Posted on 27-12-2009
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article 

Sustainability depends on family sutra and kinship in Bollywood and Indian politics. The legacy is handed down from generation to generation, like succession rights of royal families.

The family saga of the Kapoors, Bachchan, Khans, Dutt, Khannas, Dharmendra, Roshan, Oberoi, Tagore, Suchitra, among others, has sustained the film industry where talent is supposed to be self-expressed creativity, not an inheritance. Exceptions are possible, but in India, film family fraternity is the benchmark. However, when individual craftsmanship that’s not hidden, as in music and sports, tries riding on heritage, it gets exposed, such as the inadequate performance by the sons of Kishore Kumar and Sunil Gavaskar.

Bollywood’s monopolistic blockades break the morale of newcomers. The country cannot be devoid of creative people. The very stars who are famous today undoubtedly debuted with hard work. But fame has turned them into gods. The entire paraphernalia involved with films from producer, director, cameraman, set designer, sound engineer to extras, plus the media, are worshipping subjects of the ruling stars. So it’s extremely easy for indulged star progeny to transcend into becoming satellite stars. This obliges Bollywood to produce, decade after decade, similar types of stories, dances, action, suspense, makeup and music to prop up star children with nobody questioning their ability. When expression of art becomes a monopoly, it’s no longer art; it turns into the formula of a system.

Check how differently Marilyn Monroe, the star, was born. Like so many others, she was a black haired woman named Norma Jeane working in an aviation blades factory. A man once took her picture, sent it to Yank magazine where it was published. Encouraged by that she applied to the Blue Model agency, but they wanted golden haired girls. She promptly bleached her hair and went on to become a famous model; then she changed her name and became a famous film star. Just look at this perspective: when black hair became blonde, it made all the difference, intertwining Marilyn’s identity with blonde hair for all time to come. It shows the silver screen is a big manipulator.

The Indian media gets sucked into popularizing star families by reporting candid intra-family relationships. For example, different star family members will talk about the mother’s tenderness, the father’s ingenuity, human qualities of the son, or appreciate the daughter-in-law. As a “commoner” your dream of becoming a great actor one day will forever remain suppressed as you compete with star children of doubtful acting calibre, ill-gotten publicity gains, no box office hits but the advantage of family heritage that Bollywood kowtows to.

Manufacturing and service industries in India use such legacy to establish their brand as they may not have found the industrial platform of quality better than this. The Bachchan father and son have supposedly brought “stature and youthfulness” in advertising a car together. Cricket star Pataudi advertised royal paints and passed on the mantle to his second generation actor Saif Ali Khan. Doesn’t establishing brands with such references reek of force fitting?

In 2007, the US produced only 453 films as opposed to 1164 films in India. The Hollywood Reporter conducted StarPower 2002 survey on Hollywood’s most bankable stars, and ranked 1,000 top selling actors on their bankability. On the other hand, Indian Cinema News reports in 2008 that in spite of India producing the highest number of films in the world annually, “the dependence of the entire filmdom on half-a-dozen saleable stars and even lesser number of production houses is bad economics. Yash Raj Films and Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions share this set of saleable actors.” Other production houses are dubbed as mavericks, close-knit family affairs, corporate moneybags or working in silos. Bollywood dampens the spirit of newcomers, so hopefuls without film family connections apply shock therapy as Mallika Sherawat did to grab attention and successfully release her creativity.

In the same vein, monopolistic legacy is the backbone of our nation’s political system. I may have differences of opinion about Mahatma Gandhi’s politics, but that he did not dominate politics with his family members, in spite of having such mass adulation countrywide is certainly highly admirable. The biggest voter list in India comprises the underprivileged people where illiteracy is very high. The British Raj made the Babu culture so effective that poor Indians always did, and still do, consider rich people as their Babujis. As respect for the rich is entrenched in India, Left movements like the Bolshevik or Chinese revolution could not grow here. Most of India’s feudal lords and landowners went into politics after Independence, and are growing like the banyan tree.

Strong family power and respect for heritage allow political families to retain their controlling foothold, generation after generation, even if, by origin, they are not Indian. At the same time, if an Indian in the same family has a differing opinion, that member can be totally cornered. Even after the death of a politician, or if a politician is discredited with corruption, overnight a son or wife can become the replacement candidate. This certainly is hard core monopoly of politics in the name of democracy. More disgraceful are the sycophants surrounding that power who feed the legacy of that leader being the only possible leader. Huge public adherence is required to maintain this monopoly of politicians over generations. Does it mean that our country lacks political intellectuals, apart from the legacy families of politicians?

