Philately -collecting stamps… not postal but psychological

Dr. Muriel James wrote a book called “Born to Win”. In this book she introduced concept of collecting stamps. These stamps are different from postal stamps.


Stamps here are feelings, which have become old (archaic feelings), and which a person keeps collecting and one day uses this collection to encash it for a psychological prize ex. A person may have hostile/angry feelings towards subordinate, instead of resolving the issue,then and there, he will keep adding such feelings (collecting stamps) over a period of time and then one day will explode in anger and fire subordinate (encash for psychological prize).

Dr. James talks about different types of stamps.

Gray/Brown stamps- Here person keeps collecting feelings of inadequacy. He feels that he is stupid and expect other people to share his belief!

Blue Stamps- Here a person keeps collecting feeling of depression. Dr. James gives interesting example of a woman who found that her day was very bright and lively, so she decided to call her mother in law and collected few blue stamps for the day!


Red Stamps- Here a person keeps collecting angry and hostile feelings. Many keep collecting red stamps and one day explode in anger.

red bull

Then there are gold stamps, where a person keeps collecting feeling of self-appreciation. These stamps help a person to tide over negative feelings.


Dr. James feels that person should strive to gain inner strength, so that he no longer feels need to collect stamps, not even gold stamps.


Psychology games an employee plays

Eric Berne, a Canadian psychiatrist is well-known for two books- Transactional Analysis and Games People Play. People interact with each other based on 3 ego states- Parent, Child and Adult. Berne explained how individuals interact with one another, and how the ego states affect their interactions.


Psychology games of Berne are different from Game Theory of Economics. Basic assumption in Game Theory is each player is intelligent and logical (Adult state) and always selects optimal strategy.

In psychology games, interactions are usually not in adult ego state; in fact game playing can come to a formal end if participants interact in adult ego state. Most of the time players play game not rationally, but with ulterior motives.

ego states

Ones I like most are “Wooden Leg” and “Now I’ve got you, you SOB”.

In “Wooden Leg” a person uses his disability or mind-set as wooden leg, an excuse for not making an effort. Logic used is -what can you expect of man with a wooden leg? This game can be played by employee to hide his incompetence. Sales Head can use excuses like lack of sales force, recession, market conditions “wooden leg” to explain inability to meet targets. In IT organisations lack of resource (blaming HR for inability to recruit) is “wooden leg” for anything that goes wrong in projects.

wooden leg

Another game is “Now I’ve got you, you SOB”. This game is played by person with someone who is at his mercy. He uses trivial issue to vent his anger on other person and blames him for it. This game is usually played by bad boss, who is always looking for opportunity to vent anger against subordinate whom he dislikes. Some small mistake is good enough for boss to exploit the situation i.e. use that small mistake as an opportunity to fire subordinate and justify anger that has built up over long time period.


Game theory and HR professionals.

HR managers are familiar with various games played by line function heads. Most common ones are “I need resource, else delivery/sales will suffer” , ” Match offer I have got from competition, else I am resigning” , ” We have to promote him, else he will quit”, ” Change HR policy for my department, else face dissatisfaction ( I will then blame HR for dissatisfaction!)” etc.

While line managers don’t think beyond impact of employee on their project/function, HR has to take organisational level view esp. what impact these decisions will have on other employees. If you promote undeserving candidate you face dissatisfaction of other employees, if you don’t, then candidate quits and departmental head is upset with you (besides you have to find replacement- ASAP.)

HR can explore Game theory to resolve such conflicts or dilemmas. Game theory is not just statistician’s fantasy, it has many applications esp. in politics, and organisation is hotbed of politics- with HR usually at receiving end.

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a political scientist who has founded a company, Mesquita & Roundell that specializes in making political and foreign-policy forecasts ex. New York Times published an article entitled “Can Game Theory Predict When Iran Will Get the Bomb?” on his unique ability to combine political development with game theory. In fact his organisation does lot of work for CIA!

HR and line functions are perpetually in conflict. Conflict and selfishness breeds mistrust, resulting in inefficiency. Game theory can highlight importance of collaboration, which maximizes output for all.

prisoner dilemma

HR can design games or use popular games like Prisoner’s dilemma, Stag hunt, Chicken etc. and cross functional teams should be asked to solve it by designing payoff matrix and using various techniques like dominated strategy, saddle point, Nash equilibrium, linear programming etc. to arrive at an optimal solution.

A bit about Nash equilibrium. It is named after John Forbes Nash, an American mathematician who overcame mental illness to win Nobel Prize in 1994 for his contribution to game theory. Sylvia Nasar wrote his biography- A Beautiful Mind. A movie with same name was made based on her novel, with Russell Crowe playing role of John Nash.
hare and stag

Probability, Succession Plan and Ashok Vemuri

Ashok Vemuri was a worried man, he was thinking about return of his mentor Narayan Murthy (along with his son Rohan Murthy) to Infosys. He was also thinking about call from Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search firm.

