Subba’s Serendipitous moments

July 27, 2009

When intuition outsmarts rationality

In October 2001, a fire crew was fighting a fire in a disused bingo hall in Leicester in the UK. Even though it was big, the fire chief decided it was safe enough to send the crew into the building.

They were starting to make progress in knocking the fire down when the fire chief decided something was wrong, and ordered his team out of the building. The team protested, unwilling to give up the progress they had made. But the fire chief insisted and as they exited the building it exploded in a massive fireball. If the decision to evacuate hadn’t been made the entire team would have been killed.

It turns out that the fire was one of the rarest and most dangerous phenomenon in firefighting – a backdraft. The fire chief had never experienced a backdraft before, he just knew that something was wrong and they needed to get out. In the ensuing investigation it turns out there were three things that were unusual: the smoke was more orange than usual, air was rushing into the building rather than out of it, and the fire was unusually quiet. The fire chief was right in his decision, he just didn’t know why at the time.

Well, all is well, that ends well.

But let’s take a moment and reflect what could have happened to the same event in a different set of circumstances. Assume that the fire chief was not the decision maker but he had to refer the decision to his boss.

There was clearly no evidence that something unusual was underway and that the teams were in disagreement with the fire chief. The teams were actually making progress and were engaged in a great endeavor to put out the fires. Normal rational thinking would have demanded that the boss would overrule the fire chief. The firemen would continue to fight the fire and the entire team would have been killed.

An investigation would have ensued and the decision would have been termed as rational and the whole thing written off as a terrible tragic accident.

July 25, 2009

Singapore’s research institutes — suffering from split personality?

Is there a synergy between advanced technology R&D and standard training to mid career professionals so that they could garner yet another certification?

Or is it merely a case of making some revenues to cover their costs?

Or worse still, is it a way for the R&D institute to do some “notional national service” when there’s no local company to use the outputs produced by the R&D organization?

The strategies adopted by Singapore’s R&D institutions especially in the IT sector has always confounded me. The latest one is the Data Storage Institute and while on the one hand they claim they do cutting edge research, they are also offering standard training courses which can lead to industry certification (SNIA).

The milestones listed doesn’t talk about any breakthroughs in research or development but merely administrative or routine events. Has DSI lost it completely?

Well as an organization, sure they have resources to do both, but should they be doing both in the first place?

The data storage industry has changed significantly over the years and if DSI doesn’t find a clear and compelling reason to exist, they should redirect their strengths somewhere. It seems to me that there’s a huge disconnect between their areas of research and the aspirations of the local industry. The result — it is research for research sake and if at all there’s any benefit, it is for the MNCs who in any case can source such research from anywhere in the world.

This leads to the question — Does DSI have a compelling reason to exist?

Long timers in Singapore would possibly recognize that the Institute of Systems Science or ISS as it was popularly known had always a confused identity– It was a research institute, training institute, did consulting projects and many other things. It used multiple identities to its advantage sometimes, but despite being given dollops of dollars, it didn’t produce anything outstanding — be in in research, consulting or training. Finally it divested its research activities and became a training service provider. It does provide good training, but the courses it offers can be provided by any training service provider in the private sector.

Looks like DSI is going the same way as ISS?

Sometime back I wrote that Singapore’s research and development needs a rethink. It led to several interesting discussions amongst friends and quite a few work in the R&D sector. The surprising thing is that they do agree that it needs a rethink.

So, when will this happen?

July 16, 2009

Accept your true self and be happy.

A plum once said, just because a banana lover came by, I converted myself into a banana. Unfortunately, his taste changed after a few months and so I became an orange. When he said I was bitter I became an apple, but he went in search of grapes. Yielding to the opinions of so many people, I have changed so many times that I no more know who I am. How I wish I had remained a plum and waited for a plum lover.

Just because a group of people do not accept you as you are, there is no necessity for you to strip yourself of your originality. You need to think good of yourself, for the world takes you at your own estimate. Never stoop down in order to gain recognition. Never let go of your true self to win a relationship. In the long run, you will regret that you traded your greatest glory – your uniqueness, for momentary validation. Even Gandhi was not accepted by many people. The group that does not accept you as you is not your world.

There is a world for each one of you, where you shall reign as king / queen by just being yourself. Find that world… in fact, that world will find you.

What water can do, gasoline cannot and what copper can, gold cannot. The fragility of the ant enables it to move and the rigidity of the tree enables it to stay rooted. Everything and everybody has been designed with a proportion of uniqueness to serve a purpose that we can fulfill only by being our unique self. You as you alone can serve your purpose and I as I alone can serve my purpose.

