Building a Winning Team

Building a Winning Team

Extract from ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary’
Finally a word about people skills; the ability to build and run high performance teams. This is what spells the difference between commercial success and failure. No matter how skilled and talented an entrepreneur may be, no matter whether he has the funding or not, in the end what decides his fate and that of his organization is his ability to take people along with him. Who is inspired by you? Who wants to work for you? Who is ready to take a bullet for you? The members of the US Secret Service, the elite force that guards the President of the United States are trained to put themselves in the line of fire to save the life of the President, if need be.
In 1993 a movie called ‘Dave’ starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver was released. The storyline of the movie was about the affable owner of an employment agency who had an uncanny resemblance to the U.S. President. He found himself forced to replace the real President in an attempt by the White House staff to avoid a potentially explosive scandal. In the movie there was one scene where Dave, the President’s ‘double’ has the following conversation with Duane the secret service agent.
Dave: You know, I’ve always wondered about you guys. You know, about how you’re trained to take a bullet for the president?
Duane: What about it?
Dave: Is that really true? I mean, would you really let yourself get killed to save his life?
Duane: Certainly.
Dave: So now that means you’d get killed for me too?
Duane did not answer this question immediately, but it was so obvious that he felt its heaviness. Later on towards the end of the movie when Duane discovers the real character of Dave he finally answers the question: “I would have taken a bullet for you.”
It is this ability to inspire followership that is critical.
I am very fortunate that there have been people in my life for whom I would have taken the bullet and those who I know would have done the same for me. That to me is the essence of leadership that an entrepreneur must be able to provide. Ask yourself, ‘Who will take a bullet for me?
One of the finest teams I ever built was the one I had when I was the Manager of New Ambadi Estates in Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India. I have written in detail about that in my book, ‘Hills of the Elephants’, but would like to share an extract here about that team.
Reflecting on what went into building that team I can identify 6 factors:
1.     Mutual Respect               

We treated each other with respect. That may sound like a small or an obvious thing, but respect is not merely seen in how you address each other, but in whether you trust one another to do what is promised and if you deliver on that promise when it is your turn. We never laughed at one another, we did not talk behind each other’s backs and we delivered on promises. A respectful atmosphere makes for comfort and people like to work together with those who respect them. This does not mean we did not have fun. We did. Lots of it. It just means that we took our work seriously. It means that we did not need to watch our backs because we knew that one of the others was doing that for us. So we were free to concentrate on our own task.

