Indian Concept of Time – IST.

For a race that lays the utmost emphasis on the most auspicious moment to commence any project or venture and factors in a persons time of birth to the alignment of heavenly bodies, we gleefully abandon these tenets when it comes to delivering on a promise. So particular are we that even when we fast, the breaking of the fast must happen during a predetermined window, usually no more than a few minutes.

We are a nation of several paradoxes, and to my mind this is our crowing glory. On the one hand this obsession with commencing and completing all auspicious and important things within a prescribed timeframe, and on the other hand completely ingoring this indoctrination in our day to day activities.

It is little wonder then that IST is equated to Indian Stretchy Time!

By what time will you reach? “Oh just five minutes” and you then wait twenty and you hear a long list of reasons why five minutes was not five minutes. Should you be the kind to have this compelling need to question further, you will most certainly get this response, “Sirji, voh kya hua ki raaste me kuch problem hua, is liye”, translating to, Sir, I have some problem on the way. Keep it as vague as you possibly can, that’s the way to respond to bosses why dare ask probing questions whey you are late, I mean how dare they!

Someone fixes an appointment and you call and ask, Where are you? “Right around the Corner”. Guess what! Your question was incorrect, or rather incomplete, or you didn’t follow it up with the next question. Which corner? And this is why you ended up waiting thirty minutes for him or her to turn the corner.

By when can I get this? “Abhi Sir”! Right away! Or “Bas, turant kar deta Hoon”, or I’ll do it immediately. Or the more pragmatic ones (like me), give a reasonable timeframe, a plausible one, one that is quite acceptable.

In that respect we surpass by no mean measure, the American “gungho”, “shoot first ask questions later” or also called the “can do” attitiude, when we say yes, can do and will do immediately.

Then comes the question, are you sure? And then we have moved from certainity to shaky ground. Why? Simply because we regress (throwing said pragmatism) out the window or door or any little crack or cranny we find. For more often than not, the response to the question that questions our commitments, is “yes sar or sirji (depending on which part of the country said person is), 101 takka” or 101%, causing whoever formulated the % system (don’t ask me – I forget) to balk, turn in their graves, or if he/she was a Hindu, abandon all equanimity in the heavens, and throw fifty fits.

Where did we ever come up with the additional 1%, doesn’t quite compute or fall under any real system that stacks up the odds.

Me? I take it to extremes when it comes to adding percentages that don’t compute and I start wtih a low of 101% and then up the ante to 150%, 200% and 250%, which is nothing but the likely hood that it’s not gonna happen. So the higher the noncompute the higher the likely hood that it ain’t happening! Look, its fairly simple. If you’re going to go around throwing inverse probability numbers dealing with the likely hood of something not getting done, why go with a small number right? Think big! But even I have not yet dared go beyond 250% and I’m known to have a big pair.

This beautifully simple system has been known to work flawlessly and therefore it’s hardly surprising that it’s been wholeheartedly adopted by all professions, all strata of our social fabric, from lawyers, doctors, chauffeurs, maids, blue collars, white collars, from CEOs to the security guard. And of course by all genders! Oh yes! I forgot about the politicians completely, who have honed an already perfect system into a fine art.

Having been immersed in some way, shape or form in Fintech for many many years (more than I’d like to recall), I’ve balked at delivery dates, effort estimates and in general the super overoptimism that has greeted me whenever I’ve asked for numbers.

So when I get estimates, or really guestimates from teams I’ve kinda learned that either of two things will happen. One, the estimates are humbug and aren’t really based on any real semblance of analysis. Or two, that they come  heavily padded (to compensate for the lack of analysis).

