Thursday, March 26, 2015

Some common proverbs - in the organizational context

I was just thinking how some common proverbs might need to be modified, to suit the context of any large organization:

1)      A stitch in time is better than nine; a switch in time is better


2)      The one who laughs last, laughs loudest; and it is always the boss who does


3)      A chain is no stronger than its weakest link ; but it can be made stronger with a ball attached


4)      The end justifies the means; for us, the means are an end unto themselves


5)      A good man is hard to find; a hard man is a good find


6)      A little knowledge Is a dangerous thing; too much knowledge, or its display, can be fatal


7)      A new broom sweeps clean; then the shit piles up again



8)      A rolling stone gathers no moss; but amasses a lot of money in the process


9)      A place for everything and everything in its place; you better know yours


10)   A volunteer is worth twenty pressed men; so we always press you to volunteer


11)   Failure teaches success; success leaches on failures


12)   Fear is stronger than love; better still is instilling fear while professing love


13)   Flattery will get you nowhere; but it is the quickest road to the corner office


14)   We give credit where credit is due; just so long as you don't expect cash


15)   He who pays the piper calls the tune; you better know your boss' music preferences


16)   He who climbs the ladder must begin at the bottom; and learn to lick his way up


17)   Count your blessings; be happy we have not fired you!


18)   Don't bite the hand that feeds you; lick the ass that does


19)   Don't try to walk before you can crawl; in fact, keep crawling, we like it that way


20)   Doubt is the beginning, not the end of wisdom; except when you doubt your boss – that is the end


21)   Experience is the best teacher; just make sure you live to collect it


22)   If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again; you have time till the next appraisal


23)   In for a penny, in for a pound; make that in for a pounding


24)   In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king; provided he doesn't let it be known that he can see, else he will be killed


25)   Let the punishment fit the crime; sometimes, invent the crime to fit the punishment


26)   Life begins at forty; not here, outside the Company


27)   We never judge based on appearances; but make sure you dress well


28)   Never speak ill of the dead; you may be joining them tomorrow


29)   The last straw breaks the camel's back; but don't worry, we know how to stop just short


30)   The more one knows the less one believes; we want you to believe


31)   To travel hopefully is better than to arrive; we make sure you never lose hope

Dinesh Gopalan

What passes for wisdom!

The problem  with sports is that it is meant for playing. There can only be so much to write about, or comment about, when it comes to sports.  But then the media needs to make a living too. They need to fill the empty pages, create an excitement where there may be none, or feed into existing expectations.


Today's TOI's article on the front page, no less, written by Sachin Tendulkar, no lesser, offers these nuggets of wisdom:


Do not try anything out of the box: And why not? It is equally valid to say, that out of the box thinking is required in every situation. Maybe that statement is reserved for tomorrow's article.


India is one team that no one wants to play in the tournament: And, so I am sure, is Australia. And of course New Zealand. So what are we saying here?


Which is why India should look to repeat what has worked so far for it: I hope we don't lose. Then it will be due to repeating the same old things, and not thinking out of the box.


I don't see any reason to try anything different, unless the situation demands it: This is really wonderful. It sounds like the starlet giving an interview who always says "I don't believe in exposing myself, unless the scene demands it"! And of course, it goes contrary to all the advice her mother has given her to not try anything different and not to think outside the box.


The boys must look to play with a blend of aggression and adrenaline: Now this is a new one. Other journalists will be noting this down for use in their writings. Truly wonderful statement which makes no sense whatsoever.  And yes, this statement is followed by the statement "That is what produces results" – journalists please note.


They must have 'cricketing awareness' which is basically the sense of playing according to the situation: Really? How wise!


They must have a calmness about them too: Now this is interesting to imagine. How do you have a calmness about you, when you are playing with a blend of aggression and adrenaline? Perhaps it comes from not thinking outside the box.


I know the players in this team. They must be looking to go out and enjoy the game: Thank God for that. He is saying that since he knows them very well -  it is not everyone that has such deep insights into the players' characters – you need to know them very well to have that.


There will be sledging, but I am sure our boys are good at tackling it: Meaning, you don't know whether they are good at tackling it or not? I thought you knew the players in this team. And I was reading yesterday that 70 percent of the tickets have been bought by Indians – so who do you think will be sledging whom?


It will be a good, well fought game which the spectators will enjoy: Well, I certainly hope so too.  How perspicacious of you to say so!


The boys shouldn't worry about who's saying what:  That is Tendulkar offering advice on life in general!


The batsmen shouldn't worry about the short ball because they have been doing quite nicely so far: So is it time they started worrying about the long ball or the yorker?


