Thefeelgoodfactor's Blog

Random thoughts

Random musings

It is surprising that many of the leading Indian companies don’t empathize with the customers. The bad part is that in many cases I’ve often felt that the customer facing support employees are not well trained to handle non-standard queries. Many successful companies have demonstrated the advantages of empathizing with the customers. I personally like zappos’ customer centricity and the extra mile they go to make the customer happy. (Read this link if you want to know some examples:  Zappos stories)

There were two recent incidents where I felt that the service providers could have differentiated themselves by handling my requests better.

Incident 1 (with a telecom service provider)

CS: Sir, currently you are on 1.1k plan where you get 8mbps speed and 50 GB data. We have a new plan for you. You will get 16mbps and 150 GB data for 1.2k. Can I upgrade your plan?

Me: can you tell me how much would 50 GB data with 16mbps speed cost now?

CS: why do you want to limit the date when you can get 100 GB more data for minimal additional cost?

Me: I do not use even 50 GB, what will I do with 150. <also explained how I get 100 GB since I use other services by same provider>.

CS: sir, my system shows 50 GB only.

Me: ok, now tell me the cost of 50 GB please.

Cs: it is rs 699.

Me: please upgrade my plan to 699 plan.

CS: it is down grade and we are not allowed to do this.

Me: if you increase the speed without reducing the data limit, how can you term this as a downgrade? As a customer, this is a service upgrade for me.

CS: but you will be paying less, and hence it is a downgrade. Please call the Helpline number to downgrade the plan.

At an uber level, I was surprised that cs was inadequately trained to handle what I would assume is a query most of the people would make. As a company if you are offering superior services at a lower cost, you should assume that most rational people would revise their plan to avail superior service.

Incident 2 (with a travel agency, had booked a ticket to Bali and was worried about the reports on volcano erupting)

CS:  Sir, our team says that the situation in Bali is stable.

Me: but governor of Bali has declared emergency and scientists say that there is an increase in seismic activities.

CS: you know that news reports are not reliable.

Me: I can get you a video evidence for this.

CS: we will not consider that.

Me: what will happen if volcano erupts when I am in Bali

Cs: our ground team will contact you in that case and will provide necessary assistance

Me: how will your ground team contact me? I will be using a different sim. And how.will I share that info with your ground team.

Cs: don’t worry, it will be managed

Me: what are the arrangements made

Cs: don’t worry sir. We will ensure your safety

Me: assume I am in Bali now and volcano has erupted. What is the plan of action?

CS: this is a hypothetical question, you are in India only.

Me: but there are others like me who are in Bali currently, what will you do for them?

Cs: we have arrangements made

What was disturbing about the entire conversation was that there has been multiple social media escalation regarding this topic, and yet they do not think it is important to handle customer queries more effectively.

In general while I do not subscribe to the view that customer is a king, I do believe that a experience provided to the customers will go a long way in improving the brand recall.


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The Robbery Attempt

I had posted earlier how everyone had warned me to be careful in Noida – many of my North Indian friends had mentioned that it is not a safe place. I had almost forgotten those advice since nothing untoward had happened in the first 18 months. All that changed on 11/12/13, no, actually 12th Dec.


I moved to a new house sometime in July – shifted to an apartment from a kothi as it was economical, and as I believed at that time, safer. There seemed to be only one problem with the new house – the landlord. The landlord was a retired engineer and used to talk a lot on a variety of topic. During our first interaction he mentioned that he thought B.Tech degree was better than MBA – and he trusts us because of our engineering degree. (We found out only later that he ranked the courses based on the number of years it took to obtain the degree – MBBS, B.Tech and then MBA.)

He mentioned that we should test our cook (sic) – on further enquiry this is what he had to say : Pahle din ghar mei 5 rupye rakh kar jaao, agle din 10, phir 20, 50,100 aur aakhri din 500. Shaam ko ghar aakar dekho ki tumhe vaapas rupye milte hai ki nahi.Agar kisi din rupye vaapas na mile toh cook ko naukri se hata dena.


