Death of a Gentleman (#12 of 52)

death of a gentleman

Expectations:Very high. Jarrod Kimber is one of the finest cricket journalists going around, everything he seems to write is a must read. It also deals with a subject I spend altogether too much time and enthusiasm on – cricket. I’d like to consider myself as more than an average fan who just watches what’s happening on TV, I’m one of those who knows all about what happens backstage, the movers and shakers of that world. Cricket statistics & trivia is one of the few areas in the world where I can genuinely pride myself on being better off then the average man on the street, a top 5 %iler who wants to be a top 1%iler. Being able to be the one who responds to silly cricket queries on social media is something I do derive pride from even if it’s not something I’d like to admit to myself very openly! While I had read about this movie when it was produced and released in the UK (?) about a year ago, I would’ve liked to watch it earlier. So when the guys at TVF did release it exclusive to their platform – I explored further. Not too expensive, a breeze transaction-ally (download app, make payment, watch) and here I was on a Saturday morning watching this on my cell phone.

I’ve already written about the impact of expectations on a movie without reaching any conclusion. But if I were to sum up my experience with this documentary of sorts in one word, it’d be ‘disappointment’. And I’m disappointed that I’m disappointed (if that makes any sense at all) because I really would have wanted to have come away richer for this experience or time invested, which did not happen. I’ll try to outline the reasons here:

Firstly, what’s the target audience for this documentary? Is it the casual cricket fans who watches whatever is going on on the television? He (or she) who has a predilection for the T20’s and IPLs over the real deal as Kimber and Collins would rather have it? If it is these folks then the movie probably serves its purpose – it’s an educational one. However for the hardcore fan, for those of us who follow cricket off the screen as well, who read about the boardrooms and the dressing rooms – this is a recap exercise. It essentially sums up what’s happened over a 3 year period listing out the usual problems and issues which have been debated to the moon and back – test cricket is dying, too much money in T20, generational shifts, corruption in the boards who govern world cricket…yada yada yada. This comes to us from the duo, from cricketers, from administrators and many many experts, broadcasters and others – the who’s who of cricket coverage really. Unfortunately though, there’s nothing new!

Secondly, and this is related to the first point – what exactly was Kimber & Collins’ role here? Were they the one’s responsible for the exposé as they call it? If that is the case, and it is thanks to them that we were able to read about the Big 3 takeover, the shamelessness of the likes of Srinivasan and Giles’ – then it doesn’t come out strongly enough. However it they’re just part of the universe of cricket journalists who’re deeply concerned about this and are choosing to highlight this – well (1) they’re a bit late and (2) again, they don’t tell us anything from behind the scenes that we don’t know.

Thirdly, the biggest issue I felt was that the movie was still too vague. I understand they started out with a vague idea of what to do – but, I feel you need a solid ‘problem statement’ as an MBA would call it. And I also understand this would keep evolving, but here it also seemed liked it kept changing. And so we went from Ed Cowan’s story (where we were led to assume he would be the pivot around which this story would revolve), about the joy’s of test cricket, to the evolution of T20 and why it’s more popular, to how revenue is distributed in cricket, to how cricket needs to expand and the importance of the Olympics, again back to boardroom politics in Dubai, to the Srinivasan-Modi war and then strangely back to Cowan. And some of it seems – excuse my presumptuousness or cynicism – pointless. I mean what were they hoping travelling to Dubai for a meeting shrouded in mystery from stakeholders who they’d already met before? I’m sure investigative journalism is based on hunches and arduous journey’s like this where you often find out something just because you’re in the right place at the right time, but there’re bound to be more failures in that method than successes. I don’t think what doesn’t work should be there just because it was shot, or a trip was taken.

The USP of this movie-documentary is the exclusive interviews with Giles Clarke and Srinivasan. Clarke comes off looking like a total tool, an absolute caricature of the rotten politician. Srinivasan starts of OK, but then gets more and more sillier with the kind of statements he make. Which is of course a function of what he’s done as well. Haroon Lorgat, David Becker, Lalit Modi also give their bytes to this exercise to give the exercise more credibility. Some of the vignettes and montages that they’ve put together are quite fabulous. And the editing, the cinematography and the feel of the movie is really professional and classy.

But there’re lots of misses as well. One day cricket is not mentioned. None of the other leagues mushrooming across the world, which by 2014 when this movie was being filmed were in existence and more – the Big Bash, the CPL, the Natwest Blast, the Ram Slam, the BPL at the least are even referred to or their impact in adding money independently of India to their game. There is very little effort to get a wider view of what some of the players who’ve been positively influenced by these tournaments around the world is who may never be able to make it as an ‘international’ test player. And why, why in this time and age does this get a release in India, the biggest cricket market almost a year after it was released outside when it’s eventual release isn’t even mainstream? A lot of bridge has flown under the water since then, and for sure the relevance has been diluted.

