Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cows in India, or What Gets Measured Gets Managed

Prefatory Note: This is intended to be a talk, not an article. Please treat it as a sort of transcript of my talk. In particular, expect low information density. I find that much of the information in TED-style talks comes in the Q&A. My lecture is really in a very different tradition, if you will, of lecture, namely, the Case Based method of teaching. The aim of the lecture is to inform the audience assuming that they have already read the Case Materials beforehand. It is a more intimate setting, but makes for a much richer experience. Furthermore, with the Case Method and unlike in a regular talk, you can engage with nearly all the members of the audience on substantive issues related to the topic at hand during the course of the lecture itself. Thus, the Case Method technique serves as validation for the idea itself. Using this technique, I have given this speech a few times thus far, and have found the main idea validated each time. I hope you enjoy the presentation.

The Talk:
I created and uploaded a video of my talk for my meeting with Prof. Lietz, but unfortunately, my Macbook has a soundcard problem, and so the sound is simply not showing up. Here is the video.

The title of the talk is "Why are there cows on the road in India?" In this post, I will provide a brief walkthrough of the talk since there is no sound. This is meant to be a very accessible talk so please feel free to write in if there are any questions at all, but please do bear in mind that this is a talk and so it is meant to be heard, not read.

My basic argument is simple. The way Indian Assemblies work today is dysfunctional, and we need a system of checks and balances there. There is just too much commotion in the Indian Parliament and State Assemblies today. (I have a clip from one of the State Assemblies in my video above (6:12 to 6:28). You will see footage here of an incident involving two members that occurred in the Kashmir State Assembly.) Things are clearly not working. I propose that we need to have a system of checks and balances in Assemblies and in the Parliament to make sure order is restored. I propose one such system (Proposal A - please see below), but it does not necessarily have to be the one that is adopted. In fact, even if the Parliament does not adopt this proposal, people could use a variant of the proposed system to keep tabs on the politicians themselves (Proposal B - also see below). What gets measured gets managed. What these proposals offer is a way for people to measure the performance of the members of parliament (MPs). If people can keep track of the performance of their members of parliament, they could put pressure on the politicians to do something about it.

Now for the talk in gory detail. In the first slide, I show a picture of a cow on a street in India. It is on the same side of the road as the car. Imagine! The same side of the street as you are. Imagine you are going to a meeting, and you have just parked your car or scooter. You see a cow on the street. It is heading straight towards your scooter. What would you do? Would you try to physically move it? Would you try to shoo it away? Or would you simply wait for it to go away? Whatever you do, you are going to be frustrated. But why is that? Why do we have cows on the street in India?

My next slide is meant to provide a brief overview of the the talk and explain why we have cows on the street in India. As I explain, in the first section of the talk, I provide an overview of the events in the Indian Constituent Assembly when the Indian Constitution was being written that led to this situation with cows. I will relate the reason for cows being on the street to the concept of Power Distance. To illustrate the point, I will give another exampe of a scenario where Power Distance played a major role. (We need not concern ourselves with that scenario here.) Then in the second section, I talk about the idea of Power Distance itself. And then, in the third and final section, I talk about how Power Distance actually works within an actual organization.

Moving on to the first section. I did a a bit of historical detective work, and uncovered this gem of a story. Now, if you go through the Debates of the Indian Constituent Assembly, you will find that the matter of whether cows in India should be slaughtered came up during the debates. However, although the matter was discussed, there was no serious economic analysis undertaken at the time regarding how many cows there were in India at the time, what the geographical distribution of cattle was or indeed what the overall statistics on cattle in India were. Indeed, an entire article, Article 48, was introduced into the Constitution without a real clear rationale. Article 48 of the Indian Constitution says that the State "shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle". It seems to have been introduced without the approval of at least one member of the Constituent Assembly Mr. Frank Anthony. If you go through the text of the Constituent Assembly Debates, you would find that Frank Anthony resented the way the clause was introduced at the time itself. In fact, he used the word 'subterfuge' to describe the way the matter was introduced into the Constitution. At this point, Hanumanthaiya (whom I shall call Mr. H), a representative of Mysore, stepped in and called into question Frank Anthony's use of the word 'subterfuge'. At that point, Frank Anthony did not push back. He simply let the matter drop. It fell to the floor and remained there.

