Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Prisoner's Dilemma

On 23rd May, 2015, one of the greatest minds of the current times succumbed to death in a car accident.  John Forbes Nash Jr . - the great mathematician.  

 His theories in Game Theory, Partial Differential Equations, real algebraic eqautions and differential Equations have revolutionalized the world of Mathematics, Economics , Accounting, Computer Science and yes - Philosophy ! 

he shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi. In 2015, he was awarded the Abel Prize for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations.
In 1959, Nash began showing clear signs of mental illness, and spent several years at psychiatric hospitals being treated for paranoid schizophrenia. After 1970, his condition slowly improved, allowing him to return to academic work by the mid-1980s.[4] His struggles with his illness and his recovery became the basis for Sylvia Nasar's biography, A Beautiful Mind, as well as a film of the same name starring Russell Crowe
I find his concept of Nash Equilibrium and the application of Game Theory in Prisoner's Dilemma very fascinating and in this post, I will elaborate on these. 

Nash Equilibrium, stated simply goes like this. 
Anita and Sunita are in Nash equilibrium if Anita is making the best decision she can, taking into account Sunita's decision while Sunita's decision remains unchanged, and Sunita is making the best decision he can, taking into account Anita's decision while Anita's decision remains unchanged.  
tated like this, this theory of Strategic decision making , made me feel that isn't this how we all come to decisions ? We do it instinctively , with our years of wisdom and experience.  But think about the situation, where we do NOT have enough experience and hence no instinct at all ... in that case, this mathematical approach helps us strategise and formulate the best decision to be taken.   There lies the greatness.
Prisoner's Dilemma is another very interesting concept of Competitive Decision making derived from the Game Theory. I will explain with the following example :
Tanu and Manu have been arrested for robbing the Namo Savings Bank and placed in separate isolation cells. Both care much more about their personal freedom than about the welfare of their accomplice. 

A clever prosecutor makes the following offer to each.  
He said : You may choose to confess or remain silent. 
  • If you confess and your accomplice remains silent I will drop all charges against you and use your testimony to ensure that your accomplice gets 20 years in jail
  • Likewise, if your accomplice confesses while you remain silent, they will go free while you will be locked in the prison for 20 years.
  • If you both confess I get two convictions, but I'll see to it that you both get early parole and get discharged within 8 
  • If you both remain silent, I'll have to settle for token sentences on firearms possession charges and you will be released in 6 months.
If you wish to confess, you must leave a note with the jailer before my return tomorrow morning.”
Here we see that the outcome of  an individual is dependent on the decision taken by the other person ! 

The prisoners’ dilemma has applications to economics and business. 

Consider two firms, say Coca-Cola and Pepsi, selling similar products. Each must decide on a pricing strategy. They best exploit their joint market power when both charge a high price; each makes a profit of ten million dollars per month. If one sets a competitive low price, it wins a lot of customers away from the rival. Suppose its profit rises to twelve million dollars, and that of the rival falls to seven million. If both set low prices, the profit of each is nine million dollars.

 Here, the low-price strategy is akin to the prisoner’s confession, and the high-price akin to keeping silent. Call the former cheating, and the latter cooperation. Then cheating is each firm’s dominant strategy, but the result when both  to “cheat” is worse for each than that of both cooperating.

In our day to day working too we have take decisions . 

And maybe, instinctively, we follow the Game Theory.  As explained in the above examples, we see that when both "Cheat" or both are "against" each other, the result of the decision is worse that if we considered the welfare of the others.
Cheers !

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Miser and his Gold

One of my favourite Aesop's tales goes like this .... 

Once upon a time there was a Miser who used to hide his gold at the foot of a tree in his garden; but every week he used to go and dig it up and gloat over his gains. A robber, who had noticed this, went and dug up the gold and decamped with it. 

When the Miser next came to gloat over his treasures, he found nothing but the empty hole. He tore his hair, and raised such an outcry that all the neighbours came around him, and he told them how he used to come and visit his gold. 

"Did you ever take any of it out?" asked one of them.

"Nay," said he, "I only came to look at it."

"Then come again and look at the hole," said a neighbour; "it will do you just as much good".  

The moral of the story is : "Unused wealth is a waste". 

