Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Systems Approach to Ethics




A Manager must possess the requisite proficiency in analyzing and managing ethical situations in the contextual scenario which, at times, are quite complex.

There is, thus, a need for present day management education to prepare future managers to tackle such dilemmas and contingencies.

This author’s interactions with faculty, students and practicing managers reveal that very few management courses include Ethical Management in their curriculum and even those that do seem to view Managerial Ethics from a limited perspective restricted to just three aspects:

(i) Economic Analysis, based on impersonal market forces. The belief is that a manager should always act to maximize revenues and minimize costs, for this strategy, over the long term, will produce the greatest material benefits for society.

(ii) Legal Analysis, based on impersonal social and political processes. The belief is that a manager should always act in accordance with the law, and strictly implement rules and regulations. Relying on economic or legal analyses, either by themselves, or in conjunction with each other may help a manger seek shelter under the umbrella of “situational ethics”.

(iii) Philosophical Analysis, based on rational thought process. The view is that a manager should always act in accordance with principles of behaviour or beliefs that are “right” “proper” and “just”. Such black-and-white moral reasoning manifests itself in formulation of codes of conduct which, more often than not, are deceivable vessels full of promise but empty of intention.

Owing to this non-sytemic perspective of Managerial Ethics, the management student views the ethical domain as consisting of cut-and-dry unimplementable and unrealistic codes of ethics comprising platitudinous moral verbiage at one end of the spectrum, and the “loopholes” of situational ethics at the other end.

How then does one equip the management student to make the transition from the domain of codes of conduct and situational ethics, which are grossly inadequate to analyze and manage real-life ethical dilemmas, to a more holistic Total Ethical Management [TEM]

It is the author’s view that application of Systems concepts is sine qua non for implementation of Total Ethical Management [TEM] in a holistic manner.

The salient aspects of application of the Systems Approach in the context of TEM are described below in a nutshell.

Any time a human being, or entity, intervenes in the life of another human being, directly or indirectly, an ethical situation arises.

Thus not only human beings, but even entities, tangible and intangible, like technology and philosophy, can cause ethical situations. For example, Information Technology (IT) raises many ethical issues.

Ethical situations are frequently charged with emotion so any attempts to apply quantitative management techniques are not advisable.

System Behavioural Modeling (SBM) techniques which establish linkages between emotions and rationality are most apt in the context of Human Activity System (HAS) empirical evidence suggests that emotions are not inherently irrational, but they can contribute rationality when completely logical solutions are not available.

It must be appreciated that emotions, in conjunction with an individual’s stage of moral development, value system and other situational and cognitive mechanisms are a key factor which predispose one towards a certain ethical perspective.

Ethical dilemma occurs due to mismatch in ethical perspectives of various stakeholders involved in the ethical situation.


Total Ethical Management [TEM] can be distilled into five simple steps:


Identification and categorization of all stakeholders into six groups using the CATWOE model:

C : Customers or clients

A : Actors or agents who carryout the decision of the manager.

T : Transformation process or the manager decision maker

W : Weltanschauung or the world-view predominantly held. This includes the moral reasoning or philosophical aspect of conventional managerial ethics.

O : Ownership or the economic analysis aspects of conventional managerial ethics

E : Environmental and wider system constraints including legal aspects


Analyze the dominant ethical perspective of each of the above six groups using system management tools like entity relationship diagrams, N squared charts, behaviour divergence, et al


Construct an ethical conflict web [hexagonal spider’s web] mapping different ethical perspectives of various CATWOE stakeholders.


Identify those strands of the web where no significant ethical conflict exists and remove them from the conflict web.


Concentrate on those strands where ethical does exist and use conflict management techniques for optimal resolution.


It is evident that conventional managerial techniques are woefully in adequate to meet the challenges of Total Ethical Management (TEM). It will be apt to adopt the Systems Approach to tackle modern day ethical dilemmas and situations with a view to achieve optimal TEM.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


A Soldier’s Story by Omar N. Bradley

Book Review by Vikram Karve

I love reading autobiographies, as there is nothing more inspiring and authentic than learning about the life, times, thoughts and views of a great person in his own words.

