoors every 5-10 minutes. Similarly by denying people this phone for 6 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 56 seconds (and no guarantees even after that) the entire purchase decisions is converted into a binary groups of haves and have-nots.

Several people log on to the website just to get the thrill, some have bought multiple devices (for the entire family), some even call up friends and family to offer them the phones. Some even go to olx/quickr to resell and make some quick bucks. Essentially the flash sales has converted the consumers into not only adherent fans, but also (unpaid) sales agent, stockiest and retailers.

In the 80s the scooter were lopsided design (the engine/weight was not symmetrically distributed) as a result they were prone to accidents when braked hard. Even then my father loved his Bajaj Scooter…. Why he waited 5 years (and paid a bribe) to get one. Several Redmi fans simply yap endlessly about the difficult purchase process and several attempts they had to patiently make. The biggest call for fame for this phone is that it allows ordinary folks live the life of the trigger happy gun-slingers of the wild-west. They have a cute little trophy to prove that they are the fastest clicker amongst their peers.

Unemployment & Linkedin

Majority of the recruiters share two opinions:

Firstly all good talent in the world is employed and needs to be poached

Secondly unemployed youth are unemployed because of a reason. Often they are not as hardworking and as loyal as the recruits who were employed elsewhere.

Most of my friends who are in-between jobs feel like tomatoes of the grocery store. They were shiny much coveted professionals yesterday, but today they are perishing fast. The longer they stay away the harder it gets to find a decent paying job. Some people join professional training courses to buy time, others fabricate their own consultancy/advisory firms but most of them just don’t update their social media status.

Technology should enable us make more productive use of the time between jobs by allowing us to undertake round the world tours, spend time with family, pursue pet projects and simply restore the work-life balance. Instead smartphones & emails make us work 24X7 when we are employed and harder when we are between jobs.

Yes there are the rare few bold guys who like to be subtle by buying “Linkedin Premium Job seeker subscription” or being direct by putting a professional headline like “Actively seeking employment/job”, “Exploring options”, “available for new opportunities”, “in transition”, etc. are scared that this might be sending a desperate message across and is not the best way to brand oneself.

I really long for a day when a woman could take a 5 year long maternity break and yet could join back the workforce at ease.

Goodbye Autorickshaw| Bangalore

Bangalore traditionally has been the Mecca for autorickshaw drivers. Unlike other cities there was no hail-a-taxi, or human-powered vehicles to offer any competition. The public transport a centralized hub and spook design (all busses converging to Majestic) which is good for a small Tier-2 city that does not have enough people for a bus load full of Point-to-point solution. As a result the city center is jammed and dying, while the outskirts are booming. The metro service is a joke with no parking space the commuters near the station, feeder service for multi-modal transport for convenient long distance office commute.

The frequent evening showers, strict policing around bars/pubs, huge female/immigrant/temporary/young population who are averse to investing into assets make it an ideal place for auto drivers. The streets are crowded and parking space is so difficult to have that most residents prefer not drive. The rentals of Rs 13/-per km are highest in the country and the strict licensing policy means that there is a perpetual demand of travellers and high occupancy.

There are 1,40,000 registered autorichshaw plying in the streets everyday generating close to INR 10cr ($2mn)of revenue. Considering that the operating cost is the lowest amongst all mode of travels, most auto-richshaw drivers enjoy handsome profits.

However there is a very thin line between benefiting from a situation and over-exploiting it. Rude behavior, extorting excess fare and tampering the meter is rampant. It is impossible to hire a taxi at less than twice the normal fare during rainy season or peak office hours. My wife lives 2km from her office and there is an auto stand next to the apartment & her office. Yet it was so cumbersome to haggle with the drivers that she chose to buy a car instead (even though there was no space to park the second car)

Recently the radio taxi service is giving them tough competition. TaxiForSure offers 4km ride for as low as 49/- and 14/- per km later obliterating the economic advantage  of the underpowered, noisy, vibrating contraptions named auto. Not only the taxi service is more polite, reliable but they have real doors and windows to protect the riders from the street pollution and vagaries of environment.

However it is not a simple question of economics or newer technology replacing the old. It is a question of better customer service prevailing. There are countless examples where monopolies benefit from favorable market situations. However those who take undue advantage of the situation are dethroned with a quick and merciless death. Good PR and courteous operations is the key for long term survival of business.

Mystery of loaded muskets

This is in continuation of the previous post where it was asserted that although history glorifies the slaughters of a few generals/kings, the common population by large was peace loving. The soldiers (esp. green ones) would prefer to be killed rather than kill. The 24,000 loaded muskets from the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg are often cited as an example. A lot of people relate to unloaded muskets as peaceful nature of common soldier, but they might be misinterpreting the facts and ignorance of the reality of battlefields.

Both sides were using a popular British army rifle Enfield 1853 which had a .577 bore but the standard American ammo was .58 caliber. This might seem like a small difference, but after 2-3 fires with blackpowder fouling, hangfire or barrel injury was almost guaranteed. Springfield m1861 had a design flaw in the barrel which made it prone to misfire. The machining of gun parts in that era was poor and the shortage of weapons was so rampant that a lot of soldiers brought their own hunting rifles. Many makeshift workshops were created to meet the demand and there was hardly any quality control process. Add to it the stress/confusion of being fired upon, wear-N-tear of the battlefield, damp gunpowder and tedious loading mechanism; you create a concoction for failure. Smokeless gunpowder was not invented and guns often used to get jammed and barrels clogged if not maintained properly. With 46,000 casualties on the day of the battle it was easier for a soldier to salvage a new rifle than to repair one. Hence a large number of “defective” loaded guns would appear in the field.