It was 11/12/13 – all the forwards had been exchanged on whatsapp groups regarding the significance of this date. At around 10 pm, I realized it was going to be a long night ahead – was one of those days when anything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. At 2 am, my roommate and I decided to leave office and finish the remaining work at home. When we reached our apartment, my roommate (UD) asked me to be quiet. Initially I thought because he was worried that we may wake up our neighbours, but soon enough he said that there was a pair of shoe near the staircase leading to our house. (Only later did I understand its significance). UD said that he can hear some noise and repeatedly asked me to be quiet. I heard the noise as we were climbing the staircase. However, when we reached our house, we saw nothing. I told UD that we shouldn’t unnecessarily worry – both of us were tired and had to work for at least couple of hours before going to sleep.

After 5 min, UD showed me the lock – it had been tampered with. UD went on to explain how he believed the thief had removed his shoes so as to not make any noise. Everything we saw and heard suddenly seemed to make sense. UD remarked how lucky we were that day. I, however, knew the true reason why the thief’s plan failed. It was 12th Dec – Rajnikanth’s birthday. One cannot rob a Tamilian on Rajni’s birthday.


Since neither of us had been victims of a robbery attempt before, it was decided that we will call our landlord for discussing the next steps (Not that we believed he would have a first hand experience, but we did not seem to have any other choice).

Me: Uncle, kal humaare ghar mei chori ka attempt hua tha.

LL: Oh! Aisa kya. Cook kya kar rahi thi us time par.

Me: Uncle, I am sure wo apne ghar mei so rahi hogi. Mei raat ke 2:30 am ki baat kar raha hoon. <went on to narrate the entire incident>

LL: Waise tumhaare ghar mei cash toh hoga nahi – aajkal toh ATM ka zamaana hai. Chor ko shayad wahan sirf kapde milte – vaise aajkal kapde bhi bade mehenge aate hai, 300-400 ke.

Me: Uncle, sahi kahan aapne. Sabse mehenge toh appki cheezien hi hai – furnitures, clocks etc.

LL: Beta ek kaam karo, Mishra ji ko complaint likhva do. Wo main security guard hai, gate par mil jaayenge.


I went to register a formal complaint with the security personnel. By the end of my interaction, I was laughing – it was that kind of feeling when you realize that you are so helpless that you decide to have a good laugh.

(The actual conversation happened in Hindi)

Me: I am coming from House No.fde. I believe that there was a robbery attempt at my house. The lock has been tampered with.

Security Guard 1 (SG1): I know about that.

I was confused initially. Almost immediately, I hoped that they had actually caught the thief and that the thief would have spoken the truth. And I, on Rajnikanth’s birthday, would do what Thalaivar would have done himself – forgive the thief and not register any formal complaint.

SG2 to SG1: Dude listen carefully. He is referring to house no. fde. We have information only about house no. fcf. 

Me: What happened there?

SG 1: A thief broke one of the locks. But thankfully, he couldn’t break the second lock.

SG2: I have a gut feeling that it must have been the same thief.

Me : (Thinking – You must be in intelligence dept. Who could have connected the dots here – same day, two adjacent buildings.)

SG1: We should appreciate the thief’s courage – he is trying to steal despite knowing that guards are present.

SG2 (to me): You know, the number of thefts in this apartment has been on a rise. Two such incidents happened during Diwali. But you know what, all the incidents are taking place during the night. I work in Morning shift – no such incident has been reported.

Me: You are surely doing your job well! Btw, what’re the next steps. Where do I file a complaint?

SG2: Let’s meet mukhiya. He will be standing near the gate.

Me: But, I thought we are also standing near the gate!

SG2: Not this one, the next one. Oh! wait, here he comes.

I went on to narrate the incident again.

Me:  You must be Mishraji.

Mukhiya(Mu): Arre, who is this Mishra fellow! I am the caretaker and look after everything.

I went on to narrate the incident.

Mu: The thief is smart. He does not come out when any guards patrol a street. Only when the guards go to patrol the parallel street does he come out in street.

