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Book Review : The Indian Media Business {3rd Ed.}

Published May 9, 2015 by vishalvkale


BOOK REVIEW : THE INDIAN MEDIA BUSINESS

BY : VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR






Image result for the indian media business vanita kohli 3rd edition


ABOUT THE AUTHOR : 
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and writer. She has been tracking the Indian media and entertainment business for over a decade. Currently she is a columnist and writer for Business Standard and Mid-Day. Her earlier stints include one at Businessworld and Ernst & Young. A Cambridge University fellow (2000), Vanita teaches at some of the top communication schools in India.
THE BOOK
The book is, in simple terms, a reference book on the entire Media Landscape of India; at the same time, it is also a book that teaches you the basics of the game, and then proceeds to take you into the inner working and nut&bolts of this industry and all its constituent sectors. It traces the development of each sector right from its beginnings, right from the start, and develops right upto the present time. It furthermore  also covers regulatory and legal aspects of the business, making it a one-step guide to this industry, and a must read for anyone even remotely connected with Indian Business in any function; more so for Sales and Marketing Professionals, for whom this should be required reading. 
It devotes one chapter on each sector of the Media Business – Print, Television, Film, Music, Radio, Telecommunications, Internet, Out-of-Home, and Events. Within these chapters, the book uses a standard layout for all chapters: introducing the industry, a brief but powerfully hitting strategic summary, then tracing the entire industry from its origins to the modern day {till 2009, when the book was penned}; as well as its operational realities & how the business works, topping it off with a reasonably thorough look at the regulatory history as well as current landscape of each sector. After this data supported {extensively data supported, may I add} portion, we are treated to Case Studies from India and the World, which are very relevant and pertinent. All in all, a complete reference guide for the Indian Media Business!
THE REVIEW
First of all, the content is a bit dated – there is an updated version now available, which is recommended for purchase.  {I shall be reviewing that as well on my website}. But that apart, there is almost nothing that is bad, or even debatable, or even far-fetched. This is a superb book that is factual, data supported and full of  pertinent information for the interested reader.
1.  Print Media : “The Indian Print Business Is In The Best Years Of Its Evolution” The book starts with the Print Media, and packs a surprise right on the first page for the uninitiated – India is one of the fastest growing newspaper markets in the world. I liked 2 things in this chapter : one, content quality and corruption / issues and challenges – which she has taken head-on in no uncertain terms; and the other the short and succinct analysis of why Print is not likely to fade in India
2.   Television : “The Market Will Remain About Broadcasting For Very Long” This is a rather detailed chapter, which could have been better, in my opinion – but the author was constrained by having to cover all points as per the chapter layout planned for each sector. My main take-away – the rise of the Regional Channels in the industry, as well as the advertising section. The rise of regional channels leaves you wanting to know more, which is only a tantalizing glimpse in the book!
3.  Films : “There Has Never Been A Better Time To Be In The Movie Business” Most of us know zilch about this sector and how it operates. Well, you’ve got the right book for understanding this segment; the piece de resistance of the book for me – along with the Out-Of-Home segment. Here again we run into the rise of the regional cinema, in a short tantalizing look; confirming that there is a case for the Author to devote more space to the regional language media, whose rise does feature, but gets drowned in the other stuff. That apart, this chapter offers a complete understanding of the business of Movies from content to distribution, attendant risks, challenges and issues – which will not be found anywhere else as far as I am aware.
4.  Music : “The Music Industry Is Finally Enjoying The Growth Possibilities Created By New Media” This is the one single chapter I look forward to reading in the new edition… that should sum it up. No further comments here!
5.  Radio :  “The Radio Business Needs To Move On To The Next Stage” The second take-away from the book; the unsung Medium in the Indian Media story, which is normally dominated by Television and Print in the Media. This chapter has the Author in her element, as she goes about tracing the challenges and pluses, which are reasonably well covered. Again, in the opening strategy section, we get a glimpse of deep insight as the author notes with pain the absence of true localization in the content – leaving the reader with a sigh of dissatisfaction, at the prospect of having a more analytical look into this Medium… let us see if the next edition is upto the mark in this
6.  Telecommunications : “Telecom’s Ability To Master The Media Business Will Depend On Its Flexibility” So much has changed, that it would be futile to go into this here. Suffice it to say that the chapter gives you a hold on this industry {unfortunately my industry L }, its basics and its history. And yes, its regulatory mess.
7.  The Internet : “The Coming Years Will Be Tough For The Internet As A Medium” Written in 2009, current 2015, look above in point no 6. Repeat most part here. Enough said; will look in the review of the current edition!
8.  Out Of Home : “The Similarities Between Out Of Home and Cable TV Are Startling” This is the chapter, this is the sole reason you should read the book… the least understood and most brutal area of Media. And one of the most ubiquitous in terms of customer interaction points. The chapter takes you deep into this business, into its growth, its unregulated and fragmented mess, its potential as well as engaging case studies of how a growing economy of the 90s onwards created both a mess as well as space and opportunities.  
9.  Events : “Everything is an Event” – again, an updated edition is sure to have more masala as events have now grown quite a bit into various streams and industries, so passing up any comment here. Repeat points 5 and 6 here, in short – understand the basics of the business!
SUMMARY
In short, I can say truthfully that this is a primer book; one that gives the reader a thorough and painstaking look at the constituent factors and operational realities, challenges, regulations and history of each Media segment. The sad part is that it could have done all that, and gone into greater detail on some strategic aspects, which I shall cover after reading the updated edition – perhaps they will find justice in the new edition! All in all, a vital and important contribution to the literature on Indian Media!
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The Screen As A Strategy : Understanding The Internet