Such family continuity in business is not comparable as economic power is technical by nature. A first generation businessman puts in all his effort, risks his own money, to grow his business. So it’s quite normal that he bequeaths it to his family. His inheritors do not necessarily run the company, they can own it and appoint professionals to run it. Here they are not playing with public fame or money.

In the liberalized economy with many avenues opening up and extracurricular activities in and outside schools, let’s hope the monopoly of stars and politicians will break sooner than later.

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Posted on 20-12-2009
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

 The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

The buzz: “India has high growth potential.” Question: How to unleash it? Answer: We need large numbers of skilled working class people who are sensitive craftsman, almost like connoisseurs.

Example: German craftsmanship in the acoustic piano, with intricate mechanical handwork and painstaking attention to detail, has always been rated among the world’s best. Losing everything in World War II, Japanese oriental culture challenged centuries-old German reputation in perfecting the acoustic piano. This proves that dramatic transformation can happen when there’s determination to excel. Stealing German thunder, Japan’s Yamaha has become the new benchmark. Even famous jazz-rock star Sir Elton John and classical maestros use Yamaha on stage today.

Frontline, hands-on workers are the real delivery persons in manufacturing or service industries. They are the artillery for activation. I can never think of any strategy for my clients if I cannot visualize its effect in activation. From my practical working and learning in the field I can confidently say that every business in India is poised to achieve 30% to 35% growth right away if frontline activation is effective. These people need to be trained on discipline, ownership, passion at work, craftsmanship and communication skills as appropriate to the industry they are working in.

Here’s what passion in one’s work can achieve. Gourango Kaku (uncle), a neighbour in the refugee colony I spent my childhood in, was a carpenter in the British railway workshop nearby. The British work culture had 3 skill classifications, high, medium and low skilled workers. Using his high carpentry skills he made me a hand-push toy that worked on the mechanical principles of the steam railway wheel movement. He crafted a wheel system on two joints, one to hold the long handle to the wheel and the other a moving mechanism in another part of the hand. This was my most valuable plaything, and more ingenious in its functioning than the sophisticated toys my parents had no means to buy.

Activation School: Corporate houses employ engineer-MBAs, so everyone aspires for an MBA degree. Hundreds of B schools, copying Western formulae, have sprung up, but industry’s big pain area is lack of skilled frontline business activation professionals. No postgraduate course practically trains for activation in India’s specific market conditions, nor is there any benchmark of this competence.

My grandmother told me an inspiring story of my great grandfather who had basic education and became an eminent activation professional. He’d literally absconded from our zamindar family home in Dhaka to build his career in Burma in early 20th century. Over fifty years later, by coincidence, I too adventured into Paris at age 19 with just $ 8 to spend, and without knowing a soul in France. My great grandfather returned home with fame and the prestigious title of “Rai Saheb” awarded by the British Crown George V, for his excellent activation craftsmanship. He had helped the British army make and execute the master plan of the strategic Stilwell (Burma) Road. This proved invaluable for sending supplies to beleaguered China to resist Japanese invasion during World War II. In my profession, I’ve always prioritized activation as the most vital aspect to step into the future.

India’s dire need is for “A Schools” (A=Activation). In a flourishing liberalised economy, businesses in private, public or MNC sectors require huge number of activation professionals to interface the market and customers. Three prominent areas, basic HR, marketing-sales and retail, face a dearth in quality and number of such professionals.

Activation in Basic HR: The last mile connect to the end customer always lies with the floor staff that put the product together. Delivery from an engineering manufacturing factory could have scratches on the product or defects in the production convoy in spite of the factory being state-of-the-art. But the staff remains untrained in customer expectation from that product.

Basic HR professionals need to create passion on their industry among shopfloor employees. Training on end customer sensitivity, shopfloor discipline, high level hygiene and civic sense, and stringent adherence to corporate processes, values, vision and goals has to verify the degree of absorption the floor staff has undergone. Rushing headlong into implementation before absorbing the content is ineffective.

Activation in Marketing-Sales: In India, 70 to 80% of the market is unscanned with no available market data. The wholesaler decides on the brands and sells them to small traditional retail outlets. Large companies that believe in rural penetration apply no science to exploit this potential. Only theoretical boardroom marketing cannot run businesses. Marketing activation staff has to reach unscanned markets to understand these areas are not homogenous. Business transactions are cost centric and pragmatic, cultural nuances are high, emotive factors non-expressive, infrastructure problems aplenty, and the brand’s visibility, proximity and availability vital at the point of purchase. Sophisticated engineer-MBAs are averse to this type of physical action. Activation graduates with hands-on marketing-sales training are required.

