Monday, February 28, 2011

Reflections on management

I’ve recently been re-acquainting myself with Henry Mintzberg’s work. In the past I’ve found his work interesting, but what strikes me today is how sensible much of it is. And he himself seems to be quite the non-guru, though his ideas make him as worthy of guru-dom as any recent management thinker.
Mintzberg has obsessed for years about one of the pillars of modern management — the MBA. A theme he’s examined in some detail in Managers Not MBAs. He questions conventional MBA programmes, which, he believes, tend to be designed to help graduates get a better job. Instead, management education should be about helping managers do a better job.
What makes Mintzberg different is that he did not stop with questioning the MBA, but went several steps further and helped design a masters programme in management for practising managers — the International Masters Program in Practicing Management at Canada’s McGill University.
Remarkably, he’s now extended this even further with CoachingOurselves, a self-organising management development programme. In CoachingOurselves, groups of managers or prospective managers get together to share their experiences on various management-related issues. Each discussion is anchored to a management topic downloaded from the CoachingOurselves Web site; each topic is authored by someone considered an expert in that particular area. An unfussy and effective way to learn. 
So is the ‘coaching ourselves’ idea selling? It is, says Mintzberg in this interview in Strategy+Business (you’ll need to register to read it). And if you want to read more by this most sensible of management thinkers, check out this page on his Web site. You may not get an MBA, but you sure will get some insights into the practice of management.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

For the Goddess

Trivandrum has virtually shut down for most of the day. Not for a hartal or strike, but for the Attukal Bhagavathy temple’s annual pongala festival.
The smoke from thousands of open wood-fed fires rises heavenward, as women cook the pongala — essentially a sweet porridge of rice, jaggery and coconut — in pots of clay and metal as an offering to the Goddess, the presiding deity of the Attukal Bhagavathy temple.
It’s a women-only festival; one that is believed to be the world’s largest religious gathering of women. When I wrote about the Attukal Pongala six years ago, around 1.5 million were estimated to have taken part in the festival. This year, it seems the organisers expect around 3 million women to offer pongala. How reliable this estimate is, of course, another matter.
What is undeniable though is that the festival has grown and changed quite a bit over the past few years. For one, what was essentially a local temple festival has transformed into an event that draws interest from across the globe.
Over the past decade or so, the number of women who offer pongala has, quite simply, exploded. Today, many of them come from across Kerala and, indeed, the world to participate in the Attukal Pongala. This growth has in turn meant an expansion in the geographical spread of the festival — this year, pongala fires have been lit in an approximately 7-kilometer radius of the temple — with the attendant logistical and security nightmares.
The Attukal Pongala’s growing popularity has also given birth to a flourishing ecosystem of festival-related enterprises — from stalls hawking apparel, cosmetics and religious bric-a-brac to those selling pots and ‘pongala kits’ that have everything needed to prepare the pongala.
Some of the growth associated with the pongala though has been less welcome — head-banging music played late into the night at little altars that have sprung up across the city to ‘celebrate’ the pongala and extortion rackets to fund these pongala ‘celebrations’.
And more changes could be in the offing. Just a few weeks ago, the Kerala High Court asked the state government to ensure that roads in Trivandrum are not blocked as part of the festival. It is debatable though whether this directive can be fully implemented. Meanwhile, the state government is working on legislation that will allow it enforce ‘reasonable restrictions on public movement’ on special occasions such as the Attukal Pongala.
It’s hard to say how these moves will shape the Attukal Pongala in the years ahead. But whatever may change, what is clear though is that the Attukal Pongala will continue to be a vibrant, if smoky, celebration of the Goddess. So check out this story I wrote in 2004 to learn more about this very unique celebration of the feminine.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paid news

‘Newspaper boys’ are an endangered tribe. At least in Kerala and, I dare say, in many other parts of the world too. And in many places ‘newspaper delivery people’ are already an extinct tribe.

In a very poignant post a few months ago, Joe Scaria of The Economic Times talked about these “unsung heroes holding up the crumbling edifice of print in Kerala”. And as he put it: “A surprise indeed that there are these few who are still willing to do a job that involves waking up at unearthly hours, offers hardly any off-days and pays a pittance.”
Well, one “newspaper boy” — or newsagent as he prefers to be called — I know in Trivandrum is trying out a new business model. It’s the obvious one — get people to pay for the service. From this month on, he will charge every household Rs 10 a month as a delivery charge. It doesn’t matter whether you subscribe to one newspaper or 10; if you want newspapers delivered to your home every morning you pay 10 bucks a month for it.
Ten rupees a month is not much I guess and will just about cover his delivery expenses, I gather. Most customers, he says, seem untroubled at the thought of shelling out a monthly delivery charge for their morning news fix. Some, in fact, asked him why he had not taken this decision earlier, he claims.
From what I can gather, at least through Mother Google, it seems newspaper distributors in Ahmedabad and Pune started collecting delivery charges from customers a couple of years ago. What I’ve not been able to find though, is whether this business model worked for them.
I have no clue whether my newsagent friend’s new business model will work. Perhaps it may, offer a partial solution to the problems that Joe Scaria touched on in his post. But will other newsagents adopt this method? Will some consumers object and stop buying newspapers? What impact will it have on Kerala’s newspaper industry as a whole? I have absolutely no idea.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Your Moment is Waiting, Kerala Tourism’s new ad film, has won 3 PATA Gold Awards.
Not bad for a film that had people carping “This film has no soul because the soul doesn’t belong to the body.” Obviously, the PATA Gold Awards-2011 jury thought otherwise — that the film does have soul. Likewise, the jury also appears to have dismissed tales about Your Moment is Waiting being lifted from Ashes and Snow and a campaign for Mexico Tourism.
Your Moment is Waiting struck gold in the Secondary Government Destination, Travel Advertisement Broadcast Media and Public Relations categories. Kerala Tourism also won a PATA Grand Award for Kumarakom in the Environment category. And India picked up a clutch of awards this year, with cghEarth, Kuoni India, Taj Hotels and India Tourism among the winners.
Overall, great news for Kerala for the PATA Gold Awards are pretty much the industry standard. And PATA or the Pacific Asia Travel Association is, arguably, ‘the’ tourism and travel industry body for Asia-Pacific.