This makes life really interesting and fun, especially when youre the Johnney making commitments sideways, downwards or upwards. You’re flying very blind, and just made a committment based on a committment, so double whammy! They pad, you pad, everybody pads and the final recipient (poor sod) has just gone out on a limb and told the powers that be that the final date is X. Well, guess what! The X (supposing to be a line in the sand) is based on shifting sands, so by extension, will the line in the sand not shift as well! But if poor sod is a smart cookie, he/she (yes sod can be a she, so let’s include Jane) has embraced the padding methodology wholeheartedly and added some more, setting into motion a domino effect of epic proportions.

Then there is the exact converse. We grossly underestimate and we base everything on incomplete information. So now the effect is also epic domino but in reverse. We are all set to deliver and even meet the due date, but on said date we discover we did not know everything, we did not ask the right questions and worse, we just ignored what we already know and based everything on our own assumptions and/or understanding. Interpretation extreme.

I guess that’s what makes me precious. I manage things that are broken and get them to work. Well, I try. I’m a good magician, but I’m not perfect. More on this as we progress…

Regardles of the padding or lack of it, promised date has arrived, or perhaps the day before (if you’re lucky) and someone will summon the courage (maybe he had a gun pointed to his head), will sheepishly come to you quavering like a leaf in a storm, and after several attempts, just about manage to let you know that it is you who must now deliver the message that said commitment, said event, said delivery ain’t really happening. “Sar or Sirji, as the case may be, I want to tell you something”, and in my mind I’m going, do I have STUPID etched on my forehead? Just out with already, and to add effect, I have been known to say, “so its not happening is it?”, even before the words are uttered.

The mixed look of wonder, amazement and fear needs to be seen to be believed. “Sar or Sirji, how you know?”, and again I’m going, do I have……but inwardly I’m in splits laughing, like I didn’t know this was going to happen!

We’re Indians, Krishna says in the Bhagavat-Gita, “I am infallible time”. Guess what my Dear Lord and Master, you’ve been outdone. Your so called Kal Chakra, the infallible Circle of Time has slowed down a tad. Go figure, you created someone who outdid the master.

The logical progress to these proceedings is the post mortem, or what I’d like to call the process that got instituted since said minion allowed the patient to die. Patient will die my friend, let’s do something. “Sar (let’s not forget Sirji) don’t worry, I will breathe life into the dead, Abhi karta Hoon”, I will do it right away”.

So if you are of stronger mettle or have more patience than I do, you might actually try to ask or even hazzard a guess as to what led to this meltdown. “Sir or Sirji, I was unwell, my team was unwell, I told so and so to do it, he didn’t do it, my brothers wife’s sisters husband’s grandfather died Sar, I have to go “native” (read that as home town), or sirji I have to go to desh (read that as home town as well), or Sir I have to go to my gaon (read that as home town as well)”. You really can’t argue with the need to go see the dead remains of such a close relative, so being the genteel Indians we are, I must ask, ok so when will you and your team be back from “native”? “Don’t know sar or sirji, when they let me go (they will be kept captive, in chains)”.

When said captives are released from their cages, you ask for a RCA or what sane people call Root Cause Analysis. The responses are nothing short of drivel and you had better be clarivoyant or at the very least have a very very fertile imagination to figure out the root cause. Why? Cause we are all such loyal soldiers, that we just don’t want to spill the beans on why it went bust. A Grade for loyalty and taking one for the team, but you just flunked the larger need to understand why thing went awry in the first place.

Now you have this root cause kinda figured out or at least some semblance of an RCA. Spindoctor (always me) has to convey this to the party of the other part (aggrieved party), as blood is being demanded. I tell you, my verbal and written jousting skills are probably in a league by themselves, as is my knowledge of verbal Jiu Jitsu. So now you see why I’m precious? Not because of the oodles of experience I bring to the table, but to be the frontline when something is broken.

I live alone so have plenty of time to reflect and therefore I reflect, I question, I ponder, I wonder, why are we like this! When my numbed mind works (yes on rare occassions) it does come up with some answers.

