Who are the Middlemen and why do they exist?

In my simple definition , middlemen facilitate trade or an economic transaction. As the term suggests, middlemen could be a person who stands between you and the potato farmer . Or for that matter a broker or even a pimp qualify as middlemen.

And then there is this whole world hell bent on eliminating the middlemen. To start with ,middlemen don’t make any economic sense for the rational mind. Most business models of E-commerce start-ups revolve around  eliminating the middlemen. But the conundrum of middlemen is not easy to understand neither it is easy to eliminate the middlemen.

But take a step back and think with a fresh mind. Why do the middlemen exist in different pockets of the economy? the very first reason that we can ponder upon is the inability of the supply side to communicate , bargain and reach the demand side. A potato farmer simply doesn’t want to keep the extra information of price fluctuations and possible stores where he can dump his inventory of potatoes. Or the farmer simply doesn’t know to speak the language of the logistics provider. A owner of the house doesn’t want to bargain and bicker with the tenant to decide on the rental agreement and the rent.

But beyond the obvious, the middlemen have two core assets: Information and set of behaviors to deal with the supply and demand. But in the age of information where information is freely available to all, certain set of “behaviors” happens to be the core asset or core competency (management jargon) of the middlemen. So what are these behaviors?

The very first behavior or value which middlemen compromise on is personal integrity. Personal integrity is the quality of being honest with yourself. Most people find it difficult to do stuff that they don’t believe in. Small things count; right from the ability to say no to someone in dire need or saying yes to someone who is gullible and naive. Saying no to credit takes some serious effort.Then there is this ability to be transactional with people. Being indifferent to how people might feel is also an art. So does acting tough to some and mellow down to some when need arises. Middlemen have the ability to tailor conversations. Talking sweet to the prospective demand and being an asshole when the deal falls apart.

All these capabilities are very difficult for the supply and demand to acquire. Acquiring the behaviors of the middlemen means to unsettle the core values of oneself.

If the only asset to make money is information and set of behaviors then middlemen have to swivel between a range of behaviors while manipulating information for their gains. The set of behaviors and values which middlemen have to adopt are condemned in most societies , geographies and religions. Take for instance the Jews who were largely known as trading community . Jewish merchants and brokers are often stereotyped as dishonest, cunning and greedy. But despite of all the negative traits , middlemen are the necessary evil of the society. They handle all the difficult conversations adjustments and compromise which the supply and demand are not able to have amongst themselves.

Look no further than the pimps. If we take some liberty to objectify the prostitute in a flesh trade industry and treat her as an asset then the pimp happens to be that bridge which connects the prostitute and the demand. The prostitute on her own is ill-equipped  to protect her territory , ensure her safety from the demand (males) and scout for demand.The pimps provided all that needs to the prostitute at some fee. The pimp conducted all those difficult conversations and guaranteed safety for the asset.

In some pockets of our modern economy technology might have replaced the middlemen to an extent. For instance , Tinder the dating app ( hooking app) objectifies and replaces all those difficult conversation you might want to avoid to find a suitable date. There is just swipe right or left. Uber for that matter eliminates the tough conversations and bargaining with the drivers on taxi fares.

But middlemen are here to stay as long as the demand or supply wants that discretionary need of avoiding the difficult or uncomfortable conversations or acquiring the behaviors which are generally not accepted by the society. And for economy to run, the demand has to somehow interact with the supply and reach a win-win for a trade to happen. But that trade or transaction will always come with a fee. The fee of necessary evil: The Middlemen.

 

You can only laugh so much!

I really don’t know why and when in the human evolution curve people really begin to laugh. Same thing goes for crying, how people could really express their sorrow by making that face?

But I believe, one can cry for an extended duration. Which means, people can sustain crying for a really long time like for several hours or days all-together. Sadness has no limits or defined boundaries.