It’s a lazy hot Sunday afternoon. I browse through my bookshelves and pick out A Soldier’s Story by General Omar Nelson Bradley, one of my favourite autobiographies, and certainly my all time favourite military autobiography. Come Dear Reader, sit with me for a while, and let’s leaf through and peruse this fascinating book.

General Bradley (1893-1981) known for his calm and resolute leadership and affectionately called the “Soldier’s General” commanded the largest American combat force in history and rose to be the first Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This is a story, not of my life, but of a campaign…I have sought... to tell a story of how generals live and work at their chosen profession the author says at the beginning of his memoirs which focus on his participation in World War II.

Candidly written with remarkable humility in beautiful expressive language it is a wonderful memoir embellished with interesting episodes and lucid characterizations of many renowned military personalities.

In the preface General Bradley says: “In this book I have tried to achieve one purpose: To explain how war is waged on the field from the field command post… To tell a story of how and why we chose to do what we did, no one can ignore the personalities and characteristics of those individuals engaged in making decisions…..Where there are people, there is pride and ambition, prejudice and conflict. In generals, as in all other men, capabilities cannot always obscure weaknesses, nor can talents hide faults…I could not conscientiously expurgate this book to make it more palatable…if this story is to be told, it must be told honestly and candidly…”

The author writes in a wonderfully readable storytelling style and starts his riveting narrative on September 2, 1943, driving to Messina along the north coast of Sicily when, suddenly, General Eisenhower summoned him to tell him that he had been selected to command the American Army in the biggest invasion of the war – the liberation of Europe from the Germans. He then goes back in time and starts his story with vignettes from his early formative days of soldiering.

General Bradley vividly describes how, from General Marshall, he learnt the rudiments of effective command which he himself applied throughout the war: “When an officer performed as I expected him to, I gave him a free hand. When he hesitated, I tried to help him. And when he failed, I relieved him” - isn’t this leadership lesson valid even on today’s IT driven world where delegation seems to be taking a back- seat and excessive monitoring, interference and intervention seem to be on the rise.

Rather than encourage yes-men, ego-massage, sycophancy and groupthink, General Marshal sought contrary opinions: “When you carry a paper in here, I want you to give me every reason you can think of why I should not approve it. If, in spite of your objections, my decision is to still go ahead, then I’ll know I’m right”.

When it was suggested to General Marshall that a corps commander who had an arthritic disability in the knee be sent home rather than be given command of a corps in the field in war, he opined: “I would rather have a man with arthritis in the knee than one with arthritis in the head. Keep him there”.

“For the first time in 32 years as a soldier, I was off to a war” he writes on his assignment overseas in February 1943 to act as Eisenhower’s “eyes and ears” among American troops on the Tunisian front in North Africa.

He vividly describes the chaos after the American defeat at Kasserine, the arrival of Patton on the scene who growled “I’m not going to have any goddam spies running around in my headquarters” and appointed Bradley as his deputy, a defining moment which was the first step of Bradley’s illustrious combat career.

This is easily the best book on Patton’s stellar role in World War II, complementing General Patton’s Memoirs War As I Knew It and Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago. Though his admiration for Patton is evident, General Bradley writes about his long association with Patton with fairness and honesty and reveals unique and remarkable facets of Patton’s leadership style and character.

Sample this: "Precisely at 7 Patton boomed in to breakfast. His vigour was always infectious, his wit barbed, his conversation a mixture of obscenity and good humour. He was at once stimulating and overbearing. George was a magnificent soldier" - Can there be a better description of General Patton?

Bradley vividly describes how Patton transformed the slovenly and demoralized II Corps into a fighting fit formation. “The news of Patton’s coming fell like a bombshell on Djebel Kouif. With sirens shrieking Patton’s arrival, a procession of armoured scout cars and half-tracks wheeled into the dingy square opposite the schoolhouse headquarters of II Corps…In the lead car Patton stood like a charioteer…scowling into the wind and his jaw strained against the web strap of a two-starred steel helmet.”

General Bradley writes superbly, as he describes how Patton stamped his personality upon his men and by his outstanding charismatic leadership rejuvenated the jaded, slovenly, worn-out, defeated and demoralized II Corps and transformed it into a vibrant, disciplined, fighting fit organization that never looked back and went on winning victory after victory in most difficult circumstances and against all odds.

