Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Business June 1st 2011, "Jack Boulware" Edition

The Business blasts into June with a visit from author and journalist Jack Boulware. Mr. Boulware is one of the founders of Litquake, has written for Playboy, the New York Times Magazine, Wired, and Salon. He recently published "Gimme Something Better," an oral history of Bay Area punk rock, and Wednesday, he'll be reading with us at The Business.

We've got a full set of Businessmen this week, with Alex Koll returning, and Bucky Sinister, Chris Garcia, and Sean Keane abiding. As always, The Business is just five dollars, the greatest deal in the Mission outside of Benders' Whiskey Wednesdays. Doors at 7:30, show at 8:15. BYO-Burrito.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Google, Newspaper Archives, and the Business of Cultural Heritage

Google announced this month that it is ending its ambitious project to digitally archive newspapers. The project to scan the archives of the nation’s newspapers and make them available online as a searchable historical record was announced in 2008 with the level of hubris only found in online enterprises.

"Our objective is to bring all the world's historical newspaper information online,” said Adam Smith, director of product management at Google, announcing the project. Those lofty aims were echoed by Punit Soni, manager of the newspaper initiative: “As we work with more and more publishers, we'll move closer towards our goal of making those billions of pages of newsprint from around the world searchable, discoverable, and accessible online…."Over time, as we scan more articles and our index grows, we'll also start blending these archives into our main search results so that when you search Google.com, you'll be searching the full text of these newspapers as well.”

After scanning about 60 million pages and beginning to make them available as full page shots--because costs of disaggregating and indexing were too high and copyright clearances were difficult to obtain for older material—the company announced that it will quit scanning pages, but continue offering the existing pages available on it Google News Archive site. It said it would not invest any new effort to improve indexing or add tools to better search and manage the archive.

The project may have been well-intentioned, but it was not well thought out. It was a free service designed to use the search traffic at the site to raise revenue through advertising Google would put on the site. The scale of the project was enormous and requiring finding, scanning, and indexing thousands of daily and weekly newspapers--many no longer in existence. It would require a long-term commitment of funds, personnel and server capacity to catalogue and scan the material and provide and maintain search functions. The project ultimately incorporated on a fraction of the papers it had hoped to scan, did so spottily in many cases, and its usability was poor because it never mastered the problems of handling so much content. Worse yet, it discovered that history was not a money making business.

The exit announcement is not a surprise and is another sign that players the virtual world are stopping deluding themselves that they are replacing the entire world and that the laws of economics and finance to not apply to them.

As laudable the preservation of newspaper archives might be, expecting it to be completed and maintained by a commercial firm defied sense and historical experience. For centuries, the most important historical records, books, art have been maintain in governmentally and charitably funded collections because commercial enterprises were either unwilling to bear the costs or to allow the large scale efforts required to preserve, catalogue, index, and make available cultural heritage materials distract them from their business activities.

Why would anyone expect Google to act otherwise?

As Google increasingly acts as a mature business it will increasingly shed activities that were launched as goodwill gestures because the costs of their operations reduces the company’s financial performance and will diminish the value of its stock compared to other tech firms. Over time it will be harder for the firm to maintain the stance that it is not self-interested and motivated only by the opportunities to improve the lives of the public by providing access to all the world’s information.

The tentacles of its operations that have reached out into to many fields will increasingly be pulled back if they do not yield financial results. And fears that Google will rule the world will diminish. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other big players of the digital world all have limits, just as did the handful of firms that once controlled steel, oil, and shipping through cartels. At some point even mammoth, wealthy companies do not have the resources and capabilities to keep expanding endlessly and their performance declines, leading shareholders to rein them in and competitors to find opportunities.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Guilty until proved innocent

She never thought it would come to this. Being dumped in a 15ft by 10ft cell in the country's most notorious jail. In a filthy place and in the close proximity of some of the most hardened criminals of the land. Her only consolation was that there were many like her, who believed they were innocent, hadn't been convicted and yet forced to already begin serving their punishment.

Her crime was that she was famous. Or rather, her family was famous. And probably notorious as well, but then if guilt by association was a crime, virtually all of us would be in jail. In a land where the rule of law is supposedly in force, you ought to be judged on your own actions and not the actions of those you are "palling" with (the awful word within quotes is courtesy of a certain lady in the US of questionable intellectual capability ).