Published April 29, 2015 by vishalvkale

I closed the previous article {found here : Understanding The Internet : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems} with a statement that few organizations truly understand how to use the 5-21” space of the screen;  this article looks at this aspect in a little more detail. A great many companies use the customer-facing aspects of the internet as merely another tool to communicate and connect, completely ignoring the full power of the internet ecosystem.
The Screen, first of all, is mistakenly defined as just a mere device that displays, or acts as a window, disseminating information to your prospects and customers, and the general audience. The screen is more of a doorway, a portal that transports – or has the ability to – transport your customer into a world of constantly interacting stakeholders in your product, your company and your addressable market segment. If that doesn’t scare you as a Brand Manager, as a Marketer, and as a Sales Professional, high time it did.
Before the internet ecosystem evolved, the touchpoints a customer had for interfacing with your products were limited – The Shop, Company Offices, Other Customers who were limited to those who were met personally, Media, Competitors and a few more. But cut to today and that has undergone a sea-change, with the potential ability of the customer connect having increased to almost infinity, with the feasibility of getting exposed to and influenced by a much larger array of touchpoints, viewpoints, opinions – as well as both positive and negative customer feedback and experiences
It stands to reason that in the changed environment of freer flow of information & increased touchpoints, the customer communication has to change from a one-sided monologue to more of an engagement with the customer. The reason is straightforward – a greater number of touchpoints mean larger information volume and interactions, contrarian opinions, noise and greater scope for replaceable products to engage with prospective customers, as well as greater potential of the medium to enhance audience experiences.
Thus far, we are on established management jargon, which is spouted by a good number of companies. Only a select few organizations manage to actually convert the monologue with an active engagement; very very few, in fact. For, a large majority of the sites I visit, at least in India, still adhere to the old style of communication; little effort is made to enhance the customer experience, and make it more rewarding and meaningful. In some cases, the customer experience is actually negative in many ways. The reason this is not showing in sales is either due to the price differential; products are cheaper on the Ecommerce sites, or due to other attendant disadvantages.
Let me illustrate with 2 examples : one B2C and one B2B. The internet is so vast, that it is not feasible for me to cover more in a blog post; neither is it advisable. In B2C, let us take books. Why does a customer buy a book online? There are two reasons : Price, and Convenience, which has lead to galloping sales at online book stores. But halt a moment, and analyse in depth. And, instead of asking what does the internet give you, ask what does a book stall give you? Reverse your viewpoint for a minute!
In a book store, you can get a feel of the book, you can flip its pages – which is pretty damned important if you are reading a new author, or a serious topic; you can easily compare similar books or two options on the same subject. Furthermore, you can far more easily spot new books; the interface is much bigger than a small screen; in a store, you are exposed to 4 walls crammed with books, which  make for easy discovery.
To compete with this, you have the price-offs and the convenience factor of the small screen; till date there has been on attempt at going beyond this. Reviews do not count in the age of the convergence of technology; it is simple enough a task to look a book’s reviews on your smartphone and purchase offline! The offline stores are also now becoming more nimble, willingly offering discounts to regular customers, and other small facilities, like getting selected books for them. They are now allowing customers to sit on sofas in comfort, and browse books to their heart’s content – in other words, they have added several value-additions to the customer interface, making for a much more rewarding experience
And that is where the digital players are not doing anything : trying to make the customer interface more rewarding. Sure, this will be expensive, time-consuming and demanding; but it will have to be done sooner or later. Currently, you are not facing the pain as the market is untapped, and there is a scorching growth pace, that is hiding the underbelly. All are advised to study Telecom, and how its ARPU fell, and draw parallels and extrapolate to the future, with penetration at higher levels. That is a reality every industry has to face.
In our example, a moments’ thought and you can spot any number of ways that the customer experience can be made more rewarding. You can facilitate browsing titles – and the usage of technology can ensure that the browsing experience in online stores will be leagues ahead of the offline experience, as you can offer targeted searches in the book’s content. Author-searches, cross-selling opportunities, specific searches of interest – all of which can make the customer experience exceptionally powerful.
You cannot match the dexterity and ease of new book discovery in offline stores; but you can work around this issue by offering other advantages. You can offer first 1o pages downloads free, as an example. You can look at facilitating direct interactions with the author, fan pages, discussion forums; you can facilitate book searches and book discovery in a much wider database, and can give options for time of delivery if book not in stock {beyond the current We Will Get In Touch When In Stock} and so on and so forth.
All this can be achieved at the touch of a button for the customer, which cannot be matched by the offline store. The current model of price-driven sales online is already driving a deep schism into offline models, leading to a massive backlash by offline models, who are competing with extraordinary tenacity and dexterity, and are in the process not only maintaining relevance, but actually winning back lost ground.
And all because the online people aren’t using the full power of the medium; and that is because the pain isn’t showing in the numbers, as the high growth rate is ensuring the new customers are greater than Churn. As I said, learn from Telecom : there will come a time when Churn will exceed new customers. And no one can say how far away that time is, given the stunningly scorching growth rates in this industry.
In the next article, I shall take a look at the B2B marketplace, as well as some interesting entirely avoidable mistakes made by the best of them in this trade in both the B2B and B2C Space. 

