School for future politicians

I was super excited by the political experiments that were happening in the capital when Aam Aadmi Party was launched after the successful India-Against-Corruption movement. But my excitement didn’t last too long.

Personally, I felt sad that the Kejriwal goverment decided to quit. As an observer and eternal optimist I was hoping that this experiment would last longer. My own random ideas of what happened/should have been done e.g. –

  • AAP should have just focused on 2 or 3 problems and delivered on them.
  • AAP didn’t seem to have a first-100-days plan in place – I guess they were never hoping to form the Delhi Government
  • One cannot open up multiple simultaneous battle-fronts. You can not alienate everyone and make blanket accusations. They seem to have been in a continous conflict with almost everyone.
  • As a disruptive force their tactics were suited to be a good opposition player but not as the party mandated to lead the administration.
  • They needed a Chanakya – a sound strategist – who could make sense of all the chaos they were in and maybe compounding day-by-day
  • People will start discounting your words if you just keep on complaining. Share some good news, be generous in showering praises too. They failed miserably in doing so.
  • As a leader you cannot be dragged into every debate. You don’t need to respond to every accusation and charge. All extremes are bad. A prime minister who doesn’t say anything is as bad as a chief minister who talks way too much.
  • And many more…

But one thing was very clear. In the Indian context someone who understands the beauracracy might not always be a good leader. Difference between working and getting work done.

School for Political management

 

And hence I thought, why don’t we have a School for Political Management – something which arms future political leaders with the right kind of tools, skills, exposure. A school whose core objective is to churn out graduates who would be comfortable in the political arena, who would “understand the system” and hopefully bear strong moral and ethical standards.

I see it as a good business proposition. Imagine the kind of demand from political families where politics is what the next generation is supposed to get into. Its what the local strongmen would want to go to, to polish their rough edges. The school would give all graduates vaccinations against Foot-in-the-mouth disease, that plagues some of the top wannabe leaders right now.

The school could have an interesting mix of curriculum:

  • Indian Constitution and Law : Hopefully any grad from the school who takes charge of law ministry, would know that they cannot summon the judges. The Judiciary is not under their “control”. As the democracy matures, lawyers will continue to play an increasing role in politics. A strong understanding of the law can help draft stronger policies and hence action.
  • Basic Management principles : Esp stuff on leverage, delegation etc. As a minister, you cannot do all the work on your own. Your ministry is effective if you focus on removing hurdles, drafting right policies & programs and empowering an efficient administration that delivers on the ground results.
  • National and Political History:  Way too many lessons to be learnt from domestic and global history. There was a time when Lalu Chalisa was sold at Bihar railway stations and if someone had ever suggested that Lalu might be jailed, it would have been a case of very vivid imagination.
  • Public Speaking
  • Internships: Work along with a state or national level minister. Understand first hand the challenges in the ministry, how the administration works. There is considerable merit in the age old Marwari tradition of letting the next generation dirty their hands as an apprentice before they take charge of the business.
  • And since no college is taken seriously unless it has some global affiliation – this school would have tie-ups with the leading counterparts in other countries. Special sessions with visiting Presidents/Prime Ministers would be arranged – given that this college would produce tommorow’s leaders – it should not be impossible to arrange.

So what do you think? Would this help? Should it be a 1 year or a 2 year course?

How do we screen the candidates? Coz I believe we would get way too many applicants. And this would surely be a price-inelastic demand.

TripAdvisor feature – add professional profile and ratings

What makes TripAdvisor a preferred choice in the process of identifying a hotel to stay at is the rich guest-feedback and reviews for most of the listed properties. The stuff about getting addresses, details, baking in a booking engine has been done by very many, but where TripAdvisor leads the pack is this recommendation layer built on top of this aggregated data.

This recommendation layer is what helps us in not only discovering but also deciding on the hotel/restaurant we want to go to. It also gives you a place to comeback and share your own views – which hopefully can influence future decisions. Which gives us a sense of being in control, of being an influencer of sorts

TripAdvisor’s recommendations product is indeed a very mature offering. They have baked in reviewer’s authority, social graph ( it shows reviews from your network clearly marked) etc.

