Lessons from Mumbai Dabbawalas

The story of Mumbai dabbawalas who deliver home cooked lunch to 2 lakh customers everyday on time every time has been an inspiring one and is much hyped since the management gurus discovered that there is more sense in their simple ways than there is in all management book combined.

In the last 5 years everyone from Prince Charles to Richard Branson to CK Prahalad have flocked their workspace ( streets of Mumbai) and every organization worth its salt has piled them with certificates on managing quality,supply chain,cost,change etc etc .They have been named as SIX SIGMA organization with 1 error per 16 million transactions.They have lectured at every management school from the IIM’s in India to Stanford and Harvard in the US.The list is endless..

The big deal is that all this has happened without a single computer in place ( assuming human brains are not computers) and more than 85 % of workforce (shareholders) being illiterate.

Without going into the temptation of demeaning the so called MBA’s I will straightway go to the lessons I learnt when I went to hear them out at the ISB last weekend.There are some key takeaways so more than what you read just sit back, absorb what is being said and then try to implement at your workplace.

1.Keep operational costs low – these are cost of doing business and eat profit

2.Do not invest unless it gives you assured returns and you will almost certainly loose out if you don’t

3.Customer is not the Raja but the Maharaja – Prince Charles was asked to met the dabbawalas at churchgate station so that the deliveries for the day are not affected

4.Complexity opposes compliance – workers shun tedious systems and processes and they do no good except bring down productivity and frustrate everyone around.Simplify as much as possible and create processes only when you can’t do without them.

5.Deviation from your core competency can reduce focus and affect current sales and profits negatively.Don’t jump around to the first idea to diversify just because the consultant tells you so.Use your own brain.

6.Technology is to support business and business is not there to support technology.Computers are for helping people and people are not there to help computers.Don’t put the cart before the horse !

7.Keep your organization as flat as possible.Hierarchies boost egos not your business.Let your people take their own decisions as far as possible.The guy who does the job knows best and one does not need to take approvals for going to the loo.That was OK in kindergarten – grow up please !!

8.Promote cooperation inside to take on competition from outside.If your employees keep working on thwarting internal competition they will be weak to take on external challenges.Do not have people within the organisation to compete amongst themselves.

Let the leaders emerge rather than get nominated.

9.Build extra cushion for exigencies and emergencies.The computers may konk off,people can fall sick,debtors can default and suppliers may delay.But it has to be business as usual for your customers. You can bounce back quickly if you are not on a rigid surface.

A word of caution though – the spring in your sofa keeps you comfortable but if its too cushy   you can start to spoil your spine.

10.Commitment matters – qualification doesn’t.It should matter what you can do rather than what you have done.

Your most talented and educated people are no good if they keep networking for pastures greener and use company infrastructure for scouting higher paying jobs.Put a question about what you gained during your MBA to any of the Ivy league institutes in India or abroad and they will say ” networking”.There could be nothing more silly and out of place than this.An unfortunate fact is that more than 50 % of fresh MBA’s switch  at at least 3-5  jobs in the first 5 years until they find a comfortable place to park their fat ass.

One committed employee can do more for the organisation than 50 educated ones who are looking for options outside.A committed worker will not be afraid to ask for a raise when he feels its due to him while a non committed individual will change jobs at the slightest pretext.I have come across folks who have changed jobs for a 5 day week !

11.Educate employees about the importance of what they do.Once they know they will make sure that errors are minimized and even in the absence  of a code of conduct they will strive to deliver better results for their customers – internal or external.

12.Use existing infrastructure – its free ! Look around your self and you may find stuff that you can use rather than buy or build on your own.If you can use Indian postal services at 2 % higher cost to reach out why create a logistics company of your own.When there is milk from the dairy farm why buy a buffalo ?

13.Abandon bad customers – hard to admit but a reality of life.If you have bunch of bad customers who bring down your efficiency,de motivate your people and cost you a bomb to serve you should not waste time in taking the “call”.Dump bad customers before the good ones dump you.

Good money can’t be chasing bad money as simple as that.

14.Promote self discipline rather than discipline and don’t be shy when it comes to penalizing wayward behavior. Bad behavior gets imbibed faster – remember no one taught you smoking but you picked it up just by looking at your friends.Each one of us knows what is the right thing to do and people cannot be allowed to make examples in bad conduct at the cost of organization.

Rules are meant to be broken – surely not in this company.

15. Multi tasking is another name for screwing up a lot of stuff all at one time.Cross fertilization is management bull shit peddled by managers to stay away from taking responsibility of a single task and its outcomes.