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems

Published April 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

UNDERSTANDING THE INTERNET : Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems



At first glance, the title – understanding the internet – seems an anachronism, something out of place in the modern world, where the internet is ubiquitous, at least among the educated classes; and is rising fast in the rest of the people. You only have to look around to see people using the internet, gaining from it, and being completely comfortable with this medium.

And yet, that is precisely what my contention is : that this medium is actually the least understood, and in just about everything. The potential of this medium is being felt in just about every human endeavour, and as I have observed before, its raw power to reach into the gut of existing models is only just being felt across industries. What is this raw power I am referring to? And why is it the least understood medium?

The average person comes across individual levels or layers of the internet at various times; this interaction is in two distinct areas in terms of purpose of usage : Personal, & Business / Professional. On a personal level, we come across Facebook and Twitter, News Apps, Online Shopping portals, and many more sites targeted at the individual; traditional classification extends to such terms as Social Media, News Portals, and so on and so forth. But, on a professional level, depending upon our profession, we similarly interact with many sites and types of portals like dedicated B2B or B2E portals and other sites – which include the above listed personal sites!

If the above sounds confused or disorienting, let me clarify : my point, simply put, is that we need to reverse our outlook; when we think of the internet, all of us think of it from the lens our personal interaction on the internet, even when looking at the professional aspects. We always think of how the internet has reduced distances, made price discovery easier, information dissemination faster and borderless, made customer contact easier and so on – in other words, looking at it Point-To-Point, individually or lacking a systems perspective

The internet is all that, and much much more. We need to turn it around 180 degrees, and look at it from a business perspective, from a strategic perspective and a systems perspective to understand the raw power, as well as appreciate how little we understand this medium, or just how wrong we have been. This has profound implications for all businesses, as we shall see.

Reaching Into The Gut Of Existing Systems
Let us start at a very basic level – the simple point-to-point interaction. Consider pricing – in any market, it is now common for a customer to compare prices with the internet; it is equally common for a customer to compare prices across geographies. This applies to retailers and distributors as well; meaning, quite simply, that price differentials within the same market will go the way of the typewriter. What all team managers, especially senior managers, tend to forget is that this also applies to your teams, which is now stunningly well connected internally.
It has always been a simple sales tactic, that of differential pricing, which in an earlier era, was nearly undetectable, given the low interconnectivity between the constituent customer profiles and the channel partners / retail / Your own team members. This at times unhealthy practice gave results while harming the system and leading to a leak of corporate money, and harm to many a top performer and talent, as needless discounts are given;  in the current era of Facebook + LinkedIn + Whatsapp + Email + Mobile Telephones, this is just not tenable, as people are way too interconnected at each level of the business ecosystem – making for easy discovery of the stated underhanded tactics.
The combination of just these 5 – Whatsapp, LinkedIn, Facebook, Email and Mobile is hard to beat. You can share information over the mobile – back it up with proof of pricing by the simple expedient of a mail or a Whatsapp photograph, or look and compare online and offline prices with ease, given the penetration of the Mobile Internet. Convergence of technologies at its very, very best.
From a systems perspective, this means that the old tactic of having differential prices for varied distributors and geographies is now a much more challenging task, given the convergence of technologies and gadgets, and ease of connection. It has meant unhindered flow of information across and within markets, ensuring that the price differential gets easily exposed. This is driven by the entire interconnected ecosystem, as employees and the channel connect with each other with ease over various media; customer openly voice opinion on the internet etc.  
What most companies further do not understand is this : there is an increasing push-back from the retail end of the business as well as from teams, who are now converging into interest groups and power fora, and getting together to force companies and managers to alter their short-term tactics of differential pricing within the same channel as well as across channels. This is a direct result of the free flow of information wrought by the internet, the mobile and the entire information ecosystem.
And that is what I meant by stating reversing from an outward looking perspective of how the internet is changing the business environment and making life easier for businesses. That way is a strictly personal look – you are essentially analyzing the advantage you have as a professional. What needs to be done is analyse the entire impact from a systems perspective, from the perspective of not the Manager, but the entire business. In other words – get into the shoes of the Business, not the shoes of the person managing the business.
And that is the most critical learning, and the real power – we aren’t talking about just the internet, we shouldn’t be thinking about just the internet, but rather the entire ecosystem – The Internet, The Computer System, The Mobile, The Falling Cost of Access, The Fast Rising Usage. We should further be looking at it holistically, and from a dispassionate analytical perspective, and changing the operating style as the market changes all around you.
In simple terms, the entire basis of business, the entire basis of doing business on the ground is changing fast, driven by a vastly changed ecosystem. And managements just aren’t in sync with this simple reality. What has happened is, quite simply, the entire bedrock on which internal systems are based has vanished almost overnight, contributing to an exponential rise in pressure on employees, managers, systems and organizations alike, as they failed to change with the times…
There are many other parameters – like the impact on the simple things  – like telling the truth, or stretching the truth; and how the internet ecosystem is setting about revealing the truth and making lying impossible for organizations; or the simple fact that even some of the most tech-savvy organizations don’t understand the 14-21” screen, and how it is to be used for maximum impact, or indeed how to strategically use it… which is the subject of the next article in the Digital Series, of which this is the third…

