Tuesday, January 24

Decoding leadership: What really matters

Hope you had a great time at your spring ball. We are anxiously waiting to see your photographs in your tuxedo all dressed up. I made chicken stir fry yesterday and I was missing feeding you. Lol. That sounds like I'm an emperor penguin feeding his chick while his mate is off foraging for her meals. But you did cuddle into my lap like a penguin chick does :) 
Anyway. Talking about leadership. Difficult decision son. And I've seen more papers and advice about leadership than I've seen leaders. I've had great leaders. I've had crap leaders. I've been an ok leader and have had serious leadership issues myself as well. It's a tough one. You have to have different leadership skills at different times with different people for different tasks. 
Besides the below, I would say that the first thing is that you shouldn't be an asshole. In so many banks, I've seen leaders become assholes. Just because they have the power. Be nice to start with son. And then other elements come in. 
Another thing is to talk. Leaders talk. And communicate. And communicate. Written. Spoken. All the time. Keep banging on about it. 
Anyway. Looking forward to the photos son. 
Love you


Telling CEOs these days that leadership drives performance is a bit like saying that oxygen is necessary to breathe. Over 90 percent of CEOs are already planning to increase investment in leadership development because they see it as the single most important human-capital issue their organizations face.1 And they’re right to do so: earlier McKinsey research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical part of organizational health, which is an important driver of shareholder returns.2
A big, unresolved issue is what sort of leadership behavior organizations should encourage. Is leadership so contextual that it defies standard definitions or development approaches?3 Should companies now concentrate their efforts on priorities such as role modeling, making decisions quickly, defining visions, and shaping leaders who are good at adapting? Should they stress the virtues of enthusiastic communication? In the absence of any academic or practitioner consensus on the answers, leadership-development programs address an extraordinary range of issues, which may help explain why only 43 percent of CEOs are confident that their training investments will bear fruit.
Our most recent research, however, suggests that a small subset of leadership skills closely correlates with leadership success, particularly among frontline leaders. Using our own practical experience and searching the relevant academic literature, we came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. Next, we surveyed 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations4 around the world to assess how frequently certain kinds of leadership behavior are applied within their organizations. Finally, we divided the sample into organizations whose leadership performance was strong (the top quartile of leadership effectiveness as measured by McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index) and those that were weak (bottom quartile).

Monday, January 23

Ships and Silver, Taxes and Tribute: A Fiscal History of Archaic Athens

So I'm hoping to start another Phd this fall at UCL son. Where this professor teaches. It's got a great history department. Completely new subject in history so let's see how that pans out. 
But funny thing happened last week. I posted something about how Israel imposed price controls on books. And with the sad and completely predicable collapse of the book industry in Israel. Great idea, to increase prices so that authors can live but basic economics son, people would switch from books to toys or games. With the result that the authors are now in a worse situation. And I said that price controls usually end up fucking up the market place like rent controls. 
One labour supporter took umbrage at it. And said that's not true. When I pointed out that we have been doing rent controls since 1915 and every time we did that, the availability of housing has gone down. And then he said, economists do not live in the real world. 
Quite a curious statement. The economic illiteracy is about as expected in this election phase but to say I'm not going to learn from history or economics is not even illiteracy but seriously gobsmacking. 
This book talks about how Athens used taxation for its wars. And that also gives you an indication why I hate wars. They raise taxes and lead to some of the most unproductive use of human capital. I'm reading about Athens 2500 years or so later and its fiscal situation and shaking my head. 
History is a vast early warning system son and as you can see from the election, our politicians and our fellow citizens do not want to learn. We are going to be in a world of hurt now. Be prepared for the government to grab more of our money. 

Hans van Wees. Ships and Silver, Taxes and Tribute: A Fiscal History of Archaic Athens. London: I. B. Tauris, 2013. 240 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-78076-686-7.
Reviewed by Nikolaus Overtoom (Louisiana State University)
Published on H-War (January, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
Institutional Power and Public Finance in Archaic Athens
Hans van Wees’s Ships and Silver, Taxes and Tribute: A Fiscal History of Archaic Athens argues that the financial and institutional advances associated with classical Athens were developments of the archaic period. The book charts the rise of institutional power in archaic Athens with a focus on public finance. Van Wees is at odds with many of the generally accepted historiographical traditions of the fiscal history of Athens. His revisionist history uses, as Paul Millett calls it, “new fiscal history.” Van Wees reconsiders literary evidence from authors, such as Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristotle, and supplements them with archaeological evidence. He concludes that the accounts of later authors either were biased toward making classical Athens seem more spectacular by overlooking the archaic period or were anachronistic. The scope of the work roughly ranges from the reforms of Solon in 594 BCE to the transfer of the war chest of the Delian League to Athens in 454 BCE. In seven chapters, he discusses the obstacles in studying archaic Greece, the background to public finance in archaic Greece, Athenian financial institutions, public spending, public revenue, and the media of public finance. A brief concluding chapter, a short appendix on Persian naval expansion, a sizable bibliography, and a helpful select index of passages accompany the work. Van Wees is Grote Professor of Ancient History at University College London and is the author of several works on ancient Greece.