You are here to be you… just you.

There was a time in this world when a Krishna was required and he was sent; a time when a Christ was required and he was sent; a time when a Mahatma was required and he was sent; a time when a Einstein was required and he was sent. There came a time when you were required on this planet and hence you were sent. Let us be the best we can be. Don’t miss yourself and let the world not miss you.

In the history of the universe, there has been nobody like you and to the infinite of time to come, there will be no one like you. Existence should have loved you so much that it broke the mould after making you, so that another of your kind will never get repeated. You are original. You are rare. You are unique. You are a wonder. You are a masterpiece. .. your Master’s piece. Celebrate your Uniqueness.

June 21, 2009

Will Singapore learn the lessons from the financial crisis?

Just finished reading Daniel Gross’s book, Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation. It is available as an e-book too. It is a book that I recommend to all executives and civil servants who are responsible for developing policy and strategy because it is important to place emphasis on perception tools as much as we do for analytical tools. There are similarities between the actors in the dumb money operation and in the Singapore civil service.

Dan writes:

“The Dumb Money creed rested on four pillars: perpetually low interest rates, perpetually rising asset prices (especially for housing), borrowers of all types remaining perpetually current, and perpetually strong markets for debt. The high priests of this cult were the nation’s central bankers.

In 2007 and 2008, each of the pillars of Dumb Money began to crumble. The rules of physics still applied to finance. Interest rates, it turned out, could rise. Asset prices could, indeed, fall. Borrowers, having seen no income growth in a decade, fell behind on their debts. All of which helped cause the markets for securitizing debt and derivatives to break down”

The people who blew up the system weren’t anarchists. They were members of the club: central bankers and private-equity honchos, hedge-fund geniuses and Ph.D. economists, CEOs and investment bankers. And the (overwhelmingly legal) con they perpetuated on themselves, their colleagues, their shareholders and creditors, and, ultimately, on us taxpayers makes Madoff’s sins look like child’s play.”

Looking back, the investors who believed the stories told by Madoff and Stanford—that they could deliver steady, positive, market-beating returns in any type of climate, despite the manifest failure of virtually every other money manager to do so—were obviously foolish. But our best financial minds also spun tales and theories with great assurance, making seemingly irrational and unprecedented activity seem completely sensible. And we bought them.”

So, Why do the best and brightest get it so wrong? One easy way to explain it is here.

The arrogance of power. Combine that with great wealth, quick progress, a group think syndrome, limited thinking style and big responsibility at a relatively immature age and you have a potent mix. It invariably leads to hubris. Hubris was typically responsible for the downfall of heroes in Greek tragedy.

In addition, people in positions of great power and/or wealth will often interact primarily with people like them, both at work and in their social life, most of whom share a similar world view. They start believing that they are the only ones who understand what is going on and what needs to be done. Everyone who disagrees with them is just plain wrong or worse downright stupid. When problems occur, they tend to circle the wagons and become even more isolated.

Now Singapore’s civil servants are intelligent people, but they have become ensconced in their ivory towers. There is too much group think and there is rarely a marketplace where ideas compete. Most Ministers and civil servants come from the same elitist institutions and often have a tendency to very much function like a club. I do not know how much debate happens during the cabinet meetings, but after observing Parliament proceedings closely I have rarely seen a good debate or alternate viewpoints being pursued.

More importantly, having seen civil servants and executives in Ministries and statutory boards interact, the “group think” syndrome just continues to strengthen because they don’t want to be left out of the club. Worse, any alternate view is interpreted as a challenge to the authority, not just to a point of view. Has kowtowing the superior become the SOP (standard operating procedure) or is it a “survive and grow” strategy or worse the natural default behavior? With so many Minsters and civil servants coming from the military side, I would not be surprised if compliance fetches a better premium than creativity.

The Singapore media has never had a track record of triggering new ideas or debating current ideas. It has always served to propagate official thinking and giving it a spin.

Now, can the top honcho always get it correct? And what’s the risk of his reading the situation wrong or coming up with the sub-optimal solution? I shudder to think.

If the financial crisis has one thing to teach the Singapore government and civil service, it is that systemic failures of massive proportions are possible. And the best and the brightest (in Singapore they are judged when they are 18 years old based predominantly by their school leaving scores) with their group think cannot be the fountainhead of wisdom.

Wisdom and government dominance have been strange bedfellows. And incompatible too.