Music : A Question Of, And A Case For, Marathi Music

Published December 26, 2014 by vishalvkale

Music : A Case For Spreading Marathi Music


I am not a music expert, or practitioner; far from it. I am a regular, casual fan of Music; this post is not a post of an analysis of the two languages’ musical traditions. Furthermore, as a confirmed former member of the Macaulay’s Children Family, I am a fairly new convert to Marathi Music. But basis what I have seen, and heard {!}, I am stunned, and more than a little sorry that I ignored my mother tongue for so very long. 

It is perhaps because of my newness that I have noted the things I have; principally, the total lack of exposure to Marathi Music in the mainstream Social Media, as also Marathi Films. There is an abundance of exposure to the latest as well as the oldies in Hindi Music and Cinema, while the vernacular rarely gets exposure, at least insofaras Marathi is concerned. 



People can and do share Hindi music, articles and updates related to Hindi Music and Cinema, performers, artists and stars; this same is muted in the case of the Vernacular. At least, I havent seen many posts. The sad part of it is, the vernacular music section is truly filled with wonders, and we run the risk of it getting subsumed; there are two ways to solve this : write an article analysing this behaviour, hoping to change people {unlikely; forlorn hope}, or…




Do something about it, be the change you want to see in others, by starting to share Marathi Music and Cinema updates alongwith my other FB updates and Blogs. This is what I have started doing, so that I can repay the favour to the unnamed person who exposed me to the wonder that is Marathi Music and Cinema, and made me a convert. This is an article that highlights some of my favourite new Marathi singers and Musicians – not through their biodata and life-stories, but through their prominent songs… some you have heard of in Hindi music, while some may be new to the readers…






Vaishali Mhade, Bela Shende, Swapnil Bandodkar, Vaishali Samant, Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Kirti Killedar, Suresh Wadkar, Sonu Nigam… and Nilesh Mohrir, Ajay Atul & Avinash-Vishwajeet among others {Music Directors}


This song stands as among my top favourite, sung by Vaishali Mhade who is in singers, ahead of even Bela Shende in my favourites, who features later… Vaishali has an unforgettable voice, with such haunting melodies as this one : Dhuke Daatle Megh Zaraashe…


Or this rendition of Soor Anandaghan with Suresh Wadkar :



There were others I could not find, like Mounaat Bolte Raat… 




Moving on, listen to this beautiful number Paavsaa Re Paavsaa from the talented Kirti Killedar, featuring music by Nilesh Mohrir {featured in the previous post as well in Devaa Tujhyaa Gaabhaaryaalaa Umbaraach Naahi}… 



I have already given one of her top duets – Sar Sukhaachi Shraavani Ke Naachraa Valiv Haa – in one of my previous posts; let us look at a couple more from the talented Bela Shende, with Swapnil Bandodkar; Music by Avinash Vishwajeet : Aikaavi Vaatate



The next song in my list is the soft, soothing morning number Padat Aakashi Sonsade : Kedar Bhagwat/ Hariharan / Shankar Mahadevan; listen and enjoy this absolute stunner bejewelled with equally fabulous lyrics : 


Sonu Nigam, a known name… well, prepare to be suprised by this lovely lilting tune sung by him : Hirvaa Nisarg



A superb love song sung Swapnil Bandodkar and Music by Kedar Bhagwat, Parat Tulaa Paahataa Parat Tulaa Sparshtaa


