What is Culture?

The culture at most start-ups is often misinterpreted and misunderstood.

The bean bags, immense flexibility, no dress code is not culture.

A bean bag can tell you nothing about the culture of a place.

Even open office architecture and free lunch are just standards.

They don’t define culture.

Culture is the set of shared attitudes, #values, goals, and practices that characterizes an organization.

Culture has more to do with shared values and beliefs.

If the employees don’t value collaboration and don’t completely believe that seamless collaboration leads to better team efficiencies then what is the point of having open office architecture?

Want to define culture? try to search for norms in a workplace that are linked to values.

Is it a norm to be assertive and openly express your ideas?
Is it a norm that management listens to those ideas and readily implements them?
Is it a norm that you are left to your own good judgment without being micromanaged?
Is it okay to hold a different opinion without being reprimanded?

Answers to these questions can give you some hints about the #culture

Even organizations that are heavily hierarchical, bureaucratic, having conventional chairs, cubicles, and rigid policies could be great #workplaces.

They only need to have better norms. 🙂

10% off!

At my previous workplace, there was a KFC on the ground floor.

It offered a 10% discount for people who worked at offices in that building.

You only had to ask for the discount, and the KFC staff would just swipe a special discount card before I offered my card for the payment.

I was not very regular but on the days when I skipped my usual lunch box, one would find me sitting quietly at a corner table, devouring the finger-licking good chicken.

I always preferred to go alone, that was my “me time”

Over a period of time, I started visiting more.

Few more months passed and the staff recognized me as a regular guy.

Sometimes I would go there to buy a light snack before having my lunch.

Few more days passed and I started feeling awkward to ask for the discount.

And then suddenly one day, I gave up on the discount and never asked for it.

I stopped valuing that discount.

And then eventually I became less frequent.

I explored some more places around.

Discovered some more good food-joints.

Discounts work.

Discounts work until they don’t.

Dream Company? what’s that?

Did you ever aspire for a dream company?

What is a dream company? And what are the parameters?

I remember a conversation that I had with the director at my B-school.

I was the placement rep and we were having some discussions around placement season.

Somewhere in the conversation, I said “ All the good companies will go by then”.

The director retorted “ define a good company to me”.

And I was left speechless.

7 years later, I have some clarity.

Most people in their early careers long for dream companies.

And the parameters are pretty straightforward; brand, money, growth opportunities, etc

But most dream companies are dream companies because they have a good brand

And more often than not this “brand” is created through the awesome products/services that the company offers

Does that mean any company that has awesome products and services and buzz in the market should qualify as an awesome workplace or a dream company?

I don’t think so.

After all, you will be working with people that follow some processes under some leadership.

These three elements will be common everywhere.

A good/dream company might be awesome in one of the areas but not all.

And a dream is no longer a dream when it comes true 🙂

Realities might be starkly different from the dream.


Planned Obsolescence

Just watched the Apple Launch Event.
It is sad to see how everything is designed for planned obsolescence.
Do you know what is planned obsolescence?
Let me give you an example.
I love my Xbox 360.
I bought it on Quickr, right before the pandemic hit us.
The seller was just walking distance from my home.
He was happy to give me the Xbox+ some cool games at Rs 5000.
He was an avid gamer and owned two other PS consoles.
He said, “trust me, the Xbox has been used for less than 20 hours”.
It was a super deal. The device was in mint condition.
I played some of the classic first/third-person shooters, I put the rig to test.
Enjoyed every second of the experience.
The device was manufactured in 2011.
10 years and Xbox 360 technology is still relevant.
The Xbox 360 was not so much designed for planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence describes a strategy of deliberately ensuring that the current version of a given product will become out of date within a known time period. This proactive move guarantees that consumers will seek replacements in the future, thus bolstering demand.
Apple does this so subtly.
It is iOS that pushes older devices towards obsolescence 🙂

There no difference between people who are employed and those who are self-employed

There is no difference between people who are employed and those who are self-employed.
The common denominator here is the term “employed”.
Self-employed sounds fancy because it has a certain sense of freedom attached to it.
Employed doesn’t sound so fancy because it has a dogma of confinement attached to it.
Whether employed or self-employed you just trade your time for money.
You are in the market selling your services.
You have to manage your time and remain accountable.
Many people use self-employed and #entrepreneurship interchangeably.
But being self-employed and entrepreneurial pursuits are two different things.
Lately, there is a big buzz around the #freelancing economy.
Please don’t get carried away.
A self-employed person may not have an #entrepreneurial #mindset at all.
One may lack risk-taking attitude, business acumen, resourcefulness, and all those quintessential entrepreneurial qualities that you may be aware of.
Employment brings that certainty, feeling of community or belongingness, and the comfort that you are not vulnerable to the vagaries of the market.
I would urge you to explore the aspects of employment before you deep dive into the world of self-employment.
To conclude, self-employment is not always the answer to your repulsion towards regular #employment.

