Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Multi-million lottery!

Article for Bethlehem Matrimonial - Nov 2017

“Getting a good partner is like winning a lottery. Ensure that you pray really hard to win such a lottery”. I remember my mom advising me long back about the importance of prayer to win the greatest lottery in life! Looking back after being married for almost 8 years I totally agree with my mom. I would like to make a significant addition to her statement though. It is not just enough to win the lottery but is equally important that you win it every day of your life and keep praying for this to happen.

There is a major difference between someone who wins a regular lottery as against a person who wins the ‘matrimonial lottery’. The first one becomes rich overnight whereas the next one will become rich over a period of time, only if he or she works on it. If you choose not to work on your matrimonial lottery you might end up in the same boat as the guy who won a multi-million lottery one day but lost the ticket the next day!

Here are some of the tips that may help you win the lottery in married life. As the case always is, there is no concept of ‘one-size-fit-for-all’ in marriages. Hence you need to find what works out well for you and design your winning strategy accordingly.

Listening Vs Hearing: Listen to your spouse and you are an instant lottery winner! Ensure that you focus your full attention when your dear ones speak to you. If you are doing something really critical do inform them about it but more importantly tell them what time will you be able to have the conversation they wanted to have and remember to have it. Listening is an active task whereas hearing is merely passive.

Honesty: This is one skill that is important in all walks of life, more so in marriage. The moment you say ‘I do’ you are promising each other to share your life in all its honesty. Think about this. If you are all alone in a room and facing the mirror, will you ever be able to tell a lie to your reflection that you see on the mirror? Let us remind ourselves that our spouse is our reflection in a married life. Hence for you to look good in the mirror ensure that you are honest to yourself and your spouse. Who knows, you may even stand a chance to double the prize money of your lottery with this!

Teamwork: There is hardly a substitute for this, being a husband and wife. The most beautiful families are where the partners work as a team. There is enough and more to do in a family on a regular basis. Short, mid and long term plans keep driving the life forward. The only way you could ensure happiness of achieving these goals are by holding the hands together and helping each other. The moment you decide to do things your own way, you risk the possibility of losing the lottery ticket.

Prayer Power: This is the closest we’ll get to experience the supernatural power in our family that drives the whole universe. These are the days when each one of us are quite busy in our own worlds carrying out significant tasks, at least that’s what we think ourselves. The time spent together for prayer is when you bring a synergy in everyone. Nothing short of miracles will happen in our lives the moment we decide to spent time together to pray. This by itself, needless to say, is winning a lottery!

Love: A simple four letter word. We can’t possibly imagine the power that this word holds within. It is an all-encompassing feeling that can be stated as the glue that connects everyone in the family. Learn and remind ourselves to apply this feeling in everything we do daily. Believe it or not, this is something we forget accidently or conveniently a few years into married life. This is even more significant with your family getting bigger with kids taking up a considerable part of your time.

What I’ve listed above are just a few sample tips. Give yourselves some time to think about these. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to come up with hundreds more like these which will enable you to win that multi-million lottery every other day. Keep in your mind that this is one lottery that brings you luck only if you work for it.

May the good God bless you to figure out the ways to win the matrimonial lottery and more importantly to keep winning every other day in your life! 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Chamber of Secrets

Article for Bethlehem Matrimonial - Oct 2017

I remember reading a story about how two people saw a dead dog on their way back home and described the scene to their spouse. The first one said, “I saw a dead dog today. The dog must have got run over by a car that its eyes were bulged out and the corpse had blood all over which had an intolerable stench as well.” The second one said, “I saw a dead dog today. You should see its mouth that was wide open. What a beautiful set of teeth it had!”

It is quite short a story but one which conveys volumes about perceptions. The way people perceive the same incident and more importantly the way these people influence others with their description. I’m sure you can easily imagine the facial expression of the first spouse in the story as against the second one. Who do you think felt better listening to the story of a dead dog?