The problem in this land is that there is a public perception (not unaffected by jealously) that the rich and famous have all got there by unfair means and are all guilty of crimes. Quite a few of them may indeed be. But many of them are certainly not. And never mind that the public that hasn't got there, would do exactly the same thing given half a chance. And so the great body called public opinion, is all too ready to believe that you only have to make an allegation and its already sealed, served and delivered that the person is guilty. Never mind the formalities of a trial, of producing hard evidence, of proving beyond reasonable doubt, and such other inconveniences.

The great body of the public believes (rightly) that the process of justice takes far too much time , often decades, and therefore believes (wrongly) that we can dispense with the formalities and assume the right to pronounce an instant guilty verdict. The judiciary, which delights in issuing homilies to the executive and passing strictures against all and sundry should hang its head in shame if it just looks at its own navel. It should set itself in order before commenting on anybody else - has it heard of the cliche that justice delayed is justice denied. When it can take a decade or two to pronounce a judgement, when sometimes the protagonists have actually died of old age before a verdict was given and when undertrials are jailed for periods of time greater than the maximum sentence if they had been found guilty .........

The great body of public also believes that all this is extremely unfair on the poor, but is extremely fair on the rich. For some reason, the rich and famous need to be made an example of to prove that all are equal in the eyes of law. That's an awful argument. We should be fair on the poor; not unfair on the rich. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The words civil society is often heard of these days in my nation. I am not sure there is much civility about it. In a civil society, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not the other way around. You can only be punished if you are proven guilty. The operating word is proven. Not presumed. 

All of this was not of much consolation to her. She was licking her woulds, both literally and figuratively. Literally because she had been jostled , pushed and pulled, on her way to the jail. The media, which vigorously defends its freedom, believes that rugby tackles, scrums, brawls and such other techniques are perfectly acceptable in trying to film an "event". Pushing and shoving  a subject is totally acceptable while pushing and shoving a reporter is a grievous assault on press freedom.

She knows that she'll have to wait and wait. And resort to some underhand political machinations to get released, which she indeed will probably resort to. There is little chance of an upright stand on  the strength of the argument or the defence. Because it won't work. Others like her , languishing in the jail, don't have any other option. Their only option is to languish.

One of the greatest sins a civil society can do is to arbitrarily withdraw the liberty of a human being . Without a due process of law, trial and conviction. Doesn't matter if she is rich or poor. Obscure or famous. Plagiarising one of the greatest ever sons of the country "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake".

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Business, May 25th 2011 - "Two Seans/Shawns, One Kurt" Edition

This week The Business returns like a video you saw on YouTube years ago that you can never get out of your mind no mater how much you cry and drink. And we're bringing comedians Shawn Robbins and Kurt Weitzmann to help hold you down and make you watch it again.

Shawn Robbins is creator and smooth operator of the successful indie rock and stand-up comedy showcase, Snob Theater (recently featured in the Noise Pop Music Festival). A young whippersnapper with eyes on the prize who has acclimated to the San Francisco comedy scene very nicely (thank you very much) since relocating here from New England. His cup runneth over with jokes.

Also performing is
comedic renaissance man Kurt Weitzmann. Kurt is one of the founding evil genii behind Comedy Noir Productions (and their popular "Roast" show series), writerproducerdirector of the short film "Last Call" (“Believably written, deftly directed and beautifully acted..." - San Francisco Weekly) and a Bay Area stand-up comedy heavyweight. Getting his start at the infamous Holy City Zoo was a fitting launch for his unique and darkly creative talents that we are pleased as punch to have on our stage.

Joining them will be your four steadies: Bucky, Chris, Sean and Alex. And joining them will be all of you, for only $5. And joining you will be burritos and joy.*

*(Joy provided. Burritos are on you)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why, on earth, a pedicure ?

This post is a vain rant against the female invasion , nay takeover, of the street barber. Evidence of the extreme intellectual rigour of this blog. Needling fair ladies, who throng this space :) is an occasional pastime of this blogger. Considering that its been a while since the opposite sex was needled here, and considering his rather impish mood today, its time to risk life and limb again.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the barber down the street was exclusively a male preserve. Indian women of that vintage, let their hair down (literally, but never, figuratively) and had no use for that specimen, who had the artistry of a butcher.  Men could go there in peace and submit themselves to the shears, while engaging in discussions exclusively masculine in nature. Alas , no longer.

