Monday, August 25, 2008

While the pendulum swings, the clock ticks...

Human beings with their tamperings do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them. When the corrective actions appear to be successful, they come to view these measures as splendid accomplishment.
~ The one-straw revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

One of the most fascinating things I find is how a job is created or money is earned out of a system that is actually not working the way it should. I mean if the system was working fine and there were no issues, then the opportunity would not have even existed. While most crib about the system not being well, and blame the higher authorities, some take it up as a silver lining and create it into a business opportunity.

Take for instance, the power cuts. A country, ideally, ought not to have power cuts. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that there is electric power supplied to all consumers 24 * 7. Yet, in reality, at least in under developed and developing countries, there is no constant supply of power. Come to think of it, there are a number of rural communities who aren’t even aware of something called electricity. So, this is a system that is actually not working the way it should.

Most of us blame the Government. I mean that’s the easy way out of the frustration. But not so, for many entrepreneurs. They are the ones who milk the system to their benefit. Many factories hence have opened to cater to the millions to provide 24 * 7 power supply by manufacturing UPS boxes. Many organizations excel in solar power electricity generation and cater to the rural millions.

And there we are, all happy, proudly displaying our UPS boxes to our relatives while actually we are displaying our own system’s inefficiency. So, yes, the system is bad, but nevertheless, employment has got generated to many who have made use of the inefficient system, which is actually good.


Ditto is the case with water. Not just the sheer availability of it but the purity too. There are many areas in the under developed and developing countries where water, potable or not, do not reach the common man. Which is bad, because, again, it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has easy and complete access to water, the basic essentiality for a human being.

However, many “private water suppliers” took birth. They supply the water to waterless localities by transporting water available from other localities at a nominal sum as fee. And not just that, a number of quality organizations have come up to ensure purified water who cater not only to those waterless localities who obtain water from private water suppliers but also to localities where Government supplies water. Now, it is the Government’s role to ensure potable water is supplied to one and all, and they may be doing so indeed for all you know, but so much insecurity has got built-in into the local consumers’ mind about the Government’s inefficiency and inability, that it is not hard for a marketing executive of a water purifying company to convince the consumer about the hazards of Government’s water, and the common man, gullible that he is, purchases such water purifiers especially because water is such an essential part of day to day life with so much added significance for it to be pure.

And there we are, all happy, proudly displaying our water purifiers to our relatives and boasting how good the water tastes and all that, while actually we are displaying our own system’s inefficiency. So, yes, the system is bad, but nevertheless, employment has got generated to many who have made use of the inefficient system, which is actually good.


One more glaring instance is the road transportation. How did private transportation system come into the picture? The very basic reason being the Government was unable to cater to the millions, there was a huge gap in the supply and demand, and the system just couldn’t perform effectively. Which is bad, because, again, it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the common man can travel from one place to another reasonably and with comfort.

However, many “private road transportation” companies opened up. Some have big popular banners which cater to overnight journeys but many are those who cater to short term transits where the local transportation doesn’t or are very few in number. Not only does this private transportation assist in meeting the demand with the supply, but also assist the common man by innovation. Such as, water bottles, fancy curtains and light, movies, near-by drop points, easy pick-up points, transits between locations never catered to before, etc. I mean this is business at its very best where an organization (private) came up because of some points lacking with some other organization (Government) but the former beating the latter at its own game by sheer innovation, advertising and popularity.

And there we are, all happy, boasting how good the private road transportation is and all that, while actually we are displaying our own system’s inefficiency. So, yes, the system is bad, but nevertheless, employment has got generated to many who have made use of the inefficient system, which is actually good.


Another case that comes to mind is the train coaches. Many localites, few urbanites but mostly ruralites, have this really annoying habit of eating junk food in train compartment and scattering the remains on the floor, making it really dirty, and then alighting, much to the chagrin of those who then take up those same dirty compartments. Which is really bad, because, it is the common man’s responsibility to ensure that cleanliness is maintained not just for oneself but for others too.

However, now comes our rag picker with his rag shirt and dirty little cloth, yet clearing all that junk in few swift motions. In few seconds, the floor is all clean again and the rag picker asks for money which you will be glad to part with. I mean, anything to have a clean floor!

And there we are, all happy, boasting how clean the floor looks and all that, while actually we are displaying our own system’s (or should I say people’s) inefficiency. So, yes, the system is bad, but nevertheless, money is being parted to the deprived who have made use of the inefficient system, which is actually good.


Even the much talked about concept of outsourcing comes inline within this debate of good and bad. Outsourcing, for the uninitiated, simply means that tasks that are to be done in place A is done at place B. Now if that task was indeed done in place A, amount X would have to be paid but if the same task is done in place B, then amount X/2 or even X/3 would have to be paid. On top of this, there are jobs which need overnight support and the jobs also involve high pressure and tension. Of course, this doesn’t seem reasonable for folks at place B, right? Something bad huh? Folks who work in software outsourcing industry are often called as software coolies.

