Monday, December 14, 2009

Chocolate Relationships

I have never been particularly good at "Networking". Don't really believe that startups should be vociferously loud in order to be heard. You could easily relegate me to the old school chain of thought, of people who believe in letting their actions speak for them. Which, to quote Rommel, means that I am more of an Artist, than a Businessman (I hope Madhudi, Pintuda and scores of art teachers who gave up on me with exasperation, are listening)! Not a People's Person! And so, it was with a fair amount of surprise that I went to the kirana store, to buy 10 bars of chocolate for the guys at Alpine Computer Systems!

My computer at home (the ONLY developement machine at CN's disposal, as of now) has been acting up with alarming regularity, lately. The beast wouldn't turn on at home, inspite of all the cajoling and coaxing from my end. However, the moment we plug it in at Alpine, it purrs like a Siamese Cat. Yesterday when I took it to the guys at A, it was the third time. But the result was the same. The owner gave me a smile, and suggested I work on the wiring of my house. And as there was nothing wrong with the computer as such, he didn't charge me anything, for the third consecutive time!

Whether it was a sense of guilt, or prospects of starting a professional relationship, I'll never know. But instead of leaving with a smile of gratitude and profuse apologies, as I had done the previous couple of times, I ran down to the kirana store nearby, and bought 10 DairyMilk bars. Passed them on to the owner of Alpine, with an apologetic smile, telling him how bad I felt about bothering the busy people there, with something so silly and trivial, and came back home.

I don't know how effective this would be. After all, you can't really replace money with chocolates, in exchange of services rendered. But you can always make subsequent transactions comfortable and trustful, by small gestures of warmth and care, even for professional relationships. And according to me, THAT can never be bad. After all, people always respond positively to well intentioned gestures. And that is bound to reflect in their interactions with you, even on a professional level.

However, for all I know, we could be horribly wrong in this. After all, conventional wisdom is conventional, because it has worked a lot of times. And destructive innovation, aimed against conventional wisdom, doesn't always guarantee success. But at CN, we believe in trying new things out. Even if success is not guaranteed. We are determined to try this way of dealing with our partners out, before we pass judgment on its effectiveness. The worst case scenario, as far as I can see, could be us coming out of this experience, slightly better human beings than we previously were. And that aint such a bad idea! :)

Lets keep connecting the city.
Facilitator, CityNaksha.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How To Prevent A Bozo Explosion

To keep the minimum work at CN happening, the core CN team needs to have day jobs. People have told us that this shows a real lack of commitment and purpose, and that if we really believe in what we are doing, we should chuck our day jobs, and get into CN 100%. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I give them a sympathetic, helpless nod. Sometimes, I even ask them for suggestions. It all depends on my mood. But one thing that remains constant, is my belief that the way things are now, I can't think of doing them any other way. I probably wouldn't do it any other way.

And well, looking at the brighter side of things, there are always things to learn from my day job. Lots of things. Those who know me, won't be very surprised to hear, that most of these learnings, are negative influencers. More often than not, I learn how NOT TO DO things. (yes, yes, I can almost see you grin and nod) Maybe someday I will wake up and realize that it is my naivete to believe that most things I see happen around me are to be avoided at CN. But till that day comes, I am gonna stick to my guns.

The most visible Bozo in an organization, is the guy who is sticking around, merely because he thinks that he has to be Somewhere, and well, why not here! He pretty much does just about what is expected of him, sucks up to the guy he has to report to, bosses around a little to people who report to him, cribs about his work place, cribs about the people around him at the loo, and basically doesn't give much, this way or that.

But these are not the most dangerous qualities of a Bozo. These, you can handle. What you can't really contain that easily, is the negative energy that such people spread around them, thereby contaminating the whole environment. They set a very undesirable tone to the culture that you might have been trying to promote. A nascent culture, that needs a lot of nurturing and protection from negative influences. And this in turn influences the people around, and before you know it, you have a whole population of Bozo's around you, and the wise men called this very phenomenon, The Bozo Explosion!

Small orgs with an aim of remaining effective, cannot afford a Bozo Explosion. And if you are a small org aiming to be effective AND have a resource crunch, you probably cannot even afford a single Bozo! So, it becomes imperative to be able to screen them out at the very beginning, before they can cause harm to your baby. If not, atleast find them out quickly, and hunt them down mercilessly, before they can do much.

Some thoughts that I have on preventing such an explosion from happening are,

  • TALK to people before you accept them to come work for you. And don't just talk to them about the roles they are expected to play and the kinda work they are supposed to be doing. Talk about general things. At a small place, a closely knit group is always a preferable idea. And what you can find out about someone by just spending a coupla minutes talking to them, is often underrated. If you are not comfortable with them around over a cup of coffee, are you sure you would like to have them during the most productive hours of your work day?
  • Its better to have one employee less, than have one misfit employee more. Don't be in a hurry to get people on board. If their expectations and yours are not in sync, and an implicit compromise is being made to make this work, then it probably won't last long enough. It might work at larger orgs, but at startups, the secondary incentives are just not enticing enough for this kind of arrangement to work.
  • MBWA is a great way of having your finger on the pulse of the org. Try it out. It really works. At the first signs of Bozocity, beware. The sooner you douse these flames, the better. And if that aint reason enough, think about all the drasted kilo's you'll be losing, walking around, listening to people, chatting them up.
  • Don't be afraid to prune. Often, we have a reluctance to ask people who don't fit in, to leave. I think what deters this, is the hardship that a lot of us have to face initially, to get someone to come work with us in the first place. Not really wanting to go through all that trouble again, we often choose to maintain a status quo. This can prove to be very detrimental in the long run, because not only does this mean an extra bozo is encouraged, it also sends out wrong signals to the others. Bozocity needs to be discouraged sternly and quickly, before it becomes a threat.