In organizations, the leaders and managers are often very stingy with their appreciation.  They fear that a good word might give a swollen head to the team member . Also, the managers might be branded as lenient. 

This is one of the greatest folly which managers make. 

A nice word of appreciation, a smile of encouragement and a line of  gratitude to the deserving people make them shine and work even better. Motivation increases. Teaming , trust and ownership increases. 

So Leaders do not be miserly with your Gold - your appreciation. 

Else, one day you will see that all your good team member have left you and you are looking at a hole !

Spread Joy !

Monday, 27 April 2015

Teeny Weeny : Unshed Tears

Unshed tears linger on my lashes,
My heart bleeds,
You can see my smile,
But cannot understand my eyes.

I seem to have everything,
But for these I do not crave,
I need just a little bit understanding
a little bit of  thought and care.

I know you care for me,
but  it is not reaching me  anymore
Maybe we are so close
That we have grown apart and more ....


Teeny-Weenies will spice up the monotony of the leadership posts . Hope you like them.     
Looking forward to your comments.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Message from a Leader about Vision

My dear Team,

The new financial year has set in.   

There are a lot of things to do and several thresholds to be surpassed.

If I look a year back,  I can see that the IT team has come a long way.  We have set up the R&D Team. We have implemented complex modules like Autojob Allocation,  Recruitment , Domain  etc.  We have initiated the Helpdesk team and the application.  We have set up the testing team. Recently we have started performance testing of applications .  We have achieved ISO 27001. Our process are better  that what it used to be.  We have initiated the Manesar revamp.  We have started using tools like Mantis and SVN. We have implemented the Timesheet system.  Tracking of  IT helpdesk tickets of the Circles ,  training  and the new appraisal system have started working.

Yes, we have done a lot. 

But we have a LONG way to go

I am writing this email to all of you to make you understand what plans I have for this year and what I want to achieve - with the co-operation and hard work of ALL of you.  The following are there in my wish list :

  •  Do It Right the first time :  Before we start any task , think, analyse, ask questions, clarify and then do your job.  Proper analysis, unit testing ,  performance testing will help us achieve Zero Defect Delivery.

  • Measure , measure, measure :   If we cannot measure anything, we cannot improve. I want the team to be managed using data, objectively.  You will count the number of defects found in your code, no of outages , no. of times the application goes down, the number of bugs found in the production.  These data should be on your fingertips.  These numbers will be written in your appraisal form.

  • Ownership :  I want all  of us to take complete ownership of our work.  We have to take charge, initiative to figure out if things go wrong in those items.

  • Analysis and Preventive action :  We are generating a lot of data . Example defect data, performance data, helpdesk ticket data. These do not have any  meaning if do not analyse them and come up with areas of improvements.  We have to improve continuously. Taking small steps.  And you are empowered to make these improvements.  Only you can do it – since you are the ones who have to go thru the pains of waking up all night to rectify things,  get rebuked for closing tickets and repairing networks, hardware etc. Small suggestions, ideas, trainings will go a long way in improvement in our quality as well as timeliness of our work.

  • Faster & better : The times have changed. Everybody wants things to be done instantly. While we should take care that we do not deliver buggy code or fixes,  we have to be sensitive to the fact that we have to turn around much faster than what we are currently doing.  We might have to change some approach for this. Better collaboration, communication and good relationship between our team as well as other functions are crucial too.

We have to scale new heights. There are a lot of expectations of the Senior Management from all of you.  We have to become bigger and global in our outlook. We need fresh, innovative ideas, initiative , hardwork and sincerity and proactiveness from all of you.

And believe me ,  I am there to help you achieve these goals.  Never hesitate to reach out to me if you think the above vision is being sabotaged or you need support or have some innovative ideas . 

Looking forward to a fruitful , successful, fulfilling and enjoyable year ahead.

Cheers !

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

One Question & The Real King

I am a great fan of Akbar-Birbal stories and I find great leadership lessons from these simple folk lores. 

The following are two of my favourite stories. Enjoy .....

The Real King

The King of Iran had heard that Birbal was one of the wisest men in the East and desirous of meeting him sent him an invitation to visit his country. 

In due course, Birbal arrived in Iran. 

When he entered the palace he was flabbergasted to find not one but six kings seated there. 