Friday, January 20

Five research papers that revolutionised health

Some very interesting insights into how medical research was published and how pretty much every medical insight was thought to be stupid. I learnt this German  term yesterday while doing the learning to learn course. It say that our previous learning can actually stop us from learning new things. So true. I need to constantly keep my mind open to new ideas and thoughts. 
Saying no is too easy son. Stay away from people who reflexively say no. Listen to them but keep working away. It's not easy to fight. I'm struggling against some entrenched interests to get a pet subject launched. One year and I'm getting there. Fun times. 
Anyway. Much interesting aspects in the story here. 

Five research papers that revolutionised health
(via Instapaper)

15 March 2015 Last updated at 10:16 By Deborah Cohen BBC Health Check
First edition of Phil Trans Roy SocThe world’s first scientific journal with its founders Viscount Brouncker, King Charles II and Francis Bacon
You are unlikely to find The Lancet, Thorax or the Journal of the American Medical Association in your doctor’s waiting room, but their contents have more impact on your health than the usual lifestyle magazines.
Such journals, where papers are reviewed by other scientists in the same field - are where researchers set out their findings about how diseases occur, which drugs save lives or what surgical procedure is best.
The first scientific journal - Philosophical Transactions - was published 350 years ago this month. It is still produced now - along with thousands of others.
Here are five of the many papers that have transformed medical practice - and people’s lives - over the centuries.

Thursday, January 19

18 Quotes By The Dowager Countess That You Need To Start Using In Your Life

hese were very funny indeed Kannu. Some of them you can use to get into your conversations. The last one I liked. I'm reminded of what one of my bosses told me when I was trying to cut costs. He told me, BD, don't be a middle class with cost cutting. Basically meaning penny wise and pound foolish. But this quote from the dowager did make me think. Why is being defeatist a middle class problem? I'm not one and I guess I could be the archetypical middle class man. In terms of thinking anyway. Money wise we are way off. 
Makes one think as to why the middle classes are so worried and bring defeatist. Is it because of their insecurity? 

18 Quotes By The Dowager Countess That You Need To Start Using In Your Life
(via Instapaper)

To paraphrase another great wit: rumours of her leaving appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
Which is a relief. Because 'Downton Abbey' without its marvellous matriarch - Dame Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess - would be a duller place indeed.
From quick-witted observations to sharp-tongued ripostes, here are some of the finest, funniest bon mots ever uttered by Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham.
Whether you're dealing with foreigners, friends or whining women, we highly recommend using them when the social occasion arises...
  • 1 'At my age, one must ration one's excitement.'

Wednesday, January 18

‘Dastarkhwan’ revisited

I first came across this word, dastarkhwan in Lucknow. It's a tiny street which is full of little eateries. And I tell you the food there is to die for kids. It's truly magical what they do. Every time I go there, nana gets me some food from there and I just pig out. Here's an article written by a friend of mine which goes a bit deeper into the history of food. I chuckled at the recipe where she mentions 'bhunao'. Brown. Take a peek at mamma's recipe book. It's so amusing to read. But that's what makes these recipes beautiful and lovely. They include the human touch. The emotion. Nigella Lawson does the same and that's why I love her as well. Food should be a passion and to make it or eat it, you should be passionate about it. And I further reiterate, the mark of quality for any restaurant is a biryani. Specially the meat biryani like goat or chicken. If that's good then the cook/restaurant is good. 
Maybe one day I'll learn to make biryani. We've got that hyderabadi biryani book but those recipes are horribly hard. And the girls don't like that. So I guess I'll have to wait till you come kannu. And it was good to see you yesterday. I was happy to see you relaxed and looking good. And don't forget the deal! :) 

‘Dastarkhwan’ revisited
Pritha Sen (left) with Manzilat Fatima. Photographs: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
Manzilat Fatima, 47, is describing a Shia community speciality offered in prayer (haazri) on Muharram. “You take a mini paratha, place a kebab on it, add a piece of smoked paneer that you get in New Market here in Kolkata, plus julienned ginger, mint leaves, a slice of cucumber and a roundel of onion,” she says. “We call this a ghutwan kebab, because the meat is first marinated with papaya and then cooked till it assumes an almost paste-like consistency.”