Me:(Thinking – I am sure I would have done the same if I were a thief.)

Me: What should I do now?

Mu: Change the lock beta. It will be risky to use the same lock.

Me: That I will. But what about the attempt. Will you be able to catch the thief? Will you increase the number of guards?

Mu: We have a shortage of people. Can’t help. But beta, change the lock definitely.

I made a note that if we ever decide to source security personnel, we should include our apartment in a list of probable projects.


On 13th, I went to landlord’s house to pay him electricity bill. Landlord wasn’t present, Landlady was.

LL: I heard the news. Uncle told me that Madrasi tenant had informed him about someone trying to break into the house. Similar things have happened at Pankaj’s place since Diwali, couple of times.

Me: (You are really helping me)

LL: He stays near where you guys live.

I must have looked confused, since she soon added that Pankaj was her younger son. I actually was more worried than confused, as any sane person would have been.

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24 * 26

The first time someone had asked me to calculate the value of 24 * 26 without actually multiplying these two numbers was probably when I was in fourth or fifth standard, before we had learnt the various mathematical identities and short cuts. (Yeah, I had the honor of studying with such mathematics enthusiasts in school). Obviously, I couldn’t answer it then and my friend never mentioned the shortcut to me. Over time, the various tricks taught showed how simple this question is (or so I thought until recently).


Most of the interviewers usually have a set of questions which they would usually ask in any interview (regardless of the role/position). My colleague too has one such question – he has asked that one question to all his interviewees so far. To be fair to him, his other questions depend on candidate’s profile, E.g. he has asked questions like Explain FFT (Fast Fourier Transformation) to an E&C engineer, equation of EOQ to an Ops graduate. (Again, lets not bother about the role for which the interviews were being held).

Coming back to the topic, that one question which my friend asks is this : “Calculate 24 * 26 without multiplying them”. And I was surprised with some of the answers given by the candidates –

First Interview:

PM : Calculate 24* 26 without multiplying them

Candidate1 (C1): I don’t know.

PM: Think of the identity (a+b)*(a-b). 

C1: Now I get it. I can solve it now.

PM: So what is the answer?

C1: 24 * 26 = (12+12) * (13+13) 

Second Interview:

PM : Calculate 24* 26 without multiplying them

C2: 24 * 26 = 26 * (26 – 2) = 26* 26 – 26 *2 = 26* 26 – 52

C2 goes on to multiply 26*26.

PM: I asked you not to multiply

C2: I am not multiplying 24 and 26, I am multiplying 26 & 26.     

When I got a chance to interview someone, I decided to ask this question, However, I wanted to be more careful with the way I frame the question. Here’s what happened:

Me: Calculate 34 * 36 without using a pen & paper.

C3: <Blank Expression>

Me: Let me give you a hint. Do you know what is sqr(a) – sqr(b)?

C3: I get it now, (a+b)*(a-b) = sqr(a) – sqr(b). So we can solve it using this shortcut, So, 

34 * 36 = (40 – 6) * (40 – 4)

Me: I like the fact that you were able to break each numbers as sum of two different numbers, but can you help me in identifying what is a & b?

C3: Oh, looks like I made a mistake.

Me: Even I thought so.

C3: It is (35 + 1) * ( 35-1) = sqr(35) – 1.

The candidate didn’t know how to find square of 35, but I decided against pursuing this further.


We were narrating these incidents to a mutual acquaintance. He has a stellar academic & professional background – IIT graduate, worked with a consulting firm for 3 years before starting his own company. His reaction was: “Yaar, ye tricky savaal hai. 24 * 26 toh shayad mei bol deta, par agar tum mujhse 23 * 27 poochte toh karne mei fight hoti.” 


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Spoon on the floor

About five years ago, when i was in 3rd/final year of engineering,one of my friends came up with an analogy to describe the characteristics of two people. The story goes like this: A person finds a spoon on the floor near a table. What does he do?

Person A: He picks up the spoon and puts it on the nearby table.

Person B: He calls people up people to say that there is a spoon on the floor and someone should pick that up.