But in reality its not actually a bane but a boon. X/2 or X/3 is sufficient amount of salary after the currency conversion. Overnight support and high pressure during work is not a reason to crib. It exists in all occupations. Doctors, truck drivers, airline officials, to name a few. But not just that. There has been a huge boom in employment. Unemployment percentage has reduced drastically not just in skilled labour but also in unskilled labour. Engineering students who cannot higher education get jobs soon after graduation. Millions who flocked the urban areas from rural areas found employment in terms of drivers for night shuttle cabs, some autorickshaw drivers got permanent clients, catering industry boomed, so did tourism, states earned huge tax. It gave an opportunity for the developing nations to become developed nations thereby reducing the economic gap.

The amount of ‘Good’ actually surpasses the ‘Bad’ when it comes to outsourcing. The folks in place A are happy that job is getting done for a lesser rate. Folks in place B are happy that they got job. So one really ought to appreciate and applaud the pioneers who got jobs to developing nations and also to those pioneers in developed nations who approved of it and were willing to take the risk and thus started the whole business of outsourcing - a classic case of creating a job opportunity when it didnt seem to exist! But it gets bad when folks in place A are fired to outsource more and more jobs to place B just because job is getting done cheaper. Somewhere a line has to be drawn.


Couple more instances where I found this good-bad ratio was when once I had been to BIAL (Bangalore International Airport) and once when I went to pay the Vodafone bill. In the former case, when I drove in my car to the parking lot, there was a machine which when pressed outputs the parking ticket. Now that is an automated machine designed such that the driver can drive close to the machine and hence press the button to retrieve the ticket so that the toll gate opens up. Everything is supposed to be automated, right? But no! There is an attendant standing beside that machine 24 * 7 just to press that button as and when a car comes and take that ticket out of the slot and give to the driver! I mean, what a boring and absolutely useless job! Ditto was the case in the automated Vodafone Bill Pay machine. It is an ATM like machine, where you have to punch in your cell number and it will give the amount due and you plug in your card or pay cash and the transaction is done. But no, there is an attendant who stands beside you, guides you, although there is sufficient information on the screen and just whiles away his time while those educated enough to know what to do complete the transaction without his help. All this, while there is also a manual counter just beside this machine for those traditional, unmodernistic, standard, stand-in-line-and-pay folks!

I mean, the whole system is meant for automation and yet we have manual intervention and tedious jobs. Which implies that there is something wrong with the system. Yet, it is good, because it has generated employment! Still, the fact that some part of my money (be it in the form of BIAL parking or Vodafone’s rental) is perhaps unnecessarily going as salary to an employee whose task is useless is a thing that wouldn’t give a good feeling! However, if this is a case of bridging the socio-economy gap, then, yes, it is a good thing! Such a see-saw of Good and Bad!


It is a common observation in a country like India that many motorists take short cuts. So much so that they defiantly break the rules of the Law and take the best possible route irrespective of one-ways and medians and jumping red lights. This is bad right? Of course that is one perspective. But it would be a good thing if it is considered in the light of savings that is effected in terms of fuel consumption. So, short cuts when seen in whole and effected by millions would indeed be saving the nation barrels and barrels!


Ditto is the debate about bribing. Suppose I were to be caught by the cops for overspeeding and suppose the fine for overspeeding was Rs 200. Now, if I were to pay Rs 100 to the cop and get away without a Government receipt, as if nothing had happened, it would be beneficial for me, because I saved Rs 100 and no black mark on my driving, and it would be beneficial for the cop because he just became Rs 100 richer. Of course overspeeding is just one reason. Any transaction involving Government official is a case in example. Both the parties are happy and it’s a win-win situation. But ethically this is bad.

However, considering the pathetic state of the economic and financial stability of a Government official and also considering the meager wages that one earns in a Government job, it does feel good once in a while to be again that agent in bridging the financial gap. Of course, it is indeed true that a Government official at times earns more during the under-the-table dealings than through his own salary. So that’s when the amount of the bribe is crucial. If the amount of the bribe is helping the poor become richer, then its ethically acceptable compared to a case wherein the amount of the bribe making the poor poorer.


And there, I will end this ethically long debate of the good and the bad but just like the Grandfather clock of the good old days, the pendulum keeps on swinging between the right and the wrong, and the clock makes best use of it by ticking along…


Pradeep said...

Masanobu Fukuoka's quote above reminded me of IT companies. We deliver a buggy software. Then during production support, we slog it out to fix issues. And when the issues are fixed, the client is happy and your company is happy and they reward you with an MVP award for working hard :)

Harsha S Rao said...

Very true. In fact last year, there were 2 projects. 1 went very smooth and another had lots of issues. Finally all those issues got resolved and it went live but there was a lot of appreciation for all the hard work that was put in to correct those issues and spot awards presented, etc. but the project which actually went smooth had no recognition whatsoever. So it seems as if that to get recognised one has to go the wrong way and then correct oneself...!!