2.    Build a common history     
I love trekking and so did my assistants in Ambadi. So we used to go on treks together. On two occasions we did the big one; Arun, Roshan and I, climbed up from the plains of Kanyakumari to the top of the ridge of the Western Ghats to Manjolai Estate (4000 feet), much to the surprise of our friends who lived there. One day we walked into the Club and discovered that (Ricky) M. C. Muthanna who was the General Manager and a personal friend was visiting. They were all at a lunch party in their club and were amazed when we walked in. When Ricky heard that we had climbed the Ghat all the way from the plains he was very impressed and happy, as he was a very outdoors person himself and everyone there got a lecture on the importance of doing such things.  We got a lovely lunch in the bargain.
There are many benefits of these shared experiences which are different from merely having a party. On a trek, you get to see the behavior of each other; who leads, how they lead, do they help, do they simply forge ahead and leave the others behind in order to show their own fitness or strength, do they show concern for others, do they volunteer for responsibility or try to dodge it, do they build and live up to trust, how it feels to be cared for by others and how it feels to take care of others and so on. There is nothing like travel together to test the mettle of a companion and to build bonds. Climbing also underlines the whole message of great effort and the resultant gains, better than anything else that I know. This climb in particular did that with great power.
Kanyakumari is a hot place. So even if you start out very early, which we did, it soon gets very hot and sultry. During the initial stages you are in some shade as you climb through the forested foothills, but very soon you come out onto the mountainside and then it is bare all the way to the top. As you walk there are nettles and grass with sharp leaf edges and thorny bushes that you have to cut through or find a way around. The going is slow and it is up at a sharp angle all the way.
So you are constantly climbing and the sun is looking down on your insane activity with great glee. The result is that very soon you are bathed in sweat and your leg muscles start to ache. But you keep climbing as you have a deadline to meet. You don’t take breaks because the more breaks you take, the tougher it becomes. You don’t drink water because it gives you a stomach ache. You keep climbing. All talk stops after a while. It just takes too much energy and nothing is that important or urgent that it must be said. You keep climbing.
Then a small breeze blows. The sweat becomes a blessing as it cools you down. The feel of the breeze on your face and the back of your neck is heavenly. As you continue to climb, your arms and legs are scratched (like all good planters we wore shorts) and the sweat dripping in the small cuts and abrasions, stings. Your legs ache. Your back more than your legs. You are seriously questioning your sanity in undertaking the task and then you reach the halfway point. There you stop for a breather, drink some water and look back at the climb that you have done – and what do you see?
The mountain rising out of the forest, far below you with the green blanket of vegetation around its shoulders. The patchwork quilt of rice paddies in multiple shades of green spread at the feet of the mountain like a carpet that it’s standing on. Patches of blue water; tanks and lakes that dot the landscape of Kanyakumari. And in the distance, the Indian Ocean. You look up and the mountain still towers over you but it no longer looks so intimidating. You breathe in the cool breeze. The sun is much kinder at this elevation and so it is much cooler than it was when you began. You take a deep breath and start climbing once again with new energy.
3.    Celebrate Success          
Very often it is the failures which get the most attention. Nothing wrong with that. One needs to learn from failure. But one needs to and can learn from success as well. We celebrated successes not simply by partying but by also asking some clear questions: What did we do right? How did we take those decisions; were they active choices or lucky accidents? What could we have done differently? What is the best thing about this win? How can we leverage that? We gathered data and insisted that all our conclusions must be backed by clear data. We ensured that we were not simply telling stories to please ourselves and that what we thought of as the reasons we succeeded were actually measurable facts. While we partied we also talked about these things. One part of celebration was also that I ensured that whoever on my team had done something critical to success got the limelight. This built credibility and inspired further effort.
4.    Be completely candid                 
This is a very critical principle of team building; as much openness, transparency and candid communication as possible. Say it like it is. No beating about the bush. No mincing words. No false pretences at politeness. If something is great, say it. If someone is fooling around, say it equally frankly and clearly, not behind his back but to his face.
I used the same policy of candid communication with the unions in Ambadi, which initially they found disconcerting but later accepted and appreciated. One of them said to me, “We don’t always agree with you but we always know where we stand.” I have had many people say this to me in different situations and I feel good about that. Teams also like leaders who they don’t have to second guess. So tell it like it is. The key thing of course is to be willing to listen to others telling it like it is to you. Now that is more easily said than done, but if you don’t shut up and listen and instead start justifying your stance or actions and becoming defensive then you will destroy your own credibility and damage all the good work you did building transparency.
5.    Allow, even encourage genuine mistakes
I managed to convince my team of the ‘importance of making mistakes’. I remember the looks of puzzled surprise at this term when I first mentioned it. Their experience until then was that mistakes were things you tried to avoid. If ever you did make one you tried to hide it or to blame it on someone else. And eventually if all else failed you resigned yourself to bearing whatever punishment that mistake attracted. But here was Mr. Baig, saying that it was actually important to make mistakes. Obviously this was a trap. So do what all sensible people do: silently wait and watch. For my part, once I had announced the importance of making mistakes I watched for the first person who made a mistake. Naturally everyone being human, it happened sooner or later.
Then I called the person and told him to give me a written statement of what happened, why he believed it happened and what must be done to prevent that particular thing from ever happening again. This statement was then discussed in the next weekly staff meeting and others added their ideas to it. It was treated as a regular case study. Not as something bad that one of them had done. Then once the lessons were clear to all, the matter was closed. Nothing more to be done on the issue, except that I would silently monitor it and the individual for a while to ensure compliance with whatever had been agreed.
No punishment. Not even a verbal reprimand. Actually if the analysis was particularly well done and the solution was a good one, the maker of the mistake would be applauded. Sometimes I would pull his leg and ask him what he had done with all this intelligence at the time of making the mistake. Or I would say something like, “Thanks very much for teaching us this lesson.” The person would look a little sheepish but that was all. The lesson would have been learnt and not only by the one who did the action but by everyone. So the learning was actually very cheap as the same mistake need not be done multiple times for others to learn. The only caveat was that you could not repeat a mistake. If that happened then there would be a reprimand, because it meant that you had not learnt from the previous mistake. And that was not acceptable.
As time passed people started seeing for themselves that making a mistake was not necessarily bad, as long as it was a genuine mistake and not a deliberate misdemeanor, and as long as you could demonstrate your learning and create a system where it would not be repeated, there was no pain associated with the learning. People then rapidly became risk takers. I encouraged other good practices like writing down a plan of action before you actually take action so that if something goes wrong you know exactly what happened and are not trying to recall what you had done or intended to do. Prior planning as well as documentation encourages deeper thought and reflection which can only be beneficial. To ensure that we did not get bogged down by too many planners, I made a rule that you had to put a deadline to everything.
So any time anyone submitted a plan we asked for a deadline. We also made the weekly meeting, the place to initiate all these actions. The idea being that before you went and launched off something you brought it before an assembly of peers who helped you to evaluate your plan. This also ensured more rigor in the whole exercise because people knew that if they submitted something that was half-baked it would be pulled apart in the meeting.
My role in all these meetings was mostly to listen and watch and sometimes to ask questions. Once people grew comfortable with speaking before others and asking and answering questions there was no holding them back. Sometimes I had difficulty getting my own point across; there would be so much participation. I was very happy to see all this enthusiasm. When your subordinates start to override your ideas and challenge your conclusions and give you measured responses, you can be sure that leadership is developing.
It is when you get too much agreement that you need to worry. Too much agreement and too little conflict are often signs that people are coasting along and there is a shortfall of commitment. One of the most reliable signs of commitment is conflict. Unfortunately many leaders fear conflict and go to great lengths to suppress it instead of encouraging it and channeling it so that really positive results can ensue. That is why it is important to understand that conflict resolution and conflict management are not the same thing. Conflicts, if managed properly resolve themselves and in the process yield very valuable learnings.
Another process that started happening was that individuals who intended to present something at the staff meeting would do a little pre-show to some of their colleagues who had some specialized knowledge. For example they would run some of the numbers by the accountant to make sure they had done their sums right. I encouraged all this informal communication and collaboration because it is a wonderful team building process. The whole essence of team building is to help people see how they need one another in order to succeed. And so when this started happening I knew we were on the right track.
Having said all of the above let me also say that the most difficult part for a high energy, action oriented person like me, was to sit in silence and see a mistake happen. All because you want to turn it into a learning situation. But there is no alternative to this patience. Naturally one does not need to self-destruct in the process and it is possible to contain the magnitude of the mistakes so that the learning takes place but not at a huge cost. However the crux of the matter is that you need to allow the subordinate to make the mistake and then guide the learning. This anxiety is compensated by the pleasure of seeing fewer and fewer mistakes happen over time as people get more and more proficient in their roles.
The practice of sharing learnings and Best Practices ensures that the learning gets maximum leverage. Also people are not ashamed or afraid of making mistakes as they know that there is no punishment provided they use their heads and can share their learning. Further because of this people generally exercise more care and the number of mistakes decreases.
The biggest benefit is the exposure and appreciation that people get when they share their learnings and best practices and have a platform to talk about their gains. They also get some ribbing and leg pulling which serves to make the point about being more careful in the future and the humor in it softens the pain of learning and builds relationships among team members. Finally this encourages them to share information and creates organizational learning as distinct from individual learning. In my view this one benefit, is worth more than anything else.
6.    Continuously develop people
As mentioned earlier entrepreneurs are usually so engrossed in the here & now that they ignore the future until it is either too late or until it becomes a problem. For most, succession is a mystery which is ‘solved’ by doing nothing and letting biology take its course. Their children enter the business at the level of Directors without having had the benefit of learning the business from the ground up with predictable results. Many treat the business like a candy store whose responsibility is to keep them supplied with candy; their focus on consumption instead of contribution.
They look only at what they can get out of the business instead of what they need to do to grow the business. Predictably this results in the business being broken up to everyone’s detriment. All because the founder did nothing to develop his successors. What amazes me is how many times this story is repeated all over the world. We don’t seem to learn from experience at all, neither our own nor anyone else’s.
Today (2008/9) we are in a situation where it is entrepreneurship especially the establishment and flourishing of small and medium businesses which will signal our recovery from global financial collapse. It is all the more reason to think seriously about these matters.