April 29, 2008

Indian Education

Filed under: Education,India,Learning,Model — Subbaraman Iyer @ 12:12 am
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My friend and prolific blogger Atanu Dey has been shouting himself hoarse about the reforms that are needed in the Indian education system. He has written numerous posts on the subject and I only hope that he gets support.

A civilization which has Acharya devo bhava (The Teacher is GOD) as one of its basic tenets and which revered teachers and placed a high premium on education is clearly rotting.

Given my yearning for learning, I have attended several virtual learning programs including the one conducted out of Berkeley (HAAS school of business) over the video conferencing/ web. Even though I am not a student in the campus, I am amazed at the dedication of the faculty and the overall support the institution provides. When will we get even close?

The Times of India in a hard hitting piece brings the point home.

A few weeks back, one of my brightest students who, for some reason, resisted going abroad, asked me: “What is the difference between universities in the West and here?” A direct question on a subject like this can be difficult to answer.

There are visible differences determined by the funds at one’s disposal. But are there deeper ones? I tried to recall my experience as a student abroad and compared that to what my students in India go through. I zeroed in on two points.

The first concerns teaching, or rather with how teachers perceive their role and relationship with students. In our colleges and universities the proportion of teachers who prepare seriously for their classes is rather small.

Delivering a lecture is reduced to a routine, to the extent that one doesn’t think about individual classes, let alone individual students. The emphasis is on the number of lectures one delivers per week, not on their quality.

Even in cases where the quality is high because the teacher is an active scholar, interaction with students is minimal and concern for individual students and their progress is rare.

This is in sharp contrast to the treatment of students in the West. In most European and North American universities, each student is made to feel involved in the progress of the course. A lot of first-hand reading and writing is expected from everyone.

The teacher is expected to respond to each student’s writing as many times as the course calls for. Comments made on the student’s writing are not of a routine nature; rather, they convey the teacher’s incremental impression of the student’s work, including the reading done. As a student advances to higher levels, the teacher’s responsibility and involvement increases.

This is in sharp contrast to our universities where most doctoral students pine in vain for regular guidance. The teacher-student relationship here is a subset of the larger institutional ethos.

In universities, it is negative from day one when the student runs from one window to the next, completing admission chores. Regular teaching begins weeks after the academic session has officially started and remains sporadic.

Research students wait for months to receive their advisor’s comment which often turns out to be perfunctory.

Most teachers don’t care for their students’ intellectual progress or emotional well-being. The absence of kindness and concern in teachers’ behaviour is not confined to universities, as the recent spate of reports on severe corporal punishment shows.

The second major difference between universities overseas and ours concerns the condition of libraries. Why our libraries are so bad is a puzzle which cannot be explained by citing the paucity of funds alone.

I knew a librarian who was well-trained and cared for reading, but apparently did little to save his library from rapid decline. He said: “Most of our students study for marks and they can get marks without using the library”. What about teachers?

The frustrated man showed me records of books that teachers had borrowed over 10 years ago. Reminders and fines were of no avail.

The joy of browsing in a library remains alien to most of our students. Neither the syllabus nor the pedagogic relationship with teachers impels students to self-exploration.

As philosopher Mrinal Miri has pointed out, one can get through our system and do well, without coming across a single uplifting idea which can be sustained for a while. To get their entrance ticket for the examination hall, students are required to surrender their library tickets and obtain a ‘no objection certificate’.

This procedure shows how little we trust our students. We assume them to be cheats who run away with books. This attitude reflects the colonial character of our universities.

They have done little to overcome this legacy. They exist like relics of a bygone era, serving essentially as expensive babysitters for teenagers. It is a rare youngster who survives our higher education with self-esteem and a dream. Is it a surprise that such students normally want to proceed abroad to realise their dream?

Even while going abroad they face obstacles. American universities do not trust our mark sheets. They ask for a transcript freshly typed out and signed by the head of the relevant department. For this service, departments and colleges charge a bewildering variety of fees, ranging from Rs 25 to Rs 400 per copy.

The money is not all; the student must wait for days and run the stressful risk of losing the chance to go. In a recent case where the student had lost all hope of getting the transcript signed by the head of her alma mater, an authority no less than the vice-chancellor had to intervene. Mercy was finally shown but not without a farewell insult for using a short cut.

An alumnus who now resides in the US was less lucky. Her application for admission to a new course could not meet the
deadline because her old university in India failed to send a fresh transcript of the degree she had earned 15 years ago.

Should we be surprised that India did poorly in a recent ranking of the world’s 200 best universities?