Activation in Retail: Everything starts from shopper focus. Front end sales persons must be trained to befriend shoppers, understand their body language and customise to increase their purchase act. The backend personnel should emphasize on stringent sourcing and quality control to sustain the value of the merchandize.

Defects: Often sales people at sophisticated fashion retails do not have the skill to address high, medium or low value customers, and get intimidated by them. If the merchandise price is not written, they don’t know what the price is.

If you are drooling over a high tech futuristic car, the showroom salesman will rarely have the knowledge or vocabulary to explain its tech functions. Servicing such a car can be a nightmare; your perfectly functioning music speaker may not work after the garage run.

The mobile phone market is booming, but do frontline sales people keep up with the rapidly changing next version technology? So service after sales can be disastrous, obliging you to buy a new handset as they cannot estimate the time required to repair your old one.

White and brown goods very often turn out defective after home delivery. Worse still, service inferiority makes you question why you took on this unnecessary tension of purchase.

How many times have insurance or banking tele-marketing persons disturbed you, either changing your gender or calling you by another name? Without basic activation training, these companies are merely negating their goodwill with potential consumers.

Defects come from untrained frontline people. Billion-peopled India needs thousands of high caliber, 2-year residential "A Schools." Simple graduates can be trained to become high skilled activation professionals for interacting with the market’s unpredictability.

“A Schools” can increase the skill of the masses. Training this level of people will make our country’s base very solid as they can contribute tremendously to high, sustaining GDP growth.

To download above article in PDF Please Trauma in activation

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Posted on 13-12-2009
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article 

Since 2001 I’ve started writing a white paper, among others, on India’s ZAP86 generation. The trend they could be setting is becoming more obvious as time goes by.

What’s a trend? Mirroring society’s uncommon micro movements, often rebellious, and boiling their effects into a sociological frame creates the trend that lasts in society’s collective consciousness. Unlike steady social evolution before World War II, perhaps the horrible effect of this first atomic war gave rise to several rebellious factors in the West. From American Baby Boomers to Elvis-the-Pelvis, BeatleMania, Hippies, Punks, Skinheads, among others, all drew powerful, defiant trends on society’s canvas, engraving their outstanding impact for all time. Such trends have influenced literature, music, science, philosophy, invention and art, embedding their differentiation to become references of history, not the past.

The rebellious 1970s Punk movement changed the trend of hair grooming. Because civilized human society could never think of sporting multi-coloured hair, the non-conformist Punks revolted with vibrant colours on hair that stood up with boiled sugar syrup, which when cold, kept the hair shiny and upright.

This creative Punk achievement, with no scientific lab, was ingeniously taken forward by L’Oreal. With masterpiece R&D and marketing, L’Oreal created hair colour as fashion that replaced hair dye, and unisex hair gel, where earlier lacquer was used, and only by women. Skilfully translating trend into business L’Oreal took this Punk product invention to market as an art form. They connected it to Piet Mondrian’s authentic Neo Plasticism value, the new painting style of flat, bright colours this famous modern painter created in 1930. Branding in L’Oreal’s StudioLine gel and hair colour reflected Mondrian’s art. Today, even formal office wear accepts streaking hair colour, and applying gel is a style statement.

3rd BC to 21st century: To enter India’s ZAP86 generation, let’s take a snap historical perspective. There was high rise in culture and trade from 3rd century BC upto 15th century AD. The new influence of Muslim culture from 16th to 18th century saw integration and further economic boost. British colonialism from 1757 to 1947 made Indians subordinate, but created one India. Freedom turned to instability in the protected 1947 to 1991economy, and led to the downfall of moral fibre with growth of corruption and negligible public benefits or upliftment of the downtrodden as expected in Independent India. Sudden technical change took place with economic reforms introduced in 1991. The WTO ratification and TRIPS compliance in the 21st century led to a new departure. Investment came from American and European multinational companies, and corporate India very innovatively took the opportunity to translate that to phenomenal GDP growth from 3.9% in 2003 to 9.4% in 2007.

