Monday, December 31, 2012

Fitting the narrative


This is going to be a long one, and if you want, please skip to the last para(before Notes) with the summary:

The other day, I had a mild argument with a fellow tweeter who reproached me for using an expletive. This was in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape incident and she linked me to this article which contends that rapists act out expletives. Therefore, the article points out, while also throwing some comparisons between US and India, we need to introspect ourselves as a society. Because everything, from expletives, rape jokes1, objectifying of women in Indian films, even jokes about Kim Kardashian, leads to rape in this country.

Nassim Nicolas Taleb, in his books ‘Fooled by Randomness’ and ‘The Black Swan’, as well as the recently released ‘Antifragile’, throws light on our need for a narrative to every piece of information. Indian Stock market fell by 2 points? That is because of the 'weak cues' from Europe. It increased by a single point the next day? Must be the announcement of another round of quantitative easing in the US. There can be no piece of information without an easily graspable narrative that gives our brain seemingly no work to do. To explain it better, some analysts will show how the data is correlated, as if correlation leads to causation2. Taleb tells us that such narratives blind us to randomness, the fact that makes people “see elephants in the clouds instead of understanding that they are in fact randomly shaped clouds that appear to our eyes as elephants”.

We could be dealing with a similar issue here. I see many people outraging on mediums like twitter and facebook about how rape is a symptom of the diseased patriarchal and class-based society that has repressed women for centuries. They also see many articles that cite every trend that shapes our country, from rising income to women in the workplace, from infanticide to better access to information as a reason for ‘rising number of rape incidents’ in the past few years. These articles do not investigate to check if maybe there are more rape incidents reported today than earlier, (Refer: The fallacy of Silent Evidence)

Now, there are inherent dangers to such narratives as they all seem to absolve the person who is central to this crime: the rapist. It is him, and him alone, or the gang, who is/are responsible for this dastardly act. Do we have a patriarchal society that represses women? Yes we do. But do all men turn out to be rapists or repressors of women? Almost 500 million of them don't. Does every man who watches a film objectifying women gets out of the theater and immediately start eve teasing women? No. In fact, USA’s porn film industry, whose business is objectifying women, has an estimated size of $8 billion, whereas the size of entire Bollywood is only estimated to be $3 billion. Some experts say that only one in ten cases are reported in India. If that is the case, we have around 215,000 rape incidents in this country (which still looks suspiciously low), compared to around 90,000 incidents in the USA3. Granted, the reach of the Bollywood is much more significant, but what I’m saying is rape is still a random event, like murder. Your narrative, however brilliant and yet simplistic it seems, cannot predict when the next rape will happen, and where.

Also, we need to face one more fact. Changing the mindset of people is the HARDEST thing to do. Just ask marketers. They've been marketing their products and services in a way that reaffirms their Target Customers’ mindsets for ages now, because people just do not want to accept that their way of life might be flawed. So, you are not going to make most of this generation’s men, and indeed, women, accept that women are equal to men. Your best shot at it would be to get that thought engendered in schools and other educational institutions so things change in the next 20-30 years. 

What should we do in the meanwhile? We can start by trying to see rape as a crime which needs to be controlled. In a country like ours, any small improvement can bring in a huge difference just because of the size of our population. So yes, banning tinted glasses might actually lessen the number of rapes. So can having lights switched on inside buses and having a national rapist registry. Or increasing the strength of the police patrol on the streets, however partisan policemen and women might themselves be. Also, harsher and quicker delivered punishments4. To call these measures insignificant and wait for 'deep-seated changes in society's mindsets' is like, well, asking the guy who wants skirts banned to change his mindset.

Will targeting rapists stop rape in this country? No, I am afraid not. But it will definitely improve the numbers. There are many other steps we can take, too. If we can have a separate body that monitors corruption, why not one whose main task is to control rape and ensure swift justice in rape cases? Maybe we could fill that body with people who are better sensitized than our current police force. Mind you, that might increase the number of incidents reported which may again show a ‘rise in incidents’, but better to bring it to light than sweep it under the carpet, especially if it leads to a higher rate of incarceration of rapists.

So, to summarize, stop with the narrative, rape is a random act (even when committed by neighbour/family member), expend your energy to push for the right legislation, and don’t spend too much time trying to change mindsets.

NOTES:

1        I detest rape jokes, and I am disgusted when I hear them, but I have no right to stop someone saying it. On a similar note, I am even more revolted by dead baby jokes.

