Saturday, March 6

Prove that you made a difference


In the last post on this topic, I talked about how we are looking to help the LSE SIFE Team identify whether or not they are actually making a difference. At end of the day, we need to make sure that we are actually providing information, training, documentation etc. within the trading game, so that the students are actually learning things. We cannot really subject them to an examination, but what we can do is to have them fill out a questionnaire. When we met, the team mentioned that their questionnaire wasn’t really helping. Either the students were marking all on the high side or not marking at all. So we offered the help of our communications expert to evaluate and validate their questionnaire.

We met three members of the team yesterday and had a good conversation. I was reminded of the fact that I have quite a similar conversations with every project. The basic question that we ask in project or change management is, ok, so you want to run this project, but what do you want to achieve? What do you think is “good” is? What we don’t want to do is to be Columbus, start off not knowing where we are going and on reaching not knowing where we are, on coming back not having an idea where we had been and we do this all on somebody else’s money. So, it’s important to know what we are going to measure and what we are going to deliver, otherwise how will we know that the project is successful? Show me the money. Talk is cheap, prove that you made a difference. Show that what you did actually did something.

In my experience, that is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks. Speaking with the project sponsor, it takes time to extricate what benefits are going to be seen? Are we talking about process efficiency or reduction in operational loss, or revenue benefits, or what? It’s vital to clearly identify the benefits that we will deliver. And frankly, it has to be short and sweet, not a full tome. In other words, your sponsor should be able to explain the benefits of the project in 2-3 top level sentences, in about the time it takes for the sponsor and her boss to take an elevator ride (hence elevator speech).

Same with the SIFE group, Hay, Katie and I discussed what they are trying to achieve and how they can measure it. We gave them ideas like, find out how many students want to go on to do a higher degree BEFORE they do the trading game and then ask them AFTER the game about: “How to use a control group to measure progress and performance if you don’t want to submit pre and post questionnaires to the same audience. How to have mini case studies, use cartoon characters, how to put questions like “I feel confident that I am….” “I know about xyz”, talk about 1-5 (strongly disagree to strongly agree) scaling versus a yes / no answer choice.”

We further discussed the HSBC competition, their presentation and preparation needed. There is so much to do! I look forward to meeting the full team of business advisors this Thursday and will report back then.

Late breaking news: there are definitely angels in the bank who look out for business advisors. An angel emailed me out of the blue with some brilliant suggestions and actual help which can further improve this project. More on that in the next post.

Four Ways Brain Drain out of Africa is a good thing

A thought provoking post. Also applies to other countries which heavily rely on human capital such as India, Pakistan, Philippines, etc.

Friday, March 5

This isn't a war crime but is perhaps worse than that

What kind of a human being does this? Forget about war crimes and murder, this is behaviour of a human being whose humanity has been burnt away by what? I quote:

The most shocking testimony in the new Breaking the Silence report, I think, is number 95. A female Border Police sergeant describes how the guys would catch Palestinian kids trying to sneak into Israel to sell cheap little toys: 
It was simply routine – emptying the children’s plastic bags and playing with their toys. You know, grabbing the stuff and throwing the toys among us like balls.
Q: The children cried?
Constantly. They cried and were terrified. I mean, you couldn’t miss it.
Q: Adults cried too?
Sure. To humiliate them. One of our goals was this: I made him cry in front of his child, I made him shit in his pants.
Q: You saw cases of people soiling their pants?
Q: Why?
Especially at beatings, beating them to a pulp and threats and yelling, where the guy is terrified, especially in front of the kids... There was this once, again, an adult detained with his child, a tiny kid, about four years old. The child was not hit, but the patrolman was annoyed that the adult was taking the kid with him so he’d be shown consideration, and told him: “You’re taking the kid along so as to be pitied. Let’s show you what’s what.” And he beat him to a pulp, yelled at him, said: “Why, I could kill you right in front of your kid. Maybe you’d feel more...”
Q: And he wet his pants for sheer fright?
Q: In front of his child?
Yes. There are lots of horror stories like, I made him shit in his pants, I made him do that. Such talk was routine, not anything special...

And this is being done by Israeli Women. I am puzzled. Seriously puzzled. Why? Why are you like this? How can you look yourself in your face after destroying the innocence of a child? Is this what you are? You are not really human are you? This isn't human behaviour. You terrified a child, not once or twice but constantly? Is that what you do to your own child? Your little brother and sister? Or was this done to you by your parents? Is this endemic in the Israeli Army? Why? I am ashamed of you while being deeply puzzled at your unthinking brutality towards children. And Karma does exist, what goes around comes around.

Thursday, March 4

Beware of Greeks bearing change?

Having had the pleasure of working in Greece for many months at a bank, I have an attachment to that lovely country. It is a great country, great food, great people, great architecture, wonderful history and just tickety boo in all respects. In fact, I was thinking at that time of retiring there but then I came to know and love Italy, but that is for another post. Therefore, when I read about Green suffering macro-economic challenges, it is obviously of interest to me.

