Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Humor in Uniform – Management “Wisdom” that made me Unemployable

Humor in Uniform

Defence Management “Wisdom” that made me Unemployable

This is a fictional spoof. 
If you do not have a “sense of humor” – please do not read this story.

A Fictional Spoof

I am unemployed.

I am unemployed – because I am unemployable.

I am unemployable because I spent my lifetime in military service – “serving the nation” – in the Navy.

Once you join the Defence Services – the Army, the Navy, or, the Air Force – every year of military service reduces your employability in the “Civvy Street”.

And – if you serve your entire lifetime in military uniform “serving the nation” – you are rendered totally unemployable in the civilian world – like me.

Therefore – my advice to those in the military who want to have a “second innings” in the civilian world is: “Get out of the military as early as possible” – because the longer you remain in uniform – the less will be your employability in the civilian world.

And soon – like me – you will be totally unemployable – and – will have to spend the rest of your life “doing nothing” – like I am doing.

Why does this happen...?

It happens because the longer you serve in the Defence Forces – the more of “Defence Management” you will learn and imbibe – and these “defence management” concepts will remain ingrained in you – rendering you useless for the civilian world.

You don’t believe me...?

Read on…

 “Management” Lessons I Learnt In Uniform
A Spoof

Dear Reader:

“Management” in Uniform is different from Management in the Civilian World.

In order to illustrate this – let me summarize for you – a few “management” lessons I learnt as a military officer in navy uniform.

My long Military Career in the Navy can be broadly divided into 3 main parts:

1. Afloat – on Navy Warships

2. Ashore – in Naval Establishments – chiefly in Naval Dockyards.

3. In Inter-Service Establishments – especially in IAT Pune.

In my “Humor in Uniform” Stories in my Blog – I have – from time to time – narrated some of my “Defence Management” experiences – and – told you about the “management lessons” I learnt on board ships – and – in the Naval Dockyards at Mumbai and Vizag – which made me much “wiser”.

In this article – I shall tell you about some “management” lessons I learnt during my first tenure at IAT Pune – more than 32 years ago – in the mid 1980’s.

[NB: The generic word “Fauj” refers to all arms of the Military (Army, Navy, Air Force) and the term “Fauji” or “Soldier” refers to all military personnel in uniform (Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen)]

“Defence Management” – Lesson No. 1


I decided to have a “brainstorming” session.

However  there was just one problem.

There were no “brains” to “storm”.

As per my customary practice ever since I had joined the Navy – I had left behind my brain at home while coming to work.

This gem of wisdom had been imparted to me very early in my Naval Career by one of my illustrious senior officers.

Even today – I clearly remember the wizened old Sea-Dog’s “words of wisdom”.

He had said to me:

“We don’t require brainy chaps in the Navy.

The Navy is a Master Plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots.

By any chance – if you are not an idiot – but if you find yourself in the Navy – you can only operate well by ‘pretending to be an idiot’.

So – one you join the Navy – there is no need to use your brain.

You just do as you are told.

So – if you are in the Navy – it is best if you don’t have a brain.

But – if you are one of those exceptions who do have a brain – yes – in case you do have a brain – you must never bring your brain to work.

Do you understand…?

You must keep your brain at home.

Make sure that you don’t bring your brain to work…”

So – I had not brought my brain to work – I had left my brain back at home.

And about the three “pongo” Johnnies in “OG” sitting in front of me – the less said the better.

I wanted to “brainstorm” – but there were no brains in the room.

So – in order to “brainstorm” – now I would have to go home – “insert” my brain in back into my head – and then “storm” my “brain”.

So – Dear Reader – remember this – it is all very well to experiment with high-falutin management techniques like “brainstorming” – but before you begin brainstorming – make sure there are enough “brains” to “storm”.

‘Availability of Brains is the sine qua non for Brainstorming...’

So – before you embark on a “brainstorming” session – look around and ensure that you have enough “brains” to “storm”

And – like my boss said – for those of you who want to join the “fauj” – it is best you don’t have a brain.

But – alas – in case you do have a brain – and by some quirk of fate – you find yourself in the military – remember that you must never bring your brain to work – always make sure that you keep your brain at home –and don’t bring your brain to work.

That is why – in the Military – there is no such thing such as “Brainstorming” – there is just “blind obedience”.

In the Military – when you are given an order – you just say “Yes, Sir, Yes, Sir, Three Bags Full, Sir” – and you do exactly what you are told to do – nothing more – nothing less.

“Defence Management” – Lesson No. 2


Hey – let me digress a bit – and tell you why I was holding this “brainstorming session” in the first place.

This happened more than 30 years ago – in the year 1985.

I had just assumed my new appointment as teaching faculty in IAT Pune as a newly promoted Lieutenant Commander.