There are bits of delightful humour in this book. Commenting on the ingenuity and improvisation abilities of Patton’s staff, the author writes: “…Indeed had Patton been named an Admiral in the Turkish Navy, his aides could probably dipped into their haversacks and come up with the appropriate badges of rank…” Though, at times, the author appears to be in awe of and enamoured by Patton’s larger than life charisma, he is candid, dispassionate and, at times, critical when he describes how he was bewildered by the contradictions in Patton’s character and concludes: “At times I felt that Patton, however successful he was as a corps commander, had not yet learned how to command himself.”

Their techniques of command varied with their contrasting personalities. While the soft-spoken unassuming Bradley preferred to lead by suggestion and example, the flamboyant Patton chose to drive his subordinates by bombast and threats, employing imperious mannerisms and profane expletives with startling originality; and both achieved spectacular results.

Many of us are at a loss for words when asked to qualitatively appraise our subordinates. See how easily General Bradley lucidly evaluates his division commanders, bringing out their salient qualities, in so few words with elegant simplicity and succinctness: “…To command a corps of four divisions, toughness alone is not enough. The corps commander must know his division commanders, he must thoroughly understand their problems, respect their judgment, and be tolerant of their limitations…among the division commanders in Tunisia, none excelled the unpredictable Terry Allen in the leadership of troops…but in looking out for his own division, Allen tended to belittle the role of others… Ryder had confirmed his reputation as that of a skilled tactician…his weakness, however, lay in the contentment with which he tolerated mediocrity…the profane and hot-tempered Harmon brought to the corps the rare combination of sound tactical judgment and boldness… none was better balanced nor more cooperative than Manton Eddy…though not timid, neither was he bold; Manton liked to count his steps carefully before he took them.” Aren’t the author’s understanding, observation and articulation precise and remarkable?

Throughout the book, we find honest, frank and incisive appraisals of characters in this story – superiors, peers and subordinates – most of them renowned and famous personalities. He writes with candour about the problems of command during the planning of the invasion of Europe.

From then on the story gathers speed and moves so captivatingly that one is spellbound as one reads the author fluently narrate the events of the campaign with remarkable preciseness and detail, one realizes what an engaging and compelling book this is – it’s truly unputdownable!

All important events, turning points, and personalities are vividly described with the aid of maps, charts, pictures and appendices; from D Day (the Normandy Invasion) to the surrender of the German forces. Towards the end of his memoirs General Bradley reflects “Only five years before…as a lieutenant colonel in civilian clothes, I had ridden a bus down Connecticut Avenue to my desk in old Munitions Building… I opened the mapboard and smoothed out the tabs of the 43 US divisions now under my command…stretched across a 640-mile front of the 12th Army Group...I wrote in the new date: D plus 335…outside the sun was climbing in the sky. The war in Europe had ended.”

While this autobiography is a “must read” for military men and students of military history, I am sure it will benefit management students and professionals for it is an incisive treatise on Soft Skills encompassing aspects of Leadership, Communications, and most importantly, the Art of Human Relations Management in the extremely complex and highly stressful scenario of War where achievement of success (victory) is inescapably paramount. It is a primer, a treasury of distilled wisdom, on all aspects of management, especially human resource management. One can learn many motivational and management lessons from this book.

Nothing can surpass the experience of learning history first hand from a man who lived and created it rather than a historian who merely records it.

The Art of Leadership is better learnt from studying Leaders, their lives, their writings, rather than reading management textbooks pontificating on the subject and giving how-to-do laundry lists.

The Art and Science of Management owe its genesis and evolution to the military. Modern Management theories, concepts, techniques and practices emerged from the experiences and lessons learnt during World War II [particularly in The United States of America].

It’s ironic isn’t it that the reverse is happening today?

It was the military that gave modern management principles to the civilian corporate world, and today we see military men running to civilian management institutes to “learn” management and acquire the coveted MBA which is the sine qua non and all important passport for entry into the corporate world.

I love reading stories, all kinds of stories, fiction, fantasy, parables, fables, slice of life. But most of all, I like Life Stories, biographies, particularly autobiographies, as there is nothing more credible, convincing and stimulating than learning about the life, times and thoughts of a great person from his own writings. It’s called verisimilitude, I think.