And then you have the brilliant comments from other cricketing greats who have been of course interviewed for their nuggets:


Kumar Sangakkara: Just go out and enjoy the occasion as it's a special day for the men in blue: Now that is a statement no one can object to. Makes eminent sense!


Dilip Vengsarkar: If we bat first, we should look to not lose wickets in the first 10 overs. The 10-40 overs period will be crucial as well: Dilipbhai, you left out the 40 to 50 overs. Perhaps you feel the Indians will not last that long?


Dilip Vengsarkar continues: The batsmen must look to forge partnerships: Of course, what else?


Other nuggets from Tendulkar:


I am sure Dhoni's boys know how to bowl to Glenn Maxwell and the other Aussie batters: Sachin, for a supposed expert, you don't seem to be definitive about anything!


Once Shikhar Dhawan gets going, it spells trouble for the opposition: Of course. I thought that is what getting going meant.


All in all, sports writing does have a lot of wisdom on offer!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Angelina Jolie is mad

News item from TOI today: "Two years after her double mastectomy, actress and humanitarian (don't know what that means), Angelina Jolie (age 39) said she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer. She had surgery last week after blood tests what could have been early signs of the disease that killed her mother at age 56. "  (The comments in brackets and underlining are mine).

The salient point here is that both her surgeries were based on "statistical probability". This assumes a lot of things: that heredity in disease is a fate that you cannot escape,  that the "tests" are good markers for predicting disease, that these diseases are inevitable and no amount of lifestyle changes can change the course of things -  none of these assumptions is true.

In parts do I depart

My grandfather died of prostate,
Cancer of which laid him prostrate!
My father and uncle followed,
Colon cancer's what laid them low!

I, of course, went, had them removed,
As the data, cut and diced, proved.
My brother held on to his parts,
I wonder how come he's still alive!

For the risk of dying's great I'm told
of what your fathers died of before.
My brother should have died long ago,
But to test himself, he will not go!

While I drown in data every day,
Testing myself in infinite ways,
My brother eats well, sleeps well, and plays,
And swears that is what keeps him hale!

I don't believe it, data can't lie!
My gall bladder goes, or I die!
My aunt died due to lack of gall,
Fear is what led to her downfall!

My brother refuses to listen.
He says he won't die part by part.
He would rather cherish and keep them,
And be happily whole till he departs!

Dinesh Gopalan
25 March, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

The new NPS rules and tax-saving instruments in general

The recent budget has announced enhanced limits for National Pension Scheme (NPS) under section 80CCD of the Income Tax Act. It is possible to invest in NPS, along with other schemes under section 80C like PPF, NSC, etc. for the full limit of 80C, i.e. rupees 1.5 lakh. Apart from this, under section 80CCD(1B), an additional 50,000 can be invested in NPS to get tax breaks similar to section 80C.


The underlying provisions in summary: the amount(s) invested under Section 80C are allowed to be deducted from total income before tax is computed, thus effectively giving a tax break to any individual tax payer, amounting to his marginal tax rate. For example, if you are earning more than 10 lakhs per annum as taxable income, your tax will be in the 30 percent slab; if your taxable income is between 5 lakhs and 10 lakhs per annum, you will be in the 20 percent slab (I am ignoring surcharge here).  The amount you invest under 80C is deducted from your above total income before tax is computed thus giving you an effective exemption of your highest marginal tax rate.


Is investing in NPS worth it, with or without the enhanced limit?


Before answering that, let us look at 80C options in general. The limit of Rupees 1.5 lakh under section 80C apples to:

1)      Your contribution to company PF (which anyway is compulsory, and deducted every month)

2)      Children's school fees (which, if you have school-going kids, you anyway pay)

3)      Life insurance premiums for self and family (which, if you are paying, is anyway something that already exists)

4) The principal portion of your housing loan EMI


All the above "investments" along with others like PPF, etc. go towards calculating the limit under 80C. Let us assume Rupees 80,000 is anyway already accounted for under the above heads. What is left for 80C investment (in order to claim tax exemption under 80C that is) is only rupees 70,000.


For this 70,000 there are various contenders:


1)      PPF – debt instrument, interest rate 0.25 percent above "long term" rates, to be announced every year. This is "EEE" – Exempt on investment (i.e. 80C tax break), the interest earned every year is exempt, and the withdrawal is totally tax exempt. The lock-in is effectively six to seven years, since withdrawals based on a certain formula is possible from the sixth year onwards.   If you want to consider debt options for 80C, this is the best.