I really really like and respect Kimber for his works – he comes across an intelligent young man, with integrity and a genuine willingness to positively save the game. I just don’t think Death of a Gentleman is going to do this beyond educating a mass audience out there. And if that’s the aim, it needs better distribution – not slipping it in on a platform like TVF. 2 and a half stars then.

★★ and half

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Fan (#11 of 52)

I’ve taken a week to pen down my thoughts about Fan, allowing them to simmer and swirl in the extremely muddled cauldron of my brain. And I’ve gone through the whole path of emotions from pre-determined expectations, instantaneous spur of the moment reactions and validations of those to careful assessment and finally re-callibrating of your thoughts based upon what you hear from others and of course how others react to what you say. Which is the right reaction, the final one, the honest one? Or are they all independent and equally valid? That’s a discussion for another post.

It’s probably inappropriate to write about Fan without first clarifying your relationship with Shah Rukh Khan. Yes ‘relationship’ is the best word IMO because everyone who’s grown up in India over the last 3 decades has one for sure. It’s a cliche but probably an appropriate one – you can love him, hate him but it’s pretty darn difficult to ignore him. So SRK for me – has changed over the years to be honest. I didn’t grow up in a family with a Hindi movie watching culture so I missed all his early evolution and anti-hero bits. He was however always a peripheral presence in the background, one of the few filmstars as they used to call them in those days – that I could recognize. Appearing in commercials with Sachin doesn’t harm your popularity of course. I think Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was the first SRK movie I was really  aware of and watched. Today I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I liked it but at that time, I did. The same cool-ness that seems kitschy today actually did seem cool in that time and age! He also seemed like a smart person in the interviews that he did and whatever we saw of him off the silver screen as well. (Although as Will Smith says, those were simpler times where you could be ‘dumb in private’ unlike in the Age of Social Media where if you’re dumb, you’re actually ‘dumb in public’.) I never watched all his movies after that, but this was an age when teenagers start reading Bombay Times regularly to be able to speak about the really hep stuff at school. So Shah Rukh Khan grew on me I guess and I tolerated the Mein Hoon Naa’s by balancing them against the Swades’ and Chak De India’s of his world and adding a dollop of his off screen smart-alec persona for good measure as a positive.

I think I started losing him with the IPL – with the hundred things to not say and do which he does do – ‘I don’t like to stay with negativity’ (in context of why he wasn’t travelling with his team during a losing streak), the FakeIPLPlayer gossip, the obnoxious celebrations after the rare victory for his team, the arguments with security guards and this was now beefed up by the increasingly poor and safe movie choices he continued to make even as most of his colleagues tried, at least tried to turn over into a new leaf. And no, Ra.One isn’t quite trying. What you may say? How do poor movies make him a worse person? But it does because I’m judging the individual based on the movies he’s signing. So whether the movie is a hit or not, just choosing to do that inane blockbuster makes him less admirable as a person. Ergo I’m not an SRK-bhakt or as they used to be called, ‘fan’. Had he been an Uber Driver, he’d be a 2.5 basis on what I feel about him right now. So I believed I’d watch this movie objectively, without any inherent biases – related to the person at least!

My initial feeling while watching the movie and immediately afterwards was – Wow. Because this was a ballsy movie to do. I didn’t care so much for the Gaurav – I thought it was par for the course but I absolutely loved the Aryan avatar. To actually put yourself there, to be okay with those dialogues, to paint yourself as someone so imperfect is a bold move in itself. The willingness to poke fun at yourself, through self-deprecatory references about dancing in weddings, having a bad attitude, not being ready to say sorry come what may, to show in the heart of your heart – you’re just an average schmo with an attitude to boot? I can’t think of too many actors or stars who would have been okay with putting themselves in those shoes.

The writing is tight as well, the dialogues are never outrageously unrealistic. The chase sequences likewise – the one where he jumps out of the window or the one in Dubrovnik are spared of the Rohit Shetty-esque ridiculousness you come to expect these days. Were they really necessary to the story? Probably not, but they got your adrenaline pumping in the right way. The bit roles were lovely – Aryan’s secretary (special mention!), Gaurav’s parents, Gaurav’s ‘one-way’ girlfriend, even the cops in London. And the thought process is amazing – the meta-meta part where the original plays the impostor as if he’s playing an impostor himself is a killer touch, the eventual climax and the touches of middle class Delhi which are down to a T all make it very special.