A Soldier’s Story is a magnificent book. A unique masterpiece, a classic!

This autobiography is enjoyable, engrossing, illuminating and inspiring.

Dear Reader, I commend this superb book. Do read it; I am sure you will learn a lot about the art of leadership and feel inspired by this life story.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this review.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Work Life Balance


Are You a Victim of Hurry Sickness



A central element of lifestyle management is the skill to creatively balance achievement and work success with leisure activities, family life and social involvements.

Another critical aspect is the ability to feel comfortable at work and at home and to enjoy the experience of whatever is being done at that moment.

But nowadays, most of us are obsessed with getting results or completing one’s task. When task completion becomes more important than enjoying and understanding the work or activity one is doing at the given moment, a sure victim of “hurry sickness” is born.

The resultant constant sense of urgency is the trap of hurry sickness. One rushes to “get things done” to the point where it becomes an obsession.

Breaking this syndrome requires that you learn to enjoy experiences for the pleasure they give. When you gain pleasure from an experience, there is no need to get things done painstakingly.

Enjoy experiences, not rewards, and things will get done automatically without any constant stressful sense of urgency.

As defined from a psychological perspective, Hurry Sickness is:

“A pervasive and progressively urgent need to complete task in order to obtain rewards at completion without regard for other aspects of the work experience and by using maladaptive time strategies.”

They key causal factor in hurry sickness is the progressive need for task completion.

Enjoying what you are doing is neglected with a morbid urge to getting it done as quickly as possible, no matter what the activity.

The obsessive need for task completion extends to non-work involvements and activities like eating, playing, romance, making love, sex, leisure, having fun, loafing, taking a stroll, recreation, entertainment, leisure, sports, pastimes, hobbies, holidaying, exercising, lazing around, dozing, enjoying music, cooking, gardening, meditating, enjoying "doing nothing" and delightful timepass, what you consider "wasting your time" with your family, wife, kids, pet dog, friends...

This attitude of Hurry Sickness interferes with the enjoyment of these activities and experiences because of the persistent inclination to hurry up and finish it off.

Getting things done has become such a strong need because the payoffs or rewards for completion have assumed primary importance.

Your work experience has taught you that rewards always come at the end of the activity after you have put forth great effort to achieve a goal. You do not realize that happiness is not a destination but the manner of traveling.

Not only do you feel a sense of personal satisfaction from your achievements, but tangible rewards, such as promotion, cash incentives, awards, and advancements are given to you as well. With time, these rewards have become clearly linked with your self-esteem.

Each time you “succeed”, your ego, your inner self, sends a message to you which says, “You have done well. You are a commendable person because you succeeded again.” Your need for this kind of reassurance has become stronger than you would care to admit.

Time-Urgency quickly becomes a strong internal driving force towards task completion. Your life becomes a frenzy of completing one task after another. You are obsessed with time and wasting any of it becomes almost a mortal sin.

You strive to maximize your productivity by using time ever more efficiently, but you also have a sense that you are controlled by time and you don’t like it. Time is both your challenge and your enemy. A telling sign of hurry sickness is that even while relaxing, you are constantly fighting time-urgency and this that causes you unrest and never allows you to totally "switch off".

Another way to seek to increase your output is to adopt maladaptive time-strategies. These questionable tactics do help you get more done over the short run, but you pay a heavy emotional price.

You now do everything faster, you have learned to “multitask” or “double up,” to do two or more things at once, and you are constantly preparing for what is coming next before you are finished what you are doing now.

The insidious trap is that you get something done quickly even when there is no reason to get anything done at all.

You hurry when there is no need to hurry - even when you have all the time in the world.

Because of your emphasis on task completion, you focus on finishing without regard for other holistic aspects of the experience.

In short, you have lost the ability to enjoy yourself while doing anything because of your incessant drive to get to the finish line.

Because you are afflicted by Hurry Sickness, you have lost the ability to emotionally rejuvenate yourself. Chronic fatigue and pessimism are symptoms of this malady.


