Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Art of Generalizing-II

This learning business has always been difficult for me. I had heaved a sigh of relief, once I got a job, at the thought that it was all behind me. Only to find that it is a pest that one can never be rid off as long as you lived.

So, now, I had to learn this generalizing art.

"So, can you teach me how to generalize?"

He looked at me dubiously.

"I can try, I suppose", he said, reluctantly. "Listen, the first thing to do is forget about what is being said and concentrate on who is saying it."

"Ad hominem", I said, proudly, that phrase floating on top of my murky memory.

"Shut up and listen. And, remember, logic is the enemy of generalizing."

I nodded humbly.

"So, the first thing to consider is 'Is this guy someone who can be portrayed as being antagonistic to me?' If he is, you need to think no further. All you have to say is 'Of course you will always find fault with whatever I say or do'. THAT's something you ought to have learned from your family interactions, actually."

I HAD been silenced by that argument at home, almost invariably but...He was continuing his discourse.

"Either the guy starts defending himself, in which case you have deflected the criticism to generalities. Or he will make a snide comment like 'That is because you are always wrong' in which case you retort with 'See, he admits that he is prejudiced against my proposals'. And the argument turns to whether he admitted it or not. It is a rare person who can still stick to the point but if you cannot recognize it in him, you have no business playing this game at all."

I nodded, doubtfully, not sure that I could recognize that paragon.

"If the other guy cannot be readily portrayed as antagonistic, you attack his function. You know that sort of thing. 'You finance guys do not know how it is in the market.' OR 'You finance guys are too conservative' OR like your marketing guy did 'You are antagonistic to marketing proposals'. That serves very nicely to deflect a specific criticism to generalities."

This I understood, having suffered from it very recently.

"Then there is this technique of trying to understand your point which very subtly shifts the argument to general lines. The other two have a bit of a problem, especially in open meetings. There is always a third guy who can put his oar in and shift the argument into specifics. OR the whole lot of them may end up getting pissed with both of you, which is no help in getting ahead in the organization. This one, though..."

"What is that?" I asked eagerly.

"Ask general questions like 'Are you against attractive promotional prices for capturing a market?'. You are a mere seeker after information, trying to understand the other guy's point of view, after all. And slowly keep shifting the argument to the general till you finally attack with the 'You finance guys are too conservative. This way we will never be able to introduce a new product.' If you keep taking the discussion away from the fact that even raw material prices are not covered, and into the general theory of market pricing, you will get your point. Did you get that?"

I did not, really, and I suppose it showed.

"Look, if someone complains about the biryani you cooked, if you shift the argument to what he thinks is a good biryani, he is bound to say things that other people may also disagree with, right? Then the whole discussion becomes about the general theory of biryani, so to speak, and not about the problems with this specific biryani. And it is the other guy who is put in the position of defending his theory. Instead, if you defend YOUR biryani, you will come across as a whiner."

I thought I got that but how exactly I would work it to specific cases that were not about biryanis I needed to figure out. But the chap was obviously running out of patience.

There must be a simple way to make a selection, to make a start on this exciting new Art. But what?

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Art of Generalizing-I

This time I headed towards the most sympathetic of my friends. It had been a horrid day at office and I was feeling too sensitive to handle what my other friends generally tend to hand out to me. I poured out my tale of woe to him.

"So, you said that the proposed pricing policy for the new product would not even cover the raw material costs. And the marketing guy accused you of being biased against the marketing function. Right?"

"Yes!"

"And, of course, you said it was no such thing, that you had supported them in a past instance. And he cited ten other times when you had opposed them and so on and so forth?"

"Yes, I told you..."

"Your marketing guy is an expert at the art of generalizing. Instead of arguing the specific point you raised, which he probably could not counter, he made it a problem of your general attitude to marketing. Now, it is YOU who were on the defensive instead of him. And, I am sure that his proposal was approved."

I was stunned. That was precisely what had happened.

"You, I am sure, in his place would have been arguing why the price had to be kept low. And keep giving more and more ammunition to more and more people to attack the proposal."

"Well...is that not what we are there for? I mean, the idea is to make the best possible decision for the company, not score brownie points..."

"Yeah! Well! Who do you think is going to get a better raise next year, you or that marketing chap?"

Shit! I really need to learn this generalizing thingy. Fast!

