Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Education and our future


I regularly read Juan Cole for his expertise on the Middle East as he understands that situation much better than policy makers. Not too long ago he quoted Thomas Jefferson to make a point about education that I believe merits repeating.

"Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance: establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils of tyranny and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."

Juan was reacting to the pepper spraying incident in California. He also quoted Arnold Schwartzenegger who pointed out how financial priorities had shifted in California from education to prisons. It is now more difficult to finance university education and easier to be imprisoned.

There is debate in both Canada and the United States about what the government's priority should be. Here in Canada many think health should be the priority.  In the United States I hear many think security should be protected at all costs. In these rough times many are saying nothing is more important than improving the economy and providing more jobs. These are all very important, but when you get down to the core priority I believe it is education.

I do not blame politicians or government officials as to keep their power they respond to what they think are the priorities of those who put them in power. Voters really do have power and although they certainly can be manipulated they express their concerns in a variety of ways. The most powerful dictator can face revolution when the people realize the priorities of the leader (often very personal) are just too offensive to maintain the status quo.

When I say the core priority is education I don't mean just for its own sake, but because it relates so fundamentally to everything else. Educated people live longer partly because they have more money, but also because they eat better, they are more apt to avoid bad health habits, they are more apt to seek medical advice when needed. Educated medical personnel (including doctors, specialist doctors, technicians of all sorts and even secretarial staff) are more effective. Prevention helps avoid more serious health problems. A healthy population better deals with the problems of employment, defense, etc.

How does education affect defense? Defense against foreigners is really only a last resort required because we do not understand their concerns and react appropriately. As a deterrent an educated population can provide more effective security. Lots of details (language, cultural appreciation, technical, negotiating),where education is critical

The economy is a fuel that keeps us all going. The reality is changing every day with technical changes. We live in a consumer driven economy, that in many ways is a self-defeating spiral. Technically we can produce more goods than we need with fewer workers than ever. Credit has extended our ability to consume, but drives society closer to financial disaster. Too many people handle credit improperly and too many people exploit that to the point that bills cannot be paid and consumption dries up with frightening results for jobs. There is definitely a trend away from muscle work.

Who can understand all of this? I claim questions with very few answers. We should be able to educate ourselves so that muscles are used mostly for health and enjoyment while machines under human guidance provide a lot of what we really need in balance with our planet's resources. Democracy is supposed to provide us the leverage to make sure everyone gets treated fairly, but in fact a small number of people are able to manipulate circumstances to give themselves a bigger piece of the pie. Uneducated, over or under worked people are very vulnerable. Uneducated masses suits some people just fine.

Education by itself means jobs even though it is understood that robots and computer software are taking over bigger and bigger parts of education. For the foreseeable future humans still are essential to help other humans understand things better. In order to teach one needs knowledge so there can be a virtuous spiral of ever increasing knowledge. Teaching helps increase self awareness and the virtuous circle can ever expand.

Educated people make better decisions. I am not saying that a little education creates the perfect decision, but only that as we increase education our decisions can be better. It is probably true that a little education can be a dangerous thing which is why critical thinking needs to be much more widespread.

I had an interesting discussion with Ken Griffith, owner of Val Pak in Burlington awhile back regarding jobs. We both understand technology is making more jobs redundant and that we can produce more goods than we can pay for. Education is not just improving our reading and math skills, but literally to prepare us for the work that needs to be done in the future. It can also be to enjoy and make better sense of life in general which means different things to different people.

When I was unemployed. I recognized I didn't have many technical skills and there was a lot of competition for jobs. I was lucky enough to qualify for a government course in basic computer skills of which I had very few. I was smart enough to take another short but more specialized course with my own money. It matters little what you do these days, computer skills are critical not only for work but for personal reasons (such as helping to manage your money and communication). More recently I took another course (very cheap and not too time consuming) on social media which again has helped liberate what I can do.

The photo at the top is by son, Michael Davidson on a trip to the Czech Republic. I not only envy him his opportunities, but that he is smart enough to take advantage of them. If more people were driven to understand how the rest of the world lives we would have less problems.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

FARHAN AKHTAR, YOUNG MAN ON THE RISE IN BOLLYWOOD


As a student of Bollywood movies for a few years it has taken me awhile to identify the people who exemplify what I like best. Farhan Akhtar snuck up on me. The earliest movie I have seen of his was 'Don" which he produced. A bit later I saw "Karthik Calling Karthik" where he was the principle actor and I just could not associate him as a blockbuster producer. Later I watched "Rock On." Still later I watched what most would consider a masterpiece, "Dil Chahta Hai".

