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Like someone said… there are always three sides to everything – yours, theirs, and the truth.
Over the last few days, all the events happening around me have annoyed me to no end about how people have lost basic sense of rationality, humanness, and morality. Countless events to substantiate this but here’s a few…
Former Nestle CEO
Boston Marathon incident
Iraq drone program
Stepping back, I feel the only thing that distinguishes humans from other God’s creations (aka animals, plant life, and everything between the sky and underground) is this very “humanness” – defined by compassion for fellow humans, and respect for mankind.
Our lives now center around economic well-being optimized for individual prosperity at the expense of societal progress.
On May 8, I would have clocked in a full 365 days as a member of the Firm (what is internally referred to as 1+0 in the firm). And it has got me thinking of how my journey has been thus far… so over the next couple of weeks, I will share my reflections from within.
What started out as a dream job has turned into finding my true passion… a calling which combines
(1) working with the best minds to solve some of the complex organizational problems,
(2) pushing for professional excellence with independence respected by others,
(3) realizing the profound ability to connect deeply with clients, and
(4) adding a sense of meaning to my life and those of others around me.
As consultants, there is definitely a strong sense of responsibility to the organizations we serve and also the stakeholders within (employees from the front line to the C-suite, shareholders, customers, suppliers, and regulators included). Few lessons I have learned in the course of solving some challenging topics has been:
1. Do not lose sight of the “human element” in consulting work. This human element approach gets me to a fundamental principle: We should not view a human as an economic unit and then endeavor to find the most economically viable solution viewing all problems from the angle of the economic effect and cost. And the basic premise of “unlimited wants, limited resources” has to be corrected since most of the informed people in the world have realized by now that the resources are ample enough to completely satisfy the basic needs of all.
2. Respect for clients and colleagues. We often take this for granted but it is important to time and again acknowledge the roles each one brings to solving a problem, and their contributions. It is not to discount the fact that some people are difficult to work with but the positive side of that experience is the opportunity you get to master your people skills. Needless to say, there are more people who have been great colleagues/ clients than not so it absolutely is essential to be able to acknowledge their good support/ work and say a simple “Thank you!” every so often.
3. Be aware of your long-term goals and continuously calibrate to stay on track. This is one place where everyone can easily chart their own path independently and with much ease. When I reconnect with peers who joined the firm at the same time, I am yet to find someone who’s had exactly the same path as I did and yet everyone’s reasonably comfortable with the way their path has turned out to be. Speaking for myself, I was fortunate to have found the right mentors and managers that allowed me to decide where I placed my next step on this career ladder.
4. More tenure means more problem solving. Some people have a notion of consulting that as one gets tenured, the farther away one moves from the actual problem solving. That definitely doesn’t seem to be the case at McKinsey. Every client study I have been on, the leadership (Partners and Directors) have been as actively engaged and have provided immense value to problem solving with their continuous insights. Often times, the Director on the study would have had more knowledge about the client organization than the client leaders themselves given their long relationship in serving a particular client.
5. Know your strengths and also your development needs. In the past I would have been hesitant at sharing my “development needs” (aka weaknesses) but at the firm, I have found it so easy to be vocal about that so that people around me can provide me opportunities to better myself on those dimensions. At the same time, it has helped highlighting my strengths (I admit, it’s hard to talk about your strengths while controlling the brag buttons) to be able to help bring those to life in client engagements.
6. Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize. There is so much you can do at the firm that is beyond the humanly possible limits. As I initially learned the hard way in business school, the firm experience thus far has given me lessons in ‘Prioritization 201′ through which I have found it easy to prioritize what I do at the firm based on two broad dimensions – alignment with my passion, and contribution to my career goals.
7. Manage your time and have control over it. Might sound odd but given my habit of trying to stay punctual (in my world, it means always before time) and the multitasking I end up doing (sometimes of my own choosing), I find it very important to not only manage my time well but also control my time. This is something I observed in a few partners at the firm who come out as being in total control of their time and priorities. One tactical implementation of this principle (sounds silly) is to always schedule one-on-one meetings with colleagues/ clients/ friends as you calling them since you don’t end up waiting for them to call you otherwise.
I have had different touch points that got me really curious to learn about the education sector here in the United States…
1. My business school work with companies serving in this space offering tools and resources
2. My discussions with people from work (consultants doing pro-bono work in this space, family/ friends working in this sector)
3. My own decision process as a parent of a soon-to-be-schooled kid
My inquiry process started with a simple question on – “How do I find which school district is the best performing in my area?”
Three fundamental problems surfaced…
A. Defining the school district boundary is arbitrary… it changes every few years based on the “subjective judgment” of the education administrators in the government. One prime example: the city of Chicago has one of the largest school districts in the US with a wide range of school performance and demographics. A few years earlier, some of the high-income neighborhoods worked out something whereby there are these pockets of school districts geographically within the large Chicago school district to ensure their high performance is not lost in the averages.
B. Funding and performance is a vicious never-ending cycle… Schools perform better with high funding, funding is high when the property taxes are high, taxes are high when the real estate is high, real estate is high when people are willing to pay more to buy/ rent a property because of the school district, school district is attractive since the school(s) within are better performing. And so the vicious cycle continues. Once a bad school, always a bad school is how it turns out to be.