But there is one huge opportunity which is clearly missing – Individual Professional profiles for the hospitality sector.

Let me explain this in detail.

We all know from our past experiences that the key to a great experience is much more than the architecture, luxury, ambiance etc- it is the staff which finally brings all of these together to give us a great stay. Right?

There have been times when I stayed in a great property but the staff just failed to step up to the expectations. On the other hand, some of the best times I had was when I was backpacking and staying at guest-houses and probably half star rooms in Rajasthan. The human connect is absolutely critical.

If this assumption is valid, shouldn’t we help build reputation for the hospitality sector professionals by sharing our feedback? Maybe we should avoid writing it when its an overall negative experience, but why wouldn’t I do it for a great manager/waiter?

A recent experience confirmed the need for this.

We were out on a road trip to Agra/Mathura/Vrindavan and my brother found this incredible property in Vrindavan (and not through Trip Advisor). We checked out the next day and in the whole confusion of getting all 11 people and their stuff together, my brother forgot his wallet at the reception.

We were on our way and almost back on the highway when the manager called to tell us about the wallet. On his own he checked where we were and sent out his guy on a bike to deliver the wallet. Kept calling us to check if we got it or not. When my brother called him up to say ThankYou, he just asked if we would write a positive review on TripAdvisor.

We did, but guess who gets the 5 star rating? This manager got mentioned, but he would get drowned in the list of fresh or helpful reviews that would float over my brothers review of the property.

trip-advisor-ratings

Look at the image above from Dusit Devarana’s page. These are the top 2 reviews showing and one can see Varun Kutty being mentioned – unfortunately one guest got the name wrong. Many other reviews don’t mention Varun. Wouldn’t Varun love to have a small place on TripAdvisor which shows a summary of only those reviews which mention Varun. That would be a personal trophy for him – one that keeps getting bigger day-by-day !

Also given the churn in the hospitality sector, this manager would probably move to a new location and while he might dig out the review and show it during interviews, it might not be a compelling argument in his favor.

What if,

  • TripAdvisor allows hospitality sector professionals to build Linkedin kind of profiles
  • A guest who is reviewing a property can also mention the specific staff members who influenced their experience
  • Maybe we would want to keep the personnel mentions for positive reviews only- hence trigger the prompt or tagging option only when the rating is 4 or 5.  I would want to do this to keep the negative reviews out, which are rarely written objectively.
  • Aggregate the reviews/ratings mapped against the professional and show it as a summary. Also show this in combination with the property or brand they were associated with at that point of time.
  • This profile could also be used as a proxy for background/reference checking. Hospitality sector suffers from a very high level of CV fraud and most of those pertain to prior experience.
  • This would also get the hospitality staff fully integrated to the TripAdvisor platform. They might not feel the threat of competition right now, but this would help build a very strong hurdle against any future threat.

In my opinion, this would also motivate the staff to invest in each interaction they have with guests. The gap is that this would end up catering to the front-end staff only and miss out on the back-end folks. Very few people ask for the chef’s name at a restaurant if they have had a great meal.

Recommended feature for Google Maps Application

Gratitude First – I am really thankful for Google for the traffic layer on its Maps application. Like most others in Delhi, I have become a regular Google Maps user now, checking the traffic updates and choosing the route that I should take to reach my destination. So much so, that my driver also insists on it.

I started tracking my typical usage behavior and interesting things surfaced. I would open the application if:

  • I am going to a new/unusual place or
  • To the usual place at a not-the-usual time,
  • I don’t know the route or the traffic conditions or both
  • Faced with a traffic build-up on my usual route to work(or back) to see how long the jam was and what was the situation on alternate routes

And amongst the situations listed above, almost 90% of my usage was due to the last one – traffic buildup ahead of me on my usual route to work or back home.