The situation is not entirely different in many of our families too. We all have our own families where a lot of incidents happen on a daily basis. Many of us have the practice of sharing these incidents with our relatives and friends. Just bear in mind the story you just read and imagine the perception you create among the people with whom you share incidents that happen in your family.

We need to realise the definition of ‘family’ while deciding on what to share and what not to. You, your spouse and your kids form your immediate family. Your parents, siblings and their families form your extended family. Anyone other than this, is beyond your extended family.

It is quite natural that negative emotions get registered with people faster and it is quite easy to form opinions based on these compared to the positive ones. Hence the moment you share an incident or a story about a dear one in your family, keep in mind that you are creating a perception in the listener about your dear one. Negative perceptions are easily created and lasted than their positive counterparts.

The person with whom you’ve shared the incident will further think about it with their own perception. If it is a problem, they’ll try to either provide you with their version of solution or may even share this further with their extended family. We need to keep in mind that there are quite a few things in our lives that we need not necessarily share with everyone around us. There has to be a chamber of secrets in every family that needs to stay within the four walls of the family. There should be an honest attempt to resolve issues within the family first. The moment you open the doors to your chamber of secrets, it ceases to be your personal problem to solve. Though there are times when this may lead to solutions, there could be others that opens a whole can of worms.

What could pretty much be resolved between a husband and a wife should ideally be achieved that way. The moment you bring in parents, relatives or friends into a private issue, things could get complicated. You’ll never be able to really predict how either of the affected party will react to the situation. It may even get out of your hands and you’ll totally regret why you even bothered to involve a third person. We need to remind ourselves that if one solution didn’t work we should attempt an alternate one. If and only if you’ve hit a hard wall, try reaching out for helping hands.

If you are one such person who can’t live without sharing your life with others, ensure that you not only share the challenges you face about a dear one but also project the good deeds done by them. At least this will help in creating a balanced perception among others. Else it’ll be like driving through a one-way lane. It is quite natural that people will never get the complete picture of the challenge since the picture you paint in front of them is all what they probably see. They’ll most likely never get to know the other side of the canvas. 

It is important to share. It is more important to know what to share, when to share and with whom to share. May you be blessed with the prudence to maintain the chamber of secrets in your family and the wisdom to know when to open it up for others!

God bless.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Power of Smile

It has been a quarter of a century since I learned the power of smile in business. 25 years back was when my dad started Adens, an ice cream parlour in our small home town named Changanacherry in Kerala, the southernmost state of India. For the kids in the town ice cream only meant a cup, a cone, a stick or in its fanciest form, a ball! Nothing more, nothing less.

It was something in lines of a revolution at that time to introduce various flavours in different shapes and sizes and more importantly ice cream sundaes that tickled the taste buds with a never before experience. The freezer that displayed different flavours neatly placed in square shaped boxes became an instant hit among the customers. It was a sight worth framing to see people flocking around the freezer to decide which flavour they’ll try that day.

Dad loved travelling and he did it extensively right from his young age. The greatest thing he got back from these travel were the experiences and uniqueness from each destinations which he promptly applied when he started the business. The shamiyana bordered palm leaf thatched seating area, the pointed white coloured fence seen in Ooty, trash cans named ‘Use Me’ at arm’s length from customer’s table, a beautiful garden with a multi-coloured fountain in the middle etc. to name a few.

All these were good when you start a new business. The bigger question is how do you sustain the interest and keep the customers happy. That’s when I saw dad along with my mom unveil the power of smile to captivate the customers and implemented beautifully the principle in management that retaining a customer is far less expensive than gaining a new one. Their achievement is even more praise-worthy with no formal management education to their credit. A classic case of naturally bred managers!

Every customer who walked into Adens were welcomed with a smiling face by my dad or mom. My brother and I did whatever little we could. He was 15 and I was 11 at that time and I presume it helped to create that ‘complete family experience’ in our customers’ minds when they walked in. The menu was extended, orders taken and the end-product was served, all wrapped with a beautiful smile. When I look back I think our customers didn’t walk in just to have an ice cream. They came in for an experience, one which offers an ice cream along with it. I also distinctly remember dad personally seeing off the customers as they take this experience back home with them. This was his way of ensuring that our patrons felt wanted and made them feel like coming back for more. Needless to say he did that with a smile again.