But, and here comes the but – the movie has a problem. And it’s not a single incident either, it’s one which cuts across all throughout – for a movie based on the premise of being a realistic story (and this is within reason of course) – it has a lot of patchwork stuff which is unrealistic. The kidnapping story – where a lithe short guy ties up a 6 feet hero with his retinue hanging around at gunpoint was ludicrous, surely someone could have spent slightly more than effort putting that story together. Ditto for breaking into the the palace at Dubrovnik – with so many CCTVs around he was able to maintain his act for long enough to cause damage. Entering & escaping from his home in Mumbai (getting out of a regular cool cab at that!). Suddenly being able to track all movements, even phone calls to the last detail. Basically suddenly looking  very similar to the real deal when there’s a need to and appearing reasonably different when there’s a need to (the entire first half probably) is all very off putting in the larger scheme of things and which take away from potential greatness. The more I think about the movie, the more these points seem to stick and take away from the overall feel of things.

4 stars on exiting the movie hall, 3 stars when I actually think about it, 2 stars when I read the Vigil Idiot. But since we try our best to be authentic genuine human beings and because this is an extremely admirable effort if nothing else, I will go with my original feedback of 4 stars. Not a flawless movie though, this one is bound to polarise. And I really hope that’s okay.

★★★★

Cabbies of Gurgaon (inspired by Humans of New York)

Epiphanies while travelling in a cab thanks to what the cabby innocuously happens to say is quite the cliche in movies all around. Next on that list is having conversations with cabbies in a new city to gain some tremendous cultural insight which is a trope which every travel writer and his mum must have used. I’ve always considered myself to be reasonably experienced in self-assessment (what with HR and all) and therefore am willing to pronounce that I’ve never been shy of using cliches myself. So when you have an interesting cab journey, in a city where you’ve now stayed for over a year, which brings back to the surface not new thoughts, but some solid old ones – it does call for an occasion to record them.

Ravindra was particularly chatty Uber driver I met today – on a side note, surely Conversations with Cabbies (I should TM that for future use) has been a huge byproduct of the Uber age? A smart PR manager should actually use this to show how mobile based radio-cab services are actually creating more isolated interactions between two different worlds than ever before. Think about this – as a yuppie (I know it’s a 90’s word but there really is no better substitute) or even DINKY living in an Indian metropolis – you would interact with your maid, your cook, maybe your local kirana delivery boy, if you’re fancy – your drivers and gardeners as well, perhaps your office boy if you’re a nice guy, outside of ‘your kinda people’. The rest would probably be everyone in your world, whom you meet in the rarefied cocoons of your office buildings, penthouses and condominiums. So if you Uber to work everyday (there – it’s become a verb already) you potentially meet two new people from beyond your usual spheres every single day. Wow, I should pitch to the next VC something around CabDrivers of Delhi a la Humans of New York and then release a coffee table book on it not too many moons later 😉

Anyways, back to Ravindra. The more I think about this, the more I realise the story I want to right is not really about Ravindra. I wanted to write one of those cool Me: Him posts, but that would be only transcribing a conversation to paper which has limited application. So the best attempt is to understand Ravindra’s world in all humility. This is a chance to personify a stereotype in flesh and blood.

Ravindra is from Dhaulpur near Gwalior and exceptionally chatty. Ravindra has stayed in Mumbai for a few years before this, however while passing by the ubiquitous tapri near the offices that dot Gurgaon he can’t help but mention how girls here smoke and drink and wear anything they please even at this hour (which is before sunset for the record). Ravindra maintains that this would never happen in his village, which when pressed he says in a good thing. Ravindra isn’t too keen on women working or being seen outside, he feels the shobha of the fairer sex is in being indoors. He agrees that it may not be wrong to be seen outside here – it is the parampara  of the place after all but surely not something he thinks is right. Ravindra hears me out when I tell him the girls here have an option to do whatever they want whereas the one’s in his village don’t – has anyone asked them? – but doesn’t seem to be convinced. Oh and not related, but Ravindra generously peppers his speech with expletives.

Ravindra must have traveled from Rajasthan to Mumbai in his late teens. After working in an ice-cream shop and a garment shop (maybe) near a railway station in Mumbai he would do odd jobs picking up stuff across the city in one of those tempos probably unique to this part of the world and therefore still remembers the roads in Mumbai. He learnt driving a four wheeler also from his boss there. Ravindra loves vada pao, he would like to eat one every evening at 7 and then at 11 so that you don’t need to have dinner once you go back to your room. Ravindra loved going to the bars in Mumbai and getting drunk, he doesn’t however see any point in spending money there complaining about how the prices were jacked up. Ravindra then drove a truck across the country for 6 years.  This he liked, the freedom to stop at any point of time, eat anywhere he wanted and spend his money, his way. Ravindra didn’t like the food in Orissa, preferring to cook his own food when he drove down to the east coast rather than eat the salty rice which was available there. Ravindra doesn’t agree with me that driving an air conditioned cab is a step up from this. He’s at the mercy of the app which decides when it wants to blink and he doesn’t necessarily earn much more. As a truck driver he would earn around 30 k per month.