The Hope Forum

The Hope Forum

Welcome to The Hope Forum
Imagine a desert. That is our world. A desert of hatred, suspicion, violence and despair. Imagine wandering in this desert, throat parched, fearing enemies all around, nearing the end of your strength and just as you think you can’t go any further, you see an oasis. That is The Hope Forum. It is an oasis in the desert.
What does an oasis have that the desert doesn’t? Life giving water, shade giving trees, fruit to eat, grass to lie down on and gaze at the sky through the fronds of the trees, listening to the birds singing in the trees, the croaking of frogs on lily pads and the occasional plop of the Kingfisher when he dives for the unwary fish. The scorching life sucking wind of the desert, cools down and becomes the cool breeze that’s now wafting over your face. That is what breaking its force in the wind breaks and passing over water and does to it. It cools it down.
What else do oases do? They attract rain clouds. What’s the good of that in a desert? Have you ever seen a desert after the rain? For a brief span the desert blooms. The bleak, parched landscape turns overnight into a carpet of green and flowers. That’s not because flower seeds rain out of the sky. It is because every desert has in it, seeds of flowers. All it takes is some rain to make them grow. So eventually if oases grow and multiply – lo and behold – no more desert.
That is what we hope The Hope Forum will do. Give sustenance and life to those exhausted of traveling in the desert. Let them drink crystal clear, clean, cold water; eat sweet fruits, listen to birdsong and rest on the grass. Let them meet. Listen to each other. And think of how to create more oases.
If we can do this together and if we can do this enough, then a day will come, when people of the world will take charge of their destiny and wrench it back from those who control it today. The people of the world will put more value on life than on death, on virtue than on vice, on compassion than on cruelty, on justice than on greed. Then and only then can the wars end. Refugees will go back home. People will smile once again. TSA guys will have to look for gainful employment and our children will read about how the world was saved, because their elders broke the cycle. The cycle of hatred. The cycle of suspicion. The cycle of violence.
The Hope Forum is a place that the injured from Twitter, Facebook and other social media can come, to detox and cure themselves from the negativity of the world. There’s much good happening in the world that gets no lift. Bad news sells. So we’ll give each other good news for free. And you’ll be automatically chucked out if you post anything negative. The rule for this forum will be that only productive and positive things can be shared. Nothing negative. No criticism of anyone or anything. No praising yourself. Praise others and let others praise you. No pontificating, no proselytizing. No promoting of any particular religion, ideology, politics, shop, product, service or yourself. Only appreciating what others are doing. Let others speak about your work while you do it quietly and sincerely because you believe in it and in yourself. The Hope Forum is something that seeks to change the whole culture of social networking which is simply another name for self-promotion and one-upmanship. We have nothing against any religion, ideology, politics, shop, product, service or yourself. Just that if you want to promote any of this go somewhere else. This is not the place for it.
The Hope Forum is about promoting others. Showing the world how many good people there are, in every country, every nationality, every race, who are working quietly to make this world a better place. Your job as a Hope Forum member is to find them and tell the world about them through The Hope Forum. That is if you want to join.
Share a good song, story, picture, thought, dream, idea. But only good, only positive, only thankful, only appreciation. Tell all of us who are with you on The Hope Forum, what you liked, appreciated and recall with pleasure.

This is my first post. It is about this young man I saw in Pune – Samir Key Maker. Samir is a very Indian name and can belong to someone from any religion. Mohammed Samir (my nephew), Samir Joshi (a very good friend), Samir Singh, Samir Joseph. So Samir represents Indian youth to me. The best in Indian youth. A symbol of courage and confidence. He doesn’t just sit there on the pavement. He announces who he is. He has his phone number on the sign so that people can call him if they don’t have the time to stop by. He has a white sheet on which the tools of his trade are set out. What does a white sheet signify? To me it signifies quality. He is saying, “Look at my sheet and see if it is clean to decide what the quality of my work is going to be.” Now that is a statement of great confidence. His sheet is spotless. If you meet him, tell him I remember him. He doesn’t know me. But I know him. I remember him. I honor him. And I tell the world about him.  Samir is the symbol of hope. 

If you want to share a problem, a pain, a complaint; then reflect on it and think of a solution. Then share it with the solution. So the only problems we will allow are problem definitions of solutions. As someone said, ‘Every problem has at least two possible solutions. Do not enter this room until you have thought of both of them.’
The Hope Forum is open to everyone; any age, gender, religion or not, nationality, race, ethnicity, waist measurement, height, weight, strength; whether you can sing or croak, whether you can dance of shuffle, whether you can run or toddle, whether you are tall in your imagination or in people’s eyes, whether you can eat your cooking or others also can, whether anyone else loves you or not – we do. So join us. But read the condition below and stick to it.
The Hope Forum is open to everyone who accepts and agrees with our conditions of being a member i.e. good only, positive only, appreciation only, smiles only, solutions only.
No other conditions for joining.

October 20, 2016 is the day The Hope Forum was born. Long may it survive. Fast may it grow. And great may be the goodness it brings to all the world.


I will not allow what is not in my control, to prevent me from doing what is in my control.

Entrepreneurship Development is the key to economic upliftment

Entrepreneurship Development is the key to economic upliftment

This picture which I took in Pune on my way to the airport after teaching a leadership course at SKF, is my all-time favorite. It is a picture of a man who decided to take his future into his own hands and become an entrepreneur. He gives the lie to all those who complain about lack of resources, education, government support, fate or whatever. He has less resources, education, government support than anyone who will read this post. Yet he is better than almost every one of us because he decided to do something instead of complaining. This is a picture of courage, enterprise, creativity and confidence. It is an inspiration for me and for anyone who is seriously interested in development. And a kick in the pants for all those who make excuses.