The blasted guy has metamorphed into a 'unisex salon". Or a "spa", Or a "beauty therapist". I understand none of these words and had to look them up. These places are now well on their way to being a 99% female preserve, with the poor male consigned to a single seat near the loo. While the men queue up for 2 hours to gain the attention of the solitary guy who condescends to cater to men (did that yesterday; hence this post !), various Rajalakshmis breeze in and out, for all sorts of "beauty treatments". I had the urge to quip that their beauty would be better served by a few hours in the gym rather than here, but then wisely refrained given the substantial body mass disadvantage that I have.

And what all do they do in this place. I shall desist from graphic description of what  goes on - suffice to say that seeing a Rajalakshmi in that state is enough to drive men off the female species forever. But what completely boggles me is the pedicure.

Why on earth would any woman want to tend to her toenails ? I once asked this question to a lady , while offering the brilliant insight that a male would never bring his eyes down to look at her feet, he being preoccupied at a rather higher level. She looked at me pityingly and gave me an even more brilliant insight. She disabused me entirely of the notion that women are in the least interested in looking pretty to a man. Apparently they are strictly in the business of catching the eye of other women (perhaps with a hint of jealousy). Ah; I never realised that before (male ego completely deflated).

So the pedicure rules supreme. Cut your nails. Soak your feet in water, Apply some goo. Get your feet tickled. And dump a whole wad of cash for that privilege. Eeks.

Yes, I know. Women are from Venus. 

PS : Comments to the effect that "metrosexuals" also indulge in this abomination are entirely unacceptable on the grounds that they are not members of homo sapiens masculinitis.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Succession at the IMF

Unless you have a visceral hatred of the IMF, you could not have missed all the media coverage of Dominique Strauss Kahn, its boss. The affair has exploded like a nuclear bomb on a number of fronts. Firstly there is the IMF itself, currently deeply involved in the European bailout situation. Secondly it has blown open the French Presidential race - he was the front runner and it was quite possible that Sarkozy would have lost to him in the elections next year. It has called into question Continental European tolerance for sexual profligacy of its leaders - surely the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is at least a bit worried.
But this blog must remain a strictly non political one. This post is about the appointment of the new IMF chief - DSK has just resigned today and even if he is acquitted, is unlikely to get his job back.

It has been an utterly shameful arrangement that a cosy understanding exists that the World Bank chief is an American and that the IMF chief is an European.  This is a throwback to the post World War II days when only America and Europe mattered. Its a different world today and yet the old boys club still remains. Its a multi polar world these days, in case you have not noticed. But then old foggies in gentleman's clubs are rarely wont to look outside the window until its too late.

That the head of a major international body is chosen for reasons of nationality rather than merit is simply an unacceptable position. But then, alas, head of major international bodies, are indeed chosen that way. Witness the position of the Secretary General of the United Nations  a succession of colourless personalities have graced this chair. Witness the boss of the EU - can anybody even remember his name. Such are the contortions of world politics. So its futile to expect that merit alone will decide the next head of the IMF.  But there is no harm in at least stating the obvious, however unlikely the chance of it happening.

This is a time to change. The new head of the IMF must simply be the best man for the job. In a time of unprecedented financial and economic challenges, it cannot be anybody but that. Irrespective of whether he is from Timor Leste or from Tuvalu. He must be a world renowned economist and also somebody who has worked in the IMF before - after all its a huge and complex organisation.  He must have a track record of major economic policy achievements on the international stage. He must be a heavyweight - not a puppet who can be strung along.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A world without oil

The price of oil has been well above $ 100 a barrell for sometime now and there is every likelihood that its going to stay there. Yesterday the Indian government was forced to raise the price of petrol by Rs 5 per litre.  This blogger has railed often against the the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, from the rest of the world to the Gulf, etc etc. This Sunday, its a light hearted look at the benefits of a world without oil.

Imagine the utopia it shall be. At an instant the road everywhere in the world will become oases of peace. The whole world will become slimmer,  Rajalakshmi will now have to walk, or bike and hopefully an ounce of athleticism will come to her. TV programmes such as the Biggest Loser will cease to exist - instead new programmes such as "how lazy can you be" may become the rage.

Some of blots on humanity will mercifully be consigned to oblivion. Like Heathrow, or O'Hare. And imagine  a world without Air India - sheer bliss. And " On a clear day, you cannot see General Motors".

Bedouins can reclaim the Middle East. Ambulisamma has to return back and monstrosities such as the Burj al Arab can  safely be mothballed.  Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley can at last be made bankrupt as the most boring sport in the world - Formula 1 (made most boring thanks to the aforesaid gentlemen) has a complete remake. It shall morph into a bullock cart race which India shall rule, until the Chinese take it into their head that they have to dominate that sport too.