My primary job was to teach, guide research, design, administer, evaluate – do everything – to put it in a nutshell – I had to run a post graduate course in Engineering (a “turn-key” job).

Of course – those days it took 11 years of commissioned service to become a Lieutenant Commander – unlike today – when you see greenhorns who haven’t yet fully grown their whiskers strutting around wearing two and a half stripes – thanks to the benevolent Ajai Vikram Singh Cadre Review Report (aka AVS 2006).

The Institute of Armament Technology (IAT) was a unique institution – whose faculty was composed of officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force – and – in addition to Military Officers – there was also a rather peculiar species called “Scientists” – who were civilians.

The amusing irony was that – most uniformed Military Officers on the IAT faculty were more highly qualified than the “Scientists”.

In keeping with our penchant for changing names – IAT was later renamed DIAT – and I believe it is now called MILIT – but it is still remains the same lovely place nestled in its sylvan surroundings in the verdant hills of Girinagar.

But that is another story…!

I was sinking my teeth into my new appointment – when I was summoned by my boss and who told me with a sense of urgency in his voice: “You go immediately and take over the CSD Canteen. There is some fiasco over there – and – you are to take over as ‘Chairman IAT CSD Canteen’ immediately.”

Before you get ideas that I was being elevated to a prestigious assignment of a “Chairman” – let me explain.

‘Chairman IAT CSD Canteen’ was no great appointment.

This was a “bum job” – a sundry duty I had to do in addition to my primary job.

And the high-sounding title “Chairman” meant nothing – it was IAT parlance for what we in the Navy called “Officer-in-Charge”.

For those civilians uninitiated with life in uniform – let me explain that in the Army, Navy or Air Force – you can be asked to do any “bum job” – which can include almost anything and everything – irrespective of your qualifications or specialization.

I have performed “bum jobs” ranging from running poultry farms, piggeries, milk dairies and food farms, managing administration, running catering services and liquor bars in wardroom officers’ messes, running officers’ clubs and administering schools and libraries – besides conducting and supervising a host of so-called “welfare” activities.

In the Defence Services – you have to be a “Jack of all Trades  and  a Master of One”.

So – you have to do all these “bum jobs” in addition to your primary job which is in accordance with your professional specialization.

By the way – I later learnt that Civilian Employees get incentives like “Extra Duty Pay” and “Overtime” if they are asked to perform any extraneous duties.

But – if you are serving in uniform in the Armed Forces – you get no such “incentive” like “Overtime” or “Extra Duty Pay” – because a ‘Military Man’ is supposed to be on duty 24/7 – round the clock – round the year.

And sometimes – like Parkinson’s Law – you land up spending more time and effort on your “bum job” rather than on your primary duty.

And – that is exactly what happened to me – because – I was taking over in rather unusual circumstances.

My predecessor had been peremptorily ‘sacked’ for ‘gross mismanagement’ of the canteen.

The audit board had passed stinging remarks about his carelessness in inventory management  and – laxity in maintaining financial accounts  owing to which – there were huge errors in the balance sheet.

And – this had resulted in the sacking of “Chairman CSD Canteen” – a senior Major with around 15 years service.

Sadly – it was the “end of the road” as far as his career was concerned – since this episode would certainly impact his ACR (Annual Confidential Report) – which was the critical final ACR before his promotion board for the rank of Lieutenant Colonel – which was likely to scheduled next year.

“You better be careful. Make sure you don’t delegate anything to the Canteen Manager,” the senior Major said bitterly – when I went to take over charge from him.

“Yes, Sir,” I said.

“Don’t just say ‘Yes Sir’ to me. Listen to my advice – so that you don’t make the same mistake that I made. I left everything to that bloody Canteen Manager. That idiot is a clueless clot – and he screwed up everything big time. And – just imagine – my promotion board is next year. But now – the big boss is so angry at this screw-up – that he is sure to bugger my ACR – and I can forget about my promotion. Just imagine – all my good professional work has come to zero because of this bum job of running the canteen,” he said.

His rant proved what I had said earlier.

In the “Peacetime” Defence Services – “Bum Jobs” were more important than your primary main duties.

“Bum Jobs” like Wardroom/Officers Mess Secretary are most dangerous.

If there is a “SNAFU” in some important event like Ship’s Anniversary/Raising Day/Navy Week events – or some “faux pas” involving a “VIP/VVIP” where the “VIP/VVIP” gets annoyed – your goose can be cooked pretty fast.

(The military jargon “SNAFU” is the acronym for “Situation Normal, All Fouled Up”– SNAFU means to bungle something or create chaos)

It was ironical.

A “slip-up” in your main job may be condoned.

But – a SNAFU in these “bum jobs” could be fatal to your career.