One thing that the Sachar Committee Report showed clearly to anyone who has eyes is that discrimination is a part of life for the Muslim in India. While we keep fighting for reservations and whatnot, I am one who believes that if one wants to succeed in life, he can’t rely on the mercy of others. One has to rely on oneself and one’s own effort for the simple reason that it is the only thing which is in our direct control. With that in mind I am writing what I have advocated all over the world. I have tried to devise a strategy that is self-sustaining and requires very little start-up funding. This strategy is not for Muslims alone. It is for anyone who wants to do something about poverty and economic deprivation. Discrimination is not a Muslim copyright. It is what every poor person faces. For poverty is the religion of the poor. And that is the conversion we need to make – from job seeker to job provider.
Action Plan
  1. Vocational training
  2. Entrepreneurial development
  3. Venture Capital Fund
Vocational Training
  1. Start a Vocational Training Centre in every school. This must be done in every Government and private school and Madrassa. Every child must learn a skill. Products can be sold and the income can be used for the Center. This will also provide employment opportunity for artisans/professionals who are presently unemployed. Parents and community members can be encouraged to participate in this venture by lending their time and skills.
  2. Funding can come from CSR of companies who will be happy to fund such ventures.
  3. The building infrastructure already exists. If the timetable is an issue (usually there is enough time in the normal day itself) then the Vocational Training can be done after school.
Entrepreneurial Development
Simultaneously an Entrepreneurial Development Training plan must be established teaching students of the Center how to turn the skill into a business. This will ensure interest in the Vocational Training Course itself as people will be interested if they see how they can make this into a viable business and career option.
I suggest opening both the Vocational Training and Entrepreneurial Development Training to local communities also to help everyone and gain popular support. The Entrepreneurial Development Training course must consist of the following skills to be taught in a completely practical mode. NO LECTURES except as initial explanations. All teaching by practitioners (preferably voluntary) and all practical only.
  1. Writing a Business Plan to pitch for investment
  2. Budgeting and P & L Accounting
  3. Hiring and Team building
  4. Selling and Service Orientation
Venture Capital Fund
Final strategy in this is to start a Venture Capital Fund in each District/city managed by an independent Board of Directors of five members who are all reputed and highly trust worthy business people (include at least two women) with active businesses. CEOs may also be taken on the board but NO RETIRED OFFICIALS. One very important consideration which must be written in, is that Board Members MUST attend all meetings and inability to do so for two meetings will eject them from the Board.  This is critical.
This VC Fund will give interest free loans based on Business Plan with easy installment payment options to graduates of the different Vocational Skills Training Centers in the District/city. The funding to set up the VC Fund can come from MNC/Public/Private firms CSR or philanthropists. Later it can be increased when beneficiaries donate to the fund which helped them to set up. A cap can be set on the amount of each loan so that the Fund is not over extended in any one loan. I recommend Rs. 2 laks as a cap. But the Board can decide.
I believe that this plan to create entrepreneurship will free us from our malaise of looking to government to solve our problems and the problem of discrimination which our children face when they try to apply for jobs. Help them to stand on their own feet and instead of asking for jobs, they will provide jobs to others. Economic development is at the root of self-respect. It is the biggest need today for the poor in every country. It is the most powerful bulwark against extremism. People who have something to lose, don’t become extremists. So give them something to lose.

Dilemma of the Revolutionary

Dilemma of the Revolutionary

This is a thought-share primarily for South African leadership who may be interested in an outsider’s view of the changes happening in their country. I have taken the liberty of adding my comments on what I believe will be helpful to do. I am not preaching to anyone. This is a thought-share with anyone who is interested. That’s it.

When I graduated in Political Science in 1975, I never thought that I would live in a world where I would actually be able to see almost everything I studied and some more, happening. My world was a stable place with little change, yet poised to take the dive from there into the maelstrom of change that we have become so familiar with today. Yet that happened and that too in less than two decades.

I was in South Africa last week on my pilgrimage as I like to call my visit to Kruger National Park; truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. As always I also met my old friends, made new ones and watched with interest the changes since my last visit which in this case was in 2014. I have always maintained that there is much for South African leadership to learn from the post-independence history of India which would be learning without the pain of actually repeating that history in their own post-independence development. This article is to help those who are interested to do that.

India also came out of its colonial slavery, though without bloody revolution. We shall not mention the fact that we made up for the bloodletting during partition and the formation of Pakistan. The new leaders, Nehru and gang, who took over from the British White Sahib Bosses faced the same post revolution dilemma – how to make the dream you sold to the people come true.

The Indian National Congress headed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister, ‘solved’ the problems of job creation and land distribution by creating huge Public Sector Organizations run by bureaucrats who knew as much about running a commercial operation as I know about flying a plane. The purpose was to create jobs. Not manufacturing efficiency, quality or innovation. And that purpose was achieved by employing at least three people to do the job of one. Worker friendly legislation made it a crime even to frown at a worker who didn’t – hold your breath – work. Trade unions became very strong, backed the political party which made the rules and later became the arbiters of power themselves. As long as nobody asked questions about efficiency, productivity, quality or profitability this completely impossible system continued and Nehru and his successors were able to ‘show’ how they were delivering on the promises made during the Independence Struggle. Nobody asked, ‘How long can this continue?’ It didn’t, as we shall see.

