Posted on 23-02-2014
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

“How do you differentiate between an Indian joint family and extended nuclear family when both family units have the grandparents living with them?” This was the query from the Head of Human Resources of one of my clients to whom we had advised that family living style is among the important criteria to gauge a candidate’s ability to take responsibility at work.

I’d written about India’s heterogeneous family units 3 weeks ago, how it connects to business as multi-social elements and living styles impact business, opening up avenues for purchase and human resource. Let me illustrate with different flavors of family structures.

Joint family: Simi grew up in Nainital, Uttarkhand where tourists flock to between May and August when her family hotel does peak business. Her grandparents, parents and father’s younger brother run the business. After her uncle married, things went topsy-turvy. It was an arranged marriage, her aunt was from a joint family too, but being the only daughter is probably why she was a demanding, spoilt person. Simi’s mother would cook breakfast and lunch from their single kitchen for the 11 member family before going off to her hotel duties. Pouting through the day, her aunt would intermittently keep her word about cooking dinner. Total unpredictability reigned about household basics as nobody could gauge what would upset her aunt when, or how she would react. On threatening to break up the joint family, the family gave her the money to start a beauty parlour she wanted. She selfishly pocketed the revenue, but that was no issue as the family split was avoided, not because their finances were joint but because “What would we tell the relatives and neighbours?” After Simi’s grandfather died, her aunt created a scene. She announced she’d return to her parents’ home if Simi’s parents did not move out of the house. The aunt got her way.

How did such brawls at home impact the children? Simi says that compared to her friends from nuclear families, she feels more mature. She’s learnt how to keep peace, to steer clear of rocking the boat, uphold family honour, anticipate, be patient, consider consequences before acting, shun pettiness in achieving the bigger objective, and look after the vulnerable who willy-nilly get affected. In short, she understands the value of intangibles, of building and preserving relationships as the bedrock for the future, and not to indelibly destroy hope. If you look at these characteristics in business perspective, they are desirable. The counter argument that joint family children cannot take decisions because elders run the home is negated by this aunt who wants her own way.

Living in a home with his grandparents, parents and his father’s 4 married brothers, Hemant has seen tremendous stress and strain through his 24 years. The elder boy in a joint family feels totally accountable for his younger cousins, especially the girls. Hemant’s girl cousin confides in him. She shows him the miniskirt she wears to a party, then quickly pulls up a loose salwar over it as Hemant responsibly drops her off in his motorbike. He knows he cannot reveal to the elder generation that he’s allowing this, but he cannot deny her this lifestyle as he too is doing something the elders will disapprove, he has a girlfriend who’s not of the same caste. He knows this will be his monumental problem soon.

Extended joint family: Namita lives with her parents and grandparents in Tamilnadu. Her father is the earning member who’s brought his parents to live with his nuclear family, that’s why this is an extended nuclear family. Here too, the social values of the older family members have been transferred to the children. Namita and her sister would never go against what they perceive their family would disapprove. There’s a visible demarcation between her and her friends from nuclear families. Namita says she’s more traditional in her dressing style and approach towards the opposite sex. She’ll never appear provocative, nor like her friends, spend on expensive cosmetics and perfumes. Her big worry is the caste factor. She and a boy from her college are in deep love, but social issues are putting a question mark on their happiness. He’s of a higher caste joint family, he says he loves her but has no guts to reveal his love to his parents, fearing rejection. Namita believes her father may have guessed the situation although she’s not revealed anything yet. He’s told her about their looking out for an alliance for her, and that she should not mix with young boys, especially mentioning the boy she loves. Namita’s fluid situation is unnerving her, but she says she knows that if her boyfriend has not committed marriage to her, it’s a dead end. She’s willing to risk everything, but her boyfriend’s hesitation tells her that her love will never converge because of caste. She lives in uncertainty of love which may end up in arranged marriage to someone else.