Greece, as you might have read, is facing severe financial deficits. I do not want to go into the details of the history behind how Greece got into trouble but suffice to say that it told a few porkies to get into the Euro and then it has gone downhill ever since. Here is a good overview of the crisis. The deficit is out of control, the public finances are a disaster, growth is anemic, corruption rife and its competitiveness is very weak. Combine this with a rather dysfunctional political maturity and what you have is a full-blown national crisis.

So what do you do? Well, depends upon which side of the economic rail tracks you are, some believe that you need a bit more assistance from the other Euro zone countries or from the IMF. Cut public spending, improve statistical data collection and publication / governance, improve competitiveness, etc. etc. The new government has promised to cut the deficit and improve growth. But here is the problem which interests me. The markets simply do not believe that the government can do this.

One of my teachers once told me this. “We judge ourselves by what we think we are capable of doing while others judge us by what we have done”. This applies to us as individuals and as well way up to national governments. What about for those who are deep in the weeds doing projects? I sometimes think that we are no different from the old style prophets who through a combination of doom and gloom sticks plus a heavy dose of eternal salvation carrots come up with a project plan (10 commandments, Quranic rules, etc.) to get there.

But just like what happened to Greece, how do we make sure that people believe in the fact that we are going to get there? Everybody has different ways of doing this, but I prefer to have a good agreed scope / benefits / objectives document, clear transparent project plan, a good governance around it, clear links between the actions and the resources (responsible, accountable, informed, communicated), solid risk and issue management and the financial bits. While nobody knows the future accurately, to engender belief, one has to show that we have put in place these measures and are open and transparent on our progress, problems and issues.

I have seen projects which do not have identified risks and issues and that fill me with dread. After ruling out the presence of divinity (as only heavenly creatures do not commit mistakes, have issues and risks), one has to regretfully conclude that the project will face significant problems because risks and issues are not being identified.

Look what happened when the Greek PM announced its plans. Immediately the market said, sorry, mate, do not believe you. The cost of insuring against Greek debt is now the highest ever. In my opinion, this is because the government is not transparent with the economic data, the plans to achieve the objectives are seriously flaky, the issues and risks not laid out nor are the management actions to deal with them. Over here in the UK, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party says that we have to do the same thing for the UK as well. Unfortunately, the political calendar dictates that transparency is a fond hope and rigorous macro-economic planning and execution has to wait. In the meantime, the market is judging us by what we have done.

Wednesday, March 3

Accountants are actually High Priests, drawing order out of chaos.

Accountants are actually High Priests, drawing order out of chaos.

When I read a paper by Mahmoud Ezzamel on how accounting was performed in Ancient Egypt, I could not suppress a chuckle. Once that was done, it made sense to me. So what is Dr. Ezzamel’s argument? In effect, he is saying that the ancient Egyptians in the New Kingdom (1552-1080BC) had a world view which was defined by the Gods, the Pharaohs, the living and the dead. As long as the relationship between these four parties was established and on track, everything was fine and dandy. It was the scribes (read accountants in modern parlance) who were responsible for making sure that the right numbers of wheat ounces, gold weights, cattle etc. were offered to the Gods by the Pharaohs, and were mentioned in the tombs, etc.

Where does accounting come in? Well, accounting as formally defined is a practise of entering in a visible format, a record of items and actions. There is a value attached to these accounts and a way of capturing them and the definition of these values. In Ancient Egypt, this was inextricably linked with religion. The example of the Eye of Horus story links into this. See the pictorial representation of how fractions ½, ¼, 1/8, etc. break down pictorially in an ordered, descending geometric series.

The philosophical idea behind this, to follow the legend of Horus, is that accountants measure and ascribe value to goods and activities. You might want to think of this as a scale. The higher the value, the closer you are to the God. Another example is the weighing of the heart on Judgement Day as expressed in this papyrus image:

Again, you can see how the measurement of gifts, offerings, actions, activities in real life translate in a measurable manner to link the living with the dead and combining this with the Gods (see the Gods in the centre) and the Pharaoh(who is sitting on the far right). Measurement is the word which is crucial in this case, as it was the scribes, (the accountants) who would judge the value of the offerings made to the gods. And if the scales would not balance, then the jackal headed god will swallow the heart. I dare not say what is the modern day equivalent of what happens if our balance sheet or accounts do not balance, but I am sure you can think of people like regulators and auditors who will eat your figurative heart if this happens.

Temple walls from Ancient Egypt and papyri, etc. were full of lists and values of offerings made to the Gods, portions offered to the ancestors or kept aside for offerings in case of your own death, and portions offered to the Pharaoh. There was a very complex set of definitions which ruled over these offerings. Reading them made me feel that I am reading a GAAP or IAS manual of modern times.

Here is a scene from a tomb which explained precisely what was being offered.

This is an interesting philosophical point. Accountants actually draw order out of chaos, allow measurement to happen and frankly are perhaps indeed the high priests of order in our society. So if somebody says that they are boring, they are boring in the sense that the skeleton in our bodies is boring, but without it, we will just be a pool of skin and fluids.