Land distribution was also handled in the same way through legislation which abolished the Zamindari system (feudal system where one person owned the land which was tilled by tenant farmers who were in many if not most cases, bonded laborers) and introduced the Land Ceiling Act. What happened was that large land holdings were divided up into small plots and given away to the tiller. Sounds so nice and cuddly but with it came the problem that the small owner – the erstwhile tiller – had neither the capital for inputs nor the knowhow about cultivation. He had been a poorly paid worker who did what he was told. Suddenly he became a land owner. So two things happened. Land which had been previously cultivated and yielded good crops, lay fallow and barren and the new ‘land owner’ went to work on a construction site in a city as a manual laborer; since that was the only marketable ‘skill’ he had. Others, many if not most of the new ‘land owners’ went back to the old owners and handed in their papers and said, ‘Please give me my job back and you can have the land.’ So officially they remained owners on paper. But the old status quo of the land owner returned. Militancy also came into being with some of the newly liberated bonded laborers wanting to keep their land and till it. Old owners tried to throw them out with the help of the police and the Naxalite Movement was born. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naxalite
On the industrial front, Public Sector Corporations reached their size of self-implosion and simply got too unprofitable to run. Government ran out of money to pay salaries and mandatory increments. Labor laws originally created to protect the worker became means of encouraging non-productive behavior. Unions went over the top and in states likes Kerala and West Bengal literally paralyzed business and industry. Voting-in another party did nothing to change the situation. Finally, Government brought in what they called ‘Liberalization’ – liberating themselves from their false promises. The back of the trade union movement was broken. Today there are no unions in the entire IT and ITES industry in India. Privatization of many areas took place. Manufacturing became more efficient but the ranks of the unemployed increased. Problem still not solved. In India what helped was the intrinsic entrepreneurial nature of the Indian which resulted in a lot of small and medium enterprise happening all over. Credit became easier to get with nationalization of banks. And the strong family system helped to keep people alive and kicking.

Huge numbers of Indians went to work in Gulf countries and their inward remittances supported their families. Indians by nature are fatalistic and not militant and so no major public unrest happened though public misery is all too visible. We’re far from being out of the woods because we are now going on the track of fast becoming an oligarchy – with too many millionaires and too many poor people. And the future looks bleak, especially for the poor.

Naxalite militancy is on the increase though not in cities yet. Crime is rampant though since the media is the mouthpiece of the establishment, goes unreported. Rampant farmer suicides are one major indicator of a very sick society. Corruption at an unprecedented scale is another. From being something that existed quietly and was indulged in clandestinely, corruption is now an aspirational goal, indulged in totally without shame. The industrialist – politician – bureaucrat nexus is working very well to corner resources for the few at the expense of the many. Fear rules and life is cheap and easily lost.

India is a notoriously corrupt country, with Transparency International giving it a rank of 76/168 (USA is 16/168) where crony capitalism thrives (On the World Bank Groups “ease of doing business index”, India is 130/168 and the USA is 7/168) and where inequality reins with extreme poverty (GINI index of 33.9, along with a HDI rank of 135/168).  India is also a thriving democracy.  All of these things combine into the one obvious conclusion:  one of several established parties compete on the best way to manipulate elections using money and muscle-power. (Source: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/05/02/1484829/-Bernie-Sanders-and-Arvind-Kejriwal
But India is a big country and as they say, ‘Even a dead elephant weighs five tons.’ So the effects of all this are not yet crippling. But we are getting there, fear not. We are getting there.
In 1995 I went to South Africa soon after they became independent but the only black people I saw were the waiters in my hotel and the servants in the houses of white people, who invited me to a braai. I stood on the viewing deck at the top of the Sun in Sandton at night, the city bright with lights except one big black hole in the distance. I asked someone if there was a power outage. The white man smirked and said, ‘This is not India. We don’t have power outages. That is Soweto. They have no power.’ Very interesting, I thought – arrogance apart. In India we have power outages and still do double digit growth while in Apartheid South Africa not giving power to the majority of citizens was state policy.

I went back to South Africa in 2005 and since then have been going there almost annually for what I call my ‘pilgrimage’ to the Kruger National Park. A journey of love which I look forward to for the eleven months that separate one from the next. I also meet lots of people, businessmen (have I met any businesswomen?), politicians, academics, educationists, farmers, doctors and other professionals, game rangers, students, professors (aren’t they academics?); Blacks, Whites, Indian, Colored, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, Hindu, I-don’t-know-what-I-am; you name it and I’ve met it. They talk and I listen. I talk of course and sometimes they don’t like what I have to say but that is the risk of being an analyst – distance gives perspective because perspective is a function of distance but people who are close to the ground, who don’t like the diagnosis you give them, say, ‘You don’t live here. You don’t understand our reality’. Forgetting that it is precisely for that reason – because I don’t live in South Africa – that I can see and understand the reality of what is going on.

As I have said before, it is cheaper to learn from other’s mistakes than to make your own. South Africa is in the unique position to learn from the mistakes of India but seems unable or unwilling to do so. I have been trying to convince all those I speak to when I visit there, to study post-independence India and learn lessons to apply in post-independence South Africa. They all listen respectfully, agree with me entirely about the need to learn, feed me great food, take me to Kruger Park, I put on weight and come home. Nothing changes. I love the hospitality of course and thank my hosts but remind them that I can afford my meals and didn’t go there for free food. If they don’t change their ways, then I shudder to think about what will happen. And I can’t stop that from happening. There are enough examples in Africa itself to look at.

So what is going on in South Africa? A revolution is taking place. It is in progress. It is happening as we speak. But it is a revolution without formal leadership, without clear ideology, without a strategic game plan. It is a revolution of nature. Of human nature to do what it considers best for its own survival, without sometime bothering about any long term results of precipitate action. It is very dangerous.

‘Ha! Wrong again’, you say. ‘Our revolution ended in 1995 when we became free of the apartheid regime. Now it is payment time.’

‘No’, I gently remind you. ‘1995 was the first stage in that revolution to become free. You reached that step. The revolution continues and depending on what you do; it can make you truly free or enslave you once again.’ The choice is yours. I am the analyst, remember? Also remember, shooting the messenger doesn’t turn bad news into good. South Africa is poised on the brink. It can become a case study of what to do or what not to do. It is your choice.

Let me talk some theory first – Revolution 101.

Oppression is oppressive and sows the seeds of its own destruction at its inception. Those seeds germinate in thoughts of freedom. Grow in the atmosphere of yearning for freedom seeing others becoming free. Are watered with the blood of martyrs. Martyrs die and more are needed so those running the revolution have to sell a dream. A dream where in effect the oppressed get everything the oppressors have today. Streets paved with gold, big cars, bigger homes, jobs for everyone, food galore. As the lyrics of the song go, ‘Money for nothing and the chicks for free.’