Now, because this matter fell to the floor and was ignored, we have a situation where cows cannot be easily moved by people for fear that they might kill the cow. Civic citizens cannot form councils to get cows off the street because a cow or two might die and they would get into trouble.

This relates to the idea of Power Distance. The reason this happened could be that the perceived Power Distance between Mr. H and Frank Anthony may have been high. If you go through the Constituent Assembly Debates, you will find that Frank Anthony and Mr. H seem to have been using a lot of very flowery language to talk to each other. If Frank Anthony could have somehow lowered the Power Distance between the two parties, and just spoken in plain English, he could have stated in simple terms what was going on. ('Dude, we need to put a clause in, but we need to do it right" is far more direct and therefore far more powerful than a long-winded piece of Victorian English prose) Simplicity matters. It clarifies things. Going 'simple' might have at least forced the people in the Assembly to put the clause in, but contingent upon and pending an economic analysis as to whether that was the right thing to do.

In the second section of the talk, I talk about Power Distance. I talk about how the perceived distance in terms of power between two people can influence the way they interact. I then present statistics from across the world on the level of Power Distance in India. It is very high. This is based on an extensive study conducted across many countries. What this tells you is that people in India are likely to require a greater distance between themselves and those they consider lower than them in the hierarchy. This makes it harder for somebody to confront issues head on.

What does this mean for organizations? In the third section of the talk, I talk about organizations. I talk about how some organizations have devised clever ways to reduce Power Distance, essentially, a system of checks and balances. As an example, I will describe the system used in a class here at Stanford. In the Global Entrepreneurial Marketing class, we have the system of Red Cards. If somebody in class raises a Red Card, then the class discussion has to stop and the floor is yielded to the person raising the Red Card. There is a limit to how often you can raise the Red Card, namely, only once per quarter. Once you have raised the Red Card, you are done. You can no longer do it again that quarter.

If we had a similar system in India wherein members of Parliament are allowed to raise Red Cards, and if a person raised a Red Card, everybody would have to yield the floor to that person, and go back to his or her seat, the situation would dramatically improve. At least once every so often, you would have some order within the Parliament. I would reserve an even higher level, Purple Cards, for only physically violent or abusive behavior. If somebody threatens another person physically or moves towards another person who does not wish to be approached, only then would a Purple Card be allowed. It is clear to me that many of these Assemblymen/women and Parliamentarians need counselling. For the other less serious infractions, members of an Assembly or the Parliament could raise a Yellow or Red Card. The Yellow and Red Cards are meant to be used for a variety of infractions. We need not go into the details of said infractions here.

Basically, the proposal here is that by using a system of Cards, you effectively reduce the Power Distance between the speaker and the member of parliament. Once the MP (member of parliament) raises a Red or Purple card, the floor is yielded to him, and so he can effectively call the shots starting then, and even question the speaker. I am not saying that we should adopt just this particular system of  Cards, which I shall call Proposal A. What I am saying is that a system of checks and balances such as Proposal A could greatly improve matters in regarding the problem of disorder in the Indian Parliament. My aim in this post has been to keep politics out of this as much as possible. With this post, I do not intend to indulge in politics of any sort, but only to bring this matter to the attention of concerned citizens.

If the Indian Parliament does not want to adopt this system, ordinary citizens could implement a variant of this system. Under this version, Proposal B, ordinary citizens could basically keep tabs on how different members of parliament have performed by watching the video footage of the members of parliament. They could issue cards to at least some of the members of parliament that are committing 'Proposal B' Red Card infractions, that is, being violent, leaving their seats, et cetera. This provides a way of measuring the performance of the members of parliament without requiring the approval of the Parliament or the Assembly itself.

