Monthly Archives: February 2009

Destiny

I recently watched two very different movies that explored the role of ‘destiny’ and how it shapes our lives – Slumdog Millionare [good] and Luck By Chance [very good].

Since then, I have had this background thread spinning in my phantom mind – contemplating the role destiny plays in our lives. Does destiny really shape our lives, or do we shape our own destiny [as the principal character from Luck by Chance believes]?

And then this morning I came across a news item that announced that Scientists have confirmed the existance of a ‘Happiness Gene‘.

Positive people may owe their optimism to a gene variant that helps them dwell on the good and ignore the bad.

When I read the news item, I found my answer – destiny does play a role indeed. However not in the way it is portrayed in cinema or how we generally think it does – but in an entirely different way.

Our destiny is not whether or not we win a million dollars on a game show, or whether or not we ‘make it’ as a film star. Our destiny is how we are equipped to deal with the events we face in our lives. It is our destiny whether or not we inherit the ‘Happiness Gene’. [atleast till the time scientists find a way to ‘inject’ the happiness gene into people born without it.]

What shapes our lives is not what happens to us, but how we deal with what has happened.

We have examples of successful people like Owen Wilson, who as it appears have the best of everything that life has to offer, and yet try to kill themselves.That is their destiny.

On the other hand, we also have examples of people like Lance Armstrong or Christopher Reeve, who on the face of it have nothing to be cheerful about, and yet they are ever hopeful, never giving up. That is their destiny.

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Self-Delusion

Every professional wants to believe he or she has the most unique and challenging job in the world – and that every other job is child’s play in comparison.

Don’t believe me? Think of any random profession, and I can bet you will find a ‘professional’ blogging about his or her experiences – ‘lookitme – What I do is so damn hard and unique!!’

Random sample – here is a baby-sitter’s blog, and here is a ‘professional blogger’s blog’!!

However, the clan that takes the cake when it comes to self-delusion about ‘how important and challenging THEIR  job is’, it is us software techies.

Enjoy this sampler from Rands In Repose 1.0:

Max was a mess. We were on our third mojito at The Basin in Saratoga when it just came pouring out of him. The last 72 hours involved:

  • Two days in Los Angeles babysitting a customer’s data center
  • Four hours of sleep
  • Two huge arguments with his wife on the cell phone
  • A marathon conference call with his boss, which resulted in a new trip to Chicago in two days

The mojitos might’ve been talking, but it sounded like Max was sure that his wife was going to leave him; his company was about to crumble; and he was 12 hours and one plane flight from a nervous breakdown.

He said, “Shipping a 1.0 product isn’t going to kill you, but it will try”.

Is there anything more self-delusional than this? This makes a tour of duty in Afghanistan seem like a walk in the park in comparison!

What is this dude complaining about? To me it sounds like shitty planning. PERIOD.

I wonder why we techies like to believe we are a class apart from the rest. Is the self-delusion to cover up for what we know deep down inside, but hate to admit  – CRUD ain’t that hard!!

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Stakeholders

In times of crisis, we often hear publicly traded companies giving out assurances that the interests of all stakeholders – investors, customers and employees, will be looked after.

To me, that doesn’t sound anything more than empty lip service, for it is impossible to promote the interests of  ALL stakeholders at once.

For instance, a company cannot protect employee interests [job security and wage parity] without hurting the interests of the investor. On the flip-side, if it chooses to protect investor interests, it may have to cut staff, trim salaries or lower customer service standards  in order to ‘maximize value for investor’.

If one cuts through all the noise generated by the lip service, one will realize that all stakeholders may be made to believe they are equal – but in reality, as the pigs announced in the Animal Farm, some stakeholder [investors] are more equal than others.

Of the three stakeholders, the least equal in my view are the employees. Profit seeking companies may not say it out loud, but they all believe deep in their heart that employees are somewhat of a necessary nuisance they have to learn to live with [ necessary nuisance may not be the right phrase, but I used it due to the lack of a more apt one].

Ask any Japanese auto car worker who has lost his job to a robot and he will tell you how ‘equal’ he felt when he was handed the pink slip. Ask the management of the same company who they love more, the employee or the robot, my bet is they will pick the robot any day.

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Means and Ends

The question of ‘purpose of business’ is very intriguing with no conclusive answers. Is the purpose of business purely to make a profit? Or is it something bigger than just making a profit and involves contribution to customer, society and other higher and nobler objectives?

In other words, is the end goal of a business to make a profit for its owners with the business activities serving as the means? Or is the end goal of a business to carry out its activities, with profits serving as the necessary means?

Peter Drucker wrote that the purpose of business is to create a customer. When I read the statement, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the clarity of thought he possessed!

The amazement however was short lived, and dilemma set in again when I asked myself – “So who is the customer?”

So who is the customer after all?
I am very passionate about retail automation software. If I start an enterprise with my own personal capital to develop and sell retail automation software solutions – I clearly know who my “customer” is. It is the retail business that can benefit from my automation solutions. I also very clearly know that to be able to serve my customer effectively, my business must always remain profitable. In other words, profit or making money is a means to meet the end – the end being creating a customer and satisfying his need for a better retail automation solution.

At a later stage in time, I feel the need for additional funding and seek out partners who are willing to invest in my enterprise. The moment I do that, the investor becomes my primary customer. After all, he is looking for a solution as well – to get his idle money to make more money. The purpose of my business remains the same – to create a customer and to satisfy his need, however my new customer compels me to flip my means and end. My new end becomes making a profit, and selling retail automation solution becomes the means to achieve that end.

A story goes that when someone asked Russi Mody what business his company TISCO was in, he answered “We are in the business of making money. It is just a co-incidence that we also make steel.” [This line was later immortalized in the very successful TISCO advertising campaign that ran with the tag line “We also make Steel.”]

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Investment Strategy

One of the more popular investment strategies is the “100 minus age” asset allocation rule.

Simply put, it means one must have “100 minus age” percent of investment assets allocated towards equity.
Example, a 21 year old must allocate 79% of her investment money to equity [stocks and variants such as equity mutual funds etc], and the remaining 21% towards safer [but with lower yields] options such as bonds, certificates, fixed deposits and such.

The justification provided for this “rule” is that the younger one is, the higher ones risk taking ability is. If a 21 year old loses most of her investment due to poor decisions, or just horrible market conditions like the one we are in right now, she still has a good 40 productive years ahead of her to correct that mistake.

That to me sounds like one of the stupidest investment strategies. Contrary to what the rule proposes, I think the younger one is, the more time one has to see one’s investments grow. A young person has the “luxury” to make safer [with lower returns of course] investments, and still come out on top due to the power of compounding.

For the more adventurous, I would recommend allowing some of the returns from the safer investment options to “spill over” into equities. However, safer investment options must always be the foundation of a solid investment portfolio.

Bottom line: Start early, play it safe, and you will never have to resort to “taking on a risk”.

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