Guns in those times produced a thick smoke cloud which impairs visibility and aim. Hence commanders would order their troops to follow a synchronized loading and discharge ritual. This way the smoke would clear by the time your troops are ready for next round. While smoke cloud from the synchronized discharge would make it harder for enemy to aim and allow you to gain a few inches (or half a mile of Picket’s Charge with a loaded weapon). So the best time to shoot the enemy is to wait till the smoke clears but not too long that the enemy commander gave orders to fire. As a result the incapacitated enemy was invariably holding a loaded gun/rifle with their hands around the trigger.

Fire, Cool, powder, bullet, ram, aim and shoot again was the sequence. Chances are that you could jam your perfectly well maintained weapon by loading the bullet first and the powder later. The muskets balls were replaced with a tighter fitting Minié/Minnie balls and if you rammed it wrongly or the manufacturing defect made bullet was too large to exit properly and there is no easy way to get it out. The only remedy was to dismantle the weapon, clean it and reassemble it. It is possible to do it in a foxhole but not in the open battlefield march of Gettysburg. The commanders insisted on soldiers continuing to load as a show of discipline and training. Everybody noticed if the neighboring comrade whom you are standing shoulder to shoulder was not firing and were inspired that you still continued to be part of the battle by loading and following orders.

The 95% time to load 5% time to shoot is true for somebody practicing in the safety of their backyard. When people get shot at and feel threatened they get into a kind of adrenaline rush frenzy. The time it takes to perform mechanical tasks like reloading which are part of the muscle memory gets shortened drastically while focus, aiming and precision tasks takes much longer. Commanders of that era accused  solders of over-aiming (reduced rate of fire due to spending too much time to aim). Hence there is a higher chance the person was aiming with a loaded rifle when he was shot.

Lastly one should not underestimate the fact that common foot soldier was underfed, did not have good boots/coat to protect against weather, underpaid and under trained. With poor living conditions, poor hygiene in camps, prevalence of disease, blood and suffering reduced the morale considerably. Desertion was prevalent and these poorly trained militia/farm boys (as the commanders used to mock them as) might not have maintained the weapon properly. Every time you fire black powder, the chances of barrel fouling increases. In the confusion of the battlefield, some would not have been trained enough to know that their weapon was not firing and would load it multiple times. Also who had time to fix a hangfire in the middle of the battlefield.

Whatever is the reason, it is only a speculation and there is no way to truly determine what happened that day. However there are several theories that point that loaded weapons were because of the culture and practices of the battlefield of the time. The loaded muskets are not a reflection of the psychological dilemma faced by a piece loving soldier who was ordered to shoot. If they wanted not to harm, they would have fired in the air rather than repeatedly loading their guns.

Peace loving humans

I held a very traditional view of human ethics and values. I believed:

Throughout history human life did not have any value. The armies and neighboring tribes used to raid, pillage and ransack anybody who could be subdued and without any repercussions. Capturing the weak and exploitation of slaves was rampant. Even the church used to glorify it by labeling it with “White Man’s burden” or “Holy Crusade”. Great Saga on conquests and battles were written with gory details on the pain, suffering and carnage these resulted in.

All these indicate the value of a human life that was not a kin was little (if not zero). However today when education has helped people identify & relate to others. Also the macho charm associated with killing has vanished because swords & horseback charges have replaced themselves with much easier to operate guns, ammo and explosives.

However recently I was challenged and presented with a few facts that made me question these beliefs. The consensus was that causing suffering and taking human life was only a means to achieve the ambition of a few generals. The common soldier (irrespective of whether from the winning or the losing side) would prefer not to kill even at the cost of their own death.

Firstly, the famous story of unfired muskets of Gettysburg (American Civil war, 1863). Of the 27,000 muskets that were recovered, 24,000 were loaded. Considering that it took between 30-90 seconds for a trained soldier to load a musket and pull of trigger to fire it, the fact points that many soldiers was reluctant to shoot/kill. To discount the theory that soldiers were incapacitated before he had a chance to discharge, then one should remember that 12,000 were loaded multiple times and amongst them 6,000 were loaded between three to 10 times. There is one famous musket that was loaded 23 times indicating that the soldier had infinite time and no intention what so ever to fire.

Secondly, a famous book “Men against fire” by General S.L.A. Marshall highlights the fact that during world war 2 only 15-20% of the soldiers actually discharged their weapons. Maximum carnage was a result of an artillery fire or long distance shooting where the soldiers could not see their enemy.

Thirdly there has been no historian or military general who has not ridiculed the green soldiers. The civilians (as many would mock them as) were often compared with mannequins and props whose only purpose seem to be to boost the morale of the enemy through getting killed, desertion or fleeing the battlefield. In the Battle of Cannae 216BC, Rome had amazed the largest army it had. Not only they outnumbered Hannibal 2:1 but also was better fed, trained and had the home territory advantage. Yet Hannibal Barca’s battle hardened army managed to surround them and massacred 75,000 of the green Roman Army in a direct hand to hand combat, while taking minimal losses himself.

The point being that history is glorified and often exaggerated accounts of a few men with the intention to inspire the masses; rally the troop and create lasting memories/impression. Like Bollywood movies they need to be larger than life and might not be the true reflection of cruelty in the society at large.