Friday, November 9, 2018

A dog eat dog-food world

Books are like food - as they age, they spoil. Ah, no, that was not really what I thought or think now, but, as in many things, I seem to run counter to the rest of the world. 

Perhaps, you know, it is like fashion. The bell-bottoms of  my youth are the clown's wear of today. The quiff that Travolta made fashionable in Grease would get a raspberry today. (even that phrase has given way to fashion, it would get the finger these days, or has that changed too?). So, perhaps, books do not spoil, they just go out of fashion.

Except when they become classics, of course. OR immensely popular which, these days, amounts to the same thing. I mean, if it is not popular it cannot be a classic, can it? AND if it is a classic, it ought to have been instantly popular in its day, no?

So, essentially, there is no room for a book to be good, if it is not recent and if it is not already popular. Which accounts for the fact that I have seldom bothered to push my own book after its 'shelf life', as the marketing guys call it. (Ironical to be adopting the ideas of marketing professionals for a book which is a spoof on marketing management and consumerism!)

All that is, of course, to say that I am here pushing it now well after its 'shelf life'.  Not my fault, not entirely, since it is Amazon which is now giving a 60% discount on the book.

It is more likely that any of you who are interested have already bought it and those who have not will not. But, if those who have bought it, actually read it and liked it, know of someone who may like it too, please do let them know that the ebook is now available at a princely sum of Rs.47/=. (Cheap for a cup of coffee but too expensive for a book, I know, but what can I say? Amazon fixed the extent of the discount, not I.)

'Good Heavens! Is there no end to this man's optimism?' I hear you cry. There IS no end, else would I have ventured to write a book in the first place and priced it, knowing how much people like reading only for free on the Net?

So, the link is here...alas, I think that the discount is only for those in India. For the rest, there is Kindle Unlimited.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Buy the Ferrari first

You know how it is. If you habitually wear rags, the reactions depend on who you are. If you ARE poor, it is the poor-fellow-he-cannot-afford-anything-better reaction you get. If you are in the middle class, the reactions range from 'miser' to 'uncouth', taking in 'tasteless' on the way. If, however, you are uber-rich, it will be 'how simple and unassuming the man is'. (If you also have charm and presence, who knows rags may become haute couture, and become totally unaffordable for the poor!). Unless, of course, the other guy is also uber-rich!

If you did not know this basic truth, you would consider it ironical that a guru, who is supposed to be spiritually enlightened and above all this social climbing, is respected ONLY if he is a success by the mundane standards of society. Enlightenment is validated only if the said guru runs a successful charitable or religious organization or rubs shoulders with the high and mighty or both, failing which he is considered only a loser masquerading as a guru. In other words, you would prefer to learn about the futility of chasing material success only from someone who has achieved material success!

Needless to say, it is also mandatory that he be perfectly coiffed (NOT Mohawks and all, thank you. Yet! Flowing hair and flowing beard, but not unkempt, oh no! How can one take someone to be one's guru if one is ashamed of his haircut?), impressively dressed and articulate. If a spirit that is free of all these material considerations of life fails to even notice how it is clad, let it roam the Heavens in bliss, no quarrel with that. But we shall not respect it for its enlightenment or seek to learn from it. (Yeah! Such a spirit will probably not even notice the disrespect, maybe, but what do we care about what it notices or does not?)

That, though, applies only to gurus who started out that way. The other lot who get respect are the ones who abandoned their careers and became spiritual. In which case, it is probably not necessary to be running a  famous organization and all that. Note, though, that they have to abandon SUCCESSFUL careers if they are to be respected and not middling ones. (Unless, of course, they make a success of being gurus - the successful charitable/religious organization, coiffure and all that jazz.) In other words, you need to have BOUGHT that Ferrari first and THEN sold it, if you are to gain respect. Of course, you can be enlightened even otherwise and be a blissful spirit, but a guru of many you certainly shall not be.

It does not do, of course, to reverse the order. I mean, if you start off being a guru, THEN start a successful business and all, you probably may be respected as a businessman but you probably blotted out all your chances of becoming a successful guru. It is no help to be the monk who BOUGHT the Ferrari in becoming accepted as a guru. You could try to later sell it off and re-establish yourself as a guru but I rather doubt that it will work as well.

Ergo, to be successful at teaching people to abandon the stress of striving for material success, you first need to be successful at achieving the same sort of success. Talk about the irrationality of the human species!