What gets measured gets managed. If we had some statistics on who the guilty parties are, things would begin to improve. And I have a cool way to find out exactly that using some pretty cool technology that I have been researching. And I could do it for less. It would cost far less to implement Proposal B than what a naive analysis might have us believe. The hope is that by implementing a proposal such as Proposal B, ordinary citizens would be able to force politicians in India to start observing Parliamentary rules of order.

That is it for now. I will keep you posted on Column 3.

Update (Wednesday, Thursday): The key point of this post is to propose having a system of checks and balances for the Indian Parliament and State Assemblies.

It would be appropriate for me to make a few comments on India given that I just said that it is a country with people who display high Power Distance. Somehow, in this context, Shashi Tharoor came to mind. Shashi Tharoor, noting the unruliness in the Indian Parliament, has proposed for India to move to a Presidential system of government. In a different column, he argued that a lack of consensus is simply a given in the Indian polity. As part of that piece, he approvingly quoted the line "Anything you can say about India, the opposite is also true." Tharoor's point is that consensus is extremely hard to reach in India. You read this line as a social scientist, and you see Tharoor's point, but you also wonder if consensus is inherently impossible in India as well. (Chandrahas Choudhury is more critical of this comment of Shashi Tharoor's than I am.) The social sciences can tell us many important things about various countries and cultures, and you wonder if this research can be intelligently used to promote order and consensus. This talk is an attempt to do that.

It is important to be an intelligent consumer of technical literature.  This is another point that needs emphasis since I earlier said that India is a country with people who display high Power Distance and that is a statistic that can be easily misinterpreted and misused. The statistic above on Power Distance does not apply to all Indians. I certainly do not want this post to end up stereotyping all Indians, one of who I myself am. One way to think about this is that, under certain circumstances where Power Distance plays an important role, it may be important to put in special mechanisms for organizations from certain countries. There is no reason that a system of checks and balances that works in the United States would also necessarily work in India. Organizations need to be designed appropriately. They need to be appropriate for their environment.

Another note. There are several Parliamentarians and Assemblymen in India who are uneducated, et cetera. For people who have not completed high school, 'respect' is an important thing given that and especially given that they don't have very good educational qualifications. They tend to require high Power Distance. A final point to note. From what I have seen, the average educated, English-speaking Indian netizen is no different from the average, English-speaking netizen from the United States in terms of Power Distance. If anything, I have found the former segment displaying a certain Old World courtesy that I personally find very charming.

Second Update (Thursday): Vivek Dehejia had an excellent piece in the New York Times on why Shashi Tharoor is mistaken in his call for moving India to a Presidential system. I also made an argument on my List from the organizational behavior perspective on the same topic and reached the same conclusion, viz., India should not move to a Presidential form of government. The basic argument there is that one of the major Indian parties, Congress(I), has an organizational form that is quite undemocratic. The story behind this is the following. When Mahatma Gandhi reorganized the Congress party organization, he introduced many changes. The most significant change for the purposes of our discussion is one wherein he introduced the post of the President of the Indian National Congress. This was an entirely unelected post. The person holding this post today is not only the head of the organization, the head of the Working Comittee and the head of all the chief Congress committees, this entirely unelected "representative" is also the Congress Party's first choice nominee for Premiership. This creates a dangerous situation in that - like Indira Gandhi - there is a danger of India falling under a dictator if more power were moved to a single person such as a President. Vivek Dehejia makes four  arguments, as an economist, on the same matter in his piece. Check it out as well.

Third Update (Thursday, May 17): Added a Prefatory Note. Note that the system of cards is intended to be an virtual/electronic one. When a person raises a card, it is really an electronic red card that is, in actuality, raised. When a card is raised, a message would be flashed on a large panel in the front of the Parliament or the Assembly to indicate that such an action has been carried out. Another thing to note is that there would be associated fees and penalties for failing to observe the guidelines required of members when cards are flashed. That would disincentivize parliamentarians and assemblymen/women from taking the cards too lightly.