Ofcourse, this is by no means an exhaustive list. And probably some of the more pertinent questions are still left unanswered. And the ones that are answered, probably don't take a very pragmatic approach. My apologies to you. As this post was a result of my rants against the predicament I currently find myself in, I used this as more of a vent than anything truly constructive. Hopefully, in the future, saner wisdom will prevail, and a more level headed and sensible post will follow.

Lets keep connecting the city.
Facilitator, CityNaksha.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First Penguin Award

I first heard of the concept of the First Penguin Award, from Saurav, on a lazy Saturday afternoon. But unlike alot of other things that we usually speak about on similar occasions (which are forgotten as fast as they are thought of), this idea remained in my head. Spent quite a lot of time during lunch, contemplating on it. And by the time I reached home, I decided to implement it in some form, at CityNaksha. Maybe, we won't be able to do it, as is. But we will definitely work out an implementation that will work for us.

I believe that constant Product Innovation is what keeps you at par with, or ahead of, the competition. Which means, that you need to spend time, working on your product, even after you have gone live with it. You have to keep tinkering with it, keep hacking at it, to make it easier for the people who are using it. To provide a better user experience. To ensure, that even when your users have access to the products of your competitors, they have more than enough reasons to keep coming back to you.

And, as with most things in life, the question of what to change, and what to leave untouched, is not in black and white. At best one can make an informed guess. And that is where the inherent urge to leave things as they are, gets the better of most people. This is a very dangerous attitude. If left unchecked, it can prove to be very detrimental to the organization's culture. At best, it stifles innovation. At worst, it gives your competition just that bit of God sent good fortune that they need to beat you at the game.

The First Penguin Award is in recognition of Glorious Failure, to quote author Randy Pausch. It encourages people to try new things, to push the envelope and not hold themselves back for fear of failure.

I often see people around me, shy away from trying a lot of things, just because they are afraid of failing at it. Ofcourse, a society needs some degree of failure denouncement to ensure that people give in their best when they attempt something. But I believe it has gone wrong, somewhere along the way. Instead of encouraging people to max out on their potential to ensure success, this social stigma associated with failure, has prevented them from trying out bold new things. And that can't surely be something that will benefit us in the long run.

Schools should encourage kids to try new things. Companies should facilitate their employees in taking risks. Societies must transfer the stigma, from failure to inactivity. Without glorifying it, we should change the perception of failure, to a stepping stone to success.

And this is one of the things we will do, at CityNaksha. We will not let the fear of failure, prevent us from trying. When judging the performance of people, we will not take the easy route and just measure how many things they managed to get right, alone. But rather, see how many things they tried to do, with the best of intentions and effort, irrespective of the outcome.

But we won't do this, because it sounds like a hip new Management funda. We won't do this because it makes us look like new cool kids on the block. And no, we will definitely not do this, so that our employees love us all the way to kingdom come. No. We won't start the First Penguin award at CityNaksha, for any of these reasons. But for something more mundane, less romantic, and hopefully for a more pramgmatic reason. We will do it, because it just makes more Business Sense.

We know, this will definitely not be easy. What the heck! Sitting here, tapping away at a keyboard, dishing out philosophy is way easier than actually getting down and dirty, and implementing something. But the best part is, we know it won't be easy. And so, we would really appreciate it, if you could leave your thoughts as comments to this blog. It will surely help us to learn from mistakes, without actually making them. And more than that, we just plain and simple, love to hear from people! ;)

Lets keep connecting the city.
Facilitator, CityNaksha.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

CA In Need, Is A CA Indeed!

Well, we are desperately looking for a CA. No, No. Not just any CA! We are looking for someone who has a passion for what he does. Who believes that there is more to life, than just the mundane, regular existence. Someone, who is committed to making a difference to this world. Who wants to be a part of a challenging team. Who does not shy away from problems, but goes about actively hunting for them. (And now that I am done with the niceties and the big picture), someone who is willing to help a bunch of fledgling world denters, FOR FREE! ;)

On a serious note, the time has come to get CN officially registered. And we are on the lookout for someone who can advice us, on how to go about it, and also, preferably help us trudge through the legalities as well. So if you can help us with anything, or you know someone who could, please don't shy away from pinging us, or leaving us a comment here.

Lets keep connecting the city.
Facilitator, CityNaksha.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And Then, There Was Light (Errrr, CN)... ;)

And so, here we are! ;)

Well, we finally got down to starting the blog. Though, I must admit, that more than anything else, it was the lethargy that was the prime reason for the delay. But I am not complaining. Lately, I have been feeling this zing, as far as CN is concerned. And this seems as good a time as any, to put some thoughts, news, wishlists down on (e)paper. Maybe, someday we might look back at this with amusement, and wonder at our naivete. But that is a risk we are willing to take.

As of today, CityNaksha is up in a small way. DataEntry is much slower than we had expected. Money is scarce, and encouragement is low. However, at no other time has the feeling that we are going to make a dent in the universe, been stronger. We know that we can't do much about the outcome of what we have set out to do, and so, we don't really worry too much about it. What we do know, is that we are going to complete, what we had begun. And we will.

We will be using this space primarily, to think aloud. What we are planning to do with CityNaksha, what we have done with it, and what we wish we hadn't done, but ended up doing, nonetheless! We would also be using this space to listen to what you, our users, have to say to us. Flame us, compliment us, argue with us, love us, or hate us. But just don't ignore us! ;)

So lets keep connecting the city.
Facilitator, CityNaksha.