All looked alike. All were dressed in kingly robes. Who was the real king? 

The very next moment he got his answer. Confidently, he approached the king and bowed to him. 

"But how did you identify me?" the king asked, puzzled. 

Birbal smiled and explained: "The false kings were all looking at you, while you yourself looked straight ahead. Even in regal robes, the common people will always look to their king for support." 

Overjoyed, the king embraced Birbal and showered him with gifts. 

Leadership lesson :  Open your eyes and spot the leader.


One Question 

One Day a scholar came to the court of Emperor Akbar and challenged Birbal to answer his questions and thus prove that he was as clever as people said he was. 

He asked Birbal: "Would you prefer to answer a hundred easy questions or just a single difficult one?" 

Both the emperor and Birbal had had a difficult day and were impatient to leave. 

"Ask me one difficult question," sad Birbal. 

"Well, then, tell me," said the man, "which came first into the world, the chicken or the egg?" 

"The chicken," replied Birbal. 

"How do you know?" asked the scholar, a note of triumph in his voice. 

"We had agreed you would ask only one question and you have already asked it" said Birbal and he and the emperor walked away leaving the scholar gaping. 

Leadership lesson : Tact and wit are important to win the game


Raja Birbal, was an advisor in the court of the Mughal EmperorAkbar. He is mostly known in the Indian subcontinent for the folk tales which focus on his wit. Birbal was appointed by Akbar as a poet and singer in around 1556–1562. He had a close association with the Emperor, being part of his group of courtiers called the navaratna or nine jewels. In 1586, Birbal led an army to crush an unrest in the north-west Indian subcontinent, which failed tragically when he was killed along with many troops, in an ambush by the rebel tribe. 
By the end of Akbar's reign, local folk tales emerged involving his interactions with Akbar, portraying him as being extremely clever and witty. As the tales gained popularity in India, he became even more of a legendary figure across India and neighbouring countries surrounding it. These tales involve him outsmarting rival courtiers and sometimes even Akbar, using only his intelligence and cunning, often with giving witty and humorous responses and impressing Akbar. By the twentieth century onwards, plays, films and books based on these folk tales were made, some of these are in children's comics and school textbooks. [Source : Wikipedia]

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Trust me ...Trust them !

Anne was perplexed and confused.   

She had joined Softmicro two months back. Softmicro was a big software solutions provider and it has offices all across the globe.  Anne had joined the Technology team as a Senior Project Manager - five Project Managers reported to her and her total team size was about 250 people.  

Anne's experience was in managing large enterprise project development , implementation and delivery. She was a part of the Quality Circle where she had implemented lots of innovative ideas in the organization.  In her 18 years of work experience, she had well rounded knowledge about most of the  aspects of corporate functions.  She was a great team player and the most sought after Manager in her previous organizations. 

After a year of sabbatical, she joined Softmicro with great zeal and renewed vigour.  At the first meeting , Neena - her boss told her "Anne, beware of the people under you ... they are all work shirkers .  Deal with them with a strict hand.  They have a tendency to spin stories and waste time...". 

Anne had tried to follow Neena's advise.  But after a few weeks , her experienced eyes sensed something amiss.  She could feel an atmosphere of  "They vs. Us". Her direct reports did not open up with her.  There was an important project delivery two weeks back , but her team missed the deadline. The risk of schedule variance was evident, but it was not brought to her not brought to her notice.  Neena was upset.  And so was Anne.  
Her job was at stake. 

A heavy layer of "distrust" pervaded in the air.....

Anne went to the cafe below and ordered a cup of Indian lassi . The sweet, frothy drink made from whisking yogurt and water , with a cube of ice on it seemed to soothe her senses. 

She pulled out her mobile and called up her mentor - Bala. 

Bala answered within two rings .

"Anne... ! I knew you would call me today..." Bala's nasal South Indian accent made Anne cheerful in a jiffy. 

"Bala ! Ok ... If you are a clairvoyant, then tell me why I have called you up ..?"  She egged him

"Well , well ... problems at work ... what else .... ha , ha...  " Bala's trademark full throated laughter resounded on the phone. 

After a minutes silence , Anne said "Bala ... need your guidance ... desperately.."