By this time I took a closer look. Nothing happens on its own. In fact Farhan is the son of Javed Akhtar a prominent screen writer and Honey Irani a writer and actress, both still active. At the age of 17 Farhan got involved in camera work and as assistant director.

At one stage he goofed off for about two years. He watched a lot of movies, but didn't do much of anything productive. One of his movie characters is at least partially modeled on this part of his life.  A movie that really established him was was "Dil Chata Hai" in 2003.  The movie had several established actors: Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Preity Zinta and Askaye Khanna.  He used the musical talents of Shankar Ehsaan Loy who are are another favourite of mine.  It seemed to attract top technicians.  He established a few habits such as shooting scenes in Goa.  He used the coming of age theme.  This is one of my favourite Bollywood movies and won awards for best film, best screenplay and music.  More on "Dil Chata Hai":  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/11/farhan-akhtar-young-man-on-rise-in.html

In 2004 he directed "Lakshya" with Hithrik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Amitabh Bachchan and Bomran Irani. To this point I had not liked Hithrik in the few films I had seen and he seemed just a pretty face with some dance moves. However I saw another side to him in this film and have since appreciated his talent more. Incidentally Hritrik played the role that Farhan identified with in his two years of goofing off. Hrithrik's character matures and we can assume that Farhan did as well.

In 2006 he produced, wrote and directed "Don". It was actually a remake of a very popular movie of Amitabh Bachchan (I have to confess I haven't seen it) and there was some concern that it wouldn't measure up. The consensus is that it did measure up with Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Om Puri and Boman Irani.

In 2005 his acting debut was in a tv mini series with which I am unfamiliar.

In 2008 he took a big acting step in "Rock On". Unlike most Bollywood actors he was allowed to actually sing. Not only did his voice suit the role, but it provided greater voice consistency. He won an award for best newcomer.

As an actor he next appeared in 'Luck by Chance' and then 'Karthik Calling Karthik' with Deepika Padukone. It was a simple suspense story very well done. For 2011 he appeared as an actor( and as a producer) in "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" and wrote some of the dialogue. In my opinion this was one of the best movies of 2011. This seems a good point to mention his twin sister Zoya who wrote this last movie as well as directed it (she is nominated for an award as well). She has been involved as writer, producer and director, but so far not acting.

When a sequel was decided for "Don", Farhan was the natural choice to produce, direct and write the story. At this early date, "Don 2" seems destined to rise up to record earnings, especially in foreign markets, including the U.S and Canada.

A few projects are on the go and I for one will be looking for any that are tied to the name Farhan Akhtar. One is a sequel to "Rock On" and another is "Talaash", written by Zoya and starring Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Rani Mukerji. Both Farhan and Zoya are carrying on a Bollywood tradition--one of excellence and entertainment.















USING DATA BASES FOR SELLING PART 2


How do you sift through a maze of ever increasing details to determine an effective strategy? Indecision wastes time and is a sales killer. What you decide not to do, or to defer is as important as what you do decide to do. A well thought out data base can make selling more effective.

A key concept for me is a trigger which essentially is a detail that helps you identify a timely prospect.  A trigger could be a very wide range of things and recorded in different fields. It allows you to bury contacts that are not timely by dating them far into the future and to focus on those that are timely. In order not to clog up your planning many prospects might be treated somewhat like some prospects treat you--"we'll call you if we are interested."  But you need to be able to trigger them quickly when circumstances inevitably present an opportunity or an obligation. You will call your prospects when it is most appropriate which is basically when you have something new and relevant to explain or a logical question or realize their circumstances have changed.

A trigger can be any detail. It is up to you to assign appropriate triggers to every contact. A trigger can be used in many different fields. Determining triggers can be the most important detail after deciding when to make the next effort.  If a commitment has been made it is easy to determine a suitable date. If the effort was inconclusive (for example no commitments and no new expectations) you might decide to wait for a better opportunity and rely on a trigger. Some examples of triggers follow.