I just saw another piece here which was equally heart rending. I am sure we all know someone at least remotely similar to these characters, but that doesn’t make it less tragic

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May 10, 2007

Is it cheating or a new form of learning?

Filed under: Education,Learning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 10:16 pm

Recently Business Week wrote about cheating by MBA students of the Duke’s Business school here. It raises several issues about the use and application of technology. What is appalling is that students who are mulling over an appeal have touted this as a new form of learning by a wiser use of technology–sharing the open source way, downloading essays into iPods and and text messaging answers.

It would be unfortunate if the appeal gets accepted and this new form of learning becomes a way of life. I have often seen students in higher institutions of learning in technology savvy Singapore (where there is always an emphasis; sometimes overdone to use technology in education) resorting to cut and paste methods to finish their projects and assignments.

Do the educators and society at large realize the significance of this change? We seem to be creating a generation, where in the name of fostering team work and collaboration, we have often given short shrift to real learning, reflection, synthesis and intellectual growth.

While the endless debate on digital divide is relevant and has its place, we are creating a society where’s there’s clearly a different kind of divide. People will become information rich, yet knowledge poor and there will certainly be a class where without these technology tools people will indeed become knowledgeable rich, though information poor.


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January 23, 2007

Learning from kids

Filed under: Business,Education,India,Inspiration,Learning,Winning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 10:41 pm

In our own hectic Daily lives, what can we “so Called intelligent people” learn from this??

It was a sports stadium. Eight Children were standing on the track to participate in the running event.

*      Ready!

*      Steady!

*      Bang!!!

With the sound of toy pistol, all eight girls started running. Hardly have they covered ten to fifteen meters, one of the smaller girls slipped and fell down, due to bruises and pain. She started crying.

When the other seven girls heard this sound, they stopped running, stood for a  while and turned back, they all ran back to the place where the girl fell down.

One among them bent, picked and kissed the girl gently and enquired ‘Now pain must have reduced’.

All seven girls lifted the fallen girl, pacified her, two of them held the girl firmly and they all seven joined hands together and walked  together and reached the winning post.

Officials were shocked.

Clapping of thousands of spectators filled the stadium.

Many eyes were filled with tears.

YES. This happened in Hyderabad, India, recently !

The sport was conducted by! National Institute of Mental Health. All these special girls had come to participate in this event and they are spastic children.

Yes, they were mentally retarded.

What did they teach this world?



Equality among all?

January 22, 2007

Knowledge management or learning management?

Filed under: Education,Innovation,Learning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:38 pm

Learning models

I believe that the knowledge management industry and the associated learning models on which it is based was fudamentally flawed. It tended to get overly structured, thanks to the IT consultants who hijacked the agenda. Organizations often undermine the importance of tacit knowledge, the process of absorbing knowledge not through transfer, but through a process of osmosis and the significance of accidental or serendipitious learning.

The web 2.0 model of blogging, and tagging and being able to share is a more powerful mechanism for learning. Unfortunately, while many individuals have taken to this form, corporations have yet to embrace this model.

I gave a talk on this at a few places and did get positive feedback. However the action element is still missing.

January 16, 2007

A taxi driver teaches a MBA lesson

Filed under: Business,Education,Innovation,Model,Perspective,Stories — Subbaraman Iyer @ 5:05 am

I needed to go from Xujiahui to the airport, so I hurriedly concluded a meeting and I was looking for a taxi in front of the Meiluo building. A taxi driver saw me and very professionally came in a straight line and stopped right in front of me. Thus followed the story that astonished me greatly as if I had attended a lively MBA course. In order to faithfully preserve the intent of the taxi driver, I have tried to reproduce his original words according to my memory.

“Where do you want to go? Good, the airport. At Xujiahui, I loved to get business in front of the Meiluo building. Over here, I only work two places: Meiluo building () and Junyao building (). Did you know? Before I picked you up, I circled around Meiluo building twice before I saw you! People who come out of office building are definitely not going to some place nearby …”

“Oh? You have a method!” I agreed.

“A taxi driver must also have scientific methods,” he said. I was surprised and I got curious: “What scientific methods?”

“I have to know statistics. I have made detailed calculations. Let me tell you. I operate the car 17 hours a day, and my hourly cost is 34.5 RMB …”

“How did you arrive at that?” I asked

“You calculate. I have to pay 380 RMB to the company each day for the car. The gas is about 210 RMB. I work 17 hours per day. On an hourly basis, the fixed cost is the 22 RMB that I give to the taxi company and an average of 12.5 RMB per hour in gasoline expenses. Isn’t that 34.5 RMB?” I was a bit surprised. I have taken taxis for ten years, but this is the first time that a taxi driver has calculated the costs this way. Previously, the taxi drivers all tell me that the cost per kilometer was 0.3 RMB in addition to the total company fee.