Imagine, no fat tourists, awfully dressed, of indeterminable age and thrusting a camera in the direction of "locals". No visits from  "damagers" (copyright courtsey gils as a synonym for manager), from awfully cold places like Chicago or Tokyo trying to escape the shivers and holidaying in sunnier climes under the guise of inspecting the natives.

And so on and so on. Readers are invited to share their vision of the new world. Each of your thoughts in a para please (I'll transport it from the comments here) and this post will expand into a collage .......

Gils - oil'yam natchathirathula poranthavangallam ippo semma demandla iruppaanga pola. English translation - People born under the ahilyam star sign (a play on Oil) will be in great demand.

Zeno - No Oil means, no need to bargain with autowallahs, no accident causing metro lorries in Chennai :) no car chases in movies :(

Sandhya - well.... as you say, there are many positives of the no oil world - no morning -evening flights and no stale aircraft food - no airhostess with a the artificial smile (works like a mechanical robot - opens and closes at the same speed at the same precision with the same expression!!)

and then, if there were no oil, you would create huge living spaces for many homeless poor - i mean where will all the cars and buses go - some one has to use them up

and then people like Gils would be India's most wanted... i mean on the positive side. that is because - In a world devoid of all fuss and frolic... there are few people who can keep the energy going and lively....

Hema - Ha...no oil means no traffic, no traffic jams, no getting late to office, no office,no need of vacation, more blogging, more reading, more poetry, more morning walks, bliss...

Venkat - 1)No oil means, Indian politics or atleast kerala politics will definetely change. yes millions of gulf living NRI's will turn to vote. also the density of present population in some states will increase with these NRI's return. 2)World may not familiar with the nineth richest man Mukesh. 3)Goverment may increase income tax % to compensate revenue from oil. 4)No wonder still world will run vehicles and air crafts will with water like in steam engines.

RamMmm - Ha! No petroleum derivatives also then. No vaseline et al, no creams of most kinds (fairness creams esp., we can tan-o-tan), no deo sprays ('no babe magnet deo aXe' esp. we may stink, so what!), no dandruff shampoos (hmmm... lets use groundnut/shikakai), no washing powder (back to old smash on stone technique), less pharma products (ayurveda may fill-in), no plastics (yay!, but what do we do without it?, no fertilizers (globally organic), no air-conditioning as no anti-freeze (toast to skin roast!)) gosh!, the dependence on petroleum is starting to look scary. :(

Vishal - The thought of a world without oil is so serene to imagine. Can we indeed go back in time? Aah!

The same puff of fresh air which is otherwise available in the Maidan area of Calcutta early morning, could be felt in other big cities also. NH-8 would be a lovely place to take an evening stroll... oh! nothing can beat that!

IST will be IST then... or may be better than that.

Consider Biogas for home fuel. Water could be treated like water in the country like ours and even in gulf.

Whoa... the world will be a different place then...

Srivats : No oil means we wont get to have the vegetables , milk and other groceries in the nearby mall. We got to create our own plot and start planting vegetables and paddy :)

Deepa : The more I thought of it, the more I realized what a beautiful world its going to be.

Imagine, Gilsu or zeno on bicycles with their gals perched on the front bar. The ladies' hair swaying into their faces with the breeze. Our two heros can throw in some of those romantic songs they keep posting on facebook! I kid you not, the biggest stumbling block in the dating scene these days is the fuel cost. No petrol, we gals dont expect long drives, no bike rides, just simple (cost effective) walks in the parks and watching the sunset by the beaches.

Fresh food everywhere. (Food is a touchy subject for me)! No dreaming of Alphonso mangoes in
Hyderabad, and Banganpalli in Mumbai, or both of these in America. You'd appreciate what you
get locally and learn something we all have completely forgotten these days- 'Contentment'.

I do trust my species to come up with some alternative, if we are pushed to the corner (in fact we already are) . People would look for non-conventional sources of energy. Mr. Tesla may find fame anew (purely my guess). Which would be nice, because, all countries could strive to be self-sufficient, and there would be level playing fields. Uncle Sam would no longer be interested in watching over the ever fighting middle-eastern brethren, and no more of the completely useless gang wars. Everyone would mind their own businesses. Imagine the amount of tax-payer's money freed to be used for good cause. Not that we would stop fighting, 'coz we can fight over something as stupid as river water, but just one BIG issue less!