Should he stay back with Infosys and try his luck (two of his colleagues B.G Srinivas and V Balakrishnan were also in race to succeed current CEO, S.D Shibulal, who retires in 2015) or should he take offer of CEO’s position at iGATE?

ashok vemuri

He knew iGATE quite well. Relaxing in his chair, he started thinking…

Credit of starting IT revolution in India largely goes to 3 MIT graduates- Narendra Patni, F.C. Kohli and Lalit Kanodia. Narendra Patni started Patni Computers, Lalit Kanodia started Datamatics, while F.C. Kohli played important role in foundation and growth of TCS.


Narendra Patni hired a General Manager called Narayan Murthy for his organisation. Narayan Murthy along with his six colleagues from Patni, quit Patni to start his own venture, an organisation called Infosys.

narayan murthy

Later another Murthy- Phaneesh Murthy- joined Infosys. Phaneesh’s growth in Infosys was rapid, but had to quit Infosys after he got involved in sexual harassment case. Phaneesh joined company called iGATE as CEO. Phaneesh was ambitious; he acquired Patni Computers which was almost three times bigger than iGATE. The merged entity now called iGATE, had turnover of $one billion (Infosys is $ 7 billion organisation). But before he could leverage the benefits of merger, Phaneesh got involved in another harassment case and had to leave iGATE.


Executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates was given task of filling up the vacant position of CEO. Not an easy task, as iGATE had challenges of its own esp. debt of almost $700 million.
Apart from Ashok Vemuri, they had also rumoured to have approached Salil Parekh of Capgemini and ex COO of IPsoft Jeya Kumar (Jeya Kumar was CEO of Patni before acquisition by Phaneesh).

Ashok got up from his chair, and staring out of window he made decision. He decided to try for iGATE CEO’s position. While Salil Parekh was strong competitor, Jeya Kumar was hardly a competition and already a spent force.

iGATE offered Ashok Rs.19 crores, nearly 4 times more than his current salary of Rs. 4.91 crores. Having decided to take offer, all that remained was to inform Narayan Murthy about his decision to leave Infosys.

While Ashok was thinking about how to inform Narayan Murthy, he remembered about quantitative techniques he has learned during management program at IIM Ahmedabad.

Agner Krarup Erlang was a Danish mathematician, statistician and engineer who came up with queuing models. It deals with optimisation of length of queues, waiting period for customers etc.

While communicating about his decision, theory of queuing and probability proved useful. He told Narayan Murthy that with waiting period of 20 months and post that with probability of success at 33%, it made sense to join iGATE.

With his quitting, he improved chances of other two competitors- now their probability of succeeding is 50%!

Tribals, Anthropologists and Industrialisation

Last month in a referendum, Dongaria Kondh tribals rejected Vendanta’s project of mining bauxite in Niyamgiri hills. Dongaria Kondhs got support from anthropologists like Dr.Felix Padel, naxals and human rights groups.


While these groups declared this as victory of innocent and simple tribals over bad industrialists, Kondhs logic is simple, Niyamgiri hills is very reason for their existence- it provides them with water, food, medicine etc.


Infact these hills make them distinct from other Khonds- Dongar means hills, hence Dongaria Kondh. Mining of Niyamgiri hills will threaten their very livelihood and destroy abode of their god – Niyam Raja.

But is this the correct picture?

While allowing mining in Niyamgiri hills may destroy the delicate ecosystem and pollute the area, industrialists claim that once mining is over, trees can be planted again on mined land, besides the tribals will benefit in terms of concrete houses, roads, schools, hospitals, jobs in plant etc. Educated Kondhs can aspire to become engineers, doctors, bureaucrats etc. which in turn will benefit the community as a whole.

India, in order to support its huge population needs to create 15 million new jobs each year. Not all jobs will be in service sector, some jobs have to come from manufacturing and mining sector. Giving such veto powers to tribals will make it difficult to set up plants in mineral rich states of Orissa and Jharkhand.

Tribals have their own logic. They don’t trust government and industrialists, most fear that after mining, industrialists will leave behind dry streams and barren land .They don’t like the idea of working as daily wage worker, for them forest is source of their livelihood. They want to be left alone and decide their fate.


For Kondas there are two prime gods- Dharani Penu (Earth Goddess) and Niyam Penu ( Niyamgiri hills). So much is their attachment to earth that earlier they used to offer human sacrifice to please Dharani Penu. When British tried to stop practice of human sacrifice, the Kondhs rose in rebellion against British under their leader Rindo Majhi. Rindo Majhi was killed and rebellion was supressed, practice of human sacrifice was given up, instead they started sacrificing buffalo as substitute for human.

Famous anthropologist Verrier Elwin advised then prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru to follow policy of isolationism towards tribals i.e leave tribals alone, and make no efforts to bring them in mainstream.


While future of tribals should be decided by tribals themselves, they should rethink on isolationism and take national level view of progress.