2        No it doesn’t.


4        I am against capital punishment for any crime, but if we, in due course of dialog, find this the best method for lessening the crime, then we must definitely explore the option

Friday, July 20, 2012

Anarchy

I am writing this post after a long hiatus on the blog. Because there are rare occasions when the 140 characters of twitter is pathetically incompetent. Because I am also listening to the soundtrack of THAT movie right now. And primarily because watching that movie reminded me how psyched I am by disorder.

I don't know why it appeals to me at an elementary level. Me, a person who has been brought up in a most conservative, orderly, family. Whose every move in his career was planned out before he could even learn to walk. Who needs structure in his work. Who hates waste, and therefore cannot stop thinking of operational efficiency, of workflow, of systems over people. Who has already planned the rest of his life out.

But maybe precisely that is why I love anarchy. I remember Bertrand Russell's "Of machine and emotions", where he refers to the need for anarchy in everyone's life. Not a want, but a need without which people with boring lives will come together to act in a most horrendous manner. He attributes the popular support for the World War II to this "mechanization" of humans. How true he sounds to me now!

I have always, even as a child, secretly dreamt of a totally chaotic world, as I am sure, have you. In my mind though, it was vivid and inevitable. And in my search for the source of such chaos, I always ended up thinking of a cataclysmic class struggle that tears society, limb by limb. Not very different, then, from the movie I saw today. But what was different in my version was the finality of it all. No saviour. No rebirth. No redemption. Just a savage end that could have been brought on by any different means, but chose this happenstance.

And I intend to write a story of how I think such an end may come. The first stage of my anarchy is right here, in my reckoning. In my story, the 'gated communities' will become organized symbols of hate. Because they deny any kind of access to the people who supposedly are undeserving. Because when inside them, you are walling yourself into a world that denies any responsibilities to the world outside. In my story, these gated communities will evolve into self-serving sinks of resources that would expand vertically and horizontally even as they keep out the underprivileged except for when they need to be cleaned, or fed.

The storm will come one day, of course. But the battle will be epic. At least it will for me. Just like a fan-boy who cannot stop gushing about the epic he just witnessed (which just about describes me right now), I also am fantasizing about my battle. I want it to be an Indian story, because there is nowhere else you can find this level of inequality as you would here. And such a story would mildly assuage me of my own guilt.

There were many things that mesmerized me about 'The Dark Knigh Rises'. But the idea of a city with no structure appealed the most to me. I've already introduced a little anarchy in my life, of course. A small deviation from the best laid plans, if you will. But I still crave way more. And this would be my outlet. But will I actually write that story? I need inspiration like I received today.

Or maybe I just need to listen to Hans Zimmer on a more daily basis.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Sachin will never be greater than Bradman

Considering the provocative nature of the title, you’d be forgiven for thinking this post was a critical analysis of statistics and contributions of the two greats in question. It isn’t. Instead, I’ve used a little of what I learnt in consumer behaviour to understand why no amount of record-breaking contributions is likely to convince some that Sachin is the best ever. Indeed, parallels can be drawn to many other sports. For example, I was a Sampras fan as a kid, and thus cannot accept anyone telling me that Federer is a better player. I was sincerely hoping he’d never beat Pistol Pete’s record of 14 grand slams (even though it looked extremely certain right from the start). And given his exploits with Barca, it is arguable that Messi is probably the best footballer Argentina has ever produced, but try telling that to the Maradona faithful.

While there will be many more such examples, what we need to observe is the pattern. A legend retires, and afterwards, any upstart is referenced in inferior terms, irrespective of his ongoing achievements. Since I found this pattern curious, I searched for an explanation. In doing so, I remembered a theory I learnt in one of the few classes in which I wasn’t sleeping/late/distracted in BIM. The theory is known as the Weber-Fechner law.

The Weber-Fechner law postulates that the link between magnitude of a stimulus and the perceived intensity of the stimulus is logarithmic, i.e., if the stimulus is multiplied by a factor, the perception of its intensity increases only as if that factor were added to it. My prof used the simple example of sugar and sweetness to explain this concept. He said that if we add 1 teaspoon of sugar to milk, the sweetness it generates(let’s call it x) is greater than the sweetness added when a second teaspoon of sugar is added(y), which is greater than when a third is added(z), etc. (x>y>z).

Now this law poses a significant difficulty for marketers. Why? That’s because it says that the first brand in the category that communicates to a customer (provides stimulus) will be the most effective at generating a recall. Subsequent brands have to provide much more stimulus (translate to spend more money on advertising) to even generate the same recall (which is why late entrants' share of voice vs share of market is disproportionate).