2)      National Savings Certificate (NSC), Kisan Vikas Patra, Bank Fixed Deposits: With lock-ins ranging from five to six years. However, the annual interest (interest accrued annually, even in case of FD's where total amount is only withdrawn only on maturity) is taxable, and has to be added to the taxable income for the year. These are clearly inferior to PPF and should be ignored.


3)      Equity Linked Savings Schemes: Certain mutual funds which invest only in equities are qualified as "ELSS" schemes. These are regular equity funds; the investments are EEE, and the lock-in is only three years. In case you want to invest in Equity for your 80C, this is the option.


4)      The new "Sukanya Samruddhi etc. etc." scheme. This is also EEE; it is a debt scheme; and the lock-in provisions are complex: effectively, 0.5 percent more than PPF every year, but with more onerous lock-in conditions. The fact that it is linked to your daughters' wellbeing, etc., is a good marketing tool, but should not be influencing your investment decisions. There is a case for looking at this for investments under 80C, since the interest rate is higher than PPF; however, the more onerous lock-in conditions offset that advantage to some degree.

Looking  at the complex nature of the scheme, I would prefer to avoid it, and stick to PPF and ELSS. However, that is a personal bias, since I hate complexity of any kind.


Hence, the real options under 80 C, for the amount that remains, after your PF, children's fees, and life insurance premiums are deducted from the 1.5 lakh, are only PPF (for debt) and ELSS (for equity). In case you want, the "Sukanya" scheme can be looked at as another contender.  All other options are inferior to these.


Where does the NPS have a place under the above scheme of things? NPS is also an allowed option under the 80C limit. However, NPS is an EET, scheme, meaning the initial contribution is exempt under 80C, the yearly accruals are exempt; however, at the time of final withdrawal, it is taxable. What the government giveth in your earning years, the government taketh away when you most need the money, after you are retired!  Hence NPS is to be avoided under the 80C limit of 1.5 lakh – it offers no real advantage over ELSS and is inferior in terms of tax treatment.


What about utilizing the "extra" 50,000 limit to invest in NPS. Again, that is not advisable.  The amount at the time of withdrawal is taxable, which makes it not worth considering.  Also, NPS has some detailed provisions on what can be done to the corpus after you turn 60; how much can be withdrawn as lump-sum and in what manner, and how much is to be converted to an annuity, etc. 


Until NPS gets into the EEE category, it is better to avoid it entirely.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Modi ban jaayega gentleman!

A good article (attached at the end) on how Modi will slowly get co-opted by the bureaucracy into being part of the establishment. The same establishment that he set out to cleanse will slowly pull him into its embrace and he will not be able to resist.


Wanting to cleanse any system is like entering quicksand to save someone who is sinking. You find yourself sinking instead; and as everyone knows, the only way to escape sinking into quicksand is to lie down flat and not resist!


The young always want to change the system; they are extremely agitated at what they perceive to be grave injustices and with their idealistic view of the world, not yet tainted by practicality, they set out to change it. Those who are not crushed by the grinding wheels they set out to stop in their motion, are seen a few years down the line, as part of the very establishment they set out to subvert. You can put it down to lack of tenacity, or paucity of will, or in several cases, the power of the system to corrupt those who come in contact with it. One has to admire the young preacher who sets out to cleanse the morally corrupt world – he has to withstand a lot of blandishments if he has to remain uncorrupted himself. I guess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience help!


What about the rebel organizations fighting for a cause? The ULFA's of the world? The best cure for them is to give them a shot at power and all its attendant privileges.  The organization soon becomes a pale shadow of its former self, with the erstwhile revolutionaries fighting amongst themselves for the spoils of power.


The lone man who sets out to reform the system, out of a sense of outrage, has the best chance of winning. Till he forms an organization and surrounds himself with a coterie. Then his aims become subservient to the group as a whole, and he has a lot more at stake. He will soon be suffering from stress, with reduced immunity, clad in a permanent muffler and continuously coughing, visiting Jindal for a bout of nature cure treatment. The world which used to follow his every act of protest against the establishment, will now equally avidly follow his health travails. From the theater of the grand, it is soon reduced to the theater of the trivial.


Meanwhile, a former Panjandrum is accused of being complicit in corruption, during the time when he was PM, no less. The whole establishment has a stake in ensuring he is not convicted, the current PM included. We can rest assured that nothing will come out of it; the establishment seeks to protect its own; even birds of different feathers flock together when it comes to safeguarding their  jungle; the winds of change are not allowed to blow too strong, for if they do, they may sweep away everything in their path!  Meanwhile, the ruling classes will stage colorful dharnas , and voice vociferous protests; all this serves to keep the population entertained.