Nuclear family: Anjali’s parents had eloped, so her mother is totally banned from entering her maternal home. Subsequently, Anjali says she has no restrictions whatsoever on whom to marry. Ranjana is from a nuclear family too, but she has self-imposed discipline. She will not do what she imagines her parents will not like, but seeing her sisters marry outside their caste, she knows her boundaries are not too tight. Both these nuclear family girls are outgoing and extroverts, oozing confidence. They have chosen high-pressure careers, they burn the midnight oil at work and travel nonchalantly, zooming into different cities.

India’s social fibre is so strong that whether you are targeting a consumer or employee, the more you go in-depth to understand the microcosms of this society, the better will you understand the aptitude of your employee for recruitment or the purchase motivation of your consumer. We are all familiar with joint families, but how the young generation is confronting change is the most important aspect to discover.

To download above article in PDF Societal contradictions

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/societal-contradictions/99/

(0) Comments   
Posted on 16-02-2014
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Death from racism is even more painfully shameful in a heterogeneous country like India. We can only empathize with the heavy heart Nido’s parents are carrying. We pride ourselves about India’s tricolour flag bringing ‘unity in diversity’ and ours being the world’s most spiritual society, but in the face of regional discrimination in our everyday life, everything becomes hogwash.

A colleague of mine visiting Kolkata on research work was telling me that after a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in Park Street, when the restaurant manager approached her, she spoke appreciatively. The manager was very happy, and asked where she’s come from. She replied Bangalore, when the next words he whispered totally shocked her, “Kolkata could be better if there were no indecent Biharis spoiling the city.” The irony was that she was from Bihar. Having grown up as a Bengali in West Bengal, I can vouch for such culturally racist sentiments. Marwaris are offensively referred to as Mero, Biharis as Khotta, Oriyas as Ure and all South Indians as Madrassis. When I look at other states, similar codifications apply; North-Easterners are Chinkis, Kerelites are Kurkurias, in Karnataka the derogatory words for Tamilians are Konga or Pandi, Tamilians call Andhraites as Kolty and Kannadigas as Kalli and all North Indians as Setu. Whereas the word Bhaiyya is respectful in North India, for states South of the Vindhyas, it’s a belittling reference to North Indians.

From retail distributors in Pune, I’ve heard gripes about the alleged parochial arm-twisting in Maharashtra that has frightened away all Biharis who’d actually been their low-cost labour base. It seems workers from Bihar are very sincere, hardworking and dedicated. They’d come without families, and distributors gave them room and board next to the godown where several of them stayed together. They were willing to work day and night, whenever required. Local distributors unhappily said that Maharastra is not allowing them to come because of high local unemployment, but that Maharashtrians don’t work as hard and demand more money. They work fixed 8-hour timings and return to their families at night. So the distributer’s loading-unloading time takes longer, with delays leading to business loss. Whatever may be the business implication for the distributors, for people from Bihar the situation amounts to preventing their fundamental right to work anywhere in India, at the same time its exploitation of labour, and social discrimination that leads to fostering hatred among fellow Indians.

When you look at India’s heterogeneous perspective, there are many areas that can potentially divide us. Take arranged marriages as the indicator of what’s acceptable. First comes religion, then caste, language, then state of origin. It’s very clear that no family will arrange a marriage with people speaking a different language. The exception I’ve noticed is among Rajputs where the ruler stratum is the most important factor. Whether the bride or groom comes from Rajasthan, Nepal, Bengal, Gujarat or Karnataka or Manipur does not matter so long as the social lineage is from the ruling family, although in independent India nobody has any ruling powers anymore. Other areas critical in arranged marriages are matching family status in terms of economic power and what the boy, and nowadays the girl, earns. Matching the education level matters as that anticipates the couple’s money earning capacity and long-term compatibility. A most denigrating factor is checking the colour of skin which purportedly determines beauty. All marriage advertisements look for a fair person, while a dark-skinned person describes himself/herself as wheat complexioned.