Here are some behavioral signs, symptoms and signals that indicate hurry sickness:


You now eat in the office while continuing to work or you just skip meals altogether. You multitask while eating. At home, you eat fast, gulp your food, finish meals well ahead of everyone else and eat in bigger bites without savoring the taste of food. Sharing pleasantries at the table is minimal because you cannot sit long enough. Ask yourself – are you eating mindfully and relishing every morsel of your food?


Relaxed romantic sex and unhurried love-making is but a pleasant memory. The frequency has reduced and even when you do indulge in sex, it is a quick encounter and you are off to sleep or on to some other more “important” or “urgent” activity. Sex is less spontaneous and more mechanical these days. Love-making has become another hurry-up-and-get-it-done-with activity. Worse, you often indulge in “faking it” in order to get it over with in a hurry so you can quickly get on with the more “important” and “productive” things in life – your “high priority” activities!


Your communication patterns now focus squarely on the negative. Feedback to others emphasizes mistakes and failings and you rarely compliment or offer sincere support to anyone these days. You don’t take the time any more for pleasant chat with family and colleagues. You have stopped listening. You make demands instead of working cooperatively with others or team-building. And hey, are you on your cell-phone most of the time?


You put aside less time for relaxation and you enjoy it less when you actually try to relax. Time-off is now more of a hassle than it is worth. When you sit still, you feel uncomfortable almost immediately. You have lost the ability to “do nothing” – it’s difficult for you to loosen up and enjoy an idle hour relaxing, doing nothing. Ask yourself why you work – reflect, contemplate, think about the fundamental reason why you work and realization will dawn upon you that the primary reason you work is to be able to enjoy your leisure, so why aren’t you taking a vacation every day and learning how to enjoy your leisure with full awareness?


Family members now “report” events to you, but you share little of yourself with them. You and your spouse argue more than you talk. The satisfactions of family life have diminished in quality and quantity. Your impatience is just as strong at home as in the office.


Because you have hurry sickness, your initial tendency is to effect and expedite your “cure” in a hurry too.

But this hurry-up-and-get-it-done attitude may actually sabotage your recovery. What is required is patience, perspective and the ability to deal with setbacks in healthier ways.

It is easy to blame hurry sickness on the pressures of your job, the stress of daily living and what you have to do to survive in the fast paced world of today and on the insensitivity of the complex modern world. While each of these perceptions has a grain of truth in it, the fact remains that most of the responsibility for hurry sickness lies within you.

Your drive to get ahead is the real root of the problem and the fact is that you have lost all sense of perspective. Until you accept personal responsibility for your present state, you will not be in a position to confront and reverse the real mischief, damage and harm caused by hurry sickness.

Remember the well-known story of the hare and the tortoise.

Decelerate your life a bit, slow down, walk leisurely instead of driving and do not carry or switch off your cell-phone where you can, don’t multitask, do one thing at a time with full awareness and mindfulness and learn to enjoy the experience of whatever you are doing.

Do you believe in multitasking?

Are you a victim of Hurry Sickness?

Why don’t you rid yourself of this malady and enhance your quality of life?

Sure, you can get rid of Hurry Sickness!

Just stop multitasking and focus on whatever you are doing at the present moment.



Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Sunday, November 22, 2009





Implementation is the phase between a decision and its realization.

Implementation may be placed in a continuum in which interaction takes place between those who seek objective and those on whom action depends.

The importance of implementation is undeniable because it is a struggle over the realization of ideas.

Effective implementation overcomes the gaps between intention and promise, aspirations, achievement and performance, and prescription and reality.

Implementation comprises the ability to achieve specified ends by chosen means.

The time factor is critical in the implementation phase of a project.

Contingencies characterize implementation in several ways hence interactive and dynamic elements are vital to implementation management in order to forge links in the causal chain connecting actions to objectives with a view to minimizing the discrepancy between what actually occurs and what was envisaged.

Implementation is not self-executing.

It is not a process that follows automatically once a program has been formulated.

Implementation requires the presence of an action-forcing mechanism.

Implementation is a control task; it needs to be dynamic, flexible and adaptable to changing situations.

Breakdowns of implementation represent fundamental failures to translate meaningful ideas into effective action.

Despite taking initiatives and using rational methods, on many occasions implementation is swamped by constant pressures of unpredictable problems and crises.

It is important to distinguish between non-implementation and unsuccessful implementation.