Ravindra is curious to know how much people like me earn in a month. He sees my address in his app and asks how much rent I pay for my room – must be at least 7 to 8 K he thinks. Ravindra hopefully doesn’t see my expression which is a mix between sheepishness, embarrassment for semi-deserved privilege and bemusement. Ravindra doesn’t fortunately need to worry about this though. Ravindra family got ahold of him and got him married a year and a half ago. Ravindra has a baby already and his family stays in Rohini, in a house of his own, so no issue of rent. Ravindra’s brother got him this sedan and forced him to settle down in Delhi, but he’s not too enthused about this. This may be because Ravindra feels that a lot of customers in these cabs are a pain in the ass. One night sometime ago Ravindra had a pick up from a mall or a discotheque in Noida. He asked the guy about who was with him, and was told there is a ‘madam’ but it would be no problem. They were both extremely drunk and started making out in the back seat of the cab. Ravindra does not really like this. He also justifies it as an inappropriate thing to do because he may look at them in the rear view mirror and that may distract him leading to potential accidents. So when the girl feels pukish, Ravindra stops on the side of the road where she can take a break. Ravindra knows they’re paying via a mobile wallet so he gets in the cab, swipes ‘end ride’ and drives off leaving them stranded at the side of the road without a word. Ravindra is wary of night pickups after this. We think about our safety travelling in cabs but Ravindra points out that the cab drivers are no safer. 2 number ke log which is probably Delhi slang for Africans or ‘blacks’ are especially dangerous it seems. They may even eat you up, Ravindra knows the story of an Uber driver who was taken to a desolate corner of Delhi for a drop and never heard of again. When his car owner called Uber and asked him to trace the vehicle, half of a corpse was located. Ravindra also knows of an Ola driver who was shot recently. So Ravindra wraps up by 8 pm and heads home as fast as he can.

Ravindra though is at pain to point out he isn’t a bad person. Yesterday a girl, ‘a nice girl’ had knocked on Ravindra’ window just as he was heading home. She asked for some help. Ravindra was suspicious and asked for her story. This 16-18 year old girl had lost her purse when she dozed off on the bus and now didn’t have money to go home. She asks Ravindra for a drop in the direction he’s travelling in. Ravindra offers to drop her home as well when she was getting off but she refuses not wanting to trouble him. Ravindra even gives her a hundred bucks telling her she can return it later. She calls today asking him to meet her where she would pay him back but Ravindra tells her she can keep it, if he ever comes to her locality he will call her back. Ravindra explains how so many people could have taken advantage of the girl, but he didn’t. Ravindra hears out my gyaan in peace about how he needs to change his attitude slowly. He doesn’t seem to excited when I tell him that his kids will grow up over here and therefore they may find these parampara of the city more appealing to the ones he lives by.

So what do I take away about Ravindra except for a list of thoughts which can’t be categorized under a single stereotype? Is he right, wrong or just from a different world? Is it as much for me to accept and respect his point of view as it is for him to acknowledge and respect mine? Have I and my kind taken over his world or are he and his kind moving into mine? And most importantly, how many stars should I give Ravindra?

Eric Schmidt & Jonathon Rosberg – How Google Works (#7 of 26)

So another non-fiction management book which landed on my lap courtesy it being ‘gifted’ at work.

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This is a nice anecdotal,  breezy (I overuse that word, I know) look at what happens at one of the most admired, respected and aspirational organizations in the New World. How they deal with people, problems, innovation, decision making and beyond. It is also, without there being two ways about it – a hagiography of an organization (is that even possible?) which wants to eventually get us to stand up and clap for, bow down to and salute Google for how wonderful they are.

There are two ways to approach a book like this I feel. Once is as a ‘nice to know’ kind of stance – it’s interesting to know what happens in this organization that rules our world, what are the kind of issues they face and admire how cool and wow they are.

The other way would be to question everything and try to draw something out of it to apply in your world. And for that, this may not be the best work. Schmidt and Rosberg, despite their best attempts, are biased. They frequently border on contradicting themselves. Their fall back options are to hire really smart people, give them space, and trust the founders.  A heady cocktail which when topped of with being in the right industry and the right time, opens up a lot of doors which the rest of the world doesn’t have. So if you’re looking for answers to how the same thing can be done in x, or change the terms of their anecdotes – you may not necessarily get those answers or it may seem more frustrating.