Unless proven to be ready for the next level an employee must demonstrate potential rather than flash his fancy degrees.Your customers don’t give two hoots about who delivered the Pizza as long as it was on time.

16.Human beings are emotional and that is what differentiates them from animals.What a hundred HR workshops can’t do can be achieved by a simple lunch together everyday. Money can’t buy love but it certainly can buy lunch once in a while when you want to celebrate the group’s success.

If one man in a team can stand up  for the other with a belief that when it comes to my partner even he would do the same, you know that you are ready to take on the world.

17.High salaries can attract mercenaries and pigs but not dedicated,inspired and motivated people.Narayan Murthy of Infosys was once asked that how he retained talented people during initial phases of the company and he said

” Everyone was giving them a job, I was sharing my dream with them”

Money takes care our bodies but it is our mind which moves the body.The choice is clear – a pat on the back at the right time and at the right place can do more to motivate and inspire than a wad of notes in the pocket which no one knows about.

18.The humble improve.Humility has to be promoted as religion in your organization.Fullness is an enemy of growth and one who thinks he knows all perhaps does not know that there so much more.

If you rest on your laurels you are probably wearing them at the wrong place.We all know the hare and the tortoise story  but a twist in the tale is that now the hare gets stamped by the bull from the stock market while he is asleep.

In the Jungles of Africa it does not matter if you are a Gazelle or a lion what matters is that when the sun comes up you must start running – If you are lion to catch the gazelle and if you are a Gazelle to outrun the lion.

Stay Hungry,Stay Foolish

I really like what he says about death.I quote :

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

Everything else is secondary.

Inch by inch

I don’t know what to say really.
Three minutes
to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today.
Either
we heal
as a team
or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch
play by play
till we’re finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen
believe me
and
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
or
we can fight our way
back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time. 

Now I can’t do it for you.
I’m too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I uh….
I pissed away all my money
believe it or not.
I chased off
anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately,
I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That’s, that’s part of life.
But,
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half step too late or to early
you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don’t quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that’s going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.

I’ll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.

Now I can’t make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.

That’s a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That’s football guys.
That’s all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?

How to act

Have been some time since I posted under Meditations.I am publishing below the 5th paragraph from chapter 3.

How to act :

Never under compulsion,out of selfishness,without forethought,with misgivings.

Don’t dress up your thoughts.

No surplus words or unnecessary actions.

Let the spirit in you represent a man,an adult,a citizen,a roman,a ruler.Taking up his post like a soldier and patiently awaiting his recall from life.Needing no oath or witness.

Cheerfulness.Without requiring other people’s help.Or serenity supplied by others.

To stand up straight – not straightened.

तुम्हारे साथ रहकर

लेखक: सर्वेश्वरदयाल सक्सेना

तुम्हारे साथ रहकर
अक्सर मुझे ऐसा महसूस हुआ है
कि दिशाएँ पास आ गयी हैं,
हर रास्ता छोटा हो गया है,
दुनिया सिमटकर
एक आँगन-सी बन गयी है
जो खचाखच भरा है,
कहीं भी एकान्त नहीं
न बाहर, न भीतर।
 हर चीज़ का आकार घट गया है,
पेड़ इतने छोटे हो गये हैं
कि मैं उनके शीश पर हाथ रख
आशीष दे सकता हूँ,
आकाश छाती से टकराता है,
मैं जब चाहूँ बादलों में मुँह छिपा सकता हूँ।
 तुम्हारे साथ रहकर
अक्सर मुझे महसूस हुआ है
कि हर बात का एक मतलब होता है,
यहाँ तक की घास के हिलने का भी,
हवा का खिड़की से आने का,
और धूप का दीवार पर
चढ़कर चले जाने का।
 तुम्हारे साथ रहकर
अक्सर मुझे लगा है
कि हम असमर्थताओं से नहीं
सम्भावनाओं से घिरे हैं,
हर दिवार में द्वार बन सकता है
और हर द्वार से पूरा का पूरा
पहाड़ गुज़र सकता है।
 शक्ति अगर सीमित है
तो हर चीज़ अशक्त भी है,
भुजाएँ अगर छोटी हैं,
तो सागर भी सिमटा हुआ है,
सामर्थ्य केवल इच्छा का दूसरा नाम है,
जीवन और मृत्यु के बीच जो भूमि है
वह नियति की नहीं मेरी है।
  

Does an MBA degree make sense ?

Consider the following facts :

1.The biggest and best business men do not have an MBA degree Rockfeller,,Sam Walton,Warren Buffet,Ingmar Kamprag(IKEA),Richard Branson and closer home Dhirubhai Ambani,GM Rao,Kishore Biyani …..the list is just endless.The point is that while you may find a lot of mediocre managers and small business men having a degree in Business Management most of the big guys would not have bothered to spend time on such a wasteful academic pursuit.