The picture was not always this rosy. We had our share of unhappy customers, for different reasons. Each time they were dealt personally and their concern addressed. They were reassured about the service promised by Adens and guaranteed them happiness. Most of them who initially had concerns, later when walked out, did so with a smile.

My management books emphasized the need to make customers happy. What I learned from my dad and mom with their style of management was a real-life practical example of how to do this. What they also did was to ensure that the practice not just stops with them. Knowingly or otherwise they were teaching each one of us associated with the business to practice this. Concepts of business continuity were applied without them even being aware of it.

We live in an era were human interactions are becoming lesser and lesser with each passing day. We get almost everything done online now through a world of apps and machine supported offices. I don’t even remember the last time I saw the face of a human being when I paid my electricity bill or telephone bill. Even the customer service many a times are now driven through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. At the end of your transaction the system or a recorded voice asks you to rate your experience by selecting a smiley that is apt for the quality of service you received. End of service.

In such a totally digitized world, I recollect with happiness, the power of smile my dad and mom had on our customers. It provided a human touch in business to ensure that our patrons come back for an experience that is closer to the heart than the non-personal customer experience modern day offers! 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Business of Analysis

Quite often I come across people who have no clue about what a Business Analyst does. I try to tell them in simple language about understanding business requirements and solving business problems by providing them with right solutions. Each time I explain these fundamental concepts to these people, my mind keeps telling me that there are more to this Business of Analysis than what a traditional definition tells you about this role. Here are a few quick thoughts from my experience as a BA.

Beyond the tools: As an analyst you invariably end up using quite a few tools to do your job. The techniques for gathering requirements, methods of analysis and documentation tools to name a few. Do these really matter for your customer? The primary question she’ll have in her mind is does this person understand what I need? Can he figure out the pain I go through so that he provides me with a solution to get rid of it. The business does not really care if you use Tool X or Y, all what they need from you is to empathize with them, understand their challenges and help them solve the issues they face. The primary intention is getting the problem solved, anything extra will be a bonus that adds to the customer delight.

Know the end game: Most of the times the business point of contact you may have are not the end users of the application. It is expected that you develop a sense of understanding about the challenges from an end user perspective before proposing any solution. Hence it is quite crucial not to miss to include end users in discussions so that you don’t miss the boat. The expensive rework that you see sometimes can be attributed to non-compliance of this idea.

Own it up: Yes, it is a business challenge you are trying to solve. But the moment your customer feels that you consider this as your problem as well, you’ve won the customer halfway. Ownership of challenges and co-creation of solutions are quite critical in terms of business acceptance.

Listen & Talk: This is a tricky one. You need to realize when to talk and when to listen. Even the friendliest customer you ever had can get annoyed if you do not maintain a balance between these. There is no shortcut for this except to use your common sense.

Befriend the devil in detail: Never forget the golden rule that the devil is in the detail. The one point you may have missed to elaborate may turn out to be the most critical part needed for the right solution. Hence don’t shy away from shaking hands with this devil. All what you need to ensure is not to get lost in the details which again can be quite easy.

Blind spots: Never leave your customer stranded. Good news or bad, let them be aware. For all that matter your customer may have a solution for your trouble. Business analysis is all about mutual understanding and trust.

Row together: Finding solutions for business challenges is not a game that you play alone. You need to row the boat together. Learn to respect the person at the helm and get this going. You’ll never know when you need to fire from a more powerful shoulder.

Empower the weak links: One of the most important aspects of Business Analysis is to keep your extended team in confidence. Architect, Technical Lead, Developers, Testers and many more. They all play crucial roles. Business Analysis alone has never delivered any solutions ever! You can play a pivotal role in empowering any of the weak links of the chain thereby empowering yourself.