Perhaps the most important trigger might be placed in the action field. A good example for me has been the f/u trigger. That stands for follow up and can be followed by anything, although some standardization is helpful.

I have given out hundreds of samples and found a frustrating pattern. Just because I had given someone a sample didn't mean they felt obligated to try it. Often I found samples were forgotten or the right circumstances hadn't yet happened.  One f/u would serve as a reminder. A second one often just established that I would be persistent about it. Sometimes third and fourth followups would help determine if there was a basic problem or some encouragement is required. There is a danger of annoying people who have other priorities, but balance that with the fact that a trial can often turn a prospect from an unbeliever to a champion. Each case is unique, but in your data base you should not lose sight of any of your strategies even if they seem to work only some of the time. Having sequenced out my f/u's I found it an effective strategy once in a while to use them as a trigger and spend time catching up on them.  Eventually some get written off, but others, often the unexpected ones can have a big payoff. You could be following up a new fact given to contact, a question you asked them or a comment they made.

One little trigger I found useful has been the competition field, my competition for the contact. Somewhere in your initial conversations just ask who your contact is dealing with (you can go into as much depth as the contact will allow).  Your competition likely will sooner or later have a problem and as you become aware of it you may find it worth your while to target those who relied on them. Although your competition is important so too can be your contact's competition. You may well be dealing with their competition and should respect everyone's privacy. On the other hand if there are no conflicts any information you can gain might be of great interest to your contact.

Every contact fits into a variety of categories. I had one field labeled type where I would write in the different categories my contact fell into. Specialities, association memberships, hobbies, psychological profile, floor type were some categories used. The more details the more triggers you have to call up contacts that fit a new strategy (or an old neglected one). At some stage based on some new developments or the lack of success in other strategies I will develop new projects. One tool for this is the trigger words I have accumulated.

The source of your contact can be useful over the long haul. Prospecting is ongoing, but to understand what works best for you, you need to remember where your contacts originated. For example is a trade show worth attending? is a networking group effective? do you get your share of referrals?

A trigger is a relative thing. With some clients it might be the only factor that might induce you to make another effort, in other words you might not ever contact them again unless something triggers a justification.  With some prospects there is no reason to call them in the very near future, but there is an expectation that something will change, even if you can't detect it. One idea might be to put the word "downtime" into the action field meaning that when you have run out of other productive things to do you will check these prospects to see if there is anything that can justify further efforts either immediately or in the foreseeable future. Of course there are those who are promising and responsive and you schedule them on a short schedule.

It is important to record what happened for each effort. Some are one way conversations (an email, letter, drop off, voice mail) and others are two way (telephone or visit). How much detail is required? It depends, but the most important criteria is how much is unique and how much can be shortened to routine.

Try to develop a political understanding--who influences who, who makes the final decision, who can explain it to you. The decision process will change over time.

Phone numbers. Sometimes I know a prospect's phone number, but not location. Checking phone numbers including even marginal prospects may help pin down a city which can help you develop an understanding and perhaps some sales points (such as nearby satisfied customers, or distribution points, etc).

Old names show up in new places which help to reveal a history. You may notice that personnel listed on one record show up in another. Did they move? Get promoted, quit or fired? Maybe just a name coincidence you can joke about.

One thing you can be certain of is change. Many details that change within your prospects are buried deep while others require only a minimal effort to uncover. They change personnel, personnel changes their functions, product and service focus, their competition and your competition, location, distribution channels. Any one of these details could justify triggering another effort

One way to deal with a lot of boring repetitive detail is to start another data base just for storing these apparently unneeded details. I call mine History and I try to add to it regularly by transferring info from my current data base. It is conceivable that some trivial detail (or a long history) may be critical in the future, but it can be counterproductive to clog up your current data base.

In case you missed part one:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/10/using-data-bases-for-selling-part-one.html

The photo is by my son Michael Davidson visiting the Czech Republic where he wanted to see a hockey game; something Canadians and Czechs share.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Team of Rivals" has lessons for today

One of my goals in reading biographies is to seek out models of people who have dealt with life's problems in a more effective way than I have. Doris Kearns Goodwin has turned her historical analysis on Abraham Lincoln in a comprehensive manner that lets her readers understand the context of his life.  Barack Obama has referred to the mechanics of the Lincoln administration.