Kedar Bhagwat features yet again in this post, along with Hariharan in the touching sensitive love song Shwaas Mee Aakaash Tu Re Bhaas Mee Swaprakaash Tu Re


The last 2 in this list of 10 contains two songs diamterically opposite to each other, one a complete classical song, the other a fully commercial song… first, listen to the fantastic Jeev Bhulalaa from the house of Ajay Atul, sung by Sonu Nigam and Shreya Goshal


Let us close this list of 10 with 2 renditions of an old classic song – Kathhin Kathhin Kathhin Kiti Purush Hrudaya Baai; one by the inimitable Hridaynath Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle


And then listen to this rendition of this same old number  by Rashmi Moghe… to get a fuller idea of the contemporary scene in Marathi Music, which is cutting across all genres… 



Literature and Arts / Music are what keep a language alive; we are already in a society where we get little chance to read Marathi {or our respective Mother Tongues}; not only that, we – at least Urban people like me – are not too good at reading Marathi. We just arent used to it. Thus, the only way to continue our heritage is through arts and music… 

For residents in Maharashtra, this is not that much of an issue; but for the rest of us, the exposure was hitherto limited. This is now changing rapidly with the inroads made by Technology, as I noted in my previous post on this issue. And, to be honest, for some reason, I find Marathi Music and even films {the topic of one of my future posts} more attractive, diverse and fun… could be because it is my Mother Tongue, and I am new to its Arts. Be that as it may, I am enjoying and revelling in this new hobby…

Book Review : The Mouse Charmers

Published December 23, 2014 by vishalvkale



The Mouse Charmers : Digital Pioneers of India  

by Anuradha Goyal


Anuradha Goyal has a Master’s Degree in Computer Applications with practical work experience in the IT industry for several years; she has subsequently moved on; She has co-authored the India Innovates series published by CII, and was a Jury Member for the Economic Times Power Of Ideas Contest 2010. Her papers on Business Innovation have appeared in various journals and forums


The digital industry is a nascent industry, with a long way to go, as I have myself noted in my previous articles; the road is long, and we are at the very beginning. We have no idea what works, and what doesnt; essentially we are learning as we go along, making processes, dreaming ideas, charting strategies, monitoring tactical execution as we go along. There are no defined roadmaps, and no study material in an organised format; there are no case studies and previous experiences to go by. We ourselves are the case studies of the future…

And this is precisely what Anuradha has done in what I can only refer to as a landmark in this industry; a first book of what can be called case studies of digital entrepreneurs of India. That there will be others, is beyond question. But this work will be the one that was the first, the one that was to set the ball rolling… and full marks to the author for this!

The focus of the book is to lay before the readers a set of Indian Entrepreneurs who made brands out of their ideas, and became successful in converting an idea into a successful business venture. Given the nascent nature of this industry, the author has further decided not to go too technical on us – whether in terms of technology, or in terms of business jargon and strategies, and has opted to keep it simple. 

The net result of this approach is that the reader gets 12 superb analytical case studies, with a relatively short, precise but very meaningful historical précis of what went wrong, what worked, and how the business got to the current status. In addition to this, you get a basic of the technological platform used, as also the difficulties faced and challenges overcome on a strategic front. In addition to these 12, you have a mention of other businesses that didn’t make it to the 12, but are good enough to have done so. 


The choice of the 12 cases is the hallmark of the book, as they set to define the digital space into 3 clear logical segments : ECommerce, Content Platforms and Connectors. In simple terms, sites that provide trading facilities, content generation platforms that provide reviews, or other digital content; and thirdly connectors – sites that bring users together in the B2B, B2C or C2C space. This approach serves to clearly define the digital space in our minds, and gives a clear view to the reader as well as gives a defined form with clearly demarcated broad market segments to the nascent space in the digital marketplace. 

The book is divided into 3 segments accordingly : ECommerce, Content and Connectors. And, the best part is that there is a concise description of each segment in which the scope and breadth of the segment as well as its emergence and future possibilities find an adequate mention. Again, this serves to clearly define each segment of the market, and gives us a firm and clear idea of the digital marketplace. This is the most important take-away from this book : it will give a firm shape to what was once a shapeless concept, helping to channelise your thoughts and ideas. 

The 12 cases are a wide variety, a kaleidoscope, almost – of India; they are so diverse, that they typify our India! Here you will find the story of names you know very well : Flipkart, Shaadi.com, MakeMyTrip, Zomato, Indiblogger. But you will also be surprised to learn of the success of niche sites, or different sites like  BigBasket, Caratlane, Games2Win, ImagesBazaar, Chai With Lakshmi, Rang De and Commonfloor, in areas that you would not have thought that the digital marketplace can make inroads… like the unique case of a C2C Microfinance firm on a digital platform! This is a book that will set you thinking of the enormous potential of this new medium will double force, which is the second takeaway from the book.