Very recently I came across a guy who uses such stories to discuss the issues at hand. I am trying to imagine how we would use this analogy to describe the different styles of management that people follow.

Task at hand : M has been told to pick up the spoon from the floor and place it on the nearby table.

M1 (Hands-on type): Picks up the spoon from the floor and places it on the table. (Simple, isn’t it?)

M2 (Practical type): Picks up the spoon, places it on the table and makes a witty remark, ” I think they thought that the spoon was too heavy to lift.”

M3: (Show-off type) After doing the necessary things, calls up people and say, ” I have done the work myself this time. But you guys should know how to do this. In fact, there shouldn’t be any spoon lying on the floor.”(Just doesn’t matter who dropped the spoon on the first place).

M4 (Process-focused ): Will call a team meeting, say how a process should be defined so as to ensure that anyone can do this task. Just when someone points out the absurdity in defining a process for such trivial things, M4 jumps and says what if the person’s height is less than that of the table. He goes on to tell that the process should consider all the cases and should have solutions to all of them. So they end up taking 4 hours to define a fool-proof process,which takes care of all the conditions, and then one of them performs the task at hand.

M5 ( Egotist type): Calls a team meeting, says that the task is not as simple as it sounds (or else, he wouldn’t have been called in the first place). He tells them they should try to figure out the time it takes carry on the task under different circumstances by dropping other spoons of different weights and changing the distance between the spoon and the table. He spends next couple of hours discussing how to develop a tracker to maintain a record of the time, leaves it to the team to decide what parameters should be considered. After experimenting for 2 days, he comes up with following equation defining the time needed for the task at hand:

Time = sqrt(.25 * ln(weight of the spoon))*c1 + .24 * (distance between the spoon and table in cms)*c2; at 95% confidence level. 

M6 (Hands-off approach) : Asks how many people are required to do the task, assigns required number of people for the task and forgets about it completely.

And of course, there is the 7th type who will bore you to death with such analogies and leave it to others to do the actual task!

PS: Much of this is inspired by Dilbert strip.

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What’s in a name?

Long ago, when I was still in primary school, teachers used to believe that students would be ashamed to see their name in the blackboard and hence, would stop making noise. On a rare occasion, my name was also written in the blackboard for talking with someone during the class hours. ( It used to be rare not because I didn’t used to talk, but because I had learnt the art of talking without getting caught). I was upset to see my name on the board. Not for the reason which the teacher had intended. I was sad because my name was spelled as “BalaG”. I mean, how on earth can anyone spell such a simple six letter word wrongly. I later found out that the person had Parle-G in mind. (That was probably the only time I hated that biscuit as a kid).

It wasn’t until when I was applying for Passport and PAN when I faced issue with my name again(Oh yeah, also while creating the Facebook account; thanks to Facebook I now know what initials stand for in my friends’ name). Somehow, even PAN form doesn’t consider the possibility of a person having only a first name and an initial. I still remember an incident when we were waiting to collect the IT returns acknowledgement from an agent which the company had arranged. The agent called out “Narayanaswamy” and I thought is zamaane mai bhi koi aisa naam rakhta hai kya before realizing that it was me whom he was calling.

When I applied for CAT in 2009, it asked for first name, middle name and surname. All my certificates till engineering has my name written as N Balaji. However, since N cant be my first name, I had to write Balaji N in CAT form, which later continued at IIMC. 

And thanks to fact that the passport has my initials expanded, everytime I write a competitive examination which requires passport as a proof, I end up darkening 19 ovals. That’s thrice the number of ovals I used to darken during JEE and CAT days! ( I remember during K-CET exam, the guy sitting in front of me was ruing over the fact that he had to darken 25+ ovals. After all, his is the only other name that I am aware of which contains as many mythological characters as Laxman Sivaramakrishnan’s name has).

And yeah, why I am I blogging about this name stuff now. Recently, I came across a person who chose to write my name a bit differently : Bala ji.