Creativity is a process

Week 10 of writing daily

People often ask me how do I keep the ideation engine going

I won’t say it is easy, but there is a process

If you follow my posts you will notice that I write on a range of topics, right from business models to personal anecdotes

Someday I might write about NASA’s vision and Netflix’s policies

And then completely move on to Bollywood or LinkedIn’s organic reach

I know that is crazy, but that is my colorful canvas

Keeps me going, as long as you are curious you won’t be out of ideas

That answers the first part

Talking about the process, trust me it is boring

But this process is more crucial than the ideation engine

I just capture my thoughts on the Notes App

I don’t let them die a slow death in my brain

I build an inventory of ideas, only 60-70% make it through the first cut

Out of those roughly 20% are always work in progress, they never see the light of the day

Out of two interesting concepts that I think, one comes alive

That is a good success rate I would say

To summarize

Be curious and keep your mind open, don’t be too deliberate because that won’t work in the long run.

Follow a process to publish consistently, I know that is boring but you have to do it 🙂

Follow #alokwrites

NASA’s Vision

We reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.

Can you guess whose vision statement it is?


Did you guess it right?

But don’t you think that vision statement is under more pressure than any other vision statement on this planet?

Because every year NASA’s vision needs to hold good for millions of taxpayers in the US

But come to think of it, when the equity is replaced by tax, it is a different ball game altogether

When the NASA director uses words like “moonshot”, he means that in a factual manner and not a metaphorical sense

And we don’t even know how they define their ROI, revenue, profitability?

Based on what? What are the benchmarks? What is the competition like?

We know that NASA has competed against Russia during the cold war, but not anymore

But, NASA has remained true to its vision

It has conducted extraordinary missions on Mars and Moon

But where is the ROI you may ask

Well, the ROI is right here. An Indian citizen is writing about the vision of NASA and you have read thus far

It is the soft power that the USA has built over the years

But have you thought what would have happened if NASA were a public listed company with a #vision like that?

Some advice on early careers

Some advice for people in their early 20s

If you are looking for a job:

Tell the recruiter that the required skill can be developed on the job, send a signal that you are learning agile

If they ask for experience, sell your potential

If you want to enter the gig economy:

learn some basics about negotiating and influencing

Because experienced people will hard-ball you to compromise

Have faith in your skills, trust yourself

If you want a change:

Understand the difference between a job and a career

Understand that you want a career and not a job

I am an engineer and MBA in operations. Things I do for a living are light years away from engineering and operations

Don’t carry the baggage of your degrees, if you are learning agile you can be whatever you want to be

If you want to be happy:

Read, travel, exercise, and forgive, be kind to yourself, forget, move on, sleep, reflect, and learn to relax.

The price of organizing

Want to work for a big organization?

First, get organized.

If you are in your early career, you get paid for waking-up on time, dressing-up, daily commute, adjusting, prioritizing, being responsive to clients (external/internal), adapting; basically organizing as per the need of the organization.

Formal and mature organizations want you to be “organized”.

They are like big nations with strong rules in place.

Want to quit? think again, there are lengthy exit formalities and long notice period.

Let us look at young organizations.

Start-ups don’t demand such organization skills because they are still figuring out their own direction.

They are like newly formed nations with cool culture.

But they need extreme, speed, agility, and extreme ownership because there is no one to monitor you.

You could be hired and fired on the same day.

You are either part of the tribe or just an outlier.

But you don’t need to be so organized.

And hence you let go the premium you get for “organizing”.

You can join and quit a start-up like a free bird.

Want to abscond? suit yourself.

PS: I don’t advise that.

The trap of Duopoly

Here is something you should be worried about.

The telecom space in India is now controlled by two companies.

Airtel and Jio.

Both are just a few million customers away from being termed as a duopoly.

Like Boeing and Airbus.

Unfortunately, in my region, Airtel is a natural monopoly.

I use airtel broadband and airtel sim.

Currently, I face frequent call drops and internet outages.

The costs and efforts of switching broadband and telecom services are prohibitive.

During the early days of broadband circa, 2006-07, one such natural #monopoly was BSNL.

There was nothing I could do once the BSNL connection conked.

All I could do was wait.

Yesterday I had the same feeling.

All I could do was wait.

Every time Airtel customer reps assure me of better quality, I have to believe them.

Sometimes I ask them, have you read the SLA (service level agreement)?

And they kindly say, no.

And I believe that’s ok.

Customer representatives are trained to speak what you want to hear.

They are doing their job.

But we all are slowly sliding into a dangerous trap.

It is the trap of duopoly.

Even if the new Boeing 737max crashes due to technical challenges, we really don’t have a choice.

We have to trust Boeing.

Or painstakingly find an airline that only uses Airbus.