Anne narrated her story. 

"Hmmm ... the same problem prevalent everywhere ... of trust... Anne, let us meet today, at 7 pm". 

In the evening , Bala gave the  following sermon to Anne. 

Trust is an essential part in managing people and building a high-performance organisation. It's the foundation upon which all relationships are built. As in any relationship, trust is central to stable and productive workplace relations and successful team building initiatives. High trust environments correlate positively with high degree of employee involvement, performance management, commitment and organizational success. If trust is present in the workplace, the organization gets maximum effort and commitment, and the employees receive security and know they are appreciated.
Trust is strongly linked to attributes such as caring for colleagues, actively involving them in the company's vision, mentoring, role modeling and inspirational motivation
 The more high tech, impersonal and sophisticated organizations become, the greater the need for leaders who can build a culture of trust in the organization.
Smaller organizations consistently rated higher on job satisfaction, commitment, trust, loyalty and respect
Creating smaller business units, flattening the management structure, involving staff in decision making and opening up timely and transparent channels of communication is central to creating trust in organizations.
"Anne, create trust ... else you will fail.  The Triangle of Trust is the buzzword now "
The three sides of the triangle are these :
Self-Trust - Inner Trust
Self-trust is based on acceptance of yourself and your own inner intuition and wisdom. It is that deep, intuitive sense or gut feeling about something. If you follow your inner intuition, your self-trust is high. Trust comes out of the experience of pursuing what is true. What is true lies within each of us. 
Self-trust is at the core of trusting others and being trustworthy.
"Anne, do you trust yourself ?"
Trustworthiness - Being Worthy of Trust
Usually when we think of trust, we think in terms of trusting others. But how trustworthy are you in others eyes? 
  • Do you follow through on your promises? 
  • Do you act with integrity? 
  • Are you honest, caring and reliable? 
  • Do you have the competence or skills to carry out the task at hand? 
  • Do you fulfill others' expectations of you? 
  • You are worthy of others trust if you score high in these areas.
"Anne, how do you score on these questions ?"

Trusting others
Trusting others is based on expectations. It is like a bank where we deposit goodwill. We typically trust someone if we know they will fulfill our expectations. We each have a set of characteristics, known only to us, of someone who we deem worthy of trust. Our degree of comfort with trust is also based on whether we see the world as a friendly, safe place or a hostile, unsafe place. The more we see the world as basically friendly and safe, the more open we will be to trusting others. The reverse is true if we see the world as unsafe and unfriendly.
"Bala... I knew I could trust you to help me " Anne smiled.
"Any time, my dear lady ... and good luck with Trust .... "

Thursday, 12 March 2015

9 ways to eliminate Stress at Workplace

Nowadays all of us are stressed. Either our organization is going thru a major restructuring and we face uncertainty or we are doing so much of multitasking that we are spread out very thinly.  We are interrupted and distracted and our mind wanders.  We are unable to concentrate and focus.  All these lead to too much stress at work. Everybody seems to be overtly busy with no time for leisure or fun with family. 
1. Do not React but Act

When we feel stressed, we should sit back and see what are the conditions on which we have control upon and what are the ones on which we don’t have control.  Usually it is 50-50.  So , proactively we should try to control the 50% on which we have control upon and Act on them