“All the best. You are going to a place where even I would think twice before moving.” was how my north indian friend responded when I said I would be shifting to Noida. “The area in which your office is located is where the major news channels are located. So that sector is absolutely safe. But be careful when you look for a house in other sectors” said another friend of mine who has been in Noida for more than 3 years. “Ensure that you have a guard for your house. And yes, don’t tell your salary to guard because there have been instances when guard has killed occupants for money.” said a colleague of mine during my house-hunting process.  Not really reassuring words one would say. 

It has been around a month and half since I moved to the land of behenji  Yadavs. To be very honest, it has been a decent start in this new place. Coming from Chennai where the temperature varies from hot to hotter to hottest and having stayed in Surathkal where humidity takes a new meaning altogether, adjusting to Delhi’s heat was not a problem. (I am more worried about winters, which my colleagues say is more severe than that in Kolkata). Having a power backup means that I am not really tortured by the frequent power cuts ( which by the way is far lesser than what I experiences in my native. However, I do read that there are places in NCR which have been facing like 18 hours of power cut daily). 

Last mile connectivity is a big problem. The minimum fare in an auto seems to be 50 Rs (one of those unwritten rules which you discover with experience). People in general seem to be less helpful than in Mumbai. (Again this is based on my limited interaction, opinion might change as I interact with more and more people. And of course, I am not including my colleagues/friends in this category).  And there seem to be very few tams in this place, hardly a theatre or two screen tam movies, that too in neighboring Ghaziabad. It has been ages since I have heard anyone speaking tam (ok, except couple of weeks back when I met my friend from college).  

My Noida journey has just begun, and I guess it will take some more time before I could say I understand the culture here.

Shopkeeper: Noida mai naye ho kya?

Me: Aapko kaisa pata chala?

Shopkeeper: Yahan koi thank you aur dhanyavaad nahi bolta. (I had told thank you when my transaction with the shopkeeper was over). 


Such is life

If there is any organization that has to be rewarded for its punctuality, it must be Tamil Nadu State Electricity Board. I am sure most people in TN (may be except those leaving in Chennai) will agree with me. For the past couple of months, they have been extremely prompt in cutting electricity. The schedule is fixed. There will be load shedding DAILY between 9 am to 12pm, 3pm to 6 pm, 7 30 pm to 8 15 pm, 9 45 pm to 10 30 pm, 12 pm to 12 45 am, 2 15 am to 3 am and between 5 15 am to 6 am.  Once I was surprised to see the power being cut at 2 45 pm instead of 3 only to realize that the wall clock had stopped functioning. How could I doubt the work ethic of the person working in TNSEB!

When I was a child, I used to dread days when there would be an announcement in the newspaper about load shedding. Looking back those days seem better. After all they never used to cut power during the night-time. Over the past couple of months I have realized how difficult it is to sleep under pressure. You know that if you don’t sleep in next one hour, you can’t sleep for another hour after that as there would be no power! UPS is also of not much use as there is not enough time to charge it.

Not all is that bad though. I am able to get up at 9 am without any alarm (thanks to the heat) when the power goes off. Whenever there is an IPL match involving CSK, there seems to be some sort of concession and that’s the only reason for me to support CSK this year. There seems to be some understanding between the drinking water supplier and the electricity board thankfully. ( Water comes only once in 10 days, imagine if it is supplied when there is no electricity, we could not fill the overhead tank!). And some people have found better ways of utilizing this time as indicated in this article:

Couple of days ago, when the Gaylestorm struck Bangalore, people in my place were more worried by the fact that there was no power cut in the evening. It felt unusual to have no power cut. One of my neighbor actually started cursing the EB for not cutting power! ( That was of course because she was worried if we would see power failure at some unscheduled time). And that was the first time when I enjoyed 20+ hours of electricity in TN in past couple of months.