Tuesday, January 17

The Ritual behind Wishing Wells: Buying Favors and Good Fortune

This is a fascinating story behind how the tradition of throwing coins into wells and fountains came about. Never knew this at all. What was the most poignant was that Odin was required to pay a very steep price to drink the water of wisdom. Quite an interesting story. I need to read up more on Norse mythology. 
When we went to Italy, we were merrily throwing coins into the wells. There's actually a well in Ambleside which is a charity well. You can throw in a coin to help a charity and also make a wish. Both winners. 

The modern Western world is familiar with the concept of wishing wells, or bodies of water in which currency, most commonly in the form of coin, is tossed with the intention of making a wish.  Some towns even host a fountain in the town square or epicenter in which passersby drop coins in hopes that their desires will be fulfilled. While this practice is common knowledge, the origin of the tradition is not. In fact, when and where this practice began is somewhat unclear.
As with many traditions that predate recorded history, pinning down one particular event or origin related to the wishing well is difficult. Many ancient practices spanned more than one culture, varying according to the practicing people. But in regards to the phenomenon of the wishing well, there are undoubtedly age old customs that correlate to the tradition of wishing over sacred water.
The dark pools in the Luray Caverns are filled with coins and other tokens thrown in by visitors and hopeful wishers. 'Wishing Well' of Luray Caverns, Virginia, USA.
The dark pools in the Luray Caverns are filled with coins and other tokens thrown in by visitors and hopeful wishers. ‘Wishing Well’ of Luray Caverns, Virginia, USA. Wikimedia Commons
Though the wishing well is considered to be a European tradition, it is important to understand the worldwide significance of clean water before the advent of indoor plumbing and water filtration.
Water is the source and sustenance of life. All major civilizations developed around a source of water, mostly fresh, so that it could be used and utilized for drinking and other essential day to day activities, such as agriculture. These large bodies of water were also key in successful trade and defense. On a smaller scale, clean water that emanated from springs or streams were also vital to local communities. Structures often came to be built around the source of this clean water to protect it from contaminates. These ‘wells’ often became a common meeting place for residents.

Monday, January 16

Ecuador - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

So we will be going to this country in couple of months. This promises to be great fun. We will be spending time in Galapagos and Quito and the Amazonia resort over 2 weeks. And we will be driving from Quito to the Amazonia resort. It's going to be quite a fun time. The country seems to have gone through some really torrid times indeed. You can see how the geography of the country has an impact on its politics and history. That's why a knowledge of geography is very important. Whist we shape the landscape, the landscape shapes is much more. I hope you two have fun. Keep your eyes open and observe. This is the first time you two are going to go to a Spanish speaking country in South America. Totally different culture, history, food everything. Fun times. 
I'm totally excited :)

Ecuador - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(via Instapaper)

For other uses, see Ecuador (disambiguation).
"Equador" redirects here. For the city in Brazil, see Equador, Rio Grande do Norte.
Not to be confused with Equator.
Ecuador (
i/ˈɛkwədɔr/ E-kwə-dawr), officially the Republic of Ecuador (Spanish: República del Ecuador [reˈpuβlika ðel ekwaˈðor], which literally translates as "Republic of the Equator") is a representative democratic republic in northwestern South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Ecuador also includes the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) west of the mainland.
What is now Ecuador was home to a variety of indigenous groups that were gradually incorporated into the Inca Empire during the fifteenth century. The territory was colonized by Spain during the sixteenth century, achieving independence in 1820 as part of Gran Colombia, from which it emerged as its own sovereign state in 1830. The legacy of both empires is reflected in Ecuador's ethnically diverse population, with most of its 15.2 million people being mestizos, followed by large minorities of European, Amerindian, and African descendants.

Sunday, January 15

All: Everyone wants to be happy. Almost everyone is going about it wrong.


Here's an interesting article on how people are responding to their desire to be happy. What it boils down to is that you cannot expect to be happy all the time, material possessions cannot give you happiness, problems do not come and go quickly, everything cannot be perfect, stability is happiness and what your parents say / do is equal to happiness. 

That made me think. I am generally a happy bunny as you would have noticed. Not least because of you two wonderful lovely kids. Even though I keep on saying that you are gadha and lirbire, that's teasing, you two are the biggest reasons for my happiness every day. I hug and kiss you simply because you are lovely, warm, nice, wonderful children. You are happy so that makes me happy. I make Mamma unhappy but that's because I dont listen to her, snore at night and act like a gadha as well :). 