In the case of non-implementation, the program is not put into effect as intended.

Unsuccessful implementation, on the other hand, occurs when a program is carried out, but fails to produce the desired results.

Implementation seems vulnerable to the domino effect in that when the initial phase is troubled the implementation failure tends to transmit itself to later phases.

Once implementation dynamics are set in motion, they become vulnerable to adverse or diversionary forces which pull them away from their original design.

Hence, a cogent implementation strategy and specific techniques are necessary to move from the realm of intention to the ambit of reality.

FORCE FIELD ANALYSIS – A Versatile Technique for Implementing Change Management

Force Field Analysis, a technique developed by Lewin, is useful in designing and executing the implementation process.

Force Field Analysis is a technique for systematically reviewing the elements working for and against a proposed course of action.

It assumes that in any situation there are both driving forces and restraining forces that influence implementation.

Driving Forces are those forces that facilitate implementation.

Restraining Forces impede the implementation process – they tend to restrain, dissipate, decrease or negate the Driving Forces.

For successful implementation it is essential to push on and overpower or immobilize the restraining forces, or try to transform the restraining forces into driving forces.

From the Human Resource (HR) perspective the Driving Forces include Participants [people who recognize their responsibility in the success of implementation], Movers [people who remove obstacles to implementation when they encounter them] and Shakers [people who recognize an opportunity and will make implementation happen].

The Restraining Forces may comprise Spectators [people not interested in implementation], Protectors [of Status Quo], Doubters [of the way the implementation is being done], Worriers [who are afraid of failure] and Switchers [people who abdicate and “delegate” their implementation responsibility].

Before embarking on implementation you must determine the driving forces and restraining forces and formulate a strategy to tackle them; if you rush into implementation without proper analysis, you may get frustrated and not know why.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Friday, November 20, 2009





Short Fiction - One of my favourite fiction short stories...

One leisurely morning, while I am loafing on Main Street, in Pune, I meet an old friend of mine.

“Hi!” I say.

“Hi,” he says, “where to?”

“Aimless loitering,” I say, “And you?”

“I’m going to work.”

“Work? This early? I thought your shift starts in the evening, or late at night. You work at a call center don’t you?”

“Not now. I quit. I’m on my own now.”

“On your own? What do you do?”


“LPO? What’s that?”

“Life Process Outsourcing.”

“Life Process Outsourcing? Never heard of it!”

“You’ve heard of Business Process Outsourcing haven’t you?”

“BPO? Outsourcing non-core business activities and functions?”

“Precisely. LPO is similar to BPO. There it’s Business Processes that are outsourced, here it’s Life Processes.”

“Life Processes? Outsourced?”

“Why don’t you come along with me? I’ll show you.”

Soon we are in his office. It looks like a mini call center.

A young attractive girl welcomes us. “Meet Rita, my Manager,” my friend says, and introduces us.

Rita looks distraught, and says to my friend, “I’m not feeling well. Must be viral fever.”

“No problem. My friend here will stand in.”

“What? I don’t have a clue about all this LPO thing!” I protest.

“There’s nothing like learning on the job! Rita will show you.”

“It’s simple,” Rita says, in a hurry. “See the console. You just press the appropriate switch and route the call to the appropriate person or agency.”

And with these words Rita disappears. It’s the shortest induction training I have ever had in my life.

And so I plunge into the world of Life Process Outsourcing; or LPO as they call it.

It’s all very simple.

Everyone is busy. Working people don’t seem to have time these days, but they have lots of money; especially those double income couples, IT nerds, MBA hot shots, finance wizards; just about everybody running desperately in the modern rat race.

So what do they do? Simple. They 'outsource'!

‘Non-core Life Activities’, for which you neither have the inclination or the time – you just outsource them; so you can maximize your work-time to rake in the money and make a fast climb up the ladder of success.

A ring, a flash on the console infront of me and I take my first LPO call.

“My daughter’s puked in her school. They want someone to pick her up and take her home. I’m busy in a shoot and just can’t leave,” a creative ad agency type with a husky voice says.

“Why don’t you tell your husband?” I suggest.

“Are you crazy or something? I’m a single mother.”

“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t know. My sympathies and condolences.”