Interstate, cross communal marriages between persons speaking different languages or having different religious beliefs can happen only in a love marriage. So aside from race, religion, caste or language, we subscribe to divisions of the rich and poor, literacy-illiteracy, lower to higher education, social status of men and women in jobs, being a native from a north, west, south, eastern state, social standing of being a member of a family who is in politics, industry owner, independent businessman, trader, armed forces, educators, priests, working in corporate, MNC company, having a government job, or professionals like doctors, lawyers or tailors and carpenters. So many ingredients are available in our country to express our racism.

The race problem is not limited to India alone. Inspite of being part of the European Union, the different countries in Europe rarely identify with one another as Europeans. All may have the same skin colour, but each nation has its own language, so no unity. Significantly, a historical residue can create such strong hatred that a whole race was about to be obliterated. Since the 12th century when the Pope declared that Catholics are prohibited from lending money, people turned to the Jews for their economic requirement. Borrowers are either unable to pay back or lenders take their advantage, but the cumulative result was hatred institutionalized against the Jewish society. Nazi Hitler’s “Final Solution” strategy to exterminate Jews expressed blatant racism propagated by the State. Even in different economic difficulties situations racism can be expressed. After World War II, the French were very negative with Italians and Spaniards. After 6 decades this feeling is almost repaired, although if somebody is doing something the wrong way, I still hear comments like, “Why are you working stupidly like a Portugese?”

A controversial survey done across 3 decades in 80 countries, and mapped by Washington Post, put India at No. 2 position after Jordan among the world’s most racist countries. The accuracy of this survey is being questioned. As addressing African origin people as Black or Negro is taboo in the US, you have to call them African Americans, so would any American openly express bias? TV debaters vehemently argue for and against Indians being racists. It’s a pity that our education system is so archaic that children are still not taught to appreciate the diversity of our different states, language, religion, food habits, social culture of the country in a positive way. Unless that happens, extreme discrimination that killed Nido will always be there.

To download above article in PDF Are we racists?

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-are-we-racists/99/

(1) Comment   
Posted on 09-02-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

The extremely high pace of change in the world of business has inflated the micro-bino-teles metaphor. You may well ask, what’s this esoteric gibberish? Actually, it’s the most practical instrument to apply if you want to sustain in your business.

In the past, time would buffer whatever business leadership you may have achieved, allowing you to savour the top rung for a while before somebody else finally caught up. Not any longer. You are a leader today, and just tomorrow you can be nudged out to become a follower, the day after your business may collapse. The luxury of having processes, brand, money, machines and people do not bring stability enough to sustain profitable business. The dictat used to be that the West ideates and developed countries ride in its ferris wheel. Domineering power houses of business were never questioned. But suddenly, developing countries are upping the temperature including Asian dragons bellowing fire from the nostrils by excelling in manufacturing and services. The furnace of digital heat has never been so active before. 

So if you try to accomplish your short-term objective with truncated processes, you’ll produce a skeleton. Devoid of living substance, skeletons become fossils. Micro is your answer here. The microscope magnifies details for you to manage short-term business exceptionally well.  Happenings of the world are not taking place in your boardroom or operational area, but totally outside. Don’t point the microscope to your internal lab to find short-term happiness over performance that’s not benchmarked. Rather, aim it to the marketplace. You’ll find umpteen things to dissect or identify under the microscope lens. The magnified view may so surprise you as to encourage you to fill your short-term with succulent flesh, thereby avoiding being fossilized.

Simultaneously, to evade sinking in the mid-term, you have to carry the binoculars in your pocket to view competitor activities. Wait! You have another pocket, but the other instrument is too long. It’s a telescope. Hang it to your back. As a business leader, your business driving instruments are not PowerPoint, tablet, Excel sheet or video conference reviews. You have to be equipped with the microscope, binoculars and telescope. Telescope brings the unreachable distance closer so you can practice the new idea you’ve envisioned much ahead of time. In today’s business domain, a leader cannot separate the 3 instruments made for discovery beyond the obvious in human civilization. Can you become a leader who discovers beyond the obvious?