Nobody asks the real question, ‘How likely is all this?’ Nobody asks and nobody cares, because dreams are supposed to be unrealistic. And let’s face it, if it was not attractive enough, why would I leave my family to go and die in the street? I didn’t go to die. But I went and I died. And that was some more irrigation for the dream to grow.

Finally, it comes true. We are free. Now what?

Now I am waiting for my job, new car, home, food, 24-hour power supply, clean water, hospitals – you name it and I want it. But it doesn’t come. Why not? Because the dream was a dream and dreams have an inconvenient way of coming true with strings attached. But nobody told me that. Well, let’s face it. If someone told you that you would have all of the above and more but that it would take two generations of hard work to get it, would you have fought to throw off apartheid? If someone had told you that you would have to go to school and college, study very hard, compete for jobs like everyone in every other country does, would you have died to give others a chance at that? If someone had told you that there’s no free meal and no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, would you have endured the suffering of the revolution? But that is the reality. Like it or not. So the chickens do come home to roost. The promises have to be fulfilled. People will hold you to them, Mr. Revolutionary Leader. And you can’t say, ‘They are not realistic.’ Because you made those promises and at that time you didn’t tell me that they were not realistic. You sold the dream. Now deliver. Or help me understand what to do to get it.

Every revolutionary party faces this. The let-down at the end of the revolution, when you expect to be in a permanent state of high in your dreamland come true. But instead face disillusionment, disappointment and even despair. This is the crucial threshold that all political parties who run revolutions have to face and cross if they want to succeed and actually give the people the beautiful life they promised them.

If this is not done, what’s the next step in this cycle?

Another party arises and sells another dream. ‘We will give you everything that these liars promised and failed to deliver. Jobs, electricity, water, homes, cars, everything. And you need do nothing except to support us. Support us and you will have it all.’ And believe it or not, people are ready to believe this story once again. They don’t ask the crucial question which they should have asked in the first place – “HOW?” And the cycle repeats. Until of course one day you get a new leader who decides that he can’t really give people what they want but also doesn’t want to give up power and so a new dictator is born. There are plenty of examples of this in Africa itself – Uganda under Idi Amin for example and others which I am sure I don’t need to name.

But as I said earlier, in our world of change you don’t have to go that far back to see this cycle come full circle. Look at Egypt. As they say, ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Hosni Mubarak was oppressive to put it politely, for decades. Then came Morsi and the Ikhwaan. Sold the dream of freedom, jobs, food and won an election that nobody thought they would win. But once again the people were not prepared to face the reality, that it is not magic. Everything will happen but not overnight. I was in Cairo and Marsa Alam in April and May that year and saw people sitting in roadside cafes, drinking tea and discussing politics. I knew this was a very ominous sign. Disgruntled people with real woes, sitting around in tea shops or bars talking politics in a free country is always dangerous. Sadly, my fears came true and Morsi’s government fell and Sisi came to power; even more oppressive than Mubarak. Circle is complete. The future is bleak.

Another good illustration of this process is that of growing up from childhood. A small child is dependent entirely on its parents. So it ascribes all its life experiences to them. If it is happy, parents are good. If it is unhappy, it the fault of the parents. To an extent this is correct because parents have power and the child doesn’t. However, when the child grows up, this equation changes. Parents are no longer powerful or even present. However, many people fail to grow up mentally and simply transfer this attitude of ‘Someone else is responsible for my happiness’, to their spouses or bosses and go through life blaming others for whatever happens to them. True growing up is to own responsibility for yourself. Not merely to grow facial hair or other indicators of physical maturity. Real maturity is when the individual takes charge of his or her own life and says, ‘This is my life and I am responsible and I will do what it takes to make it the most productive and beautiful life possible.’ Only then is the person truly grown up and not simply a 30 or 40-year-old child. And this transformation can happen at any age. Not only at 30 or 40.

The same is the case with countries that are under the yoke of oppression. People get used to being powerless and to blaming the ruling class for their problems. As in the case of the child, this is true because they are powerless. But oppression fuels rebellion so some take ownership for this powerlessness and decide to change it and the revolution is born. But what happens is that in the heat of the struggle, nothing is done to enable others to grow up also. And so when independence is won, others merely view the new leaders in the same role as the old – i.e. ruling class – and look up to them in the same way – they are responsible for my happiness. Same chairs, different bottoms. This is dangerous for the ‘ruling’ party especially as they will be held responsible for the dream not coming true. And the cycle which I mentioned above happens.

Nobody tells the people that there is no ‘ruling class’ now. That they are the rulers. So if they don’t like something they have to change it. They can’t any longer blame someone else. They have to collaborate with government to make it productive. Not cop out and sulk or attempt to run away. There is nowhere to run. One can’t really run away from oneself, can one? Same logic.

This is exactly what is happening in South Africa today. I don’t need to describe what is happening there. It is all too visible. Hubris at the success of the struggle. Then like kids in a toy shop filling the pockets with all the toys you can get your hands on. Forgetting that now you own the shop and so you can’t steal from yourself. You can only harm yourself by filling your pockets. Meanwhile the people who followed you are still used to the ‘ruling class’ attitude. Nobody told them that there is no ruling class any longer. They are the rulers and so they get to carry the can. They supported you in the revolution – they believed that they were working for you, not themselves. They believed your sales talk about what they would get when they won the revolution. You forgot to tell them that it would take time, investment, sacrifice, hard work and still more time. So they are now waiting to get it.

“I am entitled to it. So give it to me.”
“Work? I already did that. I fought in the revolution (or my father or grandfather did) and so I am entitled to the candy. Where is it?”
“On top of that, I see the toys you put into your pocket. I see the candy (corruption, privilege) that you are eating. So why can’t I also eat it?”
But enough of diagnosis. Let us look at solutions. So what is the solution?

Two things:
  1.     Leadership: Put your own house in order.
  2.      Change the mindset from ‘Entitlement to Contribution.’