“Costs should not be calculated on a per-kilometer basis. It should be calculated on an hourly basis. You see, each meter has a ‘review’ function through which you can see the details of the day. I have done a data analysis. The averarge time gap between customers is seven minutes. If I started counting the costs when someone gets in, it is 10 RMB for about 10 minutes. That means each 10 RMB customer takes 17 minutes of time, which costs 9.8 RMB (=34.5 x 17 / 60). This is not making money! If we say that customers who want to go to Pudong, Hangzhou or Qingpu are like meals, then a 10 RMB customer is not even a bite of food. You can only say that this is just a sprinkle of MSG.”

Great! This driver did not sound like a taxi driver. He seemed more like an accountant. “So what you do then?” I was even more interested and I continued my questioning. It looked like I was going to learn something new on the way to the airport.

“You must not let the customer lead you all over the place. You decide what you want to do based upon the location, time and customer.” I was very surprised, but this sounded significant. “Someone said that the taxi driving is a profession that depends on luck. I don’t think so. You have to stand in the position of the customer and consider things from the customer’s perspective.” This sounded very professional, and very much like many business management teachers who say “put yourself in others’ shoes.”

“Let me give you an example. You are at the entrance to a hospital. There is someone holding some medicine and there is someone else holding a wash basin. Which person will you pick up?” I thought about it and I said that I didn’t know.

“You take the one with the wash basin. If you have a minor complaint that you want to be examined and to get some medicine, you don’t usually go to a faraway hospital. Anyone who is carrying a wash basin has just been discharged from the hospital. When people enter the hospital, some of them die. Today, someone on the second floor dies. Tomorrow, someone on the third floor dies. Those who make it out of the hospital usually have a feeling of having been given a second life and they recognize the meaning of life again — health is the most important thing. So on that day, that person told me, “Go … go to Qingpu.” He did not even blink. Would you say that he wanted to take a taxi to People’s Plaza to transfer to the Qingpu line subway? Absolutely not!”

I began to admire him.

“Let me give you another example. That day at People’s Plaza, three people were waving at me. One was a young woman who had just finished shopping and was holding some small bags. Another was a young couple who were out for a stroll. The third one was a man who wore a silk shirt and a down jacket and holding a notebook computer bag. I spent three seconds looking at each person and I stopped in front of the man without hesitation. When the man got in, he said: ‘Yannan Elevated Highway. South North Elevated Highway …’ Before even finishing, he could not help but ask, ‘Why did you stop in front of me without hesitating? There were two people in front. They wanted to get on as well. I was too embarrassed to fight with them.’ I replied, ‘It is around noon and just a dozen or so minutes before one o’clock. That young woman must have slipped out at noon to buy something and I guess that her company must be nearby. That couple are tourists because they are not holding anything and they are not going to travel far. You are going out on business. You are holding a notebook computer bag, so I can tell that this is business. If you are going out at this time, I guess that it would not be too close.’ The man said, ‘You are right. I’m going to Baoshan.'”

“Are those people wearing pajamas in front of supermarkets or subway stations going to travel far? Are they going to the airport? The airport is not going to let them enter.”

That makes sense! I was liking this more and more.

“Many drivers complain that business is tough and the price of gas has gone up. They are trying to pin the cause down on other people. If you keep pinning the cause on other people, you will never get any better. You must look at yourself to see where the problem is.” This sounds very familiar. It seems like “If you cannot change the world, then you should change yourself” or perhaps a pirated copy of Steven Corey’s “Circles of Influence and Concern.” “One time, on Nandan Road, someone flagged me down and wanted to go to Tianlin. Later on, someone else flagged me down on Nandan Road and he also wanted to go to Tianlin. So I asked, ‘How come all you people who come out on Nandan Road want to go to Tianlin?’ He said, ‘There is a public bus depot at Nandan Road. We all take the public bus from Pudong to there, and then we take the taxi to Tianlin. So I understood. For example, you look at the road that we just passed. There are no offices, no hotels, nothing. Just a public bus station. Those people who flag down taxis there are mostly people who just got off the public bus, and they look for the shortest road for a taxi. People who flag down taxis here will usually ride not more than 15 RMB.”

