Virtual networking – How much is enough?




For the past couple of years now I have endlessly wondered how much of virtual networking is sufficient for normal people like you and me.


I know people whose Facebook friends run into hundreds and then I also know people who barely have 20 Facebook friends. I know people who tweet endlessly about anything and everything they do, see, experience and feel, and then I know people who only read tweets and don’t even bother replying/re-tweeting these tweets. In a nutshell, I know people who have an extremely active online virtual presence and have a big virtual network and I also know people who are not so active virtually as well. Are they any different? I don’t think so.


Agreed that the people who have a bigger virtual network are probably a little more ‘clued’ into the latest happenings from a ‘pop culture’ perspective, ie, latest movies, latest books, latest songs, etc. That I guess is a result of being completely on top of the most popular happenings of the world in the ‘virtual world’. That being said, when it comes to conventional current affairs, news, happenings around the world, these virtual nerds/geeks/zombies are pretty much on par (or in some cases, even behind) the regular people who keep track of newspapers, news shows on TV, and other traditional media. My opinion is that by embracing the virtual networking craze with a little too much zeal and zest, the virtual geeks are spending too much time on too much unnecessary information.


Yes, the virtual world provides you with an opportunity to have seemingly endless information at your fingertips, but what you do with all that information is something that has to be decided smartly. For eg, if you are a movie fan like myself, there are endless sites which provide you with the latest movie information, movie trailers, movie clippings, interviews with the stars of the movie, and I can pretty much spend my entire day and the next just flipping from one site to another, reading, viewing, enjoying myself. But what use is that information if I don’t actually go ahead and put it to any productive use. Information is valuable only when it is put to productive use, when it is used to enhance one’s life or any small aspect of one’s life, isnt’ it?


Today, we are all a part of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and probably a couple of more virtual networks. And yes, all of these networks have their own uses and pitfalls, but my question is where does one draw the line with these virtual networks? How much of your personal information and your life are you willing to share virtually? And I am not asking this question as a result of all the ‘data privacy’ issues that people talk about (that is material enough for a separate blog post or even a dedicated blog :D ). I am asking this question because most of the times I feel that people share a little too much of information on these networks.


Yes, I find it mildly interesting to know what a friend of mine in Hyderabad ate for breakfast today, but her incessant posting of food pictures of her every meal, day after day, meal after meal gets on my nerves after a point in time. Letting people know what you eat every meal of the day doesn’t quite count as networking, does it. Or maybe it does, and I am missing a point here…I don’t know.


There is no doubt that virtual networks have made it possible for people to come together for like-minded causes such as charity, walkathons for noble causes, collection of relief funds and material for disasters. They also provide an avenue for budding artists, writers, poets to showcase their work and get real time, uninhibited feedback on their creations. They provide a much needed avenue for amateur writers like myself to enhance my writing skills via the medium of blogging, and they also provide all voyeuristic readers like myself a chance to read about the lives of people all over the world. The benefits of such online collaborations are many and have proved to be extremely powerful as well, for eg, Wikipedia lists at least 4 massive public protests in the recent past which were coordinated using Twitter [Link to Wikipedia page]. Therefore the power of virtual networks to bring a large group of people together in a coordinated fashion cannot be ignored anymore.


That being said, another sad truth which needs to be accepted is the fact that most youngsters today use virtual networks simply to kill time which could otherwise be spent a little more productively. After all, there are better things to do that forward internet picture memes, forward stupid rehashed jokes of Tamil and Hindi movies on Facebook, right!!! I don’t have a problem with having a virtual network, but when the virtual networking takes over and dominates everything else in your life, that’s when my problem starts.


I personally use virtual networks to keep in touch with far flung cousins in Singapore and the US of A. Facebook is probably the only place where I can get to see my niece and nephews regularly via the pictures and videos that my cousins post. That being said, the joy I get when I actually see them in person during their annual trips, no Facebook or Skype can ever beat that.


This post was prompted by this article that I read yesterday where a journalist actually ‘live tweeted’ though his mother’s last few days of her battle with cancer [Link to article]. I really don’t know what to make of that situation.