J : Somehow I visualize a world without oil very differently from the idyllic picture that you paint (have you forgotten Etah?). I imagine a world like some science fiction movie where people will zip in small one-person electric cars and maybe satellite pictures of earth will not have the standard blue and green look but a lot of black on land as the world will be covered in solar panels. And lots of white in the seas as there will huge wind farms - maybe Ramamrithams of the world will mandate that they have to be blue so that google earth's pictures still look pretty. Rajalakshmi will still ride her bike but she will also carry with her a small generator to convert all her cycling into power - not far fetched since a gym in Portland is actually doing it to their exercise machines.

Ambulisamma : All the NRI's would return back,including self and if sensus happens properly India might overtake China. If you consider India it should not be a big problem,we can find alternatives. But think about Gulf and US,the world without petrol will be terrible for them.

Venkatraman : No oil because a barrel of crude oil is $100 today? Come on. We will be buying even if it goes up to $1000 or more. In the early sixties I was filling up the tank at 65 paise a liter. Today it is Rs.65 and more. Who cares? There are cars on the road more than hundred times now than it was immediately after the Second World War. If you stop oil and it uses; what will happen to the followers of all the IPL matches and tamasha. No Cheer Leaders or Sundaries? Don't be cruel. Many of the IPL followers will resort to other entertainments ! Consequences will be disastrous

Reflections : I have full confidence in our own kind....if and when we are reduced to tht state u can be assured tht the human brain will ceaselessly work[36 hrs a day] and come up with something even better than oil...wht is tht saying....aaaah yes 'Necessity is the blah blah ;-D

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dot Com Bubble II

I am a dinsosaur. I freely admit it. In the heady days of Dot Com Bubble I, it was often said that old foggies didn't "get it", when they stared open mouthed at insane valuations. A decade after that, I still don't "get it". Can somebody explain to me the valuation of $ 8.5 bn for Skype, which Microsoft announced buying a couple of days back.

Skype  still makes no money after being around for a fair bit now. Make no mistake; its an excellent product - I am an unadulterated fan and user of Skype. Its just that most users, and there are millions of them,  use it for free and don't spend a nickel. Skype doesn't make a profit and there's nothing in sight as to how they might make one. A year and a half ago, Skype was sold for less than $ 3bn - what has happened in a year to almost triple that valuation ??

Or take Linked In - a so called business networking site that I abhor. At least it turns a profit. But its turnover is in the low millions. It has just filed for an IPO for a reputed valuation of some $ 3 bn. When you see sales multiples in the region of 10, you ought to do a double take.

The Skype acquisition has every hallmark of the lashings of an alpha male who has been deposed. The most charitable description of Microsoft is that it has lost its mojo. Nothing like a headline grabbing acuisition to try and rediscover it. Especially since it has tons of cash and doesn't know what to do with it.

Couple all this with the atics of Chinese intenet companies that are in unseemly haste to list in the US. And the jaw dropping valuation of Facebook  which I have alluded to before here. It appears Dot Com Bubble II is truly well and underway.

The Business is Back in LA May 27th!

Los Angeles, you were so wonderful to us last month, we just can't stay away any longer. The Business is coming back to do it again this month! We'll be there for you, Lakers Fans, in your time of need and sorrow with another show and another burrito. All new material from Sean, Chris, Alex and a video from Bucky. Plus, special guests! The Medically Transported Burrito Raffle was a big hit in April, so we will be trafficking another Mission Style down to the show to give away. What taqueria will it be from? Will it be vegetarian (most likely)? Will Sean not be allowed to sit near it in the car because the warmth of his cheeks will mess with the ice packs? Come find out the answers on the last Friday in May.

Special guests Jonah Ray and Aparna Nancherla will be joining the Business for our May show!

Space is limited, so get your tickets here:


The Business
Friday, May 27th 2011
The Improv Lab
8162 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is leadership overrated? (maybe not, but only when it is genuine)

When the famous management professor Henry Mintzberg, in an interview for Dutch television, was asked “what would you recommend for leadership in the 21st century?” he answered, without delay or hesitation: “Less of it”.

Henry clearly thought we need less “leadership”, and more people who actually do stuff. And true; it has become a business buzz word and something that everyone puts on his list of career aspirations. However, not everyone can be a leader. Moreover, their effect often seems overestimated.

In reality, business leaders make very few decisions that really significantly impact the course of action of their firms. When a large corporation does well, we attribute it to the forceful, brilliant individual at the top (e.g. Jack Welch, Steve Jobs). When the corporation fails, we also hold the individual crook at its helm responsible beyond mercy (e.g. Jeff Skilling, Dick Fuld). Yet, these individuals’ influences might be overestimated, both positively and negatively, because their decisions often have very limited impact on the everyday practices in their firms.