Penetrate the market distinctly, with feet firmly on the ground microscope-like, or viewing the immediate distance with binoculars, or telescopically bridging expanse with head pointing skywards. That’ll respectively tell you what to do today, tomorrow and in future. Trouble follows the absence of the three vital business instruments. The pioneer of the celluloid photographic imaging industry experienced this, and has since buckled under. In microscopically fine-tuning products internally to lead the market with, the company failed to address the changing mindset of customers. That’s its reason for collapse. 

India’s habit of always taking a shortcut to address business requirements is just as dangerous. People in industry consider a low cost business approach as the easy way to capture markets. I’ve often heard industry people take credit for copying a German machine while adapting it to Indian conditions, and in the process drastically reducing capital expenditure by 6 times. Managements pamper such engineers, give them great credit. But nobody analyses how in the global competitive scenario, they end up delivering low value products of inferior quality with poor return on investment. The "jugaad" mentality of cut-and-paste improvisation to overcome an immediate constraint can be hazardous for mainstream business because such shortcuts translate to business not being sustainable. Jugaad application is certainly not compatible for the country’s industrialisation.

However, for livelihood generation of the low income population, jugaad cannot be disrespected. Their jugaad experience of frugality and flexibility in the face of resource and money crunch is vital for survival. I honour their jugaad skills of crafting new solutions from the ground up. At the same time, government cannot shirk its responsibility of encouraging job creation in the country.

There’s disruptive change in how business was run even 10-20 years ago. Let me illustrate with the photography industry. In the celluloid film era, you needed to have film in stock, a camera at hand. Just imagine if at your daughter’s birthday party you forget to procure film, you’ve lost capturing that emotion forever. To even click a photograph, you have to know about ISO speed, lens aperture, follow the rituals of film processing, printing, printing quality, all of which comes after a certain lapse of time. The next day you rush off leaving the film roll on the table for your wife to give to the studio for processing. Suddenly the 3-year-old protagonist of that film roll wanders in and simply pulls open the celluloid with stretched hands. There! Everything’s gone for a toss!

Just imagine how disruptively this industry has changed people’s mind, attitude and experience. They get instantaneously pictures today. Nobody below the age 15 can appreciate waiting for a photograph as of yore. This change mirrors today’s radical digital nature of society. Among 800 million people carrying a mobile phone, each is carrying a camera, a totally unprecedented situation. Word messaging has given way to image messaging. Watch out! It takes only a few seconds to publicize worldwide the adultery any country’s president is getting entangled in!

Photography mania is just a symbol of how instantaneous visual memory is driving the world. At every stage, short-term, mid-term or long-term, you have to ideate beyond the obvious. You can never tell how your long-term objective may be matching your direct or indirect competitor’s short-term execution. In a jiffy, that’ll certainly make you obsolete. Yours and your competitors’ short, mid and long-term agenda are not the same. As a business leader, you have no choice but to carry a microscope, binoculars and telescope to understand the market and act to take your business forward.

To download above article in PDF Micro-bino-teles biz

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/micro-bino-teles-biz/

(0) Comments   
Posted on 02-02-2014
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

The business potential that India’s incredible heterogeneous family compositions provide seems to have bypassed most industries. Not in Harvard Business School or in London School of Economics or INSEAD France will you learn of this societal complexity. This is the real mosaic of India. Family living arrangements drive the consumer’s purchase behavior and impact the consumer’s mindshare on a brand.

Traditionally joint families with numerous generations have lived under one shelter enjoying meals together from one kitchen. The men have blood ties while women join after marriage. Sisters vacate this family club after marriage. The same living system has continued generation after generation, but it’s diversifying now, especially in cities.

Like a new bud opening, the 1991economic reforms brought in tremendous change. The joint family doesn’t exist so inclusively anywhere in the world. Because it’s so obvious for Indians, industry doesn’t care to dwell on its significance. Global company expatriate bosses who are operating here have no clue to understand this multi-colour social fabric. From the perspective of social transformation and business opportunity, let’s look at ten living compositions that are clearly identifiable now.

