How Ganesha Stole my Internet

October 23rd, 2007

We recently celebrated Ganesha Chaturthi in Hyderabad, the festival in honor of Lord Ganesha. It is said that on this day Ganesha comes down to earth from the heavens to bless his devotees. Because we’re in a country where the economy is absolutely driven by festivals, every festival pulls vendors out of the gulleys and side-shops onto the main footpaths. Everywhere you look someone is pedaling turmeric, incense, oil lamps, betel nuts, betel leaves and of course, the main ingredient in any Hindu ritual, coconuts in neat hairy clumps of 3 or 6. Everything is lit up and decorated. The festive spirit gets even the most non-pious people excited enough to over-buy and over-spend, and maybe splurge on a new outfit or gold chain, because wouldn’t Ganesha would want them to have some bling to celebrate his big day? Okay, so now we’ve juiced up the economy and created more waste. Where’s the story? Almost there. Just one more piece of background.

In many places kids come around asking for donations for a clay idol of Ganesha to be installed in the neighborhood. No one wants a Ganesha in the neighborhood, but you look like a real jerk if you don’t fork up a few rupees, so everyone pitches in and by the end of the week a large Ganesh idol shows up in the street. For the 10 days of the Ganesha celebration people (meaning lazy guys with nothing else to do) hang out by this statue, drink, and BLAST music (not necessarily devotional) until 10 at night. Again, no one likes it, but you look like an un-pious jerk if you make a fuss. So in the way of the Indians, we all sigh, shake our heads, and turn up the volume on our tvs to try to drown out the b-rate celebration going on outside. The big clencher is the last day of the festival, when Ganesha is immersed in water.

People doing this in their homes will perform the immersion in a bucket- not too ceremonious, but it gets the job done. The clay idol dissolves leaving some dirty water, which is thrown into an environmentally friendly water recycling repository where the water is cleaned, filtered and used to irrigate the fields. Ha ha- just kidding. This is Hyderabad, not Berkeley, CA. People throw the muddy water into the street where it leaves a big clumpy toxic mess from the cheap paint residue. But you can’t immerse the neighborhood Ganeshas in a bucket. The one in our colony was about 15 feet tall. Ganesha is hoisted up onto a truck and moved to the Hussain Sagar, a dam in the middle of the city. Ganesha ImmersionHe waits in line with hundreds of other Ganeshas to be lifted by a crane off the lorry and released into water. He sinks and begins to dissolve with his brother idols until around midnight, when Goondas (a great term for one ‘who is up to no good’) fish him back out and strip him for iron, which they sell. I don’t know if it’s cool to rob Ganesha, but at least they’re recycling.

So in order to make way for Ganesha to roll down my street, the power and cable lines were cut. The power came back on in 8 hours. I know what you’re thinking- no one in the US would have stood for this. I mean, it wasn’t even a weekend! But in India, we just shake our heads and light a candle and swap ridiculously petty stories about our neighbors. For eight hours.

While the current came back on at the end of hour number 8, the internet did not. And this opened up our saga with Tata-Indicom, the worst customer service providers in the WORLD! Let me preface all this by saying much of my happiness here depends on the Internet. I felt very irritated by the loss of my Internet, because at that very moment I was in the process of illegally downloading season 1 of Sex in the City, enjoying the lack of Internet policing in India. Obviously this was going to impact how long I would have to wait to watch Carrie and her Jimmy Choos.

What ensued thereafter is tiring even to think about. In the next 8 days we called Tata Indicom to report our lack of service and ask them to come fix it no less than 37 times. You might be asking- why would you call so often? Because! Because each time we were promised - nay assured - nay guaranteed, that the internet would be back up in exactly one hour, or first thing in the morning, or that Suresh Babu was on his way to our house at that very moment to restore the connection. And it turned out that all but 36 of these times were just out-right lies. How do you like that? We threatened to cancel our service with them, but they really didn’t care. Finally Suresh Babu did turn up. After investigation he reported that our cables had been cut by Goondas who had stripped the iron out to sell.

I wonder if Lord Ganesha is really the god of the Goondas, and orchestrated this whole holiday to put some extra change in their pocket.

Why Smaller is Better: Two heads are not always better than one!

October 23rd, 2007

Many organizations think that the more employees, the more branches, the more contracts, the more clients… the better.  But my experience working with groups of people tells me that when a group of people working together grows beyond a critical point, say 4 people, efficiencies between that group start to go down.  We spend more time in meetings talking about what needs to be done, hashing out ideas, arguing one way vs. another, that there isn’t enough time to get anything done.

When I worked for a large pharmaceutical company, I started out having several small accounts.  I worked these accounts on my own- because they were small it was considered feasible that one person could handle 3 accounts on their own.  It was great- I designed my sales presentations in the way I thought best matched my buyer’s learning style, controlled all the data that went into the presentations, and managed my time so that I never was at the office before 10 or after 5, and I had huge success with my buyers.  So what comes after success?  The corporatizing of success!  This means I was moved onto a large national account with a team of 6 others.  It meant they took the best thinkers in our department- thought leaders, industrious workers, creative problem solvers, and shoved us all into a room together and expected us to make a lot of money for the company.  Well productivity dropped, efficiency dropped, creativity dropped.  Amount of time in meetings soared.  Amount of times I checked my watch or made lists of how many times someone said “um” in a meeting went up.  My feeling of listlessness, productive-lessness, and misery went way up.  So the moral of the story? 

Well, I learned that I work better in a small group, where each person has a designated role and function.  But also, I learned that most of us work better that way.  Too many people working on a project together becomes a competition to have the winning idea, instead of to find the winning idea.  It becomes a visibility game for who is noticed by the higher ups in the company, getting face time, making speeches and using flashy lingo.  It is a situation that just doesn’t bring out the best in people.


            What does bring out the best in people then?  Well, for one thing, every meeting must be facilitated with care and intention.  There must be process- a well planned agenda, defined goals and outcomes, and for god’s sake- time limits for each topic!  When creating the agenda the facilitator must pre-decide what outcomes are reasonable in this time limit, and what types of outcomes would be better handled out of the meeting by a smaller group of people assigned as an action item.  Outside facilitators are great because they can just watch process and play a neutral role, but since it’s not always feasible to have an outside person present, every person on a team should have some basic facilitation skills and some process tools. 


            Process tools are some ways a person can run a brainstorming session, a vision building session, getting consensus on an action steps, hearing everyone’s voice in the room, allowing everyone an equal chance to share and talk… when these things aren’t provided for we end up with the monkey sessions of people falling over each other to talk, no one listening, someone going on and on and on about something irrelevant, half the group unsure of what’s irrelevant and what’s not… I am relieved to be able to report that all of this can be addressed with a little careful intention to facilitation.  A well facilitated meeting makes all the difference between your energy when you walk out of a meeting- do you feel exhausted and worn out, or inspired, energized, and full of ideas.  More importantly, if it is your company, or your business, how do you want your employees to leave a meeting?  Which way do you think would result in better results for the company?