Brilliant,Crazy,Cocky.

Sarah Lacy’s new book is an interesting read. Coming out at the end of a 40 week road pound talking with entrepreneurs in different ’emerging’ countries, “the book began as a study in one thing: greed-based entrepreneurship in places emerging out of chaos and giving rise to enormous greenfield opportunities the Western world no longer has.

That’s an interesting premise to base it upon given that US markets would be more inclined to read about how the US economy would re-invent itself as the centre point of business and, the focal point of innovation. Innovation forms a large context, a permanent backdrop to the book. However, innovation, and more importantly, the drive to innovate, finds resonance and acceptance in the somewhat less talked about and (sometimes) less glamorous places – Israel, China, Brazil, Rwanda and India. And yet it unabashedly states that there “are even more countries rising up that this book didn’t explore—like Russia, Mexico, Turkey, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. As more of these economies achieve stability and seek to follow in China and India’s footsteps, they’re increasingly turning to other emerging markets for help, not the West.”

The book provides its own summary later towards the end – “We used to assume that sophisticated Silicon Valley venture capitalists would be the dominant investors as high-growth entrepreneurship spread to the world, but just a decade or so in, that’s not the case, even in our own country. In a world where technology has made talent and money this fungible, the incumbent advantage is almost gone.” And, the recurring theme amongst the entrepreneurs in this chaotic world order seems to be that “The more disenfranchised a person is, the more incentive he or she has to upend the established order. The American dream is the very idea that having nothing allows you to take enough risk that you can achieve anything.

“Entrepreneur” is a fashionable mantle nearly everyone wraps themselves in these days, but this is what a conversation with a great entrepreneur is like. It’s not about technology or features or acronyms—it’s a way of thinking and problem solving, coupled with the internal compass to believe in the idea and the confidence and determination to carry it out.

Sarah makes it a point to hammer home some known truths like “Indeed, the more big, publicly traded tech companies have talked about innovation, the more they’ve just bought it rather than invented it.” and, “While companies talk about buying innovation, they have a shoddy track record of incorporating and investing in what they buy.

Amongst the observations of the economies I found the one on India to be veering a bit towards predictable lines. However, the quote “Great companies often fail when they take their success for granted. And so, too, can great societies.” fits in so shockingly that it might actually be something that needs to be absorbed and understood in all its ghastly explanation. Add to it the fact that “Indian entrepreneurship at its core is creative but not disciplined.” and you have a situation that is perhaps to aptly described by Edward Luce – “India finds itself higher up the ladder than one would expect it to be. It is just that most of its people are still sitting at the bottom,

Just as a hot meal, clean water, or a U.S. dollar can take on a meaning the rich can’t understand in a poor neighborhood, so too can basic technologies that connect people to one another.” – that and the fact that entrepreneurship, irrespective of the fact that it is indeed driven by greed, is fuelled by the need to change what is provides a different way of looking at the businesses (eg. redbus.in etc) that emerges in order to provide a different experience. The subtext of the book is about “How the Top 1% of Entrepreneurs Profit from Global Chaos“. That’s precisely what it is. A fairly rapid if not a free fall insight into various businesses. Written in the form of an easy-observation-narrative pieces the book is quick read but has enough points to ensure that there is a need to revisit and re-read.

What’s Tanu Weds Manu ?

If you are planning to watch Tanu Weds Manu out of an anticipation of it being a time-pass if not an entertainer, let me clarify this – you are wrong.

Rediff reviews it as “charming“. Whatever the reviewer was inhaling/ingesting during the movie watch, it should be banned from the multiplexes. Charming is a quaintly sweet adjective for a movie. This movie isn’t charming. It is a colossal waste of celluloid, a lesson in how continuity breaks through scenes (Kangna’s shoes change in between as does Deepak’s wristwatch position for example) and that actors, when they try to painstakingly prove how ‘inside their character’ they are by attempting to act in-your-face. Kangna Ranaut plays a character that is not neurotic/psychotic/dysfunctional. And fails majestically. A small reason for that is that the set design around her doesn’t even add to her character. For example, her room provides a pivotal context and yet there’s just shoulder-level camera shots that rely on fuzzy focus and some bric-a-brac shot to build up what ostensibly is a rebel-without-a-cause persona. R Madhavan is equally incredible – as a physician practising in London (with some pharma company building pacemakers) with a well-entrenched sense of ‘sanskar’ – his lack of display of emotions are more perhaps a result of being unable to emote than deep-seated angst and a sense of all-will-sort-out-at-the-final-reel sense of conviction.