1. An unmarried couple living together indulges each other with special purchases to keep romance alive. But they have no connubial rights that Indian law recognizes. Sharing the same bed they may attract disapproving frowns from close relatives or not be protected by law, but theirs is a breakthrough situation that finds new social acceptance in varying degrees. When a conservative family parent of the live-in couple comes to visit, the couple separates for some time. The parent looking for the child’s approval pretends to know nothing. Sometimes if a live-in relationship fails, the girl may malign the boy by filing a case of cheating or rape, but whether the court will uphold it is another matter.

2. When a woman has to leave home for a job in another city, she feels entered the liberty zone in her lifespan. Having temporarily escaped the family control subjugation of marriage, she experiments with everything new, spends on herself, yet never overspends her earning.

3. For boys pampered at home, they learn to fend for themselves by cooking, cleaning, washing plus going to office when living alone,. Small packs of FMCG products, white goods that ease chores, electronics that quicken work are all popular with them.

4. A young married couple where only the man is working, he gets indulgent. To enjoy his newfound happiness, he impresses his bride with goodies and trips. In this romantic stage without children, the wife wallows in this attention and spends liberally.

5. A nuclear family with children where only the husband earns, the wife controls the household. She prioritizes spend according to the children’s requirement. Being dependent, she is conscientious about the budget and does not splurge.

6. When both husband and wife are working, there’s total independence in spending. Feeling guilty for not spending quality time with children, the wife overspends to please her kids. So lots of unnecessary gadgets enter the home. This happens with DINKs (double income no kids) too. In both cases, there are many instances of extramarital affairs by both sexes in urban areas. Sometimes both know it but keep silent because of the children. The women openly share their distress, brave choice or affair with very close friends. Nevertheless, divorce is increasing. I’ve seen marriages break after a year and remarriage happening just as nonchalantly. This was indeed rare in Indian society.

7. An extended nuclear family is when a parent of husband or wife comes to stay. Suddenly, the wife has to shop differently, catering to the choice of 3 generations for all purchases from food to household linen.

8. Traditional joint families practice bulk buying for one kitchen. Each earning member contributes to running the home, whether for the common kitchen, repairs or festive spending. Housewives in joint families have revealed to me that every couple’s bedroom may have a refrigerator ostensibly for the children’s milk, but that’s where they may keep special things not shared with the full family. In this context if a working woman enters the family, problems can get created. There’s a possibility her husband may split to live separately with his working wife. From the automobile showroom I’ve heard that if a joint family member decides to buy a car, he first verifies everything accompanied by his friend. But the final purchase is theatrical. The whole family of 7 to 22 people goes to the showroom for finalization. The salesman has to pay attention to everybody. If the salesman prioritizes between influencer vs. buyer, the sale can just go for a toss.

9. The neo joint family is traditional in every respect except that the house gets divided with each brother having a separate kitchen. The entire neo-joint family periodically gets together to share a meal from their parents’ kitchen. There are subtle social and family permissible points important here. A well-to-do person once told me that when he wanted to buy a costly Mercedes, he was socially hampered because his elder brother drove a Maruti. So he had to first negotiate with their mother to convince his elder brother to buy a sophisticated car. Only then could he buy the Mercedes.

10. I once heard in a tier 3 town that retired couples living on their own are closely chased by bankers. That’s because they talk in dollars. Their children, mostly in the IT sector, live abroad and send them money regularly for their elderly parents to live and spend well.

These ten different family compositions reveal the heterogeneous mindset for living and purchase. It impacts all industries. But I’m not sure businesses and their human resource divisions in India pay enough attention to or evaluate such multi-social elements while recruiting or while selling products or services. This is the heterogeneous reflection of family composition in India. What an advantage for business!

To download above article in PDF Mosaic of heterogeneous family units

Financial Express link:http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-mosaic-of-indian-families/

(1) Comment    Read More