“Condolences? Who’s this? Is this LPO?”

“Yes ma’am,” I say, press the button marked ‘children’ and transfer the call, hoping I have made the right choice. Maybe I should have pressed ‘doctor’.

Nothing happens for the next few moments. I breathe a sigh of relief.

A yuppie wants his grandmother to be taken to a movie. I press the ‘movies’ button. ‘Movies’ transfers the call back, “Hey, this is for movie tickets; try ‘escort services’. He wants the old hag escorted to the movies.”

‘Escort Services’ are in high demand. These guys and girls, slogging in their offices minting money, want escort services for their kith and kin for various non-core family processes like shopping, movies, eating out, sight seeing, marriages, funerals, all types of functions; even going to art galleries, book fairs, exhibitions, zoos, museums or even a walk in the nearby garden.

A father wants someone to read bedtime stories to his small son while he works late. A busy couple wants proxy stand-in ‘parents’ at the school PTA meeting. An investment banker rings up from Singapore; he wants his mother to be taken to pray in a temple at a certain time on a specific day.

Someone wants his kids to be taken for a swim, brunch, a play and browsing books and music.

A sweet-voiced IT project manager wants someone to motivate and pep-talk her husband, who’s been recently sacked, and is cribbing away at home demoralized. He desperately needs someone to talk to, unburden himself, but the wife is busy – she neither has the time nor the inclination to take a few days off to boost the morale of her depressed husband when there are deadlines to be met at work and so much is at stake.

The things they want outsourced range from the mundane to the bizarre; life processes that one earlier enjoyed and took pride in doing or did as one’s sacred duty are considered ‘non-core life activities’ now-a-days by these highfalutin people.

At the end of the day I feel illuminated on this novel concept of Life Process Outsourcing, and I am about to leave, when suddenly a call comes in.

“LPO?” a man asks softly.

“Yes, this is LPO. May I help you?” I say.

“I’m speaking from Frankfurt Airport. I really don’t know if I can ask this?” he says nervously.

“Please go ahead and feel free to ask anything you desire, Sir. We do everything.”


“Yes, Sir. Anything and everything!” I say.

“I don’t know how to say this. This is the first time I’m asking. You see, I am working 24/7 on an important project for the last few months. I’m globetrotting abroad and can’t make it there. Can you please arrange for someone suitable to take my wife out to the New Year’s Eve Dance?”

I am taken aback but quickly recover, “Yes, Sir.”

“Please send someone really good, an excellent dancer, and make sure she enjoys and has a good time. She loves dancing and I just haven’t had the time.”

“Of course, Sir.”

“And I told you – I’ve been away abroad for quite some time now and I’ve got to stay out here till I complete the project.”

“I know. Work takes top priority.”

“My wife. She’s been lonely. She desperately needs some love. Do you have someone with a loving and caring nature who can give her some love? I just don’t have the time. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

I let the words sink in. This is one call I am not going to transfer. “Please give me the details, Sir,” I say softly into the mike.

As I walk towards my destination with a spring in my step, I feel truly enlightened.

Till this moment, I never knew that ‘love’ was a 'non-core' 'life-process' worthy of outsourcing.

Long Live LPO!

Life Process Outsourcing!

Love Process Outsourcing!

Call it what you like, but I'm sure you've got the essence of outsourcing.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Appetite for a Stroll

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Cognition and Information



Part I – Cognitive Biases

The term cognition refers to a faculty for the processing of information. It is the process of perceiving, thinking, reasoning, analyzing and remembering.

Information is the value or quality of a message or communication between a sender and a receiver. Data is observation of facts and information is a collection of data from which conclusions may be drawn, decisions taken and knowledge acquired.

Understanding Human Behaviour is sine qua non for the successful design and implementation of Soft Systems [Human Activity Systems], Management Information Systems and, indeed, all Information Processing Systems.

Human behaviour plays an important role in human information processing.

It must be remembered that Information Systems are not installed in a vacuum; they are implanted into a living body, an organisation, a Human Activity Systems.

Human beings are being continuously exposed to an enormous number of stimuli. Cognition of all the stimuli is not possible and most stimuli are eliminated by a complex cognitive process. Even those perceived may be subject to cognitive biases.

