Organisation Culture, Risk Taking and Hindsight Bias

“Daniel Kahneman used to say, “The way to become a General in the Israeli army was to be overconfident and lucky”. You do two stupid things that work out and you are a hero. In the US, the way to become a CEO is to be overconfident, tall and good-looking. That is why I ended up as an academic!”

-Richard Thaler, Noble Prize winner  for Economics ,2017

Richard Thaler is a professor at Chicago Booth and has worked with Daniel Kahneman.

Thaler had praised Narendra Modi for demonetization. He won Noble Prize for Economics this year.

He give an interesting example on organisational culture, expectations of CEO and risk taking.

I was teaching a group of executives from a publishing company. Each of them ran a particular publication, like a magazine or a newspaper. The CEO was there too.

I said, “Suppose, there is an investment, wherein there is a 50% chance it returns $2 million and 50% chance you lose $1 million. Would you make this investment?”. Three guys out of 22 said yes.

Then, I asked the CEO, “What would you like?”. He said, “I would like everybody to do (the investment)”.

I told him, “You have a problem. You have created an organisation where people are afraid to take risks.” Then, I asked one of them why they wouldn’t do it. And he said that if it worked he might get a pat on the back, maybe a small bonus; but if it didn’t work, he could get fired. That is not a good gamble.

He also talks about hindsight bias. He explains hindsight bias  an idea that you always know what is going to happen and this contributes to overconfidence because people do not remember how often they have been wrong.

They remember thinking all along for ex.decade ago no one thought that an African-American would get elected as president, before a woman. No one thought that, but people remember thinking it.

In one of his assignment he asks every team member, including the leader, to write down their views before a decision. That way one will avoid situations where people come back after things have gone wrong, saying they knew it wouldn’t work out.

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Meena Kaushik, Doms of Kashi and Qualitative Techniques

“Qualitative research is more indicative of consumer trends and can always be corroborated with quantitative studies, so my first job was to make clients see that”

-Meena Kaushik

Meena Kaushik was economist who developed interest in sociology. She did doctorate under Dr. Veena Das a sociologist. Her subject was study of Doms of Varanasi.

Doms are one of the lowest castes in Hindu caste hierarchy.  Their job is to burn dead bodies. It is believed that if you are cremated at one of the ghats of Varanasi by holy fire then you get “moksha” i.e. freedom from cycles of rebirths. Doms are custodians of holy fire.

It is believed that one of their ancestor – Kallu Dom had King Harishchandra has his apprentice. So loyal was King Harishchandra to his master that he demanded fee for cremation of his son from his wife.

Meena Das studied the concept of “hot” and “cold” in Dom’s terminology. Hot or heat was connected with life while cold was connected with death.

“The moment I began studying social anthropology, I knew that this is exactly what I wanted to do”

-Meena Kaushik

Study of Doms gave Meena an idea of using research methods of social anthropology for corporates.

It was not an easy task. Corporates are comfortable with quantitative research, use of qualitative methods was looked with bit of suspicion.

“It was believed that only housewives and women who have nothing better to do will get into this type of research — the men do the numbers; the serious stuff and the women do the softer part.”

-Meena Kaushik

While qualitative methods of research like diary accounts, open-ended questionnaires, documents, participant observation, ethnography etc. has it own advantages like giving insights which get missed in quantitative methods, it also has limitation. One of the limitation is perceived lack of reliability and validity.

Meena want ahead and started company with her two colleagues Meena Vasudeva (a linguist) and Srilekha Agarwal (a psychologist).

The organisation Quantum Consumer Solutions managed to sell idea to large corporates like Unilever.

They are now working on concept of ‘Imagineering’ (imagination-engineering) which aggregates many thought disciplines – research, ethnography, semiotics, market data, retail analysis, consumer trends, psycho-analysis, domain experts, media imprinting, web ethnography and what-if ideations.

 

 

Franz Kafka, Kafkaesque and The Metamorphosis

Kafkaesque-of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially : having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality, ex.  Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays

-Merriam Webster Dictionary

Franz Kafka was a German novelist. His stories are full of bureaucracy, bizarre or surrealistic experiences. He died due to tuberculosis at young age of 40 years. Few of his novels got published during his life time, his work gained popularity after his death.

His novels talk about surrealistic experiences ex. a person becoming insect (The Metamorphosis), a person punished for crime about which he himself is not aware (The Trial) or land surveyor struggling with bureaucracy (The Castle).

Work of Kafka resulted in word- Kafkaesque- which is now part of English vocabulary.

“You don’t give up, you don’t lie down and die. What you do is struggle against this with all of your equipment, with whatever you have. But of course, you don’t stand a chance. That’s Kafkaesque.”

-Frederick R. Karl, biographer of Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis is story of travelling salesman called Gregor Samsa, who one day suddenly gets converted to a insect. His family depends on his earnings. His metamorphosis now deprives family of earnings. His father hates Gregor, while his sister Grete is initially sympathetic to him. His mother wants to meet him, but passes out when she sees him in insect form. Gregor tries his best to live life inspite of handicap.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

One day his father throws apples at him and he is wounded by one of the apples. Gradually his sister also gets tried of looking after him and plans with her father to get rid of Gregor. Disappointed with attitude of his family members , Gregor dies. After his death everyone is relieved and now they start looking for a boy to marry Grete.

“He had always believed that his father had not been able to save a penny from the business, at least his father had never told him anything to the contrary, and Gregor, for his part, had never asked him any questions. In those days Gregor’s sole concern had been to do everything in his power to make the family forget as quickly as possible the business disaster which had plunged everyone into a state of total despair”

― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Numerous films were made on this novel.