The Romans had cracked it long back.  Keep the population busy with bread and circuses, i.e.,  give them enough to eat so they may not come on the streets, and keep them entertained with stupid, sometimes gory, entertainment programs. They will leave the ruling classes alone to continue their rapine and plunder.


And the odd chaiwallah who manages to climb all the way to the top, and still shows signs of his old combativeness – what to do with him? The establishment has an answer for that too – unleash the bureaucracy on him. They will soon grind him to dust, and he will be history!


(article attached below)


(article from Business Standard)

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan:

Prime Minister Modi ban gaya gentleman?

It happens to all prime ministers. The bureaucracy first makes them; then it breaks them

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan  March 06, 2015 Last Updated at 21:49 IST
T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan
When he stormed the Raisina Hill citadel of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) - and other allied services - last May, socially at least Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi was a rank outsider to Delhi. He was, as the ladies of Edwardian England would have said, "that awful man".

Mani Shankar Aiyar echoed that view perfectly, both in tone and text. He still does with his facial expressions when he appears on TV.

For the aristocracy - landed, corporate, caste or in the case of New Delhi, bureaucratic - the awfulness arose from middle-class values, at whose centre lay scruple, propriety and moral conduct. For those who call the shots, these things are inconvenient.

Mr Modi, however, wasn't from the middle class. He was, if anything, from much lower down. In any case, Delhi's arbiters had already declared him persona non grata.

So Mr Modi was least bothered by the dos and don'ts of Delhi's eyebrow-raising class. But, alas, that corner room in which he now sits in South Block has an unfortunate tendency. It moulds its occupier in ways that he or she has never agreed to be moulded.

It is, in many ways, like an anulom marriage, which happens when a person marries someone from a higher status, either in class or caste, more usually the latter. He or she then acquires the rights and graces of the caste or class into which she (or he) has been married into. In the West, they call it upward mobility.

This is what has happened to Mr Modi in the short time that he has been in office. By becoming prime minister, he has married the bureaucracy, till his defeat does them part.

Be warned, Sir
It is early days yet, but the signs are all there that he is getting captured by the ladies' maids of the government. The bureaucracy is slowly but surely creating a new Modi persona.

This Mr Modi is allowed minor defiance and to smirk on TV, as long as he docilely obeys on the larger issues. It is a pleasure to watch the taming.

As always, the behavioural norms are being imposed by the same tongue-clucking, the same instilling of fear and the same classic words: "It is just not done." Et inconveniens est.

So, without perhaps realising it, Narendra Modi is becoming a gentleman. Give him a few more months and he will become indistinguishable from the people he professes to despise.

To understand the ongoing transformation, it is necessary to understand that in Delhi only the power elite really counts for anything. This elite is very tiny and comprises officers of the rank of joint secretary and above in just four ministries - home, finance, external affairs and defence.

The other officers of similar rank matter, of course, but they are the lesser nobility. Politicians, even ministers, don't matter at all.

The main job of the core elite is to either first try to wear the prime minister down, or if that doesn't work, frighten the daylights out of him (or her). Few prime ministers realise what's going on and how they are being had.

The weapon used for wearing down is called "process". It consists of internally and logically inconsistent rules, which the bureaucracy has made to cover its ample backside. Nothing stymies prime ministers more than these rules. They become helpless like beached whales.

As for frightening the prime minister, three weapons are used. One is calculated leaks. The second is malicious whispering campaigns. The third, which no prime minister can ignore, is the use of slanted intelligence inputs.

The prime minister's goose is properly cooked if all three begin to happen at the same time. You can ask Manmohan Singh.

What Mr Modi can do
Mr Modi now needs to ask himself: if the Cabinet makes policy and the legislature the laws to give those policies legal sanction, who makes the rules for carrying out the two? The bureaucracy.

And this role is always used by it to subvert the legislative intent and policy purpose. It is called "file ko ghumana" (make the file go round and round in a web and welter of process for years).

A prime minister, therefore, needs to take on the bureaucracy not by transfers alone - those are essential and important - but by severely curtailing its power to make rules. Not one of them has done so till now. All have rued it.

How is this to be done? Simple: ask the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, which is not doing anything useful now, to vet the rules. Unleash Professors Panagariya and Debroy on the babus.

They will fight back viciously as always. But this is Mr Modi's great chance to cut off their spinach, its power to make rules. If he doesn't, because they have started to frighten him, well, then as the Gabbar Singh said, "Jo dar gaya, woh mar gaya."