Things have become normal since. We are again witnessing 10+ hours of power cut daily…

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Couple of weeks back, I had to catch a cab to airport from college. My flight was at 5 pm and I had an exam till 1 30pm. I was wondering if I could reach airport in time if I write my exam. The problem was that it was a friday ( and the fact that it was Durga Pooja time didn’t help the cause). And then there were at least a couple of friends who said that it is very risky as took more than 3 hrs to reach airport sometimes back (and last year someone had missed a flight when he had given himself ~3 hrs for journey). On Thursday, couple of my friends went to airport and told that it took only 1.5-2 hrs to reach the place. Based on couple of instances, I tried to convince myself  that I would reach airport on time and I am not taking unnecessary risk. However, I knew the fallacy in the argument, which is somewhat similar to the black swan theory( though I understand that it would be wrong to tell me reaching late to airport would be a black swan event). For the uninitiated, the black swan theory, in a broad sense, means that just because we have not spotted a swan which is black in color in our sample doesn’t mean that there doesn’t exist a swan that is black in color. ( In my case, the fact that couple of guys took less than 3 hrs doesn’t mean I’ll reach within 3 hrs the next day). It is surprising that despite knowing that our decision is irrational, we tend to justify it.

Well, I did reach in time and was able to board the plane (Indigo Airlines) thankfully. I hadn’t traveled in Indigo Airlines before that day. My friends told me that their service is good and they always reach the destination 5 minutes before time. My immediate reaction was that the time they reported for the journey would me more compared to other airlines then. My friend refuted my point saying that it shouldn’t be possible as the time taken by various airlines is a public information. However, when I searched makemytrip website for Kolkata-Bangalore and Kolkata-Chennai routes, I found that the fastest Indigo flight would take at least 5 min more than the fastest Spicejet flight( sample query, I have taken Dec 2 for two reasons: a) I didn’t want to take a very recent date where there is a possibility of the fastest flight (maybe people have time as the most important characteristic in the utility function) being booked already. b) My term ends then, and I had to check the cost of the flight in case I go home 🙂  Now since this is a public information, the announcement that flight has reached its destination shouldn’t matter, as they have inflated the journey time already. Still, there are many who believe that Indigo always reach destination before time. Even otherwise, the expectation of flight reaching before time should have been already factored in and shouldn’t create much interest.( My personal experience with Indigo has been really bad though, my flight got delayed by 1 hr 15 min, and unfortunately I was expecting the flight to reach 5 min early, so effective delay was 1 hr 20 min ).

Another problem is that of interpretation of public information. During my internship this year, when Amma invited Modi for swearing in ceremony, I and my friend interpreted it differently. My friend thought by inviting Modi, Amma wanted to convey a message that her government is going to be as incorruptible as that of Modi’s. I thought that it was purely a political move showing her interest in all the possible alliances, inviting Sonia on one hand, and Modi on other, not to forget Mr. Naidu of third front. Now I don’t want to go into who is right or who is wrong, but the very fact that two of us interpreted the same public information differently makes an interesting case that the interpretation of the information is more important than the information per se, something which is usually ignored.

Finally, on a completely unrelated note, the vacation gave me a chance to revisit what used to be my favorite pass time: reading The Hindu. There was one particular piece of news that really caught my eyes: Denmark starts taxing fat. It would be interesting to see if this happens in India, would it have the desired impact.


Who is a good professor?

I have been thinking a lot about this topic off late due to various reasons. The key issues are what is the primary role of a professor? And in a class consisting of students with different intellectual capabilities (or to be more politically and socially correct, students having different utilities), which section of the class should the prof target?

My idea of a good teacher/professor has always been someone who can create interest in a particular field. If the professor succeeds in creating interest, students will learn the stuffs themselves. ( I am of course talking about  profs in UG and PG colleges, this by the way would be applicable to high school teachers as well). To extend this point laterally, I believe that professor should spend great deal of time in ensuring that the basic concepts are understood well(advanced topics can be done by the students themselves) rather than trying to cover many topics without building strong basics.