But how do I stack up given the below? So i dont think i am happy when "something happens" and no, Im happy generally because of various factors. So that's at variance with the below. Material possessions cannot give me happiness is right, not really that much interested in material possessions - maybe other than books but they do get consumed and read and digested and and and. And no, problems dont come and go quickly - some problems i have handled all through my life, like my knee or Dadu's illness/health or the charity issues. And no, my life isnt stable, despite all the efforts of Mamma, workwise its always moving around and there is a heavy risk of insecurity / my job going, etc. etc. 

But the last point is important, kids. What makes me or Mamma happy is not what will fit you nor should it. You have to come up with your own reasons to be happy kids :). You can, of course, learn from us but never take our limitations for yourself, kids. Be happy :) dream big, fail, deal with problems, but be happy :) 



Vox - All
Everyone wants to be happy. Almost everyone is going about it wrong. 
Jun 2nd 2015, 12:00, by Sherry Amatenstein

As a therapist, the number-one goal I hear from my patients is: "I just want to be happy." I ask, "What would being happy mean to you?" The answers range from "Everything I wish for will happen" to "I will feel good all the time" to "I won't ever feel sad or disappointed."
These patients are deeply misguided: believing that bliss is a permanent, attainable state is both unrealistic and emotionally dangerous. Awful things occur that we cannot control, and that will and should at least temporarily affect how we feel.
My happiness-seeking patients are also, sadly, doomed to fail. It's a time-worn paradox: the more you obsess over whether you are happy or happy enough, the unhappier you are. As I've witnessed from years of counseling patients, contentment emerges as a byproduct of a good life, not from the pursuit of it being your life's purpose.
Here are some of the most common myths my patients believe about happiness — and how I help my patients move past them.
1) They keep saying, "I'll be happy when..."
When Philip (all patients' names are changed) began therapy, his heartfelt belief was it would be impossible to enjoy life until achieving X goal. After achieving X goal, there'd be a brief spike of joy before he sank back into gloom, anxiety, and self-doubt. So he'd set Y goal, hoping the elusive happiness he longed for would follow.
More on mental health

9 things I wish people understood about anxiety
Grief is powerful. Here are 6 lessons survivors learn from tragedy.
The secrets of depression
As we worked together, Philip came to realize his hypercritical father, an acclaimed heart surgeon, had drummed into his head that he wasn't worthy of being accepted and loved unless he did great things. Philip told me, "Growing up, getting a single or double in Little League wasn't enough. According to my dad I had to hit a home run to deserve to feel proud and happy."
Philip was able to call his now-retired father and say that these impossible standards had left him unable to enjoy life. After this conversation, Philip told me, "Dad was mortified. He said he'd always been proud of me but he raised me the way his father raised him."
Nowadays Philip is able to choose goals he wants rather than ones he desperately needs to reach. "Since how I feel about myself isn't dependent on whether or not I publish a novel or get a skydiving certificate, I can enjoy the ups and downs along the way."

Wednesday, January 11

Amartya Sen: The economic consequences of austerity


Here is a good speech made by Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner. And what do I know about austerity, eh? Or economics? Not much at all. I also take his point about how the Allies went too far in punishing the Germans after WW1. Carthingnian levels of punishment. When the Romans ripped out the entire country, after killing as many as they could, they sold the rest of the carthignans into slavery, destroyed pretty much every vestige of the civilisation was wiped out. Not content with that, they literally sowed the fields with salt. Its the last piece which I absolutely admire from one point, sowing the fields with salt means that it will be impossible to grow anything there. There are many other examples. Think about what the mongol hordes did in the various parts of the middle East, they knew that their nomadic and horse borne soldiers were too few to control the teeming millions so they simply cleared them out, literally depopulated the middle east like in Iran and Iraq, this put paid to the development of the Islamic state for centuries. 

You can ask if Versailles was indeed that bad, the desire for revenge is strong but there is a big difference, that was war. And in wars, the losers are dammned. At this moment, we are very nice and polite to the losers, there are ceasefires and there are united nations peace keeping forces and and and, so in the early days, they had total war where the losers did lose out in a big way, but remember one other historical fact. But think about other cases where war happened, yes, war happened but the victors conquered their lands and also wanted to use that land and civilisation, that's why most wars ended up with the life going on pretty much as it was before the war with a small blip as the victors wanted it to, so this example is rubbish 

The other aspect that Amartya Sen missed out was this argument. Fine, you take on debt, but that debt has to be paid by somebody, right? And the key thing is that the repayment has to be made out of productivity gains. Now think about it, where is the productivity gains? Frankly, there have not been that much of productivity gains. And as I have mentioned before, if you bring on debt and use it to do day to day spend, then that's wasted spend. So the question is, at which point in time do you say, sod this, I am not going to take on more debt? Because I cannot pay for this. Think about it, what can Greece do? Say for argument's sake, we remove all debt today. Make it debt free. Ok? Then what? They will again pick up large amounts of debt and will it get productively employed? How? Where? I doubt it totally. So what you do is to stop taking on more and more debt when you know you cannot repay it. You have to draw the line, reduce spending. If you cannot do it right now, you cannot do it later, but you have to start now. Otherwise you are borrowing from your children and both YOU AND YOUR children will be poorer. 