I remember telling one of the interviewers a while ago that Business Analysis is not a rocket science. I still share the thought with the added flavor that Business Analysis is an art of getting into the brain of people not forgetting to understand the science of how they run their business. You need to be an artist and a scientist at the same time in order to achieve the delicate balance of providing a cost-effective solution and winning a delightful customer! 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

So near, yet so far

Article for Bethlehem Matrimonial - Sep 2017

I still remember the letter box on our gate back home, as one of the most cherished sights during my school days. The walk to the box to find if there was a letter in it was always been filled with mixed emotions. It was a heart wrenching feeling to see an empty letter box. On the other hand, the feeling was unexplainable when the box was not empty and the happiness multiplied if there were letters from dear ones.

Many of the letters may have been posted weeks before with updates about events that happened even months back. All these may probably sound strange today to a new generation of kids who may find it difficult to relate to the depth of emotions attached to a piece of paper found or missing in a metal box filled with details of something that happened sometime in the past!

Years went by and we now have technology that enables us to know and see events as and when they unfold. Anything less than a live update is considered stale news these days. News channels and social media thrive on ‘breaking news’ or latest updates. A swipe to refresh the updates on an app is all what is required to see the most recent post. It is quite interesting to observe that the emotions related to seeing or not seeing a letter in a letter box can be related to an update found or missing on a social media app.

These apps today allow you to reach out to your dear ones as you wish and no news will have to wait for days or months to be shared with people whom you care. Any event can now be broadcasted live using these apps. If not a live streaming, we at least sent quick updates in the form of pictures or videos as soon as it happens. An update screams itself on our phones in the form of an alert which when selected unveils the latest news from the sender.

For people like me, who have seen the best of both worlds, old and new, somehow get this feeling at times that an update I’ve received as an ‘inland letter’ or an ‘airmail’ carried more love and warmth than the updates through the present day social media. Even when the former gave me an update about something that happened in a dear one’s life sometime in the distant past I distinctly remember the genuine love and warmth I experienced reading that as against the most recent update through one of the modern day apps.

Though it is practically not easy to replicate that beautiful experience from the past, my wife and I decided to do something similar this time during the summer vacation. Fortunately we got a few days extra to plan and execute the idea as well. We decided to take some time from our vacation days and visit our dear ones at their homes and spend some quality time with them. It will be an understatement if I say, the feeling of love we experienced was nothing compared to the hundreds of messages exchanged over WhatsApp or Facebook with the same people!

It was a reiteration that human beings are designed as social animals. For us, meeting and spending time with people gives us the much needed motivation to take our life forward. There are quite a few things we learn by interacting with similar social beings around us. I strongly believe that all these and many more may not be achievable through the modern day apps though we have given them a pet name ‘social media’!

If you’ve been one like me where you think social media indeed is helping you being in touch, try meeting these people in real life. Spend a few minutes with them. You’ll be surprised to see the difference these interactions bring in your life as well as theirs! These are the good things our previous generation tried teaching us but have slowly gone into the oblivion as we’re living in those times when people are digitally so near yet emotionally so far apart!

May you realize this fact sooner than later and may you be able to plan your next visit to your dear ones at the earliest to experience the bliss of being social in its true sense.

God bless!

Neeleshwaram Effect

A cousin's wedding took us to Neeleshwaram, a small town in the Northernmost district of Kasargod in Kerala. We reached on the wedding eve and the next day was quite a happening one. 

By evening, after the wedding, we got back to the lodge where we stayed and I went out to buy some water. Also wanted to see if I could get some tea for all of us. Found a bakery where I got the water bottles. Since there were more than six of us at the hotel I checked with them if I could get tea as a take away item. 

All what I was expecting was to get tea in disposable cups with lids. Then came the twist. 

The shop was run by an elderly lady and her daughter. The lady asked me where I stayed. When she learned about our stay at the nearby lodge she filled a flask and another vessel with tea and also packed half a dozen glass tumblers along with it! There was more to this surprising customer service. 