Yet, I would say that that does not mean they have no influence. They surely do, but it might not be directly through their decisions. CEOs often have a much more symbolic role, in terms of providing inspiration and motivation. And that type of impact can be very real indeed.

Tolstoy – in his epic novel War & Peace, through the eyes of one of its main characters, Prince Andrei – seemed to understand that well. He described how one of the Russian commanders – prince Bagration – in a battle against Napoleon’s army, had very little real influence on how the battle unfolded: stuff just started to happen once the guns got rattling, whatever commands he did or did not shout. However, his presence, and perhaps his successful pretence of planning and control, did have some genuine impact:

Prince Andrei listened carefully to Bagration’s colloquies with the commanding officers and to the orders he gave them and remarked to his astonishment that in reality no orders were given but that Prince Bagration merely tried to make it appear as though everything that was being done of necessity, by accident or at the will of individual commanders, was performed if not exactly by his orders at least in accordance with his design. Prince Andrei noticed, however, that though what happened was due to chance and independent of the general’s will, the tact shown by Bagration made his presence extremely valuable. Officers who rode up to him with distracted faces regained their composure; soldiers and officers saluted him gaily, recovered their spirits in his presence, and unmistakably took pride in displaying their courage before him.

Hence, the impression we have of leaders’ actions, their determination and vision, do influence people lower in the organization, in terms of their commitment and motivation. For example, a study by professors Ping Ping Fu, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and colleagues, published in the prestigious academic journal Administrative Science Quarterly, asked 177 executives of 42 companies to rate their CEOs in terms of the questions “the CEO shows determination when accomplishing goals”, “the CEO communicates high performance expectations”, “the CEO articulates a compelling vision of the future”, and “the CEO transmits a sense of mission”. They then surveyed 605 middle managers of these same companies in terms of their commitment to the firm and their intention to leave. And the results clearly showed that middle managers who worked for a company whose CEO seemed more determined and better at communicating and articulating a sense of mission and vision, were more committed to their companies. Hence, the image that a CEO managed to exhibit of his leadership and control had a significant impact on the motivation of his middle managers.

Then Ping Ping and colleagues did something interesting. Using an innovative survey technique (called the Q-sort method) they managed to construct a measure of the CEOs’ values. Particularly, they measured CEOs’ self-transcendence values (the transcendence of self interests, enhancement of others’ happiness, and the acceptance of others as equals) and self-enhancement values (which emphasize the pursuit of one’s own happiness, success, and dominance over others) and, surprisingly, the findings described above were only true for CEOs with a healthy dose of self-transcendence values. By contrast, if the CEO secretly harbored some pretty selfish values (i.e. was high on self-enhancement), middle managers were not much motivated and committed to the firm whatever the CEO said or did.

‘What is surprising about that?’ you might think. Well, it may not be surprising that employees prefer their CEOs to have selfless instead of selfish values – I guess we all prefer our bosses to be selfless – but it is a lot more surprising that they are able to detect these values. Because what this study really shows is that, if you had multiple CEOs behaving in the exact same way – expressing a clear vision, showing determination, setting expectations, and what have you – only some of them would succeed in motivating their employees, where others would hopelessly fail. Because what sets the effective and ineffective leaders apart are the values they harbor, in terms of having their own or others’ interests at heart.

Apparently middle managers see right through you. If you, as a CEO, display all sorts of motivating, leadership type behavior, but secretly harbor some pretty selfish values, it simply ain’t going to work. You can shout and dance and do whatever you like, but this motivational stuff only renders the desired effect if you really mean it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Business May 11th 2011, "Spiegelmania" Edition

It's going to be quite a month for the Business! After a may-jorly triumphant journey to Los Angeles, and a packed, mays-morising show last Wednesday, The Business keeps the may-hem going by welcoming back one of our favorite guests, Mike Spiegelman, this Wednesday, May 11th.

Mike "Speegz" Spiegelman is a founding member of sketch groups Fresh Robots and The Bitter Show, as well as the comedy duo of Laundry Basket & Spiegelman. He has opened for Neil Hamburger, Emo Phillips, David Cross, the late Mitch Hedberg, Robin Williams, and may-ny, may-ny more. He is a frequent host of the Darkroom Theater's "Bad Movie Night," and runs the popular Layover Bar comedy showcase in Oaksterdam (a may-rijuana-friendly section of Oakland). In addition, his website "Luggage Tuesdays" is the Internet's finest repository of restaurant- and produce-themed humor.

