My Experiences -Last time (MELT) – 0713


“The buck starts here”. Recently I was introduced to the owner and Managing Director of a renowned home goods company and we had lunch together. We talked about many things such as currency, taxes, politics etc. I was curious to know as to what kind of goals he sets for his CEO and asked him how he measures the performance of his CEO. He described in detail various performance measures such as productivity of assets, employee performance, brand image etc. and elaborated on how he monitors them at regular intervals. He summarized it by saying “At the end of the day… the buck stops at my CEO desk”. I paused and said “The buck starts at CEO desk”. He looked puzzled and had a questionable look. I clarified saying you talked about everything but did not make your CEO responsible for innovation which is where you can make money. He became thoughtful and I was not sure he registered my good bye greetings.

Careful of what you share

Social media has certainly helped in improved networking and communication. It is considered to be a powerful tool for persuasions and messaging however, it comes with certain cost. People often share and like status when they encounter something different without necessarily going into the authenticity of the facts. I recently observed someone sharing about Indian National Anthem. The message was that Indian national anthem originally written by Rabindranath Tagore was in fact praise of King George V. It convinced by interpreting word to word and concluded that the Indian National Anthem has nothing to do with praise of its motherland. I saw one more provocative share about Mahatma Gandhi and was not sure how to react to such bigots.

People fall for misrepresented revelation and start sharing which invites comments along with expression of anguish and shock. One should look back into the history and get full insight before jumping to any conclusion.

Do you learn by mistakes?

‘Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes’

Have I learned my lessons?’ I am referring to your own mistake and mistake of others. You will not be encouraged by the honest answer. You are not alone. Fedor Von Bock, a Field Marshall who served Germany during World War II, led successful invasion of Poland and France. He had great reputation of being a fiery lecturer and a person with great determination. His success earned him a promotion to the rank of General Field Marshall in 1940. In the winter of 1941 he led Operation typhoon (invasion and attempt to capture Moscow). Bock’s attempt to invade Russia was met with stiff Soviet resistance. Further fury of Russian winter increased German casualties resulting in Bock biting the bullet (sic) and decided to retreat. He was subsequently relieved of command by Adolf Hitler. A person who was promoted a year ago was relieved of his responsibilities on account of this failure. What lessons did he not learn from the history that could have avoided this ignominy? General Bock forgot the lessons from Napoleon’s humiliating retreat in the winter of 1812.

The question that begs is why we can’t one learn from the mistakes? There are multiple reasons why we fail to learn from others mistake. Firstly, we rate ourselves higher than what we are capable of. I call this over confidence. We attribute reasons and rationalize that mistakes committed by others and feel it will not be repeated. I call this as irrational. When someone points out the pitfalls, we ignore them. We accept praise easily but do not want to respond to constructive feedback. I call this arrogance.

Are you familiar with this analyst?

1979, a United International Press reporter’s additional responsibility was to report on weather. In those turmoil days, who cared what the temperature was in Beirut. Here is what he would do by calling one of the office assistant: Hey. Ahmed, how does it feel out there today? Ahmed would answer “yeah it feels hot here’. About 90 degrees the reporter would ask and Ahmed replied “Sure, whatever you say. The reporter would file the weather report stating “ high 90 degrees”. Later in the day the reporter would ask “Kind of cool out there now? Ahmed would respond Sure, sir. About 72 degrees would you say? Ahmed standard answer was Sure sir. “72 degrees cold” would be the weather report filed. (The reporter is none other than Thomas Friedman, author of ‘World is Flat”)

The reason I am bringing this to your attention is, I read one of the analyst predicting how the rupee would behave in 2013. Here are the excerpts:

“There is lot of speculation that rupee will weaken to 58.00 against the US dollar in F/Y 2013. This may happen only if there is a midterm central election or nymex crude oil float over $125 for two to three months continuously. Crude oil price is more a bigger risk to Indian economy than political instability.”

Hey, Ahmed will the Rupee hit 58? Sure sir whatever you say.