Here’s a more detailed explanation:

     Put your own house in order:

Take the candy out of your pocket and put it back on the shelf. And apologize for taking it out of turn. Help your friends also to do that. The sooner this is done the easier and less painful it is. Delay is suicidal. Corruption is a cancer that is infectious and kills as surely as the real thing. You have to look after your cow. You can’t milk it and not feed it. You can’t cut out a piece of meat because you are hungry. The cow will die and you will die with it. Corruption is suicide. Root it out ruthlessly and quickly, needless to say, starting at the top. If the head is sick the body can’t be healthy. So do whatever it takes to cure the sickness. Swallow bitter pills, perform surgery, cut out the cancer before it kills you. I don’t think it’s necessary to say anything more.

Tackle crime urgently. Investigate, prosecute and sentence. Sayings like, ‘South Africa’s national sport is rape’, are not funny and indicate a very sick society.

Year
Sexual Offences
Murder
Robbery
2015
53,617
17,805
54, 927
2014
62,267
16,914
53,424
2013
66,197
16,211
53, 439
Cumulative since 2004
7,83,687
2,12,312
7,83,680
The figures are horrific and I can perhaps safely say that they don’t include a single politician of any hue. It is only poor people who have no protection who die and are raped. More people die violently in South Africa than in many war zones. And remember that it is safe to say that in all these cases the number of crimes actually committed is more than those reported.

I personally know of two cases of major robbery and one where a person was shot through the leg that were never reported. The reason, which I was amazed to hear, was that people have no faith in the police. This is a very serious matter, where the citizenry has lost faith in Government. Sad to say that there appears to be very little, if anything done by the Government about it. This is something that sits squarely in the lap of the Government and must be dealt with urgently. If necessary, reinstitute the death penalty. Criminals can’t have more human rights than victims.

South Africa’s crime is the single biggest deterrent for foreign investment. The apathy of the Government in tackling it is impossible to understand. It appears that there is a high level of collusion between police and criminals without which such levels of crime would be impossible.  

The second biggest deterrent for foreign investment is the general lack of skills, the result of a failed education system. This again is something that is critical to address and correct without which South Africa will not be able to attract large investors who would be very happy to invest there and set up manufacturing facilities. South Africa needs vocational schools that can train people in marketable skills that can enable them to earn a living. This would directly impact the job market and provide jobs and enhance the quality of life but it can happen only when the country can offer a high level of skills in the workforce. South Africa is the gateway to Africa but at present this seems to be used mostly by the drug trade. Control of crime, drug cartels and skill development to provide good jobs is the key. I have suggested some ways below.

Change the mindset of people from ‘Entitlement to Contribution’.

Educate people on the steps forward and show them a realistic plan where they can see how to succeed and taste that success in a reasonable period of time. It is essential that people see results in their main pain areas and see them fast. Government must be seen to be doing things. Saying, ‘We won freedom for you’, is not enough especially for a generation which didn’t see apartheid. This requires the following:

The public education system needs major overhauling. That is a subject in itself so I won’t talk about it here, except to mention the need to address this urgently. The current system is designed to create failures. It must change.

Introduce Vocational Training in all schools. Every child must learn a trade or skill by the time they complete schooling. That way they will have a marketable skill which they can use to earn a living. It is critical to develop a thriving middle class. Give people something to lose. The problem today is that people have nothing to lose.

Rejuvenate the Farm Schools and train children in farming while completing their primary, secondary and high school education. Get them connected to the earth. That is the best education and will prepare them for the real thing later. The Afrikaners knew what their Farm Schools produced. Just replicate that and you will get the same results. People connected to the soil are people who are interested in the development of the country.

Ministry of Small Business: The Right Step Forward – But…
o   It is completely untenable that the Government is the biggest employer in South Africa employing over 45% of the employed population. No government has the money to pay that salary bill or to take care of inevitable increments, social welfare expenses and so on. There is a critical need in South Africa to create a robust class of self-employed people who not only take care of themselves but provide employment for others.
o   As the sub-heading of this section says, the initiative to set up a Minister of Small Business is an excellent step. This must be supported and results measured. A good idea is to seek ‘Customer feedback’ to see how Government’s initiatives are being experienced by those for whom they are meant. In my own search on the net, I have seen some excellent articles. One is here: http://bit.ly/1rAOIo0 And another one: http://www.sacsis.org.za/site/article/2020 So listen to people and recruit them in enabling small businesses to succeed.
o   Provide training in all aspects of entrepreneurship. In my view this is the key to development, eradication of crime, handling the food and energy crisis and education in South Africa. Enforce entrepreneurship.
o   Set up a Venture Capital Fund to provide prospective entrepreneurs with interest free loans. These must be given after a rigorous selection process of examining business plans and ensuring that they have a high likelihood of success.
o   The capital for this fund can come from major multinational companies operating in South Africa as part of their CSR. I know this is being done by some progressive CEO’s but it must be hugely boosted. I believe that the way to do that is by creating a full-fledged Venture Capital Fund that is available to all aspiring entrepreneurs. Business CEO’s will recognize the value of such a fund and will fully support it. Invite them to sit on the Board and run it – not government bureaucrats. We need businessmen/women to run this Fund.
o   Pair new entrepreneurs with established businessmen and women who can coach and mentor them.
o   Set up a National Entrepreneurship University that trains in all kinds of vocational skills and starting up businesses.
o   Award Prizes for successful startup ventures in all provinces and at the national level. These should be significant monetary awards that encourage people to participate and are worth working for.
o   Institute special prizes for entrepreneurial initiatives in key areas like poverty eradication, alternate energy, education, food production, transportation, health management and other high need areas. Prizes must take into account, innovativeness, social consciousness, creativity.

A vibrant middle class is essential to survival in any economy. The bigger the middle class the bigger the market for goods and services and more money flows into the economy and is available for public services like healthcare, education, transport and so on. Contrary to the myth of trickle down, money doesn’t flow down from the superrich or from global multinational corporations into local economies. The superrich don’t use local services, live in ivory tower isolation and are generally unaffected by local conditions as they are surrounded by cordons of insulation. Multinational corporations are answerable to their shareholders who don’t live in Soweto (so to speak) and so they don’t care what happens in local economies. Many don’t even employ local people, except in menial jobs because locals may not have the education and skills that they need.