What does redeem the movie is the wonderful set of characters/cameos – K K Raina, Rajendra Gupta, Deepak Dobriyal (with that name like Pappi, who wouldn’t expect the character to be the one threading the narrative together ?), Swara Bhaskar and Eijaz Khan. Jimmy Shergill should perhaps look back at the recent string of bloopers that he has selected and mope over the waste of his potential – the role ill suits him and that swagger is so affected that it would do well as a caricature (wait till the last scene for what might be the most laughter inducing dialogue from him !). The story travels to and fro between Delhi, Kanpur and Kapurthala and it is only at the latter location does the tempo attempt to pick up a bit. A disastrous post-intermission script lets it down so thoroughly that by the time it is near the end you desperately want Manu to wed Tanu and be done with it so that you can leave the theater in peace and with some of your sanity intact.

 

 

The Fighter. Good movie.

Some casting decisions are such perfect fit that when the story is about a real-life persona it becomes a dazzling narrative. The Fighter is one such film (note, Brad Pitt isn’t playing Dicky even though the link says he is). By the end of the movie it isn’t just a story about Micky or, his aspirations and hopes – it is a story about Dicky and, a story about Charlene. Mark Wahlberg’s had similar role as a straight cut, honest to the boots hero in a hopefully stacked deck against him situation was in Invincible. And, Mark Wahlberg generally does a good job of playing these characters. Blessed not with prodigious acting talent but an ability to bring warmth to somewhat heroic roles, his casting as Micky Ward is just too good.

Will the movie make it in all the categories it has been nominated for ? I’m not so sure but it would be a good toe-to-toe between the two actors – Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. The latter has the tougher role and the former just belts out an extremely natural performance in a role that is way outside of what she’s been doing (especially the series of ditzy roles). That generally takes a lot of self-belief and, a lot of faith in the treatment of the narrative in the hands of the director. Christian Bale, playing the “pride of Lowell”, probably ends up doing a better job than either Matt Damon or, Brad Pitt would have done (and, I am fairly certain that he did better than what Brad Pitt would have done, not so sure about Matt Damon from a purely selfish perspective). Putting out the ‘heart’ in the characters to show on screen, being committed towards shooting pretty grisly and realistic match scenes – it is a nicely put together package. The only nagging feeling is that it is too neatly put together for awards by tugging at just the right emotions and turning the correct knobs.

Irrespective of all of that it is a highly recommended movie to watch. And, perhaps should help you get motivated to watch some of the other great boxing movies. I wonder if the HBO Documentary is available somewhere for a watch.

Grace.

Today Indranil posted a somewhat strange message on Facebook.

Social Networking as a HR PsyOps tool. Disgruntled / ex-employees (now with rival co) and FB – i was told about this by a colleague at work (at who’s company this was happening) 

Methodology – Change companies and move into rival ones, then start adding ex-colleagues to your friend list. Freak the ex-company’s HR out with possible hint of personnel / project poaching through tweets, status updates and comments.

To me nothing could be more stupid. And, I’ve seen shades,degrees and variants of stupid that defy categorization. There’s this tendency specific to employees of companies in India to make their separation as full of ill wind as possible. I find it suitably ridiculous because unless you are changing your field of expertise/employment completely, you’ll end up encountering characters from your previous places of employment or, have to place yourself in situations where you transact with them. Pissing off people or, just being a notorious nasty isn’t appreciated by companies any more. Even if you are ‘rock-star’ material.

It doesn’t take too much to be graceful. Even under pressure. Sadly, grace is something that most employees tend to leave at their homes when playing out their notice period. Among the various things that make employees “unemployable”, this lack of grace and more importantly, this lack of common-sense to understand real life considerations comes near about the top of the list.