My 2 cents – read the book as without expecting to go back without great insights into the running of the modern day organization. There is definitely enough in there for something, somewhere to have applications in your world as well. For the rest of the time, let’s all salute Google for all the great things they’ve been able to do – with a nice pinch of salt – and appreciate that it’s a different world.

Entertainment Quotient : ★★★
Education Quotient : ★★★
Readability : ★★★★

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Not getting into the whole book review for now, this is more Knowledge Management for the chapter I found most interesting:

Talent – Hiring is the most important thing you do

Google’s notorious focus on hiring is well known. This chapter from How Google Works was therefore full of observations that will make you go in that order
(1) That isn’t how it works – challenging conventional wisdom
(2) That makes a whole lot of sense -making it intuitive
(3) Wait a minute, does it now? – practical cold facts kicking in

A chapter run through follows:

Jonathan Rosenberg’s interview at Google is the pivot for the chapter upfront. And its a lovely interview question he gets – ‘teach me something complicated that I wouldn’t know‘. I personally always loved sitting in on esoteric functional interviews as well, because even as a supporting/secondary interviewer I would always learn something and come out of the room smarter. That doesn’t typically happen when you’re scratching over an Excel sheet.

Hiring is the most important thing top managers would do and should be doing. They draw parallels to sports coaches who will never compromise on trying to get the best player into the team. Training can only work to a limit. No amount of strategy can substitute for talent.

Another parallel is to academia. Rarely are professors fired. But its very very tough to get in and become a tenured one. Also these decisions are made by committees – never by 1 person – an employee isn’t hired just for a role so why should he only be signed off by a reporting manager. He’s going to work with a lot of people other than the manager as well more often than not. The hierarchical model of hiring therefore doesn’t make sense – hiring through peer interviews, or committees. It also prevents managers from ignoring potential candidates who may be smarter than they are and usurp their fiefdoms.

The Herd Effect

Great people (or smart people) attract great people. Put enough great people together and they will *cough cough* ‘create magic’. I think this is more likely to work in some industries than others – in most places you also need executioners and too many ‘smart creatives’ as they call it together may not always get the job done. But point taken. If You’re Brilliant, We’re Hiring.  Get smart people on board whenever you find them and make room for them. They’ll find a way to get work done.

I also assume by smart these guys mean people who’re not just eccentric high IQ guys but high IQ as well as well rounded social creatures.

Passionate people don’t use the word

This was very relate-able and something that gnaws at me from within on many a quiet night. If someone really loves something, cares about something and has made the effort to become an authority on it – that is a great positive signal there. I remember an IIM interview which was just about pulaav  and really that symbolizes this perfectly. They point out that very often these extracurricular passions can also have great benefits because passionate people try to look for ways to bring their passion in everywhere. It also shows I guess – that you can really care about something if the situation presents itself

Hire learning animals

Learning Agility or Growth Mindset or as someone I know calls it – curiosity, is the other key factor with intelligence & passion to be looking for. The reason for this is specialisation is a ticking time bomb. You may be really really good at something, but there’s a very good chance that suddenly that ability may no longer be relevant. Okay sure, the skills behind that ability may still be relevant – but you’re going to need to reinvent yourself to understand how to re-deploy them. Or basically go further back and use the intellect you used to learn those skills to now learn something else.

How do you find identify who is a learning animal and who isn’t however is not very clear. Pick a recent trend – did you expect this? What did you predict right and what did you get wrong? Why? Okay, surely there’s a better way to pick this trait. Apparently this is supposed to tell you if evolve your thinking and learn from your mistakes. But point taken. Learning Animals is the game you hunt.

The LAX test

Next after Intelligence, Passion and Learning Agility is umm..character? Someone who’s nice apparently – they’ve taken the centuries old example of the guy who’s nice to the receptionist/secretary/cleaning lady winning the race eventually. Fine, I mean I’d love to have people like that around me but sometimes the smartest, most passionate people who’re also great learning animals are absolute pricks. I’m not sure that’s always a dealbreaker. An unethical guy or a cheat – yes. Someone who’s just generally an asshole? Naah, maybe I’d manage with one of them.

The last factor and this is a bit of a cop-out is someone who is interesting, which is where this whole LAX test comes in. Okay this isn’t phrased very well, but essentially a person who is ‘interesting’ is what they’re trying to say. Again, yes for some roles (a C-suite one for instance) and no for others (does it really matter if your best accountant is someone you can’t spend an evening at an airport with?). And on top of that they’ve clubbed the veritable who’s who from HR Jargon Central as Googlyness which consists of – here goes: ambition, drive, team orientation, service orientation, listening and communication skills, bias to action, effectiveness, interpersonal skills, creativity and integrity. Right sure. That was a frax right up there with my attempts to dance at any social gathering.