  • We Indians don’t know how to say NO (remember the Can Do I alluded to earlier).
  • We don’t like to say we don’t know something, loss of face you see.
  • We don’t like to follow a process.
  • We don’t like to seek help (superheros all).
  • We hate to admit we are wrong.
  • We take everything personally, even it it’s feedback well intended.
  • We don’t like to be answerable.
  • We don’t take the trouble to listen.
  • We don’t bother to read pre-read materials before meetings. How much more can you insult someone who takes the trouble to prepare materials, write detailed mails, only to realise that nobody even bothered to read or prep. Bosses who asked for said information in the first place, included.
  • We ignore disclosed facts and instead choose to make important decisions on assumptions. I mean, its great to be able to make assumptions, but can we simultaneously bother to validate those assumptions?
  • We don’t like to document anything. Have you sent a mail? “No Sar I called him”. Fuc***, shit is gonna go down or hit the ceiling, you had better be using written comms. But no, I spoke to him. I messaged one on one.
  • I did not escalate as I’m a friggin coward and don’t want to spoil relations or make the other person feel bad. Grandmother’s frigging lollies! I ain’t buying this.
  • The real reason is that I am not sure of myself or not on top of my game, and if I escalate now, there will be a time when I fucked up and someone will be sticking it to me. That’s the real reason!

Now if above set of facts is correct, we have a recepie for disaster an initio.

There are some smart ones who are good at words, at jiu jitsu, and the moment we realise that it ain’t happening, out brains churn into high gear and we come up with wholely plausible and believable reasons why said commitment wasn’t kept. Clear written communications crafted with the objective of facilitating an outcome. That’s the ticket.

Anybody who interacts with me and does me that extreme honor of lipservice, leaves my desk with NLP scribbled on a scrap of paper, and scraps of paper tend to get discarded, so the scribbling was just to humor me. So much for the earnest advise to learn and practice Neuro Linguistic Programming.

I’m good with words, sure, but it’s not just a vocabulary thing. It’s clarity of thought and an ability to assimilate things quickly and react instantaneously. After all we are in an era where we do business at the speed of thought.

That’s another recommendation that gets scribbled on said scrap. Read “Business At The Speed of Thought”. Bill Gates, none other. As always scribbling is for effect, nothing is going to come of it.

Speed, Time, SLA, TAT, Communications, Social Media, Internet, Wi-Fi, all part of our day to day, but do we use this to our advantage? No no, I will use these wonderful aids only and solely for keeping up with my Social Media accounts.

I’d emphatically propose that few do it and those that do are the ones who rule. The rest follow in their wake, or then fall by the wayside trying and yet there are others who don’t even try.

As an Indian I was really hurt when my tennis coach in high school said something when I showed up 10 minutes late for practice when I was on the school squad. I was 17, an exchange student in America. Tom Andreas look at me, then looked at his watch and said to me, “This is How The American Clock Works, on time. Don’t be late the next time”. I never was.

I too drop the ball from time to time, I too fail occasionally, I too have a tendency not to delegate because I’m not always working with an all A Team. Not so different in that respect, but the difference is I try damn hard not to fail, not to drop the ball, what I need to do more is let people fail, and pick them up and get them to do it right next time around. I’ve been getting a lot of flack lately for trying to do everything myself and have started to push back shoddy or incomplete work, albeit it just takes so much more time.

Having said all this, I must add disclaimer that this comes from a good place, is well intended.

I must also admit that apart from the morons (yes its a rather strong word) I’ve come across, I have also been most fortunate throughout my professional career, to have discovered and worked with some golden nuggets, wonderful professionals and human beings. To these people I give whatever time I can spare (in office or on my own time) to explain, to teach, to motivate, to chide, to scold, to pat on the back.

These people make all the pain, frustrations and anger go away and leave one with this immense sense of being able to pass on to GenNext, a vast body of knowledge and experience, gathered through an era where there was no cellular, no wifi, no internet. An era where we did things the hard way, no shortcuts, less room to fail and a lot less access to knowledge that we have at our fingertips today

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