Quite surprisingly , one can laugh for only so long. I just experienced it when I went for a comedy night. Kunal Kamra was in the house. He started his gig with a line-up of hilarious jokes. Funny analogies, situational comedy and political satire. I was in splits for at-least the first 15 minutes and then my laughing waned out. Mind you, he was only relatively less funny but there were lots of people still sustaining their laugh. One might argue that they paid for the laughing and they were justifying the ROI. But I can speak for myself, although I could appreciate and resonate with everything the comedian said, my facial muscles couldn’t sustain the laughter. I ended-up laughing my ass out at the end of the show because the best jokes were kept at the last.

I can’t deduce anything from my experience but I can surely say that laughter or for that matter reasons which make you smile and laugh have a very short shelf life. Those reasons decay in no time. No brain is designed for self-sustained happiness. But people live for that happy moment. People live their lives in a hope that they will be happy one day.

After all that struggle and hard-work you might get that one moment of happiness but don’t take happiness too seriously. Just Don’t!

 

The Start-Up Culture!

When Start-ups  are small, they are like tight groups of like minded people who want to make it large. When they want to grow aggressively, they want young hot blood. People who are ready to do anything and everything under the sun. All that these hot-heads know is they have to work hard and party harder.

But it is a party where no one knows what to wear. New people don’t know the theme and neither do they know who all are going to be there. These people harbor all the dummy confidence while slyly hiding the obvious nervousness.They might know the host and his vision, his values and his past accomplishments. But everyone knows very little about everyone else. Their histories are short :nothing to deduct and nothing to derive. All they know they have some goals, target mission and a big dream ahead.

So when no-one knows what to do, how to behave and what to wear they all bring their own sense and subjectivity to the workplace. Some bring their default behaviors and try to establish the norm , while others acquire behaviors which they are not so comfortable with. As they try to adjust and get along, things always don’t work so well.

Start-ups are like new nations. They are like newly formed communities on remote islands. No dress-code doesn’t define a culture. Neither does flexi-timings and work-from homes.In the end there is no concept like Start-up culture. A start-up culture is a subjective reality. There is no benchmark to which the party goers can look up-to and adapt in some capacity. Everyone is clueless.

 

 

The Start-up Generation

Breakneck speed. Blitzkrieg! It is good to hear about organizations which grow at mind-blowing pace. Keeping aside the valuations , business models and other jargon, the key resources of these high growth juggernauts happen to be humans.

These humans also run at breakneck speeds on an infinite treadmill to keep a pace with the start-up. Their roles are not so defined. Their KRA’s only look good on paper. Dual responsibilities and dual roles. Gray zones and ambiguity. Sometimes they work with no accountability and sometimes with such overwhelming accountability that leaves them devastated. They don’t believe in work they do. Neither they believe in themselves.

These juggernauts are unnecessarily proud about the flat structure. Characterized by high attrition and the resulting corporate amnesia. New decisions are almost made every day. Old decisions are forgotten overnight. Chaos.

Obviously, these juggernauts absorb resources who have little clarity  in their lives. They happen to be mostly in their early to mid-twenties. Ready to do anything and everything under the sun or the moon. Low salary expectations and  low expectations from the job role . Perennially insecure.These youngsters are ready to compromise on their values and even live with conflicting values. Their days are full of stress and intoxicated nights. They binge eat and binge watch only to detach from the reality.

Start-ups don’t create careers. They create jobs only to destroy more careers. The breakneck speed literary disrupts the pace and perspective of a young mind.It leaves them giddy and nauseated . Most perish and very few find the order in the chaos. Survivors like to become the smiling faces on tabloid and employee branding hoardings which say ” We Are Hiring !”

The NGO’s vs the GO’s

I have a very different view about NGO’s. Two or three years back I had written a very long article on why we need 2 million NGO’s in India. My contention was why 2 million NGO’s want to do all the good in a country of 1000 million. I see that we have a huge population but 2 million NGO’s? that happens to be the population of some countries. You can read that article here.

Yesterday, when I was walking towards home, I was intervened by a twenty something girl with an accent. As she approached me, I saw the usual set-up and her folks (all in their early twenties). I also saw a swiping machine on the seat of a bike, just parked on the footpath. The other youngsters were busy filling some forms. Before she could say anything, I had my words at her ” I know how this conversation is going to end” , “You are going to ask for donations”

She smiled and said, “Do you want to donate then?” . I bluntly said no, I have been donating to other cause and I am quite aware about your cause. All the best!