Insight that can’t be taught

Step right out of Googlyness to saying its okay if your colleague is one you can’t sit down to have a beer with. Huh? This is about diversity – in thought not just in numbers. How different people, different backgrounds, different experiences all add up. There’s a lesson in here for managers who’re trying to build a team and how they should be looking at sourcing people. For now however it’d be a relief to just look beyond ‘gender’ when we talk diversity.

Expand the aperture

Be bold in sourcing. Feeding from all the points above, a smart creative as they call it will pick up the skills needed even if he doesn’t have an exposure to them before. So take risks and expand your sourcing universe. Look at people’s trajectory – how quickly people grow. Yes you may not get a stable tried and tested performer, but there’s the chance of hitting the jackpot with an extraordinary superstar who may do something unthinkably brilliant. And HR Heads can come from law partners, McKinsey consultants and whoever is smart. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that the example chosen was an HR Head and not a Finance or a Legal Head [:-|].

Everyone knows someone great

Use referrals as your premier sourcing channel! Everyone knows someone great. Then why isn’t it everyone’s job to recruit that one great person? Recruiters should manage the process but everyone should be involved in hiring. Easier said than done you say? Well, the answer is as usual – measure it. Count referrals, interviews, how quickly feedback forms are filled , enthusiasm to attend recruiting events. Everyone’ll fall in line.

Interviewing is the most important skill

No you don’t become a good interviewer by just rising to the top. Conducting a good interview needs preperation. Do your homework. Make the interview seem like an intellectual discussion. What books are you reading right now? Don’t ask about experiences, ask what was learnt from them. What surprised you about…? How did you pay for college? What’d I see if I looked at your browser history?

Scenario questions are best suitable for senior candidates, generic answers to them are give-aways. Brainteasers are elitist – but hey, it’s okay to be elitist in hiring. The important thing is to make sure your brainteasers aren’t already public knowledge – otherwise you’ll have an host of candidates who pretend to crack them while behaving like they heard them for the first time! 😀 And candidates who ask good questions are surprise surprise – good candidates.

More conventional wisdom : The more you practice about interviewing, the better you’ll get at it. Grab every opportunity you can. For organizations, make it a privilege to interview, not a chore.

Schedule interviews for thirty minutes

Long interviews aren’t necessarily better – better to schedule short ones to cut your losses short. If it’s a good interview, you can always extend it. And beyond a certain number, more interviews don’t help. 5 is a good number.

Have an opinion

The goal of an interview is to take a stand. So encourage that. Intermediate cop-outs should be discouraged. The language of your rating scale can play a role in that at a subconscious level. This is really easier said than done, especially in a committee where you will always have to explain your stance if it’s even slightly different.

Friends don’t let friends hire (or promote) friends

This came up right up front but whom you work with matters more than whom you work for.  So no manager gets to ‘build’ a dream team as he wants, however you swing it. And that’s why hiring decisions should be made by committees. Beyond a size of 5 their incremental value goes down, but the point is it shouldn’t be a unilateral decision. Google has a hierarchy of commitees in fact culminating with a committee of 1 – one of the top honchos. A hiring docket – based on data, not opinion – keeps getting built for every candidate which succinctly keeps adding up the information needed to be allow the eventual committee of one to make a decision in – if he so desires – 120 seconds.

While the sentiment is appreciated this does seem like a lot of paperwork for what is essentially a tick mark activity. I mean is this super important person going to turn down what an hierarchy of committees have recommended (unless he can make some sense of the data which no one else has)? Or will the hierarchy ever allow someone there’re not sure about to reach this level?

Urgency of role isn’t sufficiently important to compromise on quality of hire

Yep. Neva eva. Speed up the process. Restrict time for interviews – half an hour. Restrict number of interviews – 5. (All of these figures arrived at scientifically of course). Mandate prompt interview feedback. Make your dockets better to allow faster decisions. But if you’re not sure, you’re not sure. H1 error – missing a good candidate is better than an H2 error – hiring a wrong candidate.

Disproportionate Rewards

People who do well are paid more. Egalitarianism has no place in today’s world if you want to breed an organization of superstars. Cristiano Ronaldo may be paid more than half of his team put together. That’s cool. And this shouldn’t be restricted by level either. If a minion does something earth-shattering, reward him not his boss. Smart Creatives aren’t swayed by or going to make decisions based on salary. Just pay them what they work, they’ll care more about good work and the chance to bring their pets to office.