Doris gets inside the minds of the people Lincoln had to deal with. She goes into diaries, newspaper accounts and personal correspondence to get a a fuller view of what people thought of Lincoln and how he dealt with it. He was a man of principle, deserving of the moniker "Honest Abe," but more importantly a practical man. He listened very carefully to understand what others thought and was forgiving of their mistakes. He had a sense of humour that allowed him to deal with the stresses of life. On top of all that he was clever. He dealt with (as we all do) people who had contrary interests, only he did it better.

The author starts off by giving a lot of background of two of Lincoln's presidential rivals, William Seward and Salmon Chase, both of whom expected to be president and felt entitled to the honour. Other key players included Edward Bates and Edwin Stanton. Lincoln picked these men because of what they were capable of doing for their country in its hour of greatest need. There was rivalry amongst them, but Lincoln was able to harness their efforts to re unify America.

Important events covered in detail include Lincoln's early political efforts, his presidential nomination and campaign, selecting his cabinet and changes over the years and of course the American Civil War and Emancipation. Always there was a reason why something shouldn't be done and usually Abraham was able to understand the people involved better than others, wait for the proper moment and eventually prevail.

Doris Kearns Goodwin dealt with some modern thoughts on Abraham Lincoln One was that his wife was very unreasonable, even insane. When you understand some of the history you can appreciate she was part of his success. In her own right she was knowledgeable about politics and very literate. She was from a wealthier, connected family, but chose Abraham over richer suitors. She did have stress including the death of a son while in the White House.  She was the butt of much resentment and sometimes over-reacted.

Another twist one hears is that Lincoln was gay or at least bisexual. Doris Kearns Goodwin points out that we make judgments based on our cultural base. Abraham Lincoln shared his bed with men both in his youth and even at the White House. He was open about it and we have to understand it was not an unusual event and certainly not necessarily an indication of homosexuality.

Another key point for me was that slavery was inherent in the American Constitution. There are those who maintain that Americans should makes laws in accordance with the founders' wishes.  It is impossible to avoid internalizing a culture into the law and it is also true that compromise is necessary in a political context.  Nothing humanly framed should bind future generations that inevitably live in a different culture.  True justice is an elusive goal, but each generation deserves an opportunity to work closer to it.  It is true that we do not want popularity to determine the rights of those with less power so sober reflection is necessary to change anything that is critical to modifying the framework we must all live in.

We all know the end. Lincoln's assassination is one of the better known historical events. The tragedy plays out today. Lincoln would have been more forgiving and understanding of the defeated southern people. Because he wasn't there to offset the vengeful efforts of those who picked up the slack, resentment built up that affects American politics today.

Abraham Lincoln is an excellent model to aim for and I am thankful the author identified him for his unique way of dealing with conflicts. I have watched Doris Kearns Goodwin on tv a few times and always found her insightful for today's politics. Obviously it flows from a strong historical understanding. My intention is to look for more of her insights.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bollywood Movies and Cricket

When I was in elementary school I loved baseball. Other than playing pickup baseball at a neighbourhood level it took the form of collecting baseball cards and poring over seemingly endless statistics. Of course I watched baseball on tv (which had only recently entered my household--that is really a hint of how old I am, not how poor we were).

Over the years my interest in baseball has waned (too many strikes, but also too many other interests). One of those interests has been Bollywood movies.

On the whole I tend to avoid sports movies, but the first Bollywood movie I saw, recommended by my sister Rebecca was "Lagaan." I didn't know what to make of it--subtitles, songs and dances in the middle of plot development, a leading actor, Aamir Khan who I later came to appreciate, but disliked in this portrayal. Despite all that I enjoyed the movie and part of it was the sports angle.

Most popular sports movies are about the under dog beating the champion. Champions tend to be arrogant and nonchalant and lets be honest, most of us are not champions. I like the tension that can be found in many activities, but is most obvious in sports. Cricket was something the oppressive British military colonizers amused themselves with and along with the rest of their culture felt it meant they were superior.

The poor natives in "Lagaan" don't have a clue about cricket, although they do claim a child's game was very similar. As circumstances develop the Indians naively challenge the soldiers in order to lessen a suffocating tax burden. A visiting British lady taking pity on them (and providing a romantic angle) attempts to teach them the rudiments of cricket. As you might expect at the end the natives do overcome the Brits at really the last possible second after many twists in the game.