This was the all important “Defence Management” Lesson No. 3

“Defence Management” – Lesson No. 3


Before we proceed further – let us recap the 3 “Defence Management” Lessons learnt so far:

1. For Brainstorming – You Must Have “Brains” To “Storm”

2. You Have To Be “Jack of All Trades” And “Master of One”

3. Your Secondary Duties (“Bum Jobs”) Are More Important Than Your Primary Duties


And now – let me generalize and pontificate a bit.

Soldiers are misfits in business.

Business Acumen and Military Aptitude are stark opposites.

In fact, they are mutually exclusive.

You can either be a Businessman or you can be a Soldier – but you cannot be both.

Of course – you will find some “businessmen” among soldiers (who create scams).

And you may also find some “soldiers” among businessmen (who create business fiascos).

But that is another story.

You will tell me that during World War 2 – a number of businessmen were drafted into the American (US) and British (Royal) Army/Navy/Air Force – and they distinguished themselves in war-fighting.

But that was war.

And the “civilians” who fought in the war were enrolled as reservists just to fight the war – and once the war was over – they were demobilized and they went back to running their businesses.

I am talking of the full-time regular professional officers who “fight” during peacetime and spend most of their career in “peacetime soldiering”.

You may have heard of the “WAVY NAVY” – RNVR (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve)/RINVR (Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve) whose officers wore “wavy” rank stripes (while Royal Navy (RN) Officers wore straight rank stripes)

You may have also heard the witty quote by a famous World War 2 “Wavy Navy” Officer of the RNVR – “the difference between the “straight navy” (RN) and “wavy-navy” (RNVR) is that the RN look after the Navy in peace-time – while the RNVR do the fighting in War…”

He was hinting that Regular (RN) Officers “fight” in “peacetime” – whereas Reservists (RNVR) fight the war - highlighting the difference between “peacetime soldiering” mainly done by Regular Officers – and “war-fighting” mainly done by the Reservists.

Another regular officer is said to have quipped after World War 2 was over: “Now that the war is over – let us get down to some serious ‘soldiering’…”

It may sound ironical – but – there are many officers who are more frightened of “peacetime soldiering” than “combat operations” – because – strictly from the career point of view – peacetime soldiering is more “dangerous” than combat.

Combat may cause you physical injuries – but even the smallest error in “peacetime soldiering” can ruin your career.

All it requires is just one “slip-up” on your part which is perceived as an error by your seniors.

In the Armed Forces – getting promoted is the “be all and end all” of life – since the only thing that matters in the military is your rank.

So – the biggest fear is the “supersession fear” – the fear of getting “passed over” for promotion.

This fear creates a “zero error syndrome” – and that is why most Defence Officers tend to play safe and become risk averse.

However – “careerism” is not the only reason for risk averseness and “zero error syndrome”.

There is another more important reason.

In the case of those handling sophisticated weapons and dangerous ordnance – the very nature of the job demands total perfection, absolute preciseness and zero error in your work – as even the smallest mistake or slightest risk can be disastrous.

This safety requirement necessitates that individuals have to be trained accordingly to achieve “zero error” in their work – and this “zero error syndrome” gets so imbibed and inculcated in one’s nature that it spills over to other activities as well and affects all aspects of the individual’s life.

But when you take things too far and start applying these “zero error” precepts everywhere – hilarious situations can occur – as it happened to me in the story I am going to tell you.

But – before I do that – here is “Defence Management” Lesson No. 4

You will never be rewarded for doing your job well – but if you make one small mistake – you will be penalized severely – and even your career can be jeopardized.

In the Defence Services – promotions are time-dependent.

You have to wait in the queue for your turn as per your seniority.

You cannot leap-frog and jump the queue – even if your performance is spectacular.

On the contrary – if you make even one small mistake – you will be punished – your promotion can be stopped – or you can even be demoted.

Yes – your boss can have you demoted for an error – but he cannot give you a quick promotion for good performance.

In the Armed Forces – your boss only has “negative” power to spoil your career if you make the smallest of errors.

But – your boss has no “positive” power to “fast track” your career if you perform exceptionally well – since promotions are based on rules and regulations.

No wonder – the “zero error syndrome” prevails.

So – it is better to play safe and ensure “zero error” – rather than risk your career by taking initiative and try to do something new and innovative.

Why “make waves”…?

Why “rock the boat”…?

It is best to maintain “status quo”.

So – that is “Defence Management” Lesson No. 5

Defence Management” Lesson No. 5

Don’t “Make Waves” – Don’t “Rock the Boat” – Never Take “Initiative” and Try to Do Something “New” or “Innovative” – Just Maintain “Status Quo”

Oh – I have digressed.

Now – let me get back to my story.