This is again running around to catch your own tail. If pay doesn’t matter then why be so fussy about pay? Recognition may be as important as compensation here. And I’m not entirely convinced that smart high performers are not petty or fussy about pay. The urge to compare yourself with your peers is a primeval one which extends from kindergarten students to CEO’s in their ivory towers.

Trade the M&Ms, keep the raisins

This isn’t really a hiring thing per se, but what they’re trying to say is to allow your best people – your M&Ms – to move to bigger and different challenges. Don’t push out people whom you can’t work with or who aren’t working out to someone else in the organization. Smart people will want to move on to other pastures, its up to you to help them find green ones internally.

If you love them, let them go

And there still may be some people who decide to go beyond what you can offer. Convince them to stay, offer them genuine advice on how you can help them do so (looking at all of you startup founders). Sometimes they can take some more time, and that’s time they can (hopefully!) still contribute effectively to you. And relations take time to develop, so someone stepping out of the organization may still be an ally for life. Leverage the power of alumni networks.

Firing Sucks

So don’t hire bad. Bell curves are passe as everyone and their dog has told you by now. If you really think the bottom 10% of your organization maaay be dispensable, it probably is – ideally there should be no one in your team whom you wouldn’t fight tooth and nail to retain. And final lesson, anyone who enjoys firing or keeps that as an option to deal with thing is an issue in himself!

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The Jungle Book (#10 of 52)

junglebookUnlike most Indians of my generation, I was smitten by the old Jungle Book animation movie from 1967 (aside – holy shit, how could it have been that good in 19 effing 67!!!) and not so much the TV cartoon series of the 90’s. The more I think of that movie as an adult, and I spent some time watching YouTube videos of it before seeing the new one – the more I am convinced it was truly a modern masterpiece – something both adults and children would love to watch multiple time, with humour, names, music and a storyline which will bear ripe paw-paw fruits on repeated viewing.So it was difficult to not compare everything about the new Jungle Book through a prism of nostalgia. I thought some things worked wonderfully, others not so.

The story first : the set up was wonderful – the context, the immediate trigger with the drought, life with the wolf-pack, the back story to Sher-Khan (not just a villainous tiger), why the elephants need to be respected, right up to Akeela (or should it actually be Akela) being swatted away? It’s then that I thought things got a bit rushed. I remember Kaa being a more grey character than the villain she is here and with more than a blink and miss it role. Baloo’s friendship with the man-cub was based on a nice premise of the lazy, conniving bear – but the process of becoming such fast friends (to the extent that Bagheera has to tell Baloo “You’re the only one he’ll listen to”) was rushed and didn’t seem genuine. Likewise the part with King Louie in the ruins;  I loved the change from the orangutan (?) to a Gigantopithicus but his overall pitch didn’t come across as very well thought of. Also why’d he destroy his own home blundering about so carelessly? And then the climax – thought the entire plot contrived by Mowgli to beat Sher Khan was too complicated and frankly a bit confusing. I understand he wanted to have a dead tree breakdown but what the man cub was doing with ropes and pulleys for 5 minutes is beyond what the TG (kids < 12 I assume) would have been able to make sense of. And of course, I missed the vultures!

What however stuck out even more for me was the ending. Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve got no issues with him continuing to hang out in the jungle with his pals and I’m sure there’s a message of inclusion to be passed on there. What I was a bit disappointed by was that there wasn’t any reason given for the change of thought from ‘needing to be with your own’ to ‘it’s okay, you can continue to stay here’. Was the only reason Sher Khan’s being after his life? Especially after accidentally setting the entire jungle aflame, thought it would have been a much more logical message that the man cub can’t continue to stay here despite the best of intentions.

The other gripe I have is with the music – the stand out from the old movie even years and years later. And while this is not even positioned as a happy, fun musical in any way – they’ve still used the songs, just not used it right which is a travesty of many kinds. The Bare Necessities is a background score for parts of the second half, but the rendition in the river is meh. Definitely not going to blow away a first time listener I assume. King of the Swingers started out of no-where, it was almost like the director was thinking ‘I have this great song which I simply must fit in over here’. And Trust In Me came in at the latter half of the credits at which stage you might not have had it either. Also considering the endless opportunities, the credits were a bit of a downer as well.

That’s not to say it’s not a fun ride. It is. The animation & 3D is really incredible and adds value – the animals don’t seem like caricatures in any way but there’re more like the tiger from Life of Pi – surreally real. The changes to the story ensure there’s a bit of suspense in it even for jaded veterans. And nostalgia does it bit as well. The critical review is what the ‘fanboy’ in me which I discovered over the course of watching the movie is feeling!

3 stars for the Jungle Book – watch it encumbered of any benchmarks and you might give it  some more!