The way the different cases monetised their offerings, making a financial success of things as diverse as selling online to making money from reviews of restaurants is a real tribute, and a study in ideation, logical application of mind, perseverance and sheer chutzpah. This gives the reader a basic insight into what are the requirements for a person who wants to get into this industry. 

But the most important takeaway from the book is the marriage of the online with the offline; the old with the new; and the brick and mortar with the click. In each and every case, the way the offline gels in with and strengthens the online is the most vital learning. Be it the stunning efforts of Team Zomato who collected those hundreds of menus initially, or be it the dedication of Team ImagesBazaar who personally compiled the photographs to start off, every case has an offline presence in terms of hard work, and dedication, or in terms of creating and further leveraging a strategic advantage, like logistics. 

You get to appreciate and understand the stunning level of effort required to create a running business; you get to understand how they went about building it up brick by brick; looking at the strategy, the technology, the market, the customers, the monetisation, the failures, the marketing of the products – be it advertisement or be it the core product, This is a book that covers most aspects of business, creating a complete picture and business case in front of the reader. All in all, rated 5 stars!

Do We Really Want Change – 3: The Hard Reality

Published October 28, 2014 by vishalvkale

This is the 3rd part of the articles : 








In the first part, we looked at our gullibility, and our tendency fawning & hero-worship of personalities, juxtaposed against our real problems. In the second part, we took a look at our history of tolerance and diversity, compared to our modern day habit of rising intolerance & impatience. In the 3rd and concluding part of this mini-series, I shall attempt to put it all together and get a glimpse of the direction we are in



In order that we do the above, it is critical that we remind ourselves of the problems India is currently facing : 



  1. we need lesser corruption at the lower & higher levels; 
  2. we need good growth, ease of doing business; 
  3. we need equal growth for all sections of our society;
  4. we need a functioning and decent state and central government and their related organisations; 
  5. we need a free Lokpal, CBI, Police, Judiciary
  6. we need a strong defence framework, without the current problems that it is beset with
The points above cover nearly all aspects, from security to law enforcement; from education to economics; from health to corruption and from growth to equality for all. It is also deliberately circumspect; leaving out one critical aspect – tolerance, which I have alluded to elsewhere, in considerable detail. It is best if that point is left out of this debate due to its contentious and subjective nature.

Let us start from a simple contemporary example : the recent Swachh Bharat campaign. I am on record praising it for its plus points, as it targets the pusillanimous habits of us Indians – which  I had noted as early as in January 2012 : Our Attitude Regarding Civic Responsibilities. I quote : “On any given day, we can see innumerable examples of Indians putting their country to shame – spitting on the road, breaking red light, parking in no parking zone, not helping people in need in accidents, peeing in public, ignoring corruption incidents, ignoring broken public water taps”



How many of us took the trouble to note that there has been little systemic change in the overall garbage collection pattern? As I will document with Photographs in a subsequent mail, there has been little or no change, with garbage heaps in the middle of the colonies or in towns still being a regular feature as on date 27th October 2014.  I intend to give this campaign a fair chance : let some time pass. Let us see the results; if they are beyond my expectations – My India will benefit! However, as on date, I  can still see mounds of dirt piled everywhere. And there is precious little pressure on the Government to introduce systemic change, which I allude to here : Swachh Bhaarat Campaign




Similar scenes of neglect can be spotted across the length and breadth of India. Clean India requires an efficient and functioning garbage collection and disposal system. It requires a network of public facilities like dustbins, urinals etc. It requires a functioning and diligent municipal and governmental machinery in each and every state, district, tehsil, taluka and pargana of the nation. Do we have that? Far too obviously, we dont. 



Simply cleaning up the streets once is not the answer. What happens to the waste after that? Is there a cohesive action plan to deal with this waste on a regular basis? Is there an action plan to ensure that the people who are responsible for this do their duties? That they dont collect the trash and create a stinking heap somewhere in public? That the  garbage vehicle come regularly, and dumps the trash not in the street, but in a landfill?



As can be seen from the example above, this is no small task; it is a gargantuan enterprise spanning a multitude of Government-People interfaces, straddling a multitude of functional areas. This is a task that requires robust administrative systems, thorough follow-up, execution excellence and ground-up reform. And the sad part is, the hard reality is that among the people at large, there is precisely zero interest or awareness regarding these points. 




Our attitude is – Narendra Modi will do it. The BJP central government will do it. But on precisely how he will do it, no one is interested, putting blind faith in him. I dont contest his skills –  he stands as one of the finest leaders to lead India – that is not the point of the article. The point is our lackadaisical attitude towards the crying need for strong performing institutions and government bodies in our nation, and the abdication of our responsibilities in making this  happen by the self-abrogation of our duties, passing them  to one persona, to one individual – whosoever may that person be. 