“Therefore, I say that the attitude determines everything!” I have heard dozens of company CEO’s say that, but this was the first time that I heard a taxi driver say that.

“We need to use scientific methods and statistics to conduct business. Those people who wait at the subway exits every day for business will never make money. How are you going to provide for your wife and kids at 500 RMB a month? This is murder? This is slowly murdering your whole family. You must arm yourself with knowledge. You have to learn knowledge to become a smart person. A smart person learns knowledge in order to become a very smart person. A very smart person learns knowledge in order to become a genius.”

“One time, a person wanted a taxi in order to get to the train station. I asked him how he wanted to go. He told me how to get there. I said that was slow. I said to get on the elevated highway and go this other way. He said that it was a longer way. I said, ‘No problem. You have experience because you go that way frequently. It costs you 50 RMB. If you go my way, I will turn off the meter when it reaches 50 RMB. You can just pay me 50 RMB. Anything more is mine. If you go your way, it will take 50 minutes. If I go my way, it will take 25 minutes.’ So in the end, we went my way. We traveled an additional four kilometers but 25 minutes quicker. I accepted only 50 RMB. The customer was very delighted for saving about 10 RMB. This extra four kilometers cost me just over 1 RMB in gas. So I have swapped 1 RMB for 25 extra minutes of my time. As I just said, my hourly cost is 34.5 RMB. It was quite worthwhile for me!”

“In a public taxi company, an ordinary driver takes three to four thousand RMB home per month. The good driver can get around five thousand. The top driver can get seven thousand RMB. Out of the 20,000 drivers, there are about two to three who can make more than 8,000 RMB a month. I am one of those two or three. Furthermore, it is very stable without too much fluctuation.”

Great! By this point, I admired this taxi driver more and more.

“I often say that I am a happy driver. Some people say, ‘That’s because you earn a lot of money. Of course, you must be happy.’ I tell them, ‘You are wrong. This is because I have a happy and active mind, and that is why I make a lot of money.'”

What a wonderful way to put it!

“You have to appreciate the beauty that your work brings. Stuck in a traffic jam at People’s Plaza, many drivers complain, ‘Oh, there’s a traffic jam again! What rotten luck!’ You must not be like that. You should try to experience the beauty of the city. There are many pretty girls passing by. There are many tall modern buildings; although you cannot afford them, you can still enjoy them with an appreciative look. While driving to the airport, you can look at the greenery on both sides. In the winter, it is white. How beautiful! Look at the meter — it is more than 100 RMB. That is even more beautiful! Each job has its own beauty. We need to learn how to experience that beauty in our work.”

“Ten years ago, I was a general instructor at Johnson’s. Eight years ago, I had been the department manager for three different departments. I quit because there was no point in making three or five thousand a month. I decided to become a taxi driver. I want to be a happy driver. Ha ha ha …”

When we arrived at the airport, I gave him my business card and said, “Are you interested in coming this Friday to my office and explain to the Microsoft workers about how you operate your taxi? You can treat it as if your meter is running at 60 kilometers per hour. I will pay you for the time that you talk to us. Give me a call.”

Then I began to write down his lively MBA lecture on the airplane.

January 14, 2007

The moral poser

Filed under: Education,Learning,Perspective,Stories — Subbaraman Iyer @ 3:35 pm

Well, here is an interesting morality poser . A couple of years back when I was teaching the MBA program, I posed this to the class. It drew about 60 responses and seemed to be more popular than some of the other posers that I post:

The basic rules and guidelines:

  1. There is no right or wrong answer. Every answer is acceptable. You cant criticize another person’s answer.
  2. You don’t need to justify your choice. If you want to, your justification has to be restricted to ONLY one line/one sentence
  3. You are not allowed to discuss this question with anyone as you answer.
  4. You cant add more facts or make any other assumptions or make some wild tangential interpretations.

A man (M) and a lady (L) who are very much in love and devoted to one another, are separated by a river with no way of getting across to the other side. On L’s side of the river, there is a boatman (B) who is able to take her across but refuses to do so unless she pays him a price of $100, thrice his normal fare. L has no money.

Another man (S) tells L that he will give her (L) $100 if she sleeps with him. L agrees to do so and on receiving the money, pays B the boatman, who takes her across the river. She is reunited with M and they are very happy together again. However a friend of M(F) finds out what L did with S and immediately tells M. On learning the news, M ends things with L, stating that he wants nothing to do with her.

Now, here is your task:

Rank these 5 people : M, L,B,S and F from the best person to the worst person with just a one line/sentence elaboration.

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