That and the blurring of lines between social networks and professional networks.

‘Indian Android Developer Contest’ etc.

The Indian Android Developer Contest folks have put up the criteria for judging an app. I gave it a quick read and ended up wondering whether the following would have been a better alternative.

  • Usability – whether the app does what it claims to do
  • Security – whether the app is inherently insecure
  • Fault Tolerance – whether the app fails gracefully or, just decides to rampantly go awry
  • Service Tolerance – whether the app, if backed with a custom service, can handle high transactional loads
  • Geolocation awareness – whether the app, if required, can handle geo-location gracefully
  • Content Freshness – whether the app does collect and collate relevant content that is local (depends on the point above)
  • Platform Consumption – whether the app makes best and optimal use of the API provided by the underlying platform
  • Hardware Tolerance – whether the app factors in difference in hardware specifications across handsets with compatible OS
  • Feature Completeness – whether the app has differentiating features from other apps in same category
  • Consumer building – whether the app devels take time to build a community of users/consumers using social media and market feedback means

I’d also have fancied the names of the judges to be made available.

Finding makers !

This is partly in response to Abhaya’s blog post and, partly because I wanted, for a while, an excuse to push out this thing which was rotting in the drafts.

At the outset, I am less worried about the TWITCH (TechMahindra-Satyam,Wipro,Infosys,TCS,Coginzant,HCL) saying that a large number of engineers are “unemployable”, than I am with reading about start-ups saying a similar thing. The business focus between the two groups is radically different to be worried about an apparently similar statements being aired.

I had earlier written about a similar theme. And, I believe that the Computer Science and Engineering curricula (or, the Information Technology one) does an adequate job doing what they are supposed to do – teaching first principles. The revisionist zeal driven by the somewhat astro-turfing nature of large stock-market bellweathers will do more harm than good when it comes to teaching students. The striking characteristic of being unemployable isn’t a factor of the curricula. The fundamental issue that I have with the “education system” is that it is geared towards a single goal – to enable students to ‘pass’. When you have that as a single point agenda, you’d pretty much dump everything by the wayside if it doesn’t contribute explicitly to your agenda.

Unfortunately, I disagree with the notion that the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is a “geek magnet”. In what can be considered the strangest perversion of a programming community project, the GSoC in India is basically prepared for just like any other examination. If you don’t believe me subscribe to the mailing lists of various colleges or, start talking with GSoC-er from India about this. In short, it isn’t too different from a GATE and, the old agenda pops up – one needs to “pass”. Which is why I also rule out ACM/IEEE and similar organizations doing ‘camps’ and so forth.

What is needed however is (and this is off a discussion between Susmit and Sayamindu), a way to create an opportunity that has low floor, high ceiling and wide walls. And, a need to be associated/embedded within a community of like minded folks. In order to hire employable scientists one has to also get down in the mud and get work done. How that happens is something which I’ve not managed to think through yet, but I am fairly certain that that’s what is required.

 

Around an experiment with giving.

In 2010 I did a small experiment. After putting money away to pay mortgages, rent and so forth I’m left with what I call the “disposable income”. And, since I deliberately didn’t spend as much as I end up doing on books (remember that I had the Kindle this year and, my purchases have been more sporadic – I generally prefer the books on the Kindle unless completely pushed towards getting a physical copy) I decided that I should figure out how much I can give and where. The list of recipients were short – FOSS projects I liked/used and, organizations which I think are doing some good work in the field they have selected. And, I used the interactions and conversations to gauge whether I’d be contributing again.

The end result of the year-long experiment is that I’ve finally narrowed down the list of agencies with whom I’m comfortable dealing and, who’d receive my contributions. A list, which I freely admit, is based on whether there was a “Thank You” note at the end of the first contribution. Such a note, properly structured, makes one happy and those warm fuzzies are a good incentive to try and contribute again. It feels awkward to see that not all organizations which request contributions/donations work on ensuring that everything is taken care of.

2010 helped 2011 get focus. That’s the upside from the year.