I watch with amusement as the Rupee has already touched 60+ and none of the predicted even happened. Most of the so called experts are good in advancing convincing logic to their predictions. But, lo and behold, did they get their predictions right? Let me tell you my opinion – their prediction or analysis is not better than weather predictions. Do they learn from their wrongful prediction? Apologize for my rhetoric here. They clearly fit into my three letter acronym AIC (Arrogance, Irrational and Confidence). They will attribute reasons for each of their failure to predict accurately (the mistakes is not theirs and it is always somebody else) and will not hesitate to predict again (over confidence). Guess what when the prediction goes right.

What can we learn from aviation industry?

In my last blog I took three examples of air accident to advance my theory that people normally do not learn from their mistakes. However, airline industry is one exception with regard to learning from their mistakes. Number of accidents has come down drastically in the past few years. In terms of avoiding the accidents, airlines industry has outperformed six sigma consistently in the past few years. The probability of road accidents is much higher than air accidents these days. Why? They learned quickly that most accidents happen because of poor decisions which are termed as pilot error. First of all they started using flight simulators to give training to the pilots. Pilots learned to make decisions under various simulated situations such as practice landing with one engine, reaction to sudden adverse weather conditions, landing on ice etc. The class room lectures and theoretical learning was substituted by learning through simulators. The objective of this method of teaching was to let pilot make mistakes in the simulator so that they can learn from it and not repeat it. As they internalized their learning and applied them in real life situations, accident rate went down drastically. However, this by itself was not sufficient. They also implemented Cockpit Resource Management (I referred this in my last week blog).

Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) is a decision strategy to minimize pilot errors. Research showed that most pilots took decisions in God like certainty ignoring advice from other crew members and disregarded other alternatives. The goal of CRM was to promote diversity and teaming. The captain was no longer the dictator of the plane. It took 1977 Tenrife accident to implement this methodology. Nowadays, CRM has moved beyond aviation and now moved to medical field as well. Concerns are expressed and freely shared after every surgery in Nebraska Medical Center who implemented CRM in 2005. People engage in productive debriefing after every surgery and all mistakes are analyzed. After CRM training it was observed that people expressed their concerns and opinion freely.

Can corporates learn from this experience? Are we learning from our mistakes? Are we empowering employees to express their opinion freely? Whether you have Customer Relation Management (CRM) or not but surely implement Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) methodology. Your will certainly avoid obvious mistakes which we ignore.

Shoot the past and suckle the future

Many companies are obsessed with their past success and miss an opportunity to forge into future. They become obsessed with their product or technology which has served them well in the past and cling on to it. It is like horse with the blinder and losing the peripheral vision. Here are examples:

a) IBM clinging dearly to its IBM AT innovation based on 286 chips until Compaq 386 chip microprocessor made a dent on the blue harmony.

b) Intel finding difficulty to let go one of its most successful product ‘memory’ over ‘microprocessor’ which was the product of the future.

c) Sony failing to kill its most successful product ‘Walkman” over digitized music even though they invented the technology. Guess who took advantage of their invention- Apple.

I can easily give few more example of corporate world failing to recognize the future. Is this only relevant to corporate world? My answer is ‘No’ as this is relevant for individual as well. Acquire new skills and do not hesitate to let go skills that are not relevant for the future.


Avoid perfection in non-value added activities (does not even matter when it gets done)

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2 Comments on “My Experiences -Last time (MELT) – 0713”

  1. Natasha Vaz Says:

    It is such a pleasure to read your posts Suresh. One point is also that the reading of good books has reduced drastically, because by reading we come to know that everyone has gone through the experiences that we have gone through and much more, helps us to be attentive and avoid the mistakes done by them. And truly believe that nothing fails like success, for us here as well the product is stunning, but it is the service consistency that matters every single time.

    With warmest regards,

  2. Suresh MK Says:

    Thanks for you kind words. Kindly share as I am keen to get more feedback.

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