Processes, People & Culture

It has been more than three years since I wrote about my Indigo fandom. Since then, they have been my preferred airline, mostly thanks to their on-time promise. A few weeks ago, Karthik wrote an excellent post “Why I love an errant Meru and hate the awesome Indigo!” that offered some unique perspectives based on a few of his recent experiences with the airline. He ends the post with When did the ‘plastic’ nature of Indigo’s customer-facing organization set in? May be around the same time their hostesses were asked to use wigs? It restored a sense of objectivity to my fandom.

Our way of doing things” is how one definition of culture goes and I remembered Gautam’s recent insightful post on the components that make up ‘culture’ in an organisation. If you look at these factors, you’d wonder whether a cultural change was at the root of Indigo’s new avatar. It made me think of something I wrote earlier – Culture Architecture – the thrust of which  was culture being a strategic business advantage. But how can that be made sustainable? I’ve been a big fan of processes. Indeed, one of my favourite posters is




The Agency Experience

Last Thursday was my first anniversary at GroupM, and the next day was my last there. A short tenure, and one year in an agency is too less a timeframe to be exposed to all the facets, people and processes a large (media) agency has to offer. But limiting though it is, I’d still like to share my (limited) thoughts, because I wasn’t able to get these perspectives before I made the shift to the agency side. My contacts on the client side had near zero clue on life in an agency, and my agency friends were veterans who had always been on that side. It wouldn’t have occurred to them that these things might be unfamiliar to a n00b! :)

These are based on what I saw and experienced, and hence more subjective than objective. I’m restricting it to three aspects that bring out some good and some not-so-good points. More

Culture Architecture

Despite several posts on ‘culture‘, of the four Ps I’d mentioned in the Agile @ Scale post, ‘People’ is a topic that has gotten the least attention here in the recent past. As the change imperative forces organisations to be more responsive to rapidly changing external dynamics, the structures, processes and methods it had adopted for its internal stakeholders will most likely have to change as well. Jobs in earlier era were well defined constructs, but this era requires employees to work far beyond their job description in order to thrive. (“Why We Need to Change the Software in our Organisations“) It is probably not a coincidence that the four organisations that are defining the larger contours of business and technology are also the most favoured employers.

The task is not easy. On one hand, there is a workforce that is increasingly getting overwhelmed by communication technologies that are dictating an always-on culture. (“Why you hate work.”) On the other hand, there is a new generation entering the workforce that has expectations of a culture tuned to their lifestyle and ways of functioning. They rapidly disengage if they feel this is no happening. In both cases, the end result is a loss in productivity. This is only one part of the story. There are several factors that define culture, and in an organisation, there are several factors that resist change as well.  How does an organisation adapt to these dynamics? A few thoughts, some strategic, some tactical. More

Putting on an act

For a while now, Renjith has been the gold standard (for me) in Malayalam cinema. Yes, he still disappoints occasionally, but his good works more than make up for it. So I had no hesitation in booking tickets at PVR for Pranchiyettan and the Saint. In addition to writing, directing and producing the film, Renjith also lends his voice to Saint Francis’ character, who starts speaking fluent Malayalam at the end of a hilarious sequence in which Mammootty questions whether the Christians of Kerala were being idiots by praying in Malayalam to a saint who couldn’t understand it.

If someone had shared this script with me a few years back and told me to pick a lead actor, I’d say Mohanlal. But not anymore. The two superstars of Malayalam cinema have always been contrastive, on and off screen. Mohanlal earned his chops with portrayals of characters that we could either easily identify with or be in awe of. We laughed with him, cried with him, egged him on. In the mid nineties, he moved on to roles that had more serious shades. Less than a decade later, the actor in him died, leaving fans like me fighting discussion crusades that lacked heart. His last good performance was Thanmathra. When people talk about his supposedly superlative performances in films like Bhramaram, I wonder if they have lowered the bar, as a favour to their favourite actor.  I can understand that, most of his other releases make me cringe. I also wished movies like Pakshe and Pavithram hadn’t been made earlier, so that he could’ve done them now. His interviews make me wonder how this serious person with a philosophical perspective on even mundane things could ever have done those amazingly funny characters early in his career. Its a glimpse of the abundance of acting talent he possessed. Now he is just a superstar.

Mammootty, on the other hand, I had never considered a brilliant actor, despite films like Thaniyavarthanam. It was his screen presence and the strength of characters that carried him. Cop, lawyer, CBI sleuth, he brought a special something to the role, which made him a star. But the thought of him doing comedy was funny, despite coming across in interviews as a very witty, fun loving person. Over the years, he has slowly scaled his repertoire. Now he dazzles us with films like Kaiyoppu, Loudspeaker and Paleri Manikyam, each a different genre and style, and even in utterly nonsensical films like Pokkiri Raja (a Tamil film made in Malayalam, go figure) he displays a comic timing that makes you forgive the movie. In an equally masala commercial movie called Daddy Cool, in one scene he references a character he played 13 years back! Instant Classic. At 56, the method actor has arrived.

Mammootty is now extremely comfortable as an actor and is not afraid of even having fun at his own expense. The things the mimicry guys used to feed on – his dancing skills (lack, that is), hand gestures are all part of his own comic repertoire now. On the other hand, Mohanlal is a shadow of his former self. One can actually see the labouring that goes into his acting now, where, once upon a time, his portrayal of characters seemed so natural that we regularly forgot it was an act.

I thought about both of them in the context of talent and passion – last week’s post. Having seen the above two, I have to wonder again whether passion commands more perseverance than talent.

until next time, cut.

Food notes

For the last few weeks, I’ve been hooked on to MasterChef Australia. (the show’s site reveals the winner, this is the wiki entry) For those unfamiliar with it, its a cooking competition-show that airs on Star World.

I’ve always liked the idea of food – more the consumption than the creation, of course, as you probably know. While I’ve begun to appreciate nuances these days, instead of focusing on solely gobbling up the food, cooking is still far away. My most famous exploit (and that’s only reheating) thus far has been the aluminum-foil-packed-food-inside-the-pressure-cooker-incident. I have a restraining order from D – I am not allowed to handle steel vessels and the microwave, when they exist in close proximity. D, as you probably know, has to show a lot of restraint anyway.

But we digress. The show has interested me even beyond the awesome cooking that happens on it daily. I’ve never really been a fan of the music and dance reality shows, and after I began watching this show, I wondered about it.

I enjoy music, but have always flipped, channels that is, when i watched those shows. Maybe its the one-upmanship games of the judges, or the showboating, or the SMS driven degradation of a god given gift, but they have never worked for me, though i have noticed some supremely talented performers.

There is a passion in the cooking contestants, all of them – maybe they’ve managed to capture it well – a will to win, and they work hard for it. We can see the efforts, and the judges’ appreciation and backing – a sense of fairness. Perhaps I haven’t watched enough of the song and dance shows to notice any of this.

Though both require honing, music (vocal) is perhaps a talent and cooking, a skill, to which creativity adds layers. So the latter, I thought, would require more of an interest, and more hard work. Does that mean the passion for it would be more than that for a talent, which might be ignored, because it has been given without asking. I guess either would be okay, if you had the passion and perseverance  to get it to its logical conclusion. Interest without talent, and talent without interest, both are sad states to be in.

until next time, fortune cookie :)