We've also got Bucky, Alex, Chris, and Sean on the bill, and you never know who might show up. Tickets are still just five bucks, and our Bring-Your-Own-Burrito policy remains in effect.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The voice of an angel

Nature chooses to bless some people in an out of worldly way. It gives a gift so rare and so amazing that other mere mortals can only watch in awe and wonderment. One such recipient of nature's blessing is Sissel - the gift of the voice of an angel.

This blogger is usually tone deaf and musical sensibilities do not invade his rather dour exterior. But occasionally he breaks out into a song , metaphorically that is, like he did here. Today is another such day, a tribute to the amazing voice of Sissel.

Sissel is a Norwegian soprano, who isn't as well known or as classically feted as many others. She is somewhat like Andre Rieu, the subject of the other post referred to earlier. She tends towards the T20 side of classical music rather than the purity of a Test Match. But boy; can she sing- one of the usual comments that I see in her You Tube videos is that if you close your eyes and heard her, you probably would think that you are in the presence of an angel. 

One of her amazing pieces is her contribution to the sound track of Titanic. Contrary to popular belief, Titanic is not all Celine Dion. Listen to this from Sissel and tell me  if you aren't haunted.

Or take this rendering of Silent Night. Gave me goose pimples.

Whatever may be his musical sensibilities, this blogger is a sports nut. In football a self confessed long time supporter of Liverpool. One of his cherished memories is his visit to Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC and swinging and swaying on the Kop belting out Liverpool's anthem - You'll never walk alone.  There are many famous singers who have sung this song. And then there's Sissel. Her rendition of this is on a different plane altogether.

Even if this is not your genre, listen to her. She is Something, with a capital S.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sox and smelly feet

Remember the Sarbanes Oxley Act ? The one that was promulgated in the aftermath of Enron. This was supposed to ensure that accounting scandals are greatly minimised. The Act that had every business chief howling that it was draconian , that compliance was putting a huge cost on business, etc etc. Well, it turns out that investors, whom the Act was supposed to protect, actually don't care all that much about accounting scandals.

Take the case of the "success" of many of the Chinese IPOs in the US market. In the fine print , most of them have disclosed accounting deficiencies. But does the market care ?? Not one bit. Take Renren which IPOed yesterday. The stock rose some 50% above the issue price. Never mind that the Chair of the Audit Committee resigned on Tuesday, they changed a key growth figure, they disclosed a "material weakness" that they did not have enough people in their accounts department and a "significant deficiency" that they had no policy on the treasury function and investment of cash.

Material weakness and accounting deficiency are Ramamritham speak. The former means the accounts are definitely wrong. The latter means that it is most probably wrong.

And yet investors seem to care two hoots. These days anything with a China name will sell like crazy. Even if they presented their accounts in Chinese and qualified it by saying that they just made it up to satisfy a legal formality.

Even the famed General Motors IPO showed a material weakness in the accounts. Didn't come in the way of its much touted success.

I am sure that the Public Companies Accounting Oversight Board ( what other name can you expect Ramamritham to dream of), that was supposed to regulate auditors under the Sarbanes Oxley Act has done enough research to prove that disclosures of accounting weaknesses have had a positive correlation to the share price and therefore they should be considered as having done great benevolence to the human race. It is probably true - the research finding that is. But as long as cases like Renren exist, its hard to take Sarbanes Oxley seriously.

Sure Sox, does reveal smelly feet. But if gorgeous blondes find smelly feet sexy, there's not much that can be done about it.

Disclosure : This blogger has made merry with the aforesaid Act; making a fair bit of money for his company from it. His opinions are therefore completely biased.

Material Weakness : This post is utterly without research, written on a whim and totally opinionated.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Business May 4th 2011, "Cuatro de Mayo" Edition

The Business celebrates Cinco de Mayo one day early, welcoming comedian Matt Morales to our show this Wednesday. It's the 149th anniversary of the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla, so we encourage audience members to stop by Cancun Taqueria before or after the show. Crepes are not welcome, nor are any of Emperor Maximillian's family. Find your own acclaimed alternative comedy showcase, Frenchy!

Matt Morales... is a native of Slidell, Louisiana (home of diminutive SF Giants pinch-hitter Mike Fontenot), who moved to SF in 2002. He performs at clubs and colleges all over the place, and has appeared at the Edinburgh fringe Festival, as well as the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. He plays in a metal band called Run Amok, and he's very excited about the Mark Ingram era in New Orleans.