Also, since my daily commute is almost 40kms one side, many a times there are multiple congestion points that I encounter. And some of those develop while I am on my way. Hence even if I check the traffic at point A and see that everything is clear downstream, chances are that the situation would change when I reach the downstream point B.It can be very frustrating, trust me.

There’s another scenario that kicks in – given the resolution at which maps open up basis my current location, I need to scroll a lot to check out the whole path. Many a times I miss out checking the traffic congestion at far-off points.

google-maps-traffic-layerAnd this set me thinking – wouldn’t it be a great feature for Google maps to

    • allow me to set my usual route for work/home
    • jump directly to my route showing the areas with traffic build-up or

better still, alert me even without my opening the Google Maps app that there are places where there is slow traffic. This would have been true delight.If this is possible, can we build a web-app to send traffic updates to people who do not have a smartphone. Can such users register their routes and get SMS updates? Why not?

As I toyed with the idea, I started wondering, why hasn’t Google done it already.

This is a very simple and intuitive need, surely someone at Google would have articulated such a need long time back.

So I started understanding how Google Maps work and what I discovered in a quick 2-3 hours of research was the following:

  • Google has a similar feature (time to destination – work or home) in its Google Now set of widgets. But its not really the kind of delight that I was referring to.
  • Google might not want to do it – Google collects and calculates traffic data from users who are using Google Maps and sending their locations to the Google servers. This means, Google would always need higher number of users to stay-on with their Maps/location services for them to get more data-points to have a better traffic estimate.
  • And maybe independent developers also cannot do it – The Traffic heat-maps are a “layer” on the Google maps and they are provided in a similar way in the API – a visual layer that sits on top of the geographical UI. This means that any developer would not get a feed of locations/latlons along with the traffic feed. To develop the kind of app/feature I referred above, the Google traffic API would not be helpful.

 Update:

With today’s experience I think Google should still go ahead and build this feature. I now feel that this feature would kick-in more signins into Google Maps. Why?

If I get an alert that there is traffic in my usual path and the alert doesnt mention the specific points, I would be tempted to login into Maps and see where the blockage is. What are the alternate routes and what is the situation there.

One challenge here is that not every one might have their GPS on and it might be tough for Google to know if the person is already on the move or not. It could choose to send these alerts only to those with GPS on. This would serve two purposes – more people would keep GPS always on, hence provide the feed to Google’s server to better calculate traffic pattern. Also with the GPS on, Google would know when the user is on the move on the pre-defined specific route.

The car you bought but don’t drive, hurts the economy

While on my evening walk I recently noticed an old Mercedes gathering dust in the neighborhood – the car hasn’t moved in the last 10 years. Or maybe more.

While this rude treatment meted out to the Merc pained me,  I noticed that there were many other cars which had rusted completely just being parked out in the open.

So I asked my economist wife – what is the impact of such reduced life cycle of an asset on the overall economy.

Unused Cars

What I was thinking was this:

  • At an individual household level, this was clearly capital being blocked or even wasted. As the same could have been re-utilized in buying another asset or investing elsewhere.
  • At a more macro level, the automobile industry was not really a loser. They might end up selling more cars if many individual households just buy cars and don’t use them. So where in our country’s GDP calculations would this waste be accounted for.
  • A car that is used regularly results in more spends – on fuel, maintenance, tires etc. All of which stimulates the down-stream industries and hence positively impacts the economy.  Discounting the fuel-price etc. So does it mean that if a society in general fails to extract the true value from its assets,it fails to stimulate the ancillary industries sufficiently? If so, would this apply to apparels and other items we usually stock?
  • The fact that the car was not sold-off meant that the supply was reduced in the 2nd hand car sales market. Does such a trend result in higher prices in the used-cars market? Would selling off an un-used asset lead to higher supply and hence a more vibrant used-assets market? if yes, then maybe a Quickr or OLX should pitch to the finance ministry and get some more funding.

Too many questions and the wifey says that its way too complicated for me to comprehend. So while I work on a mathematical-excel model to quantify this, do share your point of view.

Would our economy have a positive impact if we would learn to extract more value from each of our purchases.