ZAP 86: When our liberalized economy started in 1991, a new generation could be identified in those born after 1986. Five-year-olds by 1991, these children were old enough to consciously influence purchase decisions and only saw their parents’ open pocket when the economy was booming. They have no idea about India’s savings mentality, of the scarcity of choice in a protected economy. I call them ZAP86, they flit from subject to subject, the way they zap TV channels. They are totally cut off from the Retro generation born before 1968 or the Compromise generation born after 1968.

The Retro generation has characteristics of saving, sacrificing, routine, more security in a government job, and suppressing thoughts of sex. The Compromise generation is Westernised with Indian values, good listeners and learners, has an unbalanced lifestyle, is investment oriented, and dominated by their ZAP86 children’s demands. ZAP86 has global thought and knowledge, speed of technology, sexual liberation, flirtation with jobs, code language and no role models. They influence all purchase decisions in every home. Their flexibility is visible in the tremendous success of call centres in India. A 22-year-old speaks Tamil at home, “Hinglish” with cosmopolitan Indian friends, and in the BPO, her entire physiology and expression change as she chats in an effortless American accent about the basketball game in Cincinnati before commencing business.

A recent research with about 100 metro girls and boys, we showed a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement where a girl was willingly portraying her sexual desire towards a man, while three other men looked on. Of the ZAP86 girls, 60% had no problem fantasizing about participating here, but in real life they preferred the absence of the watching men. All ZAP86 boys wanted to be in there, and thought the scene had nothing wrong. But Compromise and Retro generations viewed the picture as vulgarism, violation or raping.

The billion people trend? As trends change people’s mindset on socio-cultural aspects and give rise to business, India can take the opportunity of generating a trend. ZAP86 is a generation today that can become tomorrow’s trendsetter. There is a way to cultivate trends. It’s a multi profession engagement in society with activities to grow the trend. Graffiti, for example, continues to spread as an art form from Ancient Greek and Roman Empire times to today in spite of prohibition against defiling public wall space. Even established governments give credence to rebellious wall messages, as did the French cultural minister Jack Lang who nominated graffiti as real art to be put in museums. Americans have supposedly declared the New York metro graffiti to be a form of art. Contemporary music, culture and entertainment have had origins in street art, but not graffiti of political banners. Graffiti is not political messages but reflects a wayward, rebellious creative character.

India’s ancient architecture and culture, multi-community celebrations, fashion’s profusion of mix-&-match colours are treasures not yet exploited as trends to bequeath the world with. Instead Western trends have covered us, without people being a part of that trend’s genesis.

India’s new departure after economic liberalization, WTO and ZAP 86 has created several social breaks. But current brands and products are driven by, and targeted to, Compromise and Retro generations. Foreign companies like Sony, Apple or Samsung try to connect to ZAP86 by importing Western trends, increasing their zapping mentality. Harnessing the aspirations of ZAP86 can derive Indian trends. The scope for industry to fill this gap ranges from automobile to two-wheelers, beauty products, fashion, food, music, literature, art and advertising, all of which can identify, portray and define Indian trends emanating from ZAP86.

Retro and Compromise generations have connived with India’s socio-eco-political circumstances to create ZAP86 who’re poles apart from them. Today’s 12-year-olds are tech born, 7-year-olds teach their parents how to Google. This future of the country needs fostering at both the workplace and society to unearth the radical new. Won’t you give them space to craft the billion people’s trends for the world to emulate tomorrow?

To download above article in PDF Please ZAP86 trend

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Posted on 06-12-2009
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article 

India’s Constitution has been downloaded from 9 countries, Britain, USA, Ireland, France, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Japan and Weimar Constitutions, plus the UN Human Rights Declaration. Enunciating liberal democracy principles from Western legal traditions, the structure of our political functioning is a hotchpotch with no roots in India’s diverse way of life.

Indian media are focused on politics and politicians; democracy is a buzzword in this unique, multi-cultural society. Different Western societies have embraced democracy after distilling its various implications for their countries. Upto 1947 democracy was not grounded on Indian soil, so its fundamentals are rootless here.

As we know it, democracy originated in ancient Greece. Philosopher Plato said democracy was “rule by the governed” as opposed to monarchical “rule by an individual” or oligarchy “ruled by a small elite class.” Vaishali, in what is now Bihar, was among the world’s first governments practicing democratic ways similar to those in ancient Greece. In scattered evidence democratic institutions in India’s independent sanghas and ganas "republics" existed in sixth century BC until the fourth century AD. But no pure historical source exists for that period.