The second question, I believe, is more difficult to answer. Recently, I and my batch mate had to take a crasher for some subject. In order to prepare for the crasher (and hide that we dont remember many stuffs from first year), we floated a spreadsheet asking them to fill the topics that should be covered by us. We also asked them what exactly should be covered in the crasher in those topics: the theory or applications. Half the respondents wanted us to cover theory and the other half wanted applications to be discussed. The same scenario holds good in most of the subjects, there would be 10% of the batch who would know a lot about the topic, the next 30% would have some idea and then there would be others who would be wondering if such a topic existed. The professors’ job becomes extremely difficult as he has to balance the needs of the majority of the students. ( Having elective courses definitely helps in reducing ( not necessarily eliminating) this conflict, but then in a country where most of the institutes have >50% courses as compulsory, this is definitely a problem).

One unfortunate trend I have observed is that students seem to define a prof as good or bad based on the leniency in awarding grades/marks. I have never understood this causality, these are two separate events and should not be mixed. For instance, I have never understood how a prof who free rides but gives  7/10 as min grade be better than someone who gives 4/10 as min grade but prepares a great deal before coming to each class and tries to ensure that every single student understands what he is telling. (Grades might be important but they should never come in the way of judging a prof).

This brings me to the last topic of this post. Recently, an alumnus  of my alma mater suggested in relevant FB group that we should honor couple of teachers who had a significant influence in our life ( the teachers were to be decided by a poll). One point of view that came up was that it is improper to facilitate only a couple of teachers and ignoring the rest. But then the other side of argument is that how do we signal to the so called good teachers that their efforts have played a huge role in shaping our thought process, and in turn differentiate them from others. ( This is especially required in government institutions where merit usually takes a back seat).

PS: The flow of ideas in this post might be abrupt as I haven’t spent time editing and proof-reading the post.

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Random thoughts

Disclaimer:  The flow of thoughts in this post might not be coherent, and my sincere apologies for that.

Couple of years ago I had an argument with my friend over whom should one prefer in a team: a person gifted with extraordinary levels of intelligence but not really willing to work hard, or a person with average intelligence level but ready to do work really hard. At that point of time, I was arguing that the former would any day be better, as we can always try to increase his motivation levels so that he can go that extra mile.

There were a few problems with that kind of discussion however. The most important among those was the fact that definition of intelligence is not universal. I have always thought of intelligence as “the ability to learn and apply new things/knowledge quickly and efficiently”. Somehow, I feel that most of the proxies that we use for intelligence depend on the stock of knowledge an individual already has, and I am not too comfortable including that in intelligence.

Recently, I came across an article by Harsha Bhogle titled “What is talent in sport?” . It made me think about the hard worker vs. prodigious person debate once again. Am I wrong in including in excluding the existing stock of knowledge with a person when defining intelligence? That stock of knowledge, in turn, could have built on hours of smart work and exposure to different situations possible. ( A small diversion – I remember from my IIT coaching days, the director of BASE explaining the difference between hard worker and a smart worker. A person working in a quarry might be a hard worker, but he definitely is not a smart worker. And again smart work doesn’t mean one need not put a lot of effort. Its just that when you work smart, you try to do things efficiently.In this post, I use hard worker and smart worker interchangeably).

Looking back, most of the toppers at NITK in my batch were those whom I would classify as smart workers rather than as people having high IQ. (Again topping a batch is not a good measure I agree, but even if I include participating and winning in tech fests, I think most of them were hard workers). I believe that most of what I have achieved so far is mainly a result of hard work rather than intelligence, and frankly speaking, I think I am satisfied with where I am.

The other way of looking at it is, had the “intelligent person” spent an equal amount of time as the hard working person, the former could have achieved much more. However, it is not as simple as that for the simple fact that the marginal improvement in result decreases with increase in effort. Hence, effort and result relation shouldn’t be linearly interpolated. ( Common way of thinking is that if X spent only 50% time preparing for the exam compared to Y, and obtained 80% of Y’s score,  then X should be more intelligent. This is definitely flawed!).

While I am still confused choosing between intelligent and hard worker, what is really irritating is the attitude of some people who are not really that brainy (read average intelligence or below) and still don’t work hard. ( Definitely, they are not required in the team!). They just don’t seem to understand that smart work to a certain extent can negate relatively lower intelligence levels.