28 July 2016 15:28:39 IST

Observe and you shall succeed

See how Kartik found answers to problems by observing things around him

The auditorium was bursting at the seams. There must have been at least 500 people there. As Kartik looked around, he noticed that most of the attendees were in their thirties, mostly working professionals, and a few seemed to be MBA students. He began to feel unsure as to how they would connect with his talk, which was set in the 1980s.

He clearly remembered that phone call from the Director of this Institute, who was also his friend.

“Hi Kartik, I enjoy reading your stories in The Hindu BusinessLine on Campus. I am putting you in as a speaker at our annual convention next month on the 28th and 29th,” he had said.

“You know I cannot say no to you but what will I be speaking on? Kartik had asked.

“Just come and tell us another story like the ones you write. Maybe you could tell us a talk about a story set in the 80s, a time when technology was not as prevalent as it is today, and give the audience a peep into the dynamics of the corporate world as it existed then.”

As Kartik stood there, he hoped it was just another bad dream that would end soon.

Taking a deep breath, he addressed the crowd: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me. I am going to share with you my experiences of working in the corporate sector during the 1980s. Many of you had probably not even been born then. To give ourselves some perspective: Infosys was formed in 1981. Facebook, Google, Twitter, WhatsApp and the iPhone did not exist. And one of the most important business tools, that we take for granted today, Microsoft Office with Power Point, Excel and Word was not around. We depended on the good old typewriter.

“We often go through trying moments in our jobs. I learnt that by merely observing things around us, we could find solutions to most of our problems. After all, many discoveries and inventions are the outcome of simple observations: be it gravity by Isaac Newton, the steam engine by James Watt or the Archimedes Principle.

“Today, I shall share one such story.

“The dynamics of the corporate sector then were no different from what they are today. Egos and conflict were the same, and so were the motivations to get ahead at any cost. The players and their tools have just gotten a bit more sophisticated.

“I was the Finance Head at one of the divisions of a large Indian conglomerate and had dual reporting to the Divisional General Manager and to Ramesh, the Head of Finance at the Corporate. It was rumoured that Ramesh thought of himself as the second-in-command in the company, and all other Divisional General Managers subtly acknowledged this, save my GM. I had been warned by some of my friends that Ramesh would gun for me as a surrogate for my GM. And this was the most evident during the divisional finance review meetings.

“Every six months, the corporate leaders would spend two days at each divisional location, reviewing budgets. And with every review, my stress levels only grew. So much so, that I seriously considered quitting my job.

“The corporate team headed by the Chairman sat on one side of the oval shaped table, with Ramesh, sitting at one end. On the other side would be the Divisional General Manager and his team, which included me.

“During the first half hour of the meeting, Ramesh would be quiet. He would be busy with his calculator locating errors in the budget documents. Once he had found what he was looking for, he would raise his voice across the room and announce that the numbers did not tally. The Chairman would be clearly upset and enquire as to why we were wasting our time if the numbers were all wrong. While there was a pause in the meeting, I would quickly check the numbers and then apologise for the clerical errors. Remember, in those days we had no Microsoft Excel.

“It was always a minor addition or subtraction error, but Ramesh always managed to derail the proceedings. With every attempt to target me, he was succeeding in making my GM look ineffective. The next review was due in fifteen days and my stress levels were already rising."

“One of those days when I was at my bank, I kept observing the bank guard with his long single barrel gun hanging on one shoulder and a belt of shells around his waist. Then it suddenly struck me — what if someone went and stood very close to the guard and threatened him, the gun would be completely useless.

“During the next finance review, I sat next to Ramesh and saw him pull out his calculator. Every time he circled a number with his red pen, I whispered, “Sorry, clerical error sir.”

“That review meeting passed off with no drama, as did every other review meeting after that.”