Yin Mo Su, Khulan Davaadorj and Sustainability

“I told my father when we went into this business that I couldn’t operate it as a manager who answers for 99.9 percent – it had to be 100 percent my management.”

-Yin Mo Su

Yin Mo Su loves Inle Lake of Myanmar. She wants to conserve the beauty and biodiversity of Inle Lake. With Myanmar opening up there is lot of scope of tourism, but at the same time she does not want Inle Lake to get polluted due to increase in tourism.

To provide jobs to locals and to protect ecology she has started Inle Princess Resort. Yin Mo Su is affectionately called Missu.

Missu’s father is supporter of democracy in Myanmar, he was imprisoned for his activities. Missu decided to pursue career in hospitality, after attending Ecole Hotelier in 1991, she returned to Myanmar and stared her resort. Her business was impacted by cyclone Nargis, but she managed to restart her business.

 “In tourism, the private sector is benefitting but we have to ask ourselves, are we doing everything to share our benefits? And that includes for our heritage and environment. It’s everyone’s job to spread the wealth, this is all of our htamin ohe (rice pot),”

-Yin Mo Su

When Khulan Davaadorj come back to Mongolia after spending may years studying abroad, her skin suffered due to pollution and harsh climate of Mongolia. She stared looking for products that will help her to protect her skin, but no such products were available in Mongolia.

For Khulan this was an opportunity. She decided to make organic skin care products. Her products are   innovative, handmade and made in Mongolia. They are sold under brand name Lhamour.

“Even though we didn’t make any profit yet, our attention is on sustainability, on the environment and on giving back to society,”

-Khulan Davaadorj

She decided to use local products to make her soaps and creams more effective. In Mongolia people have been using fat in Sheep’s tail for cooking and to treat skin related problem. The problem with Sheep tail oil was its smell, Khulan used it in soap manufacturing, thus while retaining benefits of sheep tail oil, it smells good. The paper in which the soap is wrapped is also recyclable.

Another interesting product is soap made from Horse’s oil. In Far East meat of horse is consumed, the fat is used to make oil. Horse’s oil is used in Far East to treat skin related diseases.

“We produce zero waste. Every raw material becomes an end product,”

-Khulan Davaadorj

 

 

Romani, Racism and Vladimir Michalcik

“Gitano means gypsy. And the gypsies have always been famous for their unrestrained, free life and mystery. That’s exactly what our perfumes are! Thanks to its high quality and very pleasant smell, our products have become very popular.”

-Website of Gitano perfumes

Some Indians migrated to Europe 700 years ago. They were called as Romani or gypsies in Europe. They were mostly associated with magicians, dancers or entertainers. In European social hierarchy they rank lowest. Many stay in ghettos in various countries of Europe in deplorable conditions (not very different from slums of India).

During Nazi era along with Jews, thousands of Romani people died in concentration camp. They were made to work till death or horrible medical experiments were done on them.

In one such ghetto in Bilina in Czech Republic, Vladimir Michalcik was born to Roma couple. Vladimir’s father was bus driver and mother labourer in glass factory.

Vladimir always wanted to improve his living conditions. He faced many ups and downs in life, including imprisonment. Yet, he managed to start company of his own, along with his brother Roman.

Vladimir’s company makes coffee called Maguama. Vladimir has brought innovation in coffee by mixing guarana root and maca root from Peru with Arabica coffee. It is sold as health drink.

Romani people are called “Gitano” in Spanish. So Vladimir started Gitano range of perfumes for men and women.

Vladimir is good example of how an optimistic person can succeed in life despite economic conditions and racism.

Chinese Indians, Deoli Camp and Monica Liu

“I’ve felt that the Indian government should apologize openly …Unfortunately the whole thing’s been swept under the rug.”

– Harry Shaw, Chinese Indian

In 1962, China invaded India and defeated Indian Army. This humiliating defeat exposed poor strategy of Nehru. Nehru could never recover from this blow.

India had Chinese Indian population which lived in Bengal and North East. The humiliating defeat resulted in Chinese Indians being treated as enemies of India. They were loaded in trains and send to a camp in Deoli in Rajasthan. Many were born in India, but their rights were ignored, for that matter Indian government ignored human rights of all Chinese Indians.

“We stopped thinking about our future…one year went by, two years, three years and when it was four years, I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m 21 now. What will we do with our lives now? Will we ever get out?’ The anxiety really hurt you.”

– Andy Hsieh, Chinese Indian

The conditions in camp were horrible and Chinese Indians were not used to heat of Rajasthan, many died due to heat and sunstroke. They rotted in Deoli camp. Some were set free on condition that they would be deported to China. Many did not want to go to China, country they had never seen, so they continued to languish in camp. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri visited camp once, but nothing changed.

Finally they were released after 3-4 years as there was no evidence to show that they were not loyal to India. When they went back to their homes, they found that their neighbors had either looted all their belongings or were illegally occupying their property. Many migrated to other countries while some decided to start their life again in India.

All these events have been captured in film “Legend of Fat Mama” by Rafeeq Ellias.

One such detainee was Monica Liu, after getting released from camp, she borrowed money and started eatery. With hard work and persistence she managed to start a restaurant. Today she owns 5 restaurants in Tangra locality of Kolkatta.

“My parents hurriedly stuffed the clothes in the trunks and sat inside the police van along with their five children. I had become a refugee in my own country in a span of few hours,”

-Monica Liu

Tangra is dominated by Chinese Indians. Monica is also called Don of Tangra, because she the faced goons in the locality and beat them up.

“Some goons of the locality began to harass us when my restaurant opened…They wanted free food but I was in no mood to oblige. I fought with them and even beat them up! They ran away and never came back.”

-Monica Liu