Why am I bringing up this topic here, you ask. Well, that’s because I think it’s the same law that affects our perception of the greatness of a sportsperson (and maybe our perception of greatness in general). This law explains why it is easy for us to believe Bradman is greater. It's because he provided the first big stimulus (try to recall any other great player before Bradman), making subsequent contributions seem a lot lesser than they actually are (as is the case with Viv Richards, who many still believe is the most fearsome batsman ever, irrespective of what Sehwag/KP & co. might have to say). Just the fact that people now consider Sachin to be as great is testament to the fact that he has provided a much greater stimulus than Bradman (according to the theory). If you have trouble accepting my contention and already believe Sachin is the greatest ever (as I do), just imagine this: A batsman who is greater than Sachin in every way possible in the near future. That might become a reality someday, but perception was never about reality.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The model Football fan!

Hi all! Been ages since I last blogged. I don't want to lie that I have been busy, because I have just been plain-ass lazy the whole time. But now, I really have to tell you about something I noticed. This has got to do with how normal people in my part of the world become crazy football fans of teams they hadn't heard a mere year ago.

Thanks to the models of buyer-behavior that I have been intently mugging up for my marketing exams, and thanks to the fact that I am down with para-typhoid and utterly bitter at having to sit at home while my friends are all out on a batch trip, I thought up a model to explain how I (and many other people I know) became a hard-core football fan. This model can be used by football clubs and sports goods manufacturers alike to increase the penetration of football fanaticism in countries like India, as this is where the next wave of growth is likely to come from.

There are multiple stages in this model, based on the timeline and affinity with football:
1) Unbeliever
2) Curious Joe
3) Cat-on-the-wall
4) Flirt
5) Evangelist

Unbeliever
As the name suggests, an unbeliever does not believe football to be a sport worth his time. He changes the channel whenever there is a footsie match, thinks that 'offside' and 'onside' are sides of the cricket pitch, thinks a striker has to be used in a carrom board, and cannot understand how away games are more difficult("Its the same pitch, isn't it? How can the home team have any advantage?!!"). The Unbeliever can be divided into the old hags and the young 'uns. The oldies are a waste of time, but the young unbelievers represent the best scope for expansion for football, because they can be turned rather easily. For the young unbelievers, the strategy to be adopted is Awareness(like the infancy stage of a product launch). World Cups and European cups represent an ideal opportunity for raising awareness(My awareness of football happened in the 1998 World Cup). At these times, when everyone around is talking about the game, unbelievers naturally move to the next stage. Other ways of moving to the next stage include word of mouth marketing(through peers and opinion leaders), football games on PC or consoles and local football tournaments.

Curious Joe
In this stage, the unbeliever starts to search for information about the game. He is most likely to turn to the member in the gang who is already at a higher level. At this level, the stars of football are the most important people. Clubs will have to follow a strategy of branding their players to capture mind space among people in this level.

Cat-on-the-wall
The allegiance of cat-on-the-wall football fans are with individuals rather than clubs/countries. When a star moves clubs, so does the allegiance of the fan. Clubs like Real Madrid have used this to great advantage, building a galaxy of stars and garnering a not-so-loyal following among fans who have just started watching football at the club level. At this level, the fans will not really support any club, but will claim to support many clubs in different leagues, because of the players that these clubs have. Sometimes, they might even support rival clubs in the same league. This is the period fans will start to stay up in the night to watch the champions league, and the team which wins trophies during this phase will become more important in the next stage, as will having friends who are evangelists of a certain club.

Flirt
Despite the word used to describe the fan, this is exactly the phase a majority of fans find themselves in. It is a period of transition, and comes with a lot of baggage as far as fans are concerned. In this phase, fans will start supporting a single club, and in the process, start learning more about the history of the club. The club that they choose to support depends on multiple factors. For example, rebels will choose Liverpool , conservative ones will choose Chelsea, people who like a proven track record will choose Manchester United while people who love flair will go with the gunners. Of course, all of this is tempered by the peer group choice and the success of the club, but individual characteristics is the most important factor. In this stage, clubs will have to take up a reminder strategy, using PR and soccer news sites to the optimum level. Fans love news about their club, whether it is good or bad, so the clubs need to keep giving it to them.