If you are familiar with army or military life – you will know that a CSD Canteen is a “departmental store” for all kinds of provisions and liquor which are available at discounted rates.

Those days – in IAT – the CSD Canteen was located in a dilapidated barrack.

Mao Tse Tung has said: “One Look is better than a Thousand Reports”.

In the evening – I personally went to the CSD Canteen to have a firsthand look.

This is how the system operated.

There was a glass showcase outside – and – in this showcase there were displayed – one sample piece of each item available in the Canteen with the code number pasted on it.

You wrote down the code numbers and quantities of the items you wanted to buy.

Then – you gave the list to cashier.

The cashier made a manual bill (remember story this happened in the 1980’s much before the advent of PCs and “computerization”).

Once the bill was ready – you paid the money in advance – and – the cashier stamped “PAID” on your bill with a rubber stamp.

Then – you took the bill marked “PAID” inside the Canteen and gave it to the “salesman” standing at the counter.

The salesman took the list and picked up items from the boxes and shelves inside the warehouse – in case he did not find an item – he used his “initiative” and substituted it with a similar item “in lieu”.

For example – if you wanted a certain brand of soap – and the salesmen could not locate that particular brand – he gave you another brand – and – no once complained – because the CSD Canteen Guys were doing you a huge “favour” – and there was no other place to go in that desolate place.

This “in lieu” business had resulted in chaos in inventory management since there was a gross mismatch between the items billed and items actually sold – and – in trying to “adjust” things – the balance sheet had gone awry – and my predecessor had been peremptorily ‘sacked’ for ‘gross mismanagement’ of the canteen.

I thought about it.

The best way to “run” the unit CSD Canteen was to shut it down.

That way – nothing would be procured – nothing would be stocked – and – nothing would be sold – and – obviously – there would be no room for error.

Yes – in order to achieve “Zero Error” – the best way to manage inventory is to have no inventory

However – “Zero Inventory Management” was not possible – since the powers-that-be would surely not agree to shut down the unit CSD Canteen.

So – I decided to adopt a strategy of “Zero Footfall Inventory Management”

Again – achieving the ideal is difficult – so we focused on “How to minimize the number of customers” to the Unit CSD Canteen and reduce “footfalls” to the bare minimum.

How we did it – I will tell you in soon in my blog. 


Till then – let me summarize the “Defence Management” lessons elucidated above:

1. For Brainstorming – You Must Have “Brains” To “Storm”

2. You Have To Be “Jack of All Trades” and “Master of One”

3. Your Secondary Duties (“Bum Jobs”) Are More Important Than Your Primary Duties

4. You will never be rewarded for doing your job well – but if you make one small mistake – you will be penalized severely – and even your career can be jeopardized

5. Don’t “Make Waves” – Don’t “Rock the Boat” – Never “Volunteer” – Never Take “Initiative” and Try to Do Something “New” or “Innovative” – Just Maintain “Status Quo”

6. One Look is better than a Thousand Reports

7. “Zero” Inventory Management – The Best way to “Manage” Inventory is to have Zero Inventory.

8. “Customer Relationship Management” – the “Zero Paradigm” – If you have zero customers – your will have zero problems in customer relationship management.

9. Business Acumen and Military Aptitude are stark opposites – in fact – they are mutually exclusive. You can either be a Businessman – or – you can be a Soldier – but you cannot be both.

10. Once you join the Defence Services – you will start developing a “Military Brain” – and – every year of military service reduces your employability in the “Civvy Street”.  And – if you serve your entire lifetime in military uniform “serving the nation” – you may be rendered totally unemployable in the civilian world – like me. Therefore – if you want to have a “second innings” in the civilian world – get out of the military as early as possible – because – the longer you remain in uniform – the less will be your employability in the civilian world.

11. It may sound ironical – but – there are many officers who are more frightened of “peacetime soldiering” than “combat operations” – because – strictly from the “career point of view” – peacetime soldiering may be more “dangerous” than combat. Combat may cause you physical injuries – but even the smallest error in “peacetime soldiering” can ruin your career and you will have to suffer the stigma of “supersession”.

12. To be “successful” you must excel at “fighting” your peers during peacetime – since you will be spending your their career in “peacetime soldiering” – you must remember that “fighting” your peers and “outwitting” your course-mates requires a canny skill different from fighting the enemy. Remember the witty quip of a careerist officer after World War 2 was over: “Now that the war is over – let us get down to some serious ‘soldiering’…” 

To be continued… 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. These are my personal views, written in a humorous vein, for readers with a sense of humor, to be taken lightly, and these personal musings do not constitute career guidance advice. Please choose your career after carrying out your own due diligence. 
3. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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This is an abridged and revised repost of my articles posted online by me Vikram Karve earlier in my various blogs including at urls: and

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