When I suggested disposable cups, her response was that, tea won't taste good in plastic cups and insisted that I take the glass ones itself! She even sent one guy to help us carry these things back to the place where we stayed.

The tea tasted very good and later I promptly returned the flask and all to the shop. When they took the items back they even asked me to visit Neeleshwaram again to explore this place better.

Needless to say, it was one of the best customer service I've ever experienced in my life. All what I wish is the world to have more people like these to spread genuine selflessness so that we are surrounded with love than hatred! 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Kitchen Adventures

Article for Bethlehem Matrimonial - Aug 2017 

It is that time of the year again. The time when your home becomes a house. The usual noises and sounds disappear. No dropping of your kid to school, no one to say bye to when you leave to office and no one comes running to you with cries of joy when you return home. It is that time of the year for all those expats who are lucky enough to have their family with them to empathize with the vast majority who do not get to be around their family for a considerable part of their life.

School holidays in Middle East forces many like me to be a ‘bachelor’ when the family heads back to their home countries. I know a few who consider this as regaining the long-lost-freedom. There are others like me who live these days like a zombie. All of a sudden, life seems to lose its charm. Somehow the energy levels become all-time low.

I do try to catch-up a bit on certain aspects for which I don’t get time otherwise. I get to open our library and say hi to all those books which were untouched for a long time. While catching up on these things it is also the time of the year when I get to do a bit of culinary experiments.

I should thank my mom for teaching me the basics of cooking long back so that I don’t have to depend on restaurants for survival. I am a strong believer that both boys and girls in our families should be taught these skills right from the age when they are old enough to handle kitchen duties. Though I am not the one who don the role of master chef in our family, I’m quite sure that my wife will vouch for the meaningful assistance she gets from me in the kitchen.

With the family away and I get to handle the kitchen all for myself, my adventure mode sets in. The most recent attempt was to prepare a dish with green gram. Fortunately it turned out well, at least good enough for me to survive for a few days. I’ve to be honest and admit that this is not the case always.

I still recollect one such bitter experience a couple of years back. A poor cabbage was the victim that day. I decided to try a traditional Kerala recipe for cabbage with a mix of coconut. A nicely chopped cabbage was ready in a few minutes. All the rest of ingredients were lined up and waiting for their turn. The pan was heated up and preparation began. One by one each of the ingredients found its way into the pan. I began to feel proud already. A bunch of items a few hours back that was sitting idle on a supermarket shelf is about to turn into the world’s best cabbage dish! It was nothing less than magic!

The dish was almost ready and the aroma filled the air with the traditional Kerala recipe saluting me for a job well done. I tasted the end-product and was quite confident that both my wife and mom, if around, would’ve given me an award for the preparation. That exact moment was when the devil put an idea in my brain. It was inspired by one of the regular culinary columns from a popular women’s magazine published back home in Kerala. It was a column by a well-known media person who loved experimenting with his dishes.

The thought that I’ve proved my culinary skills with a good dish was not enough. How do I differentiate myself from the lesser mortals like my wife and mom? Needless to say that such thoughts are the after-effects of leading a corporate life. I looked around for that X-factor to differentiate my dish. My eyes got stuck on a bright yellow color. It was an innocent looking lemon lying around with no connection whatsoever with the cabbage recipe. But the creativity in me overruled logic.

Promptly I cut the lemon and squeezed it all over my brilliant dish. I ensured that the lemon reached every corner of the dish. It was time to taste my invention-of-the-century. A spoonful of the dish and my world of pride came tumbling all the way down! It was a disaster to say the least.

A lesson well learned but I’m happy that it didn’t stop me from trying more. This is also a reminder to all of you out there that nothing is out-of-bounds for you in your home. Try your hand on everything. Be happy if it turns out well. Try again if it doesn’t.

My experiments in our kitchen continues even today. God bless you all! 

Multi-million lottery!

Article for Bethlehem Matrimonial - Nov 2017 “Getting a good partner is like winning a lottery. Ensure that you pray really hard to win...