We are fine with grandiose words and flamboyant statements; that is to be expected, given that we are an emotional people. But in doing so, an educated and aware people should be equally aggressive in demanding strong performing institutions of a democratic set-up : our total silence on this, and other matters {some of which I refer to below} prove beyond any shade of doubt that we as a people have abdicated our duties and are content & satisfied to pass these on to some other person, without the attendant checks and balances to ensure performance. That is the vital point – the hard reality that the vote alone is not the only check there is on a Government in a democratic set-up. That is what cuts to the core of the issue – the hard reality, which exposes us as a people; the fact that we as a people do not realise the extent of the power we wield in our hands by virtue of us being in a democracy. 

This same attitudinal issue can be readily seen in any number of other matters vital to the nation : The problems besetting the Defence Establishment, Education, Health, Police Reforms, Agriculture, CBI, Infrastructure etc. The problems of the Education sector, to take another live example – are known to the majority of the people : Lack of standardisation with the proliferation of boards, poor teacher attendance in the interiors, outdated curricula, rampant fees monopoly in top schools, disinterested teachers, etc. Similar can be said of any number of problems facing the nation : lack of proper defence equipment, genetic crops and their problems vis-a-vis their benefits. 

Look at any major issue that is plaguing the country : the one overarching factor that leaps out at you is the lack of a concerted debate in the Media and Social Media space, beyond the average article that crops up sporadically. These may appear sporadically, but they are very, very far from being a concerted campaign. These articles are fundamentally different from being a debate; they are simply eye-candy to push sales and revenues, as they do not incite positive action from the readership, who read, forget and move on. Further, due to the manifest lack of emotive connect with the readership or audience, these tend to be isolated, and not huge outcries which can lead to serious pressure on the Government to clean up its act.  Critically, the readership / audience reads or listens repeatedly, time and time again, without doing anything about it. 

A debate involves active and/or passive participation from both sides of the story : The Media as well as the readership or Audience. Good, positive stories from the Media should ideally or optimally lead to positive and constructive action from the people : which can take any form : social media pressure, communication with the Government or the MP/MLA, Bureaucrats etc. This manifest lack of constructive communication with the Government and its representatives and officers is what has lead to the political class ignoring the genuine needs of the electorate. By contrast, more emotive  but lesser vital issues become headlines with regular follow-ups and Media outcries, and further lead to protests and other activism that is neither constructive nor positive.

We are a people that can take to the streets in protest for any number of frivolous or relatively unimportant issues; but decry any effort at registering our dissatisfaction on the serious issues. Over a period of time, this has lead to the political class driving us on those emotive but lesser important issues; such that now, engaging the representatives and officers of the government in two-way discussions or seeking help from them is considered impossible. This has actually created a chasm between the leadership and the people. The people, on their part, have apparently come to accept that this is the way things will continue to run and cannot change.

The hard reality is  that, basis the arguments presented above, it is quite apparent that we as a people, do not care enough about the real issues that need to be tackled. Sure, we care about them – but we dont connect with them on the same emotional plane as the other issues. Had that been the case, lack of police reforms, educational reforms , lack of defence preparedness, black money etc would have generated the same level of outrage as some of the other pointless rages that have enveloped the nation time and time again.  

The hard reality is that we are in a comfort zone; we have adjusted to this level of activity, and the current levels of involvement. We do not really want change – or, at least – we do not want to be the change agents. We want to enjoy the benefits of change; but do not want to take the trouble to actively do anything positive and constructive to bring about that change. That is why, when a charismatic leader comes along – we idolise him or her, depending on him or her to make some changes, but shy away from engaging with  the new leadership in a  constructive fashion. A few engagements do not matter in a nation of 1.27 Billion; and the rest of us are not interested or are a part of the bystander brigade. 

In the next mini-series, I shall attempt to chronicle my thoughts and analyse this seemingly illogical behaviour of this Bystander Brigade, as well as what avenues they can have in a democracy to put the heat on the Government in a peaceful and democratically acceptable fashion. Stay connected with my blog for the next series : India’s Bystander Brigade

WhatsApped!

Published October 15, 2014 by vishalvkale

THE PROBLEM STATEMENT

The title says it all. WhatsApped! That is exactly what I was, as I noted 1086 messages on my mobile one fine day. I was flabbergasted, and literally stunned, and more than a little irritated. I have seen 100 messages, 200, and even 300 in a day. But 1000 messages? That is much too much, any which way you look at it. There is simply no way I was going to read all 1086 messages, that much was certain. 

Then my mind turned to my own addiction to WhatsApp – and I realised I was part of the problem, not a victim. I was both the problem as well as the victim of overload – not because I was a massive and active contributor to the stream of messages on a daily basis; but because I was an active reader of the jokes and other pointless messages. My participation was usually limited to Politics and news related issues, which make up less than 5% of the daily flow. 