We did a small test in the office too while most could recollect names of business men who were not MBA’s we had to really struggle to get a few names of those who were.We were also not sure whether they really did an MBA or they got an honorary degree.These names came up during the discussion.

2.Take the recent example of Indian railways.I am sure that the analysts from fancy consulting firms would have filled reports after reports weeping about what is wrong with this century old largest employer in the world.They would have wasted hours of power points suggesting every damn trick in the book quoting from all possible gurus and case studies.But what was the result ? Zero as usual.

Enter Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and the railways is turned around in 4 qtrs ( as the management guys would say).Nothing great just plain common sense and a will to act.Now the same institutes are falling over each other to learn management from the  Bihari whom they mocked at every opportunity.How rediculous ?They are not even ashamed of the fact that it is slap on their face.

3.Till last year the most coveted job on the campus were the i banks till the greedy pigs of wall street brought the whole world’s economy on the verge of collapse parking their bums on Ferrari’s in the process.What they could have figured out was that their own brethren will be out of jobs and it will make the investment(the word feels laughable)banks  extinct from campuses for a long time to come.

4.As per a survey conducted in the US quoted in one of the popular GMAT preparation guides 70 out of the 100 top MNC’s in the US do not have MBA’s as their CEO’s,only 10 of them from ivy league.Does it ring a bell?May be you are better qualified for the Chief executive’s position if you are immune to the MBA virus.

5.Obama’s Election campaign is being touted as the most successful marketing event in the history of mankind generating $650 million against a plan of $ 150 million.Not only the Americans but the entire world got swept by the sales pitch conjoured by the Lawyer turned politician.Once again the marketing Gurus are asking their pupils to learn from Mr. Obama – How to sell a dream ?

There are a hundred and one ways that I can demonstrate the futility of this uncalled for piece de education but the best quote I have is one Mr.Kishore Biyani.He says” Business is simple,people make it look complex to retain their jobs”.It pretty much sums up the mood of my argument.

Sam Walton ,the Sultan of common sense as people remember him was never convinced about having MBA’s work for Wal Mart.He believed that they cost much and do little.And therefore Wal Mart never really hired MBA’s untill his death in 1991.In fact almost all the top management till date comprises people who have learnt the business by doing it the Wal Mart way, as they proudly call it.

So What’s the Bottom line ? (sorry for the cliche but I can’t put the MBA in me to sleep)

Any education is as good as the one who receives it.It is true for the management degree too.There is no magic mantra that they can teach and the degree at best helps build an orientation towards thinking in terms of money. The hype is a big farce and nothing justifies the huge pay packets that the fresh MBA’s demand by creating an artificial supply situation.The best management institutes are more of marketing successes than creators of thought leaders who can change the course of history as positioned by themselves.You can wear the degree when you come out of college as a trophy you won in the kindergarten sack race but the ultimate test will be the market place.Very shortly you will realize that the organizations are interested in knowing what you can do and not what you have done?There is no difference between not being able to sell and having lower inventory turns – that by which you cal a rose would smell as sweet by any other.

The last word on rankings in business magazines.This was beautifully put forward by a manager in corporate HR in one of the training sessions I attended( this MBA thing never dies you see).He asked us to consider this –  people get interviewed by magazines,magazines rate institutes,people form opinions,magazines interview people and so the cycle goes on and on without anyone pausing to have a look at the actual value added by an institution to the society.

And why this post ? Well I am shaken up by the loot that some of the so called ‘world class’ institutes in India are indulging in by telling innocent young men and women that this ticket to heaven costs a fortune.Not true.The MBA too calls for the same cost benefit analysis that any business plan needs to consider.

Going by todays numbers the ROI on my degree would be 1000 % as I did my sarkari MBA from the University of Lucknow when life was simpler.

http://www.veritasprep.com/

From Maximus I have learnt…

Self control and resistance to distractions.maximus

Optimism in adversity – especially in illness.

A balance in personality – dignity and grace.

Doing what needs to be done, no complaints.

The belief of everyone that what he said was what he thought,and what he did was done without any bad intention.

Never taken by surprise or apprehensive.Neither rash nor hesitant – or bewildered,or at a loss.

Not obsequious – but not aggresive or paranoid either.

Generosity,charity,honesty.

The sense he gave of staying on the path,rather than being kept on it.

Not patronizing or allowing anyone to patronize him.

A sense of humor .

(From Meditations Book 1 – Debt and Lessons)