Evangelist
This is the phase all clubs want their fans to be in. It is a natural progression, and every flirt will one day become an evangelist of his club. This is the phase when clubs can start harvesting on the fans, as they will be willing to pay for their clubs. Strategies for fans at this level include having holiday packages which include champions league match packs, tour of the stadium etc. Clubs can also increase exposure by reducing T-Shirt costs, as when more fans buy the club T-shirts, they are more likely to influence flirts and cats-on-the-wall to convert to club fans.

Bottomline
Clubs need to start looking east. This is especially true for the EPL, since it has a unique time advantage over the La Liga. The La Liga followed a similar strategy to capture the South and Latin American market, with the result that most of the young players coming out from there wanting to play for Real or Barca. The next gem could be from India, and the "Big Four" would better sit up and take notice. Even if a gem isn't formed here, the millions of pairs of eye-balls are reason enough for clubs to try increase penetration in this part of the world. I know of enough evangelists here, and have personally seen plenty passing through the various stages. Given a prod in the right directions, I would have a lot more company on matchdays!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Insanely Insecure

Last time, I ranted and raved about the two conflicting emotions that drive us, namely:
1) Our need for individuality
2) Our need for acceptance in a group/Community

This time, let us study both of these together as a foundation for a more complex emotion, which seems to drive many of our actions. What I am referring to is insecurity. I am not using the narrower term which refers to a feeling of unease due to being (at least perceiving to be) unloved. I am trying to portray this in a broader sense, like the things we do to make sure we don't feel insecure.

That would entail a lot of things. Why would anyone want to kill himself/herself for any cause, however noble it may sound? We have an image of the self, which, most of the time, is far removed from the way we are perceived by those around us. To break that image of ourselves would be devastating to our psyche. Therefore, to make sure this never happens, we act in ways that are consistent to the way we perceive ourselves. For example, a person who would like to be considered thoughtful and intriguing might try to shut himself out. In the same way, he might also try to be an introvert who creates obscure blogs that no one cares to read (Ok, I AM like everyone else!) Of course, the route we take to achieve this final objective is a combination of social precedents and self-created hypotheses, but the fact remains that we want to get there somehow. Therefore, insecurity acts as a regulator, making sure we don't do extreme things, and at the same time, spicing up our lives and ensuring we aren't boring people. It is important to note here that our idea of the self is by no means concrete, and at different points in time, we would want to be different people, influenced by what surrounds us, which again drives our insecurity.

Sometimes, though, this emotion does drive us beyond that point of no return. We withdraw from society because we feel we would not fit in if we tried. Or contrastingly, we might become a Paris Hilton (says it all, doesn't it). Nonetheless, it is time we started acknowledging that we are all, to some extent or the other, insecure. In fact, we are more so when we try to show we are not (if that makes sense).

So, are you insecure? (I bet you are!). If you don’t agree (again, probably cause you are), please leave comments. Brickbats are most welcome!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Equality is a Farce

Hey there! Its been a while since I could post a topic of discussion on our own little forum. During that period, I've roamed the streets of a major metropolitan city in search of answers to much more mundane questions than the one I'm posing today. But even though I hated that journey, and even though it's probably made me question the path I need to take in my life, the huge level of difference in the lives of people of various classes within this city has nonetheless confirmed the doubt that has been for long nagging me, that we can't achieve a equal society. Let us discuss why. 

Human beings(Why do I keep addressing us from a third person's view?) are, as far as I can see, governed by two very basic emotions. The first is our desperate need to be part of a group, to be identified with somebody/something that we think we ought to be identified with. This frame of reference with which we identify ourselves(mind you, there will always be multiple frames of references) stems from our childhood, passed on through generations, or the zeitgeist, or even maybe because of what I would term our second basic emotion, which is our need for individuality.

My last sentence might sound as a bit of an oxymoron, but consider this saying by someone:
" Teenagers are a group of people who all want to be different by wearing the same clothes and doing the same things!"
I believe that is the age when both these emotions take strong root, and thus the deep conflicts that rage inside us during that period. I also believe that these two emotions are at loggerheads for most of the rest of our lives, and is the single most important reason why we can NEVER EVER achieve equality in our society. 

Think of how we would feel if we were to all wear the same dress, look alike, have the same amount of intelligence, and have the same salary. We would ALL go mad and kill ourselves. But then again, if all of us disagreed on everything, and had absolutely no connection with anybody else, the result would be a similar scenario. In trying to balance these two emotions, we seem to have created a world that is hugely imbalanced itself. 