We are absent Chris Garcia, but we've still got Alex Koll, Bucky Sinister, and Sean Keane on hand to entertain you. While the French founded the Second Mexican Empire in an attempt to regain their outstanding debts, we at The Business don't follow those greedy principles, as admission remains just five dollars. No francs accepted!

Six scientific ways to suck up successfully (it is not as easy as you might think it is)

Sucking up really isn’t so easy. You can’t just tell your boss “you’re the greatest” because (although he might believe you) he is likely to grasp that you’re trying to sweet talk him into giving you this job, a raise, or a positive appraisal. As a result, it might all backfire because, as we know from research, people who think you are trying to trick them are less likely to actually give it to you. No, sucking up – or ingratiation behavior, as we euphemistically call it in management research – is easier said than done.

But now we have some good evidence – from research by professors Ithai Stern from Northwestern and Jim Westphal from the University of Michigan – how you can make it work, so pay attention:

1. Frame your flattery as advice seeking. For example, asking someone “how were you able to pull off that strategy so successfully” is more likely to hide your underlying motive than “gosh you’re good”.
2. Pre-warn your target that you are going to flatter him or her. For example, let your sucking up be preceded by statements such as “you are going to hate me for saying this but… [gosh you’re good]” or “I know you won’t want me to say this but… [gosh you’re good]” or “I don’t want to embarrass you but… [gosh you’re good] – you get the picture.

Now you that you have mastered the previous two relatively simple skills, it is time to up your game. It requires a bit of planning, but then it is likely to be highly effective:

3. Repeat the opinion that your target expressed earlier to a colleague. You can’t just keep agreeing to everything your boss says in every meeting, now can you? So what can you do? Well, when you find out your boss’s opinion on a particular matter from a colleague, who had a meeting with him earlier, bring up that same topic and opinion to your boss next time you’re meeting with him, before he has had a chance to do so. He will be duly impressed with the sharpness of your analysis.
4. Compliment your boss to one of his friends. So, saying face-to-face to your boss over and over again “gosh you’re good” is unlikely to do the trick. What might work though is to say to one of his friends “gosh, he’s good”. That friend is likely to, at some point, mention to your boss “he sure thinks highly of you”. And since you did not say this to his face, he might actually think you were trying to avoid brown-nosing him! Expect a friendly smile and sudden pat on the back.

Now that you have gained these more subtle skills of sucking up, you are ready to move to the advanced level. This one is sure to work, and you do not even have to say to your boss (or anyone else) that he is the greatest. All you have to do is make him feel the two of you are birds of a feather.

5. Engage in value conformity. What we mean by this is that you start a discussion with your boss by expressing commitment to a cause, institution, or other code of conduct that you know your boss feels strongly about. For example, if your boss is a family-man, begin your casual talk with how important family is to you. Or refer to your joint religion, or if he is into environmental protection, become green too (at least verbally). When you start of with statements that indicate that you share the same set of values, your boss is going to look at everything you subsequently say in a different light.
6. Refer to common affiliations. Similar to the previous tactic, refer to your joint political party, religious organization, or alumni club. These tactics build on so called in-group out-group biases; all of us humans see people who are in the same groups as we are in a more positive light, and your boss is no exception. So emphasize your joint group affiliation, and he will like the rest of you too.

Do these things really work? Yes they do. Ithai and Jim examined these tactics constructing and using an elaborate database on 1822 top executives, measuring their ingratiation behavior (assessed through questionnaires) and various other variables. Subsequently, they examined a rather important outcome variable to these folks: how likely their CEO (i.e. their boss; the target of their sucking up) was to nominate and appoint them to another board of directors on which he served. Directorships are highly coveted (and highly paid) jobs - that is, they want them! And all 6 aforementioned ingratiation tactics worked getting them.

Ithai and Jim also examined what sort of people were more likely to use these 6 tactics to their advantage. Executives with a background in engineering, accounting, or finance were plain clumsy at it. It is not that they did not try to suck up to their boss; they did, but they did it the coarse way (“gosh, you’re great”) and therefore were unlikely to succeed.

The people most skilled at successfully using the six sucking up tactics were executives with a background in sales, law, or politics. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are the professions we most mistrust (if not despise) to tell the truth: salesmen, lawyers, and politicians. They have had to practice these subtle ingratiation tactics all their lives. And it seems, also in the brown-nosing domain, practice makes perfect. And now they are reaping the benefits.