Nobody likes to spend less, right? But this is the question, how do you do it? When you cannot raise the money / revenues, where do you get the revenues? People have to realise that Keynesian economics which expects investment in dire times to help prime the economy so that it will grow. But what Sen didnt answer, what do you do if the growth doesnt happen or the productivity does not happen? You end up with a giant amount of debt and worse even and end up with more problems. What can you do is to then reduce spend and try to make do with less, save money to reduce the debt and interest payments. You have to reduce spend. Adam Smith's equation, have good economic opportunities for the populace and revenues for the state to provide public services. What if there are no good economic opportunities? Where do they get the monies for the state? Its obviously not coming from the populace, so it comes from others (other countries, other companies, other people like other children in the future). So who pays for this borrowing when the populace isnt earning enough? Nobody is asking that question, the emperor has no clothes. 

So you reduce spend, reduce public spending, tighten the belt, train your populace in better education and skills and slowly build back the economy so that it becomes productive again and has a public sector which is sustainable at their level of development and economic poweress. 

Anyway, have a think about it son, its an interesting argument and in this case, I think the general populace understands, you cannot spend more than you have.... 



Amartya Sen: The economic consequences of austerity 

The judgements of our financial and political leaders are breathtakingly narrow. Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen considers the alternatives. 

by Amartya Sen Published 4 June, 2015 - 16:33 

On 5 June 1919, John Maynard Keynes wrote to the prime minister of Britain, David Lloyd George, “I ought to let you know that on Saturday I am slipping away from this scene of nightmare. I can do no more good here.” Thus ended Keynes’s role as the official representative of the British Treasury at the Paris Peace Conference. It liberated Keynes from complicity in the Treaty of Versailles (to be signed later that month), which he detested. 

Why did Keynes dislike a treaty that ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers (surely a good thing)? 

Tuesday, January 10

The Tampon: A History

Quite an interesting topic son. And nothing to be embarrassed about. You'll face this if you haven't done already. From an economic perspective, think about the fact that improvement in handling menstruation for women can help them be more productive. Unlike in countries in India where they are locked up for the duration of their periods. Or they cannot work properly because of lack of tampons or pads or what have you. Truly ridiculous. 
You have to learn to be sensitive about this son. Women have interesting reactions to their periods and men interested in this. Heck there are apps out there which track a woman's periods so that men can manage their behaviour around them during this time. Some women have strong reactions mentally physically sexually or what have you. Some don't. It's a matter of delicacy. Their biochemical balance changes and one should learn about how and what and where. No rules son, you just have to be cognisant of this and be there for your girl. Hugs and cuddles help along with a thick skin. 
This story will help you understand a bit. 

SASIMOTO / Shutterstock / Kara Gordon / The Atlantic

On Aug. 18, 2011, a thread titled “I design tampons. AMA!” appeared on the news-conversation website Reddit. Hosted by a user named “karnim” who identified himself only as a college-aged male research-and-development intern at one of the “big three” tampon brands (Tampax, Kotex, and Playtex), the thread began with a polite invitation to “ask me anything” (AMA) and a disclaimer. “Much of my work is confidential, so I can't give details about my projects,” karnim wrote, but he could answer “overall” questions about tampons.
In the grander canon of AMA threads—online Q&A sessions hosted by Reddit users with compelling life stories or careers—karnim’s wasn’t the most glamorous or flashy. President Obama, for example, participated in an AMA in 2012. But karnim soon found himself avalanched with reader questions about tampon technology, ranging from the curious (“Why don't they just stop making the cardboard ones?”) to the wisecracking (“Can you make medicated tampons to make women stop actin’ fool when they get their menses?”) to the imploring (“Can you please make tampons with a black or flesh-coloured string? Please?” “How about one that you can leave in for 10 hours and not worry about it?”).
Ten hours later, karnim ended his IAmA, exhausted. “Sorry y'all, but it's been 10 hours, and the questions just keep coming. I need a break.”