★★★

Kapoor & Sons (#9 of 52)

Kapoor and Sons – Since 1921 was one of those films which seems to do everything right in the build up to the release. Fun trailer with laugh-loud moment prominent – check. Ensemble cast with hot hunks and babe – check. Superhit chartbusting item number – check. A bit of all genres to appeal to everyone – check. I’m a bit wary of such movies these days. Slick trailers and a nice build up seems to be something every producer worth his salt has mastered, however the correlation with a good movie still remains on the lower side. Recent case in point – Wazir. So despite watching the movie a couple of weeks post release, and generally positive sentiments floating around – I had my ‘subconscious-bias-meter’ for lack of a better term, turned right up.

kapoor-sons-heres-the-jolly-motion-poster-0001I needn’t have worried. Kapoor and Sons is one of those rare movies that does really seem to achieve everything. Coming from a major production house, you also expect big budget movies to have some parts which require you to suspend disbelief, which you may roll your eyes over, which will pander to the masses – see Dil Dhadakne Do from last year for reference.

The premise is the old family drama, everyone with a secret to hide – in a North Indian family in South India. Tension grows, stretched to a point till it snaps. And then comes the denouement, refreshingly free of melodrama. It’s a bit of a rich boy movie with circumstances and issues which do appear metropolitan in nature – as opposed to a Dil Dhadakne Do which is a rich boy movie without any intellectual pretensions at all. I felt similarities to Dil Chahata Hai in the overall tone, dialogues, character issues and their handling  – may be a bit too soon to become a mass hit.

I also finally got to see the great new pretty-boy Fawad Khan properly. Has acted well, but Siddharth Malhotra is definitely prettier. Alia Bhatt is worth taking into movies just for her infectious laughs and smiles. Rishi Kapoor had more make-up than necessary I guess, but that’s not necessarily taking anything away from a thoroughly lovable character.

Fun movie. Touching movie. No loopholes and WTF moments-waali movie. Definite watch waali movie. 5 star waali movie. (Not an all time classic, but really nothing to point out as lacking here either.

★★★★★

Reid Hoffman et al – The Alliance (#6 of 26)

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So yes, I ended up reading a management/professional self-help genre book after a very long time, primarily for reasons mentioned above 😀

The complete title of the book is The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. The premise of the book and consequently its first few chapters are wonderful. Corporations across the world have been living a charade with their employees. Everyone knows there’s no job which comes with any guarantees, the ultimate aim of any organization is not to give you a comfy life but to make money for the promoter/shareholders. Yet we keep speaking about being a family at work, spouting warm sweet nothings to maintain a facade of great commitment to each other. What if we could avoid this and be honest and upfront. Where organizations and managers tell employees honestly when they don’t see a future and likewise employees also are open about any ambitions beyond the company.thealliance2

While this utopia makes sense, in reality its easier said than done. The authors give a bevy of reasons about why both sides should ‘honour the alliance’ – but honestly, I don’t see it working. From an organizations perspective – an employee, however valuable he or she may be – is always likely to be one of many. And while you’d like to do your best to retain and stay on good terms with everyone, it may not really be possible. The potential dent (to your employer brand, morale, performance) made by a single exit or unhappy employee is unlikely to be a large enough incentive to play fair with everyone. Especially when it is often impossible to play fair with everyone, the pie is limited and there will always be someone jiska katega. The balance of power or the leverage is too skewed.

For an employee, the reasons to trust the organization will honour ‘the alliance’ are similarly low. Who knows when the next recession and impending layoffs will hit, the leadership will change and a new generation of ass-kissers will get promoted, a merger happens leading to a restructuring throwing your closely honed plans off track – and when this happens who will play fair? Also in a world with the huge number of opportunities around, you’re unlikely to become ‘unemployable’ yourself because you ‘broke the alliance’.

Where this concept would probably prove useful is (a) with top management employees, who’re likely to care more about their reputation and have to be more choosy which organizations they join and (b) with employees who’re extreme superstars in their domains – who’re always going to be in demand, which is where the whole Silicon Valley best practice comes in.

The rest of the book is filled with suggestions on how to ‘align’ the organization and the employees goals, how to ‘understand’ each others motivations and so on.Which is again based on questions like who’re 3 people who have inspired you and list down 3 qualities of there’s, opening up about events that have influenced you in your life and general gyaan along these lines. And there’s a section on alumni networks which I found really good, both in concept and in feasibility – however it doesn’t seem to be a core thrust of the book.

So yes, the Alliance is a great concept but call me cynical – it’s going to take really nice people and a world with everything in plenty to actually make it work. A breezy read with food for thought however as someone said on Amazon – might have been better suited as a 10 page HBR article.

Entertainment Quotient : ★★
Education Quotient : ★★★
Readability : ★★★★