Since our Independence, Indian politicians have been comfortable in the amorphous political structure largely fashioned by the British Crown. Many top Freedom Fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar, Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Bose, Womesh Banerjee including Pakistan’s Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan studied or lived in England. Others such as Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Bipin Chandra Pal came from wealthy families. So how much they understood the plight of the poor is open to question.

A childhood memory from the squatted refugee colony in Kolkata’s outskirts where I was born and raised, is a movement my father started from the 1959 food crisis in Bengal. He mobilised thousands of under-privileged people into “Sarbohara Mukti Parishad” loosely translated as “Movement to free those who have lost everything,” in search of food, with the typical “Inquilab Zindabad” slogan, “Long live the revolution!” But the refugees would reply, “Inquilab Zhinga Bhat.” Zhinga is courgette or ridge gourd vegetable, and Bhat is rice. The only expectation of those who had lost everything in their forced migration from East Bengal was the basic food of rice and courgette. On hearing people shout the wrong interpretation of Inquilab Zhinga Bhat, I once laughed out loud. I will never forget how my father immediately gave me a tight slap in front of everyone, saying, “Never disrespect the hunger of poor people.”

This subject grew in my mind. Irrespective of the banner of any political party, my father’s leadership was different, rooted to people’s actual requirements. He aroused the core of society with matters of immediate significance to them. I can say this gave me a sense of relevant politics of that time, and may have helped me to become a mass communicator through branding, and in ensuring end customer connect in my profession.

History shows that even if a foreign ideology is followed, countries adopt it to become relevant to their own political systems. The US has a free capitalist economy, but the G8 countries have their socio-politico-economies clearly rooted to their own soils. Let’s take Karl Marx’s Communist ideology. Different nations have adopted it differently, translating it dictatorially at times, but the key point is Communism was made relevant to their societies.

Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin’s form of Communism was leading workers to Russia’s October Revolution of 1917. Following decades of turmoil, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), and by 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved.

Maoism is the Marxist-Leninist trend of Communism where Mao Zedong declared a Cultural Revolution in China upto 1969 to purge “liberal bourgeois" elements. Without changing its communist ideology, China has today become a world power both economically and politically.

Fidel Castro with "Che" Guevara overthrew Cuba’s dictator Batista in 1959 through guerrilla Communist tactics. His government nationalized property and businesses owned by upper class Cubans including the plantations of Fidel Castro’s family.

The world’s first revolution against the monarchy happened in France in 1789. The Left and Right wings in politics derives from seating arrangements in Assemblee Nationale when the more radical Jacobin deputies sat on left benches. In 1905 the various Marxist parties merged. In 1934, thousands of French workers went on strike against unpaid holidays. This prompted labour minister Jean-Baptiste Lebas to provide two-weeks paid vacation each year in 1936 for the first time in the world, and a 40-hour work-week instead of 47 hours as per ILO Convention.

Since the 1920s UK had two large political parties, the Conservatives and the Labour Party inspired by Communism. Inspite of Churchill’s heroism in World War II, Labour had a landslide victory in 1945. Labour’s revulsion of Hitler’s dictatorial ways, and solidarity towards the anti-imperialist struggle in India eased their immediate exit from colonial rule in the world. So the change in British politics had some relevance to India’s Independence.

India lacks a high level professional school for political leaders for administrative, visionary and activation knowledge to govern the country as per India’s political roots. In France, Charles de Gaulle created École Nationale d’Administration (ÉNA) after World War II. By having an academic proficiency and competitive examinations based system, recruitment to top positions became more transparent, without suspicion of political or personal preference. l’ENA Alumni enter politics without risk, while others hold technical, civil service and global industry positions. French Presidents from l’ENA were Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Jacques Chirac, while government heads were Laurent Fabius, Michel Rocard, Édouard Balladur, Alain Juppé, Lionel Jospin, and Dominique de Villepin.

Leading parties in India have generally not understood that having won majority vote they now run a democratic government governing everybody. So the Chief Ministers or Prime Minister have to stand isolated from their political parties during their tenure in office. The government has an opposition in the legislative, but in a democracy the population irrespective of political parties are to be governed equally.

Anyone talking politics in India is dubbed to be in some political party. It’s difficult to be an independent, high calibre “politologue” or political commentator who can scientifically analyse and make unbiased points for the nation. What is the root cause of this situation? India’s politics is totally a medley of Western notions that do not match the people’s aspirations. Aside from voting, what is the social welfare benefit that our democratic process offers our people?

To download above article in PDF Please Rootless Politics

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