They do it by uniting. The native side seems to represent a wide range of Indian religions including an untouchable and somehow they reconcile their differences in the face of the hated foreigners.  As I recall the movie cricket was played in an older style. The game stretched over a long period of time and as I gradually caught on there was tension a true sports fan can get addicted to. Not the type of tension you get in baseball with alternating at bats after every three outs, but easy enough to identify with.

A few other Bollywood movies I saw later had cricket scenes or references, but did not focus on the sport. I learned one of my emerging heroes, Shah Rukh Khan owned a cricket team and a few other Bollywood celebrities were also involved
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"Dil Bole Hadippa" did not get great reviews, but had one of my favorite leading ladies, Rani Mukerji. She played a spunky girl who liked to challenge men on her batting ability, but who could not be accepted for a team. She eventually had to disguise herself as a man. That led to the inevitable misunderstandings and comic double entendres. The leading man, Shahid Kapoor was a superior cricketer who was prominent in England and returned to visit his father who desperately wanted to overcome a long losing streak. Naturally the climax involves a long drawn out game with a great deal of tension. This victory required an effort overcoming pain in case you thought cricket was sissy.

"Iqbal" was another cricket movie that actually received favorable reviews. Iqbal is an adolescent who is also a deaf mute. This movie provided the best example of bowling of all the movies discussed here and I admit I was impressed with the motions and effort involved. It also had some coaching strategy not noted in other movies. Iqbal's mother was so intently interested in cricket that she started labour during a cricket celebration. Iqbal's younger sister, very critical to his later success was just as fond of cricket. But, and a big but, his father was not a cricket fan and proved to be another obstacle. This movie also illustrated some of the corruption in cricket.  Loved the background music.

PatialiaHouse" offered still another disadvantaged cricket player. This time Akshay Kummar has been forbidden to play cricket by his father who was very upset with the English, although he brought his family up in London. At age 34 Akshay going behind his father's back and against a lot of initial resistance by the cricket authorities actually made the English team and fairly quickly establishes himself as a key player. A lot of family dynamics and in the end cricket turns out to be the key unifying force.

What do we look for in sports? For men it might be said sports are an outlet for aggressiveness. For some men and a few women they immensely enjoy the skill involved. For both men and women the uncertainty creates a dramatic tension we love. Movies try to capture the uncertainty of a sports event, but of course there is never quite as much doubt as there can between really well matched teams in real life.

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the world. It enjoys a strong professional system. For most baseball fans, especially those who have never seen it, cricket is boring, elitist and foreign. If you have never watched it up close with the best players it is very easy to dismiss. I think it is fair to say that it takes great athletic skill to either bowl or bat at the international level. Fielding doesn't seem as prominent, but then the ball is harder, the players have no gloves, and they have more ground to cover. A good fielder can negate spectacular batting and change the course of any game.

Strategy is something I have only a superficial understanding of. Unlike baseball the cricket batsman can get many more opportunities during the course of a game. Unlike baseball when a bowler is taken out of the routine he can be reinserted. This allows coaches to rotate their best bowlers to optimize their performance. Of course fielder placement can be critical. Although every single play can be the game decider, cricket is a game of strategy, decided by bringing many details together.

In the course of writing this post a prominent cricketer, Mansoor Ali Khan died and generated a lot of mourning across India. He was literally royalty, the Nawab of Patudi, but helped breakup some of the royal traditions. At Oxford he was the first Indian captain of their cricket team. As a player he was a high scoring batsman, but made his mark as captain of the Indian national team. The national team was a collection of players with regional loyalties. Perhaps because he was a Muslim (and conscious that many top players had shifted to Pakistan) he encouraged national loyalties. By marrying Sharmila Tagore, a glamorous Bollywood star he glamorized cricket. Two of his children, Saif Ali Khan and Soha Ali Khan are significant Bollywood stars.

The four movies I have talked about are a good introduction to Bollywood for a sports fan. You will meet some of the top stars (Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher), interesting directors (Ashutush Gowariker, Nagesh Kukunoor, Nikhil Advani) some great music (A R Rahman, Salim-Suleiman, Pritam Chakraborty, and my favorites Shankar Ehsaan Loy) and some stirring sports action.