A better understanding of human information processing enhances the usefulness of information technology and systems.


Here are a few salient cognitive biases which affect information formulation, acquisition, analysis and interpretation:

Adjustment and Anchoring – In situations of information overload there is a tendency to resort to the anchoring and adjustment heuristic and to rely too heavily, or “anchor” on a past reference or on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. For example, you may emphasize too much on the first piece of information you encounter.

Selective Perception – You accept / absorb only that information that is in consonance with, or confirms, your views, beliefs and values.

Wishful Thinking – You interpret information according to what might be pleasing to imagine [as you would like things to be] rather than according to actual evidence or rational logical reality.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy – is the tendency to engage in behaviors that elicit results which will (consciously or not) confirm our beliefs. You seek, acquire and analyze only that information that confirms or lends credibility to your views and values and ignore any information that contradicts your views or values. This is a “Confirmation bias” exemplified by an irrational tendency to search for, interpret or remember information in a way that confirms your preconceptions.

Ease of Recall – Information which can easily be recalled or accessed affects your perception of the likelihood of similar events occurring again. You rely too much on information that is easy to recall from memory.

Conservation – You reach premature conclusions on the basis of too small a sample of information.

Order Effects – The order in which information is presented to you affects information retention in your memory. Typically, the first piece of information presented [primacy effect] and the last piece of information presented [recency effect] assume undue importance in your mind.

Overconfidence – The greater the amount of data the more confident you are about the accuracy of the data.

Availability – you only rely on and use easily available information and ignore significant information that may not be so easily sourced.

Bandwagon Effect – you develop a tendency to believe information because many other people believe the same information. This may be a manifestation of Groupthink and you tend to “jump on the bandwagon”.

Hindsight – you are unable to think objectively if you receive information that a certain outcome has occurred and then told to ignore this information. With hindsight, outcomes that have occurred seem to have been inevitable; sometimes this is called the “I-knew-it-all-along” effect, the inclination to see past events as being predictable. You see relationships more easily in hindsight than in foresight.

Habit – You choose some information because it was previously accepted for a perceived similar purpose [precedence syndrome] or because of superstition.

Illusion of Control – You develop a tendency for to believe you can control or at least influence outcomes that you clearly cannot and hence you will seek, interpret, process and use information accordingly in an irrational manner.

Gambler’s Fallacy – You falsely assume that an unexpected occurrence of a “run” of some events enhances the probability of occurrence of an event that has not occurred. You develop a tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events (when in reality it is not so) and process information accordingly.

Déformation professionnelle – you tend to process information according to the conventions of your own profession, forgetting any broader point of view. You fall victim to the Law of the Hammer – “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” – this may happen owing to overspecialization or too straitjacketed professional training which hampers a liberal broad perspective.

[To be continued…]


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Ten Pet Dog Commandments

Are you thinking of getting a pet dog? Remember that it is going to be a genuine long-term commitment and your life will change forever. The pet dog is going to be a new member of your family. Before you bring the pet dog into your home and your life it would be worthwhile to read this – THE TEN PET DOG COMMANDMENTS.

1. My life is likely to last ten to fifteen years. Any separation from you will be painful for me. Remember that when you get me to your home and into your life and family.

2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.

3. Place your trust in me – it is crucial for my well-being.

4. Please don't be angry at me for long, and please don't lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your entertainment and your friends. I have only you.

5. Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don't understand your words, I understand your voice when it's speaking to me.

6. Always treat me with care and love. I will never forget it.

7. Remember before you hit me that I have teeth that could easily crush the bones in your hands, but that I choose not to bite you.

8. Before you scold me for being uncooperative, obstinate or lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I am not getting the right food, or I've been out in the sun or in the cold too long, or my heart is getting old and weak.

9. Take care of me when I get old. You too, will grow old.

10. Go with me on difficult journeys, especially my last journey. Never say: 'I can't bear to watch it', 'let it happen in my absence' or 'I am tired of you'. Everything is
easier for me if you are there. Remember, I Love You.


If you are thinking of getting a dog into your home, as a family member, remember you are you are making a commitment to that dog for its lifetime, probably even more than your own children.

Once the dog joins your family, invest your love and time to build a special bond that only a dog can offer.

You'll be happy you did.