Countries like India and China score over South Africa in this regard because we have a very strong education and skill base and can actually provide potential employers, people of equal competence at a much lower cost. That’s not the best USP – buy me because I am cheap – but it works for a while anyway to build a middle class. South Africa has a lot of catching up to do. However, I believe that if the things that I have mentioned above are done and done urgently, then South Africa will be able to solve its problems of crime, unemployment and political unrest and create a stable, vibrant middle class with a high standard of living.

Entreprenuership is not about business

Entreprenuership is not about business


In the world of entrepreneurship and startups, which I inhabit and have some claim to, we say that you can’t succeed in your startup until you make a significant personal commitment. Most successful entrepreneurs deliberately had no Plan B (second option if the first didn’t work) because of two core beliefs: Their unshakable belief that they would succeed and their belief that a second option blunts the edge. It takes the edge off desperation, off hunger; and that is detrimental to the result. So they remain hungry, remain desperate and they succeed where everybody else thought they would have failed. They use other’s derision and naysaying to spur them on to do even more and they prove their detractors wrong.

Excellence in measured in many ways, one of the most important of which is your confidence and ability to stay on your chosen path. You will find when you do that, that other people will often be scared of your high ideals and goals. To remain on the path and not be discouraged by their lack of confidence is a measure of excellence. I have always measured the strength of my goals from the number of people who they scare the daylights out of. Currently the same is true for my dream of the SBA – it scares the daylights out of a lot of people. To me, it means that I am on the right path. You see, the only path that doesn’t scare sheep is the path to the pen. I personally have never had a liking to being penned. Especially since every sheep pen has only two doors. One towards the pasture and the other towards the abattoir.

Danger is both exciting as well as mostly imaginary. But when we embark on lofty goals which are rooted in integrity, truthfulness and the desire to do something worthwhile, the world – what we know of it as well as what is unseen – conspires to make us succeed. Angels walk with you though you can’t see them. Doors open for you where you would not have imagined. People come out of the woodwork to help you not because you asked them to – you didn’t even know that they were there – but because they were sent. The resources that you need to accomplish your goal will flow in your direction. Very simple principle of physics – water flows down a slope, not up it. So when you are climbing a hill and rain falls, water will flow in your direction. If you are running away and going downhill, water will flow away from you.

Your position on the hill doesn’t matter (no matter how far from the peak you are). It is your direction which makes a world of difference and quite simply spells the difference between reaching the peak or not. Many people believe that they can climb a mountain walking backwards. I personally don’t know of anyone who managed to do that. If you want to succeed, you have to face your fears and stare into their eyes until they look away. Not turn your back on them. Especially because what is behind your back becomes even more scary. I was never very good at walking backwards myself.

That is not to say that one must ignore honest feedback or not check one’s assumptions against emerging data and change them if necessary. That too is a measure of excellence in itself but the final goal must not be watered down and diluted because of fear. One is to change the approach because someone has a better way. That is good to do provided that other way stands the test of rigorous proof-of-concept. The other is to give up the goal itself because you became afraid. That is to betray yourself.

I want to share with you some of my quotes on excellence. All these and more are part of four of my books, two of which have been published – (Understanding Life) on January 1, 2016 and (Life is but a Dream – Or is it?) last year and two more are in the pipeline. Please reflect on these thoughts and see where you and your goals fit in.

1.    Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We define ourselves and the world accepts that and treats us accordingly.
2.  Only those excel who revel in the effort. For whom the journey is the destination. Excitement is only in the chase. It ends with the catch.
3.    If you think success is difficult, try failure. Mediocrity ensures that your failure becomes permanent. That drug is called compromise.
4.    Why are there more mediocre people than those who achieve excellence? But who do you want to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model?
5.    Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight but accepts cancer cells until they kill it.

Remember that we all start in the same place – as idealists. But then we allow others (at least most of us do) to dictate what we will do, how we will live, what goals are ‘realistic’, what goals are ‘worth it’ and so on. So the leaping flame of idealism that was in our heart takes a beating and gradually gets reduced and dampened.

When you are idealistic, people will initially oppose you and push back and try to discourage you, not because they don’t like what you are planning to do but because in your eyes they see what they were themselves like one day; until they allowed the rest of the crowd to dampen their idealism. But remember also that the spark of idealism lives as long as we are alive. You can dampen it but you can’t kill it. So when they meet you, their spark starts to get some energy and that scares them. Their initial reaction is to try to put it back in its ‘place’ and dampen it once again because that will justify what they did to themselves all their lives. But if you refuse to internalize their fears and are true to your ideals, you will see that their own sparks will start to grow and will once again become the leaping flames that dispel the fears of darkness and light up the world in ways that neither they nor you thought possible.

The key is to remain true to your ideals no matter what the world tells you. That, to me, is a measure of excellence. That is why I am a shameless idealist and I hope I remain that to the end of my days. For what is a life worth if one is to live it like a sheep?

The Sahaba were idealists. They ignored ‘facts’ because they marched to another tune which they heard in their hearts. They never allowed the world to discourage them. They were focused, they were ‘unreasonable’, they were ‘unrealistic’, they were hugely successful where all logic was against even their survival. That incidentally is the case with all great successes in the world. 

In the words of George Bernard Shaw:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

And that is why Alphonse de Lamartine French writer, poet and politician who was instrumental in the foundation of the Second Republic said about Rasoolullahr:
“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad?”

I want to end with a short reminder to myself and you about the importance of commitment to excellence and the danger of slipping into mediocrity. The world is witness that people who never lowered the bar of excellence in the name of expediency, diplomacy or any of the myriad reasons we seem to find today are people who even their enemies look up to as role models.

1.    Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is a narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable.
2.    Failure is not the opposite of excellence. Mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Mediocrity is painless failure. It’s fatal.

At the end of my days, I would rather be remembered as a man who died trying to achieve excellence than someone who accepted mediocrity.