2. Breathe
This is an age old trick . Simply inhale for five seconds, hold and exhale in equal counts through the nose. As soon as the oxygen increases in the blood level,  you feel better.
3. Create a To-do list  and Focus
Most of us go through the day using a “push, push, push” approach, thinking if we work the full eight to 10 hours, we’ll get more done. Instead, productivity goes down, stress levels go up and we have very little energy left over for our family. Creating a to-do list will help us focus.
4. Cut the Interruption
Most of us are bombarded during the day -  emails, phone calls, pop ins, instant messages and sudden, urgent deadlines distracts us. . While we do not have control over the interrupters, we can control our response. Either agree to be interrupted or Accept the interruption, cut it off, or just disconnects or make a plan for response.  One of the way which I employ is to set a timer of my email that the emails will be delivered  at the interval of 30 minutes . I have time boxed myself  for checking emails at particular intervals. I have also set a particular ring tone in my phone which enables me to distinguish which calls to answer immediately and which I should ignore and return the call later.
5. Identify Self-Imposed Stress
Learn to stop self  imposing stress by building your own self-confidence rather than seeking other’s approval.  If you’re too caught up in others’ perceptions of you, which you can’t control, you become stressed out .  Once you shift your focus from others’ perception of your work to the work itself, you’re more likely to impress them.
6. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
It is important  to define what’s truly important and why.  It’s important to understand your role in the organization, the company’s strategic priorities, and your personal goals and strengths. Cull your to-do list by focusing on those projects that will have the most impact and are best aligned with your goals.
7. Take short breaks, Eat Right And Sleep Well
When we not sleeping well, we  are not getting the rejuvenating effects.  According to the CDC, an estimated 60 million Americans do not get sufficient sleep, which is a critical recovery period for the body. During work, try taking short breaks – preferably every one hour . Get up from your seat and walk to get a cup of tea. Eat a low sugar high protein diet .  And sleep at least 6-8 hours a day.  Try soft music, a nice story book which will relax your mind. 
8. Be positive and encourage yourself
Internal negativity is bad.  Instead of being harsh and critical of yourself, try pumping yourself up.  Encouraging thoughts will help motivate you to achieve and ultimately train you to inspire others.
9. Hobbies Help
Cultivate a new hobby. Learn a language.  Practice Soduku. Enjoy Crosswords.  Remember, work is important but not everything in life.  Stress can eat into perfectly happy lives and we can go down the spiral, having a detrimental effect on our work as well as our personal lives. 
So take stress by the horns and deal with it with strength and perseverance
Cheers !

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Teeny Weeny : 24th February

Again it was the 24th of February.

Mellow rays of the sunlight flooded Aditi's small one bedroom apartment.    The nip in the air, the fragrance of February filled up her senses.  Her first class was at 10.30 am. ,

But it was the 24th of February.

Like every year, she had to be in the Physics laboratory by 7.30 am.

She opened her cupboard and opened a small card which had pink rose motifs . The ends were frayed now.  The words written with blue ink had faded .

"Always smile like these roses ! " - A silent admirer.  I will tell you how much I need you tomorrow  - 24th February, at 7.30 am , Physics laboratory

25 years ago,  same day , Aditi had smiled just like she was smiling now.  She looked at herself before leaving for the college.  She was still pretty and petite. The pink cotton sari suited her fair skin. She put on a light pink lip gloss and combed her short hair which had started graying near the temples.  She pulled the off-white shawl around herself  . She started to leave but as an afterthought she came back and put on a black bindi on her forehead. Yes, she looked nice , Aditi thought.

As she stepped inside the campus of Science College, her Alma Mater and now  her work place,  she saw young students laughing and talking in groups . Their face shone in the sunlight.

Aditi hurried towards the lab.

As she reached there, she saw her class mate and now her colleague Sagar standing near the lab door.

"Hmm... so... your annual rendezvous ... eh ... !" he winked.

Aditi blushed .

"Yes.... How stupid of me isn't it ? And more so because I had confided in you .... "

She looked searchingly at Sagar's eyes.

"Well ... see , I too make it a point to come on this date and time ... just to give you company ... " Sagar laughed.

They went inside the lab. It was still the same as it was 25 years back. They sat there and laughed and joked for about an hour.

"Aditi, My students are waiting ... I will leave now ... See you later ... "

Aditi  looked up.  She waited for him to say something.

Please .... please ....come on Sagar .... I have waited for 20 years .... My heart is parched ... I want to hear what you have not been able to tell me .... I know it is you ... don't you know that I know ?

"Ok... I too will leave .... "

"Until the next 24th Feb ? " Sagar winked

Yes.  I will wait . Wait for you to tell me how much you need me .....

Aditi walked slowly out of the Physics laboratory towards class room no 404 .

Maybe next year .....

She adjusted her glasses and went inside to face her young students. ....


Teeny-Weenies will spice up the monotony of the leadership posts . Hope you like them.     Looking forward to your comments.


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Leadership lessons from Eagles !

The Eagle, reflects the behaviour and traits of brilliant strategic leaders.

One leadership lesson drawn from the eagle is that of vision. It is said that the eagle soars or flies high when it is hunting. From the way of the eagle, the leader can learn the need to have a high vantage point, giving vision to the people.