C. Using technology to improve assessments and align them with the learning development goals… two sub-problems here include schools taking unethical routes to show higher scores (read the recent news article on how the education administrator in Atlanta city colluded with schools to alter student responses to increase scores) and then technology capabilities not sufficient to provide a timely feedback on student performance even though the level of data gathered is the most advanced it can get (e.g., schools collect some amazing level of data on assessments but then it takes almost a year to document that data, analyze it and understand potential implications for student learning plans by when the student has already graduated to the next class).
During my conversations, all that I have heard of work happening in this sector is on problem C which is an enabler problem… but no attention is given to even acknowledge the other two problems (A and B) and then go about solving it. It’s a matter of will I suppose… where there’s a will, there’s a way!
More on what tactical lessons I learnt in choosing a school in one of my future posts.
I recently came across a short article about the economic benefits of an Islamic economic system. This was in Money Week and authored by Dr. Peter Frankopan titled “What RBS and the banks can learn from early Islam“.
The disastrous results released by RBS earlier this year were bad from a financial perspective – a loss of £5.2bn in 12 months. But they were even worse morally.
Contained in the 318-page report, and listed in the unfortunately named section “Highlights”, are a catalogue of sins, including fines for fixing Libor, for mis-selling “structured collar products by the cartload and the systemised scandal of PPI [payment protection insurance]“.
If the sentence that follows is not meant as a joke, it is certainly a brave one: “RBS is committed to serving its customers well and helping them realise their ambitions.” Who knew that those ambitions included being ripped off?
Nevertheless, the report does try to seek penance for past deeds. This been a chastening year, it says. A time “to put right past mistakes.” RBS is lucky it was not in the banking business around the time of the birth of Islam – or it would have found things much more uncomfortable than a light grilling by the Financial Services Authority and the series of humiliating fines and provisions. The bankers would not have been losing their bonuses; they’d have been losing their hands.
One of the great secrets of early Islam was the store that was set by justice and on fairness in commerce. It was significant that the spiritual revelations delivered to Muhammad promised a new way of doing things, a way that protected private individuals as well as businesses from being exploited by those with access to credit. Of particular concern was the issue of the principles of lending money – a topic that appears repeatedly in the Koran.
The customers of RBS and the other banks implicated in the current scandals would recognise the sins that Islam’s holy book warns about. Those who set out to exploit their customers by excessive borrowing charges are no different to “those controlled by the devil”, records the Koran.
Now for the finale… having understood what the problem is, what the current system is doing to amplify this problem… time to get a glimpse of what a to-be state of the economic system should be.
Amongst many other details of the futuristic economic system, I see 5 key pillars:
1. Understanding that world’s resources are in abundance and not scarce as proposed by economists like Adam Smith
2. Recognize the problem of poverty and solve it to offer home, health, and food security as a fundamental right of all human constituents
3. Manage resource control effectively… important to understand that all the world resources can be classified as either belonging to an individual, the State, or the public
4. Ensure equitable distribution of wealth by making sure that individuals/ organizations don’t hoard wealth but rather use it thereby increasing wealth circulation (think of this as if a neighborhood is independently run as an economy and there are $1,000 worth of wealth and everything has to be run within itself, if people start hoarding cash and not using it, eventually, everyone will have cash but there wouldn’t be any means of earning for so many people who could have otherwise been employed to offer goods/ services for that wealth)
5. Focus on productivity in creating a “real” economy
_ Do not sell what you do not have (you can see how not following this principle has screwed the whole financial services industry and precipitated the crisis)
_ Introduce the gold and/or silver standard to support real wealth creation and not just currency paper printing
_ Eliminate interest from the economy and introduce profit-loss sharing in all financial transactions
Continuing from my previous post, I hope we all recognize that “poverty” is a real problem and a flagrant violation of fundamental rights of many of our fellow mankind.
Now, what is the current system doing to exacerbate this problem? Let’s apply different lenses…
1. Everyone in the multinational forums talks about reducing poverty by 50% by 2020… So, does it mean that millions of people (just 300 children die of hunger every hour) are destined to die of hunger since we cannot solve the problem soon enough. Nothing more to be said on this…
2. Capitalism… it’s just a virtual economy with no “real economy” fundamentals
_ Dollar and the gold –> Back in the times, currency was tied to the dollar to ensure that we don’t over-inflate our wealth by just printing money. Now, that this linkage is gone, value of currency paper can be set by the whims of people in power. Just the other day, I was trying to do simple math that if an economy had real wealth of $1 trillion and is spending $1 million every day, it would take them ~2,700 years to exhaust just that $1 trillion.
_ Regulations –> Society has become more individualistic where rules have been changed as deemed fit for certain section of the society to remove all regulations and allow individuals to hoard wealth thereby taking it out of circulation. The power of a real economy is in the continuous circulation of wealth to allow for an equitable wealth distribution.
_ Stock inflation –> Just because some analysts/ investors forecast great returns (remember, nothing is predictable), the stock price shoots through the roof… take some of the recent IPOs for example. There is no real alignment with what happens on the ground.
_ Usury explosion –> In my opinion, this is at the core of this economic system menace… people with more wealth are able to rip off the not-so-privileged by lending money at unfair terms (high interest rates) which means a common man borrowing will have to pay more to afford the same kind of goods/ services.