As a I walked towards my vehicle, a strange logic crossed my mind. Here is the thought:

“If all the donations we offer to the NGO’s are tax deductible, then we are robbing our Government or the GO’s (Government Organizations) of their rightful revenue to run the nation. The point I want to drive is, why give you your money to millions of small organizations (some of them with questionable credibility) who vouch to solve the problems of the nation? Instead, why not give your money to a single organization whom the majority of citizens have voted for?

Why we need two different set of systems for solving the same problems?

 

Ludo and 20-20 cricket have their share of similarities

From last two weeks or so , I have been hooked on the game of Ludo. Yeah , that game you find on the reverse side of Snakes and Ladders. This game never fails to excite me. Every roll of dice is a new hope. Every game is a different game. No one knows who is going to win till the very final moments of the game.

All people want is excitement. Excitement generated from unpredictable outcomes. Outcomes where we as humans have very little control on. Football is exciting to watch because we have no control over the moves and state of mind of the players. The 90 minute game is full of surprises. When an underdog like Croatia reaches the Football world finals, it is a surprise.

What people really don’t like? predictable outcomes. See cricket test matches. Even a 50 over , one day match is a drag. Hence to grab eyeballs , 20-20 platform makes much more sense. More action, more audience and more games in just 1/5th amount of time you spend watching a one-day match. Ohh and the immense unpredictability which comes with playing a 20 over match is just the icing on the cake!

So why everyone embraces this unpredictability? because all unpredictability has a strong connection with money. Gambling? unpredictability = Money. Stock markets and day trading? = Money. 20-20 match? unpredictability and hence more eye balls and more advertising moolahs.

It is much more easier to monetize unpredictability. The possibility that anything can happen keeps us all moving.

 

Value Conflicts

I always thought that good and bad values are relative concepts but I never came to a strong rationale or understanding of how to reason and explain the relativity between the two.

But yesterday after watching some documentaries on the Crusades, I could draw some inferences.The framework to understand value conflicts was not so complicated after all, and it largely depended on the era you lived on this planet and the type of society you lived in and most importantly, the type of people you are surrounded with.

Your peace , happiness and state of mind depends on how your values align to the mean of values of people around you. And if your values can peacefully co-exist along with other diverse set of values in the group of people at a workplace , a family or a society for that matter then you will lead a fulfilling and happier life.

But hear this, it doesn’t matter if you have values shunned by the present society or majority of people who live around you. It only means that you have to find a group or society where your values and beliefs can sustain. For instance, if dishonesty is one of your core values and if you are only surrounded by dishonest people, then there is hardly anything you can complain about.

A society for that matter cannot sustain with a very diverse set of values and beliefs. To grow and prosper everyone has to align with the beliefs and values which can co-exist in harmony. So if you notice, honesty, hardworking, compassion, respect, empathy, camaraderie, inclusivity  are the values which can co-exist. They are not good or bad values , they just collectively happen to build an environment conducive for peace to prevail and society to grow. These values signal sustainability and by that I mean any system which improves longevity and well being of an mankind is a system which everybody wants.

Religion has a played a major role in cultivating these values into billions of people. Long before religion , civilizations have also sustained and prospered with totally different set of values. There are many examples of barbaric tribes who have prospered through loot, brutality, dishonesty, destruction. Are these bad values? really not.Maybe, it was just a choice. Maybe the belief was if barbarism unites tribes for a greater cause so be it. If sharing women strengthened bonds between hunters, then it hold good for everyone. If chopping off a human head brought good monsoons and better yield then it was justified for the greater good.

A rapist, a thief and a murderer would also have a different set of values and beliefs. And if you put them together in a cell , they are sure to justify their deeds in their own way. But at the same time and to some degree they will also judge each other on basis of their own value and belief systems. But ,through the lense of morality and ethics all the three in some capacity are unwanted anomalies which need to be isolated for the good of the society. Maybe the prison staff would also isolate the three from each other in the cell simply because their individual values and beliefs starkly differ from each other and can create a ruckus at the drop of the hat.