Order and accounting as a performative ritual: Evidence from ancient Egypt by Mahmoud Ezzamel published in Accounting, Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 348–380

Tuesday, March 2

People who are for book banning and against freedom of speech.

Every book almost always has some errors, its almost impossible to catch every error. Usually after collecting these errors, the publishers and authors normally release a second edition where errors are fixed. But when somebody actually demands that a book be withdrawn rather than just the errors be fixed, then it means that the person is against freedom of speech and for book banning. Why am I talking about this? Well, this came around in my in-box. I quote:


To:  Penguin Group USA Penguin Books India

SCANDALOUS cover jacket of the book - copy for ready reference at
Ms. Susan Peterson Kennedy
President , Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014, USA
Mr. Mike Bryan,
CEO & President, Penguin Books Pvt Ltd.
11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110 017
Dear Ms. Peterson Kennedy, Mr. Mike Bryan,
The following is a petition from concerned signatories to the Penguin Group asking for an apology for the publication of the factually incorrect and offensive book “The Hindus-An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger. We expect Penguin Group to withdraw the book immediately.
“The Hindus: An Alternative History” is rife with numerous errors in its historical facts and Sanskrit translations. These errors and misrepresentations are bound and perhaps intended to mislead students of Indian and Hindu history.
Throughout the book, Doniger analyzes revered Hindu Gods and Goddess using her widely discredited psychosexual Freudian theories that modern, humanistic psychology has deemed limiting. These interpretations are presented as hard facts and not as speculations. Doniger makes various faulty assumptions about the tradition in order to arrive at her particular spin. In the process, the beliefs, traditions and interpretations of practicing Hindus are simply ignored or bypassed without the unsuspecting reader knowing this to be the case. This kind of Western scholarship has been criticized as Orientalism and Eurocentrism. The non Judeo-Christian faith gets used to dish out voyeurism and the tradition gets eroticized.

Then follows a list of errors. Some are factual, some are debatable, some are opinions. Asking for an apology is frankly stupid and I am not even going to talk about it. But to ask for the withdrawal of the book is asking for book banning, censorship and a violation of the freedom of speech principle.

There are now a bunch of signatures on the petition. Now here’s the amusing bits, there are so many signatories who are professors, doctors and people from USA who are of Indian origin. The fact that professors and doctors signed a book banning petition which violates the freedom of speech principle means that all these doctors and professors are, lets say, at barely nodding acquaintance with the concept of freedom of speech. I mean, I can understand an uneducated rage boy shouting and screaming for book burning, but professors and doctors? Well, very disappointing that all that education on opening up their minds was sort of wasted.

But for the Indian Americans, did they realise that they signing this petition means that they have basically now proven to everybody that these people do not believe in the first amendment to the US constitution? And now there is permanent proof for their enemies to point to them and say, look at these people who dont believe in the US constitution’s first amendment. oh! well, if they indeed believed in the essential principles of freedom of speech, then I would have called them educated in the literal sense, proof that even getting PhD’s or MD’s does not mean that they are educated. After this serious stupid error, any petition or statement or any advocacy they come up with can immediately be rejected by people saying, ah!, but then they dont believe in freedom of speech and the US constitution. Pitiful. Talk about big foot in mouth and shooting off their own foot. At one stroke, they have damaged India, Hinduism and their own reputation by signing a frankly illiberal petition which calls for book banning, censorship and against freedom of speech. Poor chaps. Also, those who have not signed yet will hastily try to walk away from this. And those who have signed will now try to get their names off the list.

I think that as soon as the petition owners realise this, the wording of the petition will be changed or withdrawn.

A new spam method

Got this in my inbox today:

So I replied back:


hmmmm, interesting, so why would you send this message from a hotmail account?

From: [] On Behalf Of Google Account
Sent: 06 February 2010 16:58
Subject: Important Update

Due to numerous registration of new emails by our users, Gmail is experiencing congestion and a very slow network.
Gmail needs to rectify this problem by eliminating some unused emails and also shut down some Gmail accounts that are not updated regularly. Google mail require your Gmail account information  below for verification and for Gmail to know how often you use your account so that your account will not to be shut down unexpectedly.

Birth date:

Thanks Gmail!


Monday, March 1

The Booby Traps

I am not sure how far this story is true, but if yes, this promises to create mayhem, if nowhere else than on a thousand newspaper headlines.


LONDON – Agents for Britain's MI5 intelligence service have discovered that Muslim doctors trained at some of Britain's leading teaching hospitals have returned to their own countries to fit surgical implants filled with explosives, according to a report from Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin.

Women suicide bombers recruited by al-Qaida are known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery. The lethal explosives – usually PETN (pentaerythritol Tetrabitrate) – are inserted during the operation inside the plastic shapes. The breast is then sewn up.

Similar surgery has been performed on male suicide bombers. In their cases, the explosives are inserted in the appendix area or in a buttock. Both are parts of the body that diabetics use to inject themselves with their prescribed drugs.

But more seriously, this is indeed quite possible and this will not be caught by the full body scan scanners either.