I further asked myself : was I really enjoying those jokes and messages? Answer : Some, I was; some I found gross and in bad taste; and some were downright offensive. Further, I asked myself, was I gaining any information from it? Unequivocally, no, I wasnt. Was I wasting my time? Answer – yes, I was, beyond even a shade of doubt. Was I wasting battery and memory space? Yes, I was. Was I going to read all messages, or do I read all messages? No, I dont. 


SELF ANALYSIS, AND DISADVANTAGES

These are relatively minor aspects & obstacles, and easily overcome by the simple expedient of placing groups or notifications on silent, and ignoring and / or deleting messages by clearing chat history. It takes less than a minute to do it across 7 groups. Simple, childishly so. Memory space can be freed by deleting snaps, videos and images, and turning off auto-download. But in doing so, I am firstly being less than honest with group members. And more importantly, I stand the real risk of missing an important message sent on the group. It has happened, you know. People do tend to forget that important things should be personally followed up individually. 

Then I began thinking – wait a minute. 1000-plus messages! What the heck? We dont talk to each other on the phone, say we are busy; but find the time to send each other a thousand messages, as well as the time and inclination to read them – judging from the conversations that go on? Just think about it : one thousand messages! Now that, I respectfully submit, is information overload – especially considering there is not an iota of information in all that lot. 

Then I remembered the fights that happen on WhatsApp groups, one of which I have been a personal part of. Fights on politics, jokes and any sundry item. Fights which go to the extent of relations souring and people breaking off. And all this over a written communication over a technological marvel that was meant to make things easy for us. 

And that is when the incongruity, the ridiculousness and the outright immaturity of it all hit me hard. Information overload, fights, time wasted – all over something so unimportant as a WhatsApp message. We dont communicate over the phone – but stay glued to the mobile for hours on texting, WhatsApping etc. We get into squabbles over this, we insult, and insult openly – unmindful  of the fact that the whole group is listening in, or reading in. For the record- this isnt about WhatsApp, which is an immensely useful productivity tool, as I cover below. It is about me, and people like me, and how we use this wonderful application. 


WHATSAPP AS A PRODUCTIVITY TOOL

As a utility, and a productivity tool, WhatsApp is a great enhancer and value addition. You can send snaps and images of documents for instant verification and / or feedback before sending hard copies; you can send images of competitive activities in the market, new products; You can share new ideas, plans and developments instantly over the entire team in the twinkling of an eyelid; and so on and so forth. It adds considerable value to the business equation in terms of efficiency added and ease of communication as well  as aiding decision making. 

As an entertainer, it has  great potential – I was a recent part of one such activity, wherein some of us bloggers got together to write a novel for a competition; in that, the power of WhatsApp was a tremendous boost, as each person could read the entire groups’ views and participate as per his or her own convenience and time. We exchanged views, fought, argued, planned – but all of it was for some purpose : the completion of the novel, which can be found here : The 16th Hour. Yet again, WhatsApp proved a valuable tool and productivity enhancer, and much superior to mails and other forms of communication for the activity at hand. 

DECISION TIME!

When I put it all  together : the path was clear. Information overload, fights with friends and/or family, waste of time… it all added up to only one direction. Exit all family  groups; since they are friends and family – they will understand. I dont think being a part of a WhatsApp group defines family, at least. I cant run the risk of spoiling relations just because of a stupid fight on WhatsApp. And whether or not I am on WhatsApp, I will remain family, that is certain. Ditto for friends groups – put on permanent silent, or exit. 

Frankly, when  we get into silly fights with friends and family over status updates, WhatsApp jokes, it is time to take a call. When we get 1000 messages a day, it is time to ask ourselves some hard questions. Especially if some vital and informative messages get lost in the clutter of jokes and pointless messages that clutter up the board. 

People tend to forget- in a normal conversation, the words are lost, and not recorded for posterity. In a normal conversation, passive listeners have the option of moving away from two sparring fighters. In a normal conversation, an insult to another person is heard by only the people in proximity, who tend to intervene or move away. Well, in WhatsApp, the entire fight is in the open, and recorded for all posterity. 

WhatsApp is not meant for this – it is a productivity tool. It is also a tool for fun – but that does not mean cheap fun, or insults, or pokes. It also behooves a person to think before posting – would it hurt anyone in the group? Having seen huge fights {as different from disagreements}, I know that this is not the case. I, too, have been a party to a fight. And lost a relation temporarily. Once is more than enough, thank you very much. 

You dont like it, or it bores you – ignore it, like I find non-veg jokes risque and bad. Or leave the group; but dont insult and/or fight. And on being insulted, rather than respond – shut up, or leave the group; preferably the latter. And please limit those messages; but that latter bit is an individual matter – as I said, I didnt like it – so I quit the groups… having said that, I still cant see the point of getting 1000 messages, and not one person having the time to speak to each other over the phone! But that is me. Perhaps I am a bit old in the big, bold new world that has been WhatsApped, or TechApped! to be more specific… 

I prefer it the good old way…

meaning… “tring, tring… hello?”