Eagles spend much of their time at a great height surveying the big picture but then they spot something of interest and with their great eyesight are able to hone in and look at the detail. 

Based on this detail, they are very decisive and swift to strike before stepping back again and looking at the big picture. Eagles are also very protective of their young while encouraging independence from an early age. 

You need to have a view of the big picture while being able to selectively drill down and look at the detail. Brilliant leaders certainly need to be very decisive and often, swift to act. The idea of encouraging the independence of your staff based on effective coaching is also very positive leadership behavior. 

From the eagles, one can also learn about resilient or tough leadership.

 Leaders need to be tough and resort to positive thinking, changing the “I can’t” to “I can!” and the “I’ll try to do” to “I’ll do it!” 

When eagles are 30 years old, they go through a process of renewal. 

Finding a hidden place high in the mountains, the old eagle with curved beak begins to claw at its face, and tear out the old feathers that by now become less airborne. As a result, it bleeds badly. But this is vital for the eagle in order to renew its strength. If the eagle did not do this, it would not be able to live to its normal 40 years. 

They allow self disruption to survive. and this  builds the eagle’s resilience. 

Let us all learn from the eagle and soar high ! 

Friday, 6 February 2015

To Be or Not To Be a Lenient Manager

I have often been blamed to be a lenient manager

"Ananya,  You are too lenient !  Your team is very independent. In the town hall meetings , they always raise some point or the other ... "

"Well ... "

"They take advantage of your liberal attitude.  They always seem to be so happy and confident . They are hardly seen working late hours..... "

"But my teams have achieved the best performance awards !"  I said

"See... that is why .... you have been too lenient in giving them good appraisal ratings .  We are quite strict and do not mince words in the appraisal discussions."

In such conversations, I do not continue further. 

But the fact is that , my teams always performed the best, always met their target and contributed well in the overall organizational growth. They were cohesive lots who fought and argued in the team meetings, but once they went out of the meeting, they always spoke the same thing . Sometimes they agreed to disagree.  

They were a happy lot, really enjoying their work.

Everybody has their own leadership style. 

There is no "Good" or "Bad" leadership style. The style has to meet the situation, the audience and the organization. I personally do not believe in typecasting a style as "lenient" or "strict".  

The leader has to lead the team to success. 

Any manager will tell you that his or her ideal staff is self-sufficient, conscientious, and trustworthy. With only the lightest supervision, they can essentially manage themselves. Sometimes, you will stumble upon employees like this by blind luck. More often, managers who are able to take a hands-off approach have invested a great deal of effort at the start of the employment relationship training, mentoring, and establishing clear performance and conduct guidelines.

It is almost like bringing up kids. 

The manager has to trust the team and treat them like adults , capable of managing themselves.  They should be taken towards being a "self-managed " team.  This happens gradually, but the leader must constantly drive their team towards this goal. 

Once the manager senses that the team can handle the freedom, only then, slowly and steadily the team becomes independent . 

I have seen the team taking ownership and pride when they feel that they are the decision makers. It is not true that they  do not put in extra effort, but fact is that there is so much of teamwork that the workload gets shared.  I have observed my team members staying late nights to solve a problem in spite  of my telling them to go home and complete the work next day. 

As a general rule, it is a bad idea for supervisors to become overly friendly with their employees, but the leader has to know how to be empathetic and where to draw the line . 

Even as you demonstrate genuine caring, you must preserve some professional distance. Otherwise, you will risk insubordination and the appearance of impropriety. 

The leader should endeavor to set appropriate boundaries at the workplace so that s/he does not compromise  on the capacity to be the boss when the needs be.

S/he should shift the focus from winning the love of the employees to managing a successful business. At the same time, the team should feel one with the manager, ready to take up challenges and achieve goals happily and efficiently.  The leader should be capable of changing his style at the right time and at the right situation. 

I don't know whether I am "lenient" or not , but when some team member , who had worked with me years ago, calls me up and says  "Ananya, I remember you saying this ......and I have tried to follow the same", I know I have succeeded.

The feeling is really exhilarating and satisfying. 

I feel that somehow, somewhere I have managed to touch their lives.