What we have got is a world where people try to combine these two emotions into one, where they want to feel different within their group. This phenomenon manifests itself in every aspect of our lives, from the dress we choose, to the food we eat, the path we take and even the partners we choose.

This phenomenon is even more pronounced in the case of leadership. A person who dreams of becoming a leader does so to stamp his individuality as well as establish his association with a group. Some leaders take this quest to the next level, by mutating the purpose of the group itself to suit their sense of purpose. This is exactly why leaders of organizations/institutions all over the world expend their energy in achieving what has not been achieved already(calling it "passion/drive" etc.). But unfortunately, this insecurity is also why a leader of a religious group would "reinterpret" the purpose of the organization and turn it into a terrorist organisation, and why a communist leader would instruct his followers to take up arms against the "bourgeoisie", etc.. 

All this brings us back to the topic, clearly proving that we can never achieve equality, given this mix that gives rise to a huge sense of insecurity we never seem to get over. Thus, anybody who thinks that they can achieve an "equal" society is living in utopia. I am not suggesting that I support capitalism and its "free-market" mechanisms and that I denounce communists' call for protection of the aam aadmi. In fact, I have long despised the greediness that is inherent in capitalism, and sympathize with the communists' call for a more equitable society. I am just suggesting that we can't take any such equity past a certain level, because the society by itself would revolt such a move and try to get it out of its system.

What do you think? Am I sounding more like a capitalist or a communist? Is there any merit in my arguments? Do I even make sense to you? Keep the replies, pent-up for two months, coming thick and fast. As always, brick-bats are even more welcome than bouquets!

Friday, March 13, 2009

And they called ME a Cynic!

The other day, I was in this conference where eminent personalities were discussing whether CSR was a rhetoric or a reality. One executive, who was working in a PSU, was talking about how his company implemented CSR by having a quota for physically challenged people, SC/STs etc. When I asked him how many of those physically challenged people had actually gotten into the upper echelons of his organization, his answer was a diplomatic " We give equal opportunities to everyone", which amounted to saying no one from that category ever went anywhere in the organization except the place they started with. Of course, if I had asked about how the SC/STs fared in his organization, the answer wouldn't have been too different. Another executive, from a private sector giant this time, waxed lyrical about his company's CSR initiatives helping people with "torn clothes" restore some "pride" to their pathetic, meaningless lives(At least, that's how it sounded to me).

The reason I'm harping on this subject is that CSR today seems a lot like the "White Man's burden" to me. These big-shot CEOs and their coterie, commonly known as the executive board, seem to think that they are so flawless, so intrinsically perfect, that God has given them the divine duty of enlightening and uplifting the scrum of the society, transforming their lives for the better, and making sure that they would get the tools necessary to enrich their lives.

What a load of excreta! The problem with this altruistic motive is that they want these people to stay at the bottom of the system, more like byproducts, just surviving thanks to hand-me-downs by these wonderful organizations. They are, in no way, committed to bringing them into the system, making them a part of it so that one day, in the future, one of those people with "torn clothes" might actually become a CEO, or likewise. 

That is exactly the reason they crib about tax raises, find means and ways to avoid it, with CSR being one avenue. Instead, if they did actually pay their taxes properly, the government would do a lot better in helping the under-privileged, with more money spent on education and other general social welfareschemes(Like NREGS). Instead, these corporates use the money allotted for CSR more to harp about their social schemes than in actually implementing them. They use it more as a brand development tool than a sincere attempt to give back to the society that gives them the resources they need and acts as their market. 

Instead, take the scenario where corporates looked upon their CSR as an instrument in empowering certain sections of the society, as well as an investment into their future. For example, go back to the case of the PSU. If this company(which has been in existence for 45 years now) had actually directed its CSR into educating physically handicapped children with a view of recruiting them in the organization some years down the line, it would have reaped the rewards of not having to pick people up to just fill its quota, but rather use it as a means for having a bigger pool to pick their top candidates from. The same case applies for SC/STs too. And if the private sector company had educated children with a similar foresight, it would maybe someday have one of them in its board of executives, and you can be sure that he/she would stay loyal to the organization for life.

The point I'm trying to make here is that CSR need not be a farce. It can turn out to be a powerful tool in bringing about social change while benefiting the organizations that implement it. The problem for companies is that they can't see the long term fruits of investing in such a campaign. The "Me, Here, Now" barrier is stopping them from doing so. If they do come out of this wall that they have built around themselves, they would be able to see that, in the long term, CSR pays.