I would really love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What do you use your virtual networks for? How much of virtual networking do you think is required in today’s connected world?


Image courtesy: Google image search for ‘virtual networking cartoon’


A lesson from history…

Setting: 3100 BC, ancient Sumerian civilization

Person: Hammu, a farmer

One fine day Hammu cleans up his granary where he stores all the cereals. Given that the granary is quite large and Hammu has no help, he rarely ever cleans the far corner of his granary. But today is different, as he is about to sow a large harvest and feels that the entire granary is required to store his cereals.

He suddenly notices that the wall surrounding the far corner has had a water leak due to the incessant rains and the flooding of the river. Consequently the cereals stored there have fermented due to the excess moisture. He cannot use them for anything.

Just out of curiosity, he tastes the fermented cereal. “Wait a minute, this tastes quite good. Maybe I can make something out of this mess after all.

After a couple of more months of experimenting with more fermented cereals and adding and removing a few ingredients from the same, Hammu comes up with a wonderful beverage – Beer.

Of course it wasn’t called beer then, but since we don’t really know what he called it then. Let us call it beer.


Setting: 9th century Ethiopia

Person: Kaldi, a goatherder

For the past two weeks, 8-10 of Kaldi’s goats had been behaving weirdly. While the rest of the goats walked in an orderly manner, these goats kept jumping out of line, kept prancing around and also playfully goaded the other goats. While this was not very troublesome, Kaldi’s skills lay in the fact that he managed to keep his goats under control, and a few funny goats could end up corrupting the discipline of the other goats. He seriously needed to get these goats under control.

Today, he had decided to follow these goats very carefully during their grazing. He wanted to see if they were eating or drinking anything different from the rest of the herd which made them behave differently. And yes, his suspicions were correct. These goats were eating from a particular plant which Kaldi had not noticed before.

He took a few seeds of the plant and tried chewing on them after he got home. They were bitter and he put them away and forgot all about them. A few days later his young daughter found these seeds. Not knowing what to do with them, she put her new found cooking skills to test. She boiled some water, crushed these seeds and put them in the boiling water. Finally after the dark brown brew boiled, she took some in a cup and drank it. The ‘kick’ she experienced was like nothing before.

Lo and behold, coffee was discovered.


Setting: 2013, somewhere in the United States

Person: Some random researchers looking for a topic for their paper submissions

These articles [Link to article] [Link to article 2]talks about how drinking a couple of beers helps you improve your ability to think creatively and come up with an initial brilliant idea. It then goes on to talk about how some coffee can greatly increase quality and performance of your tasks.

As a summary, the findings of this research are that if employees are given a couple of beers, they get innovative ideas which can then be executed to perfection with great zest and energy, provided they are also given some coffee to enhance their productivity at work.

Wonder if my employer has read these articles 😀



Let the buyer beware…



  1. When we spend 50 ps to buy ourselves a candy, we are not too worried about what candy we buy.
  2. When we spend 10 bucks to buy ourselves a chocolate bar, we are still not too worried about what chocolate we buy.
  3. When we spend 200 bucks to fill fuel in our two wheeler, we ensure that the fuel meter is set to zero and all the fuel goes inside the petrol tank of our vehicle.
  4. When we spend around 1,000 bucks to buy a branded shirt, we ensure that the color and pattern is of our choice, the size and fitting is appropriate and that we are fully satisfied.
  5. When we spend around 50,000 bucks on buying a new electronic gadget, we do our homework, we ensure that we research various brands, features, compatibility with our existing devices, etc and then we go ahead and ensure that we buy the right model of the correct brand after having seen a demo of the product itself.
  6. When we spend more than a few lakhs of our rupees on buying a new car, we do more extensive research, we take a test drive, we might even take our family members out on a test drive, we enquire which dealer provides the best after sales service, the best deals and then buy the car.

What was the point of this whole rambling above? The point that I was trying to make was that as the amount invested in a particular venture increases, our commitment to ensuring that it suits the original purpose increases manifold. As the amount increases, we take additional steps to ensure that all the money spent provides us with desired (or in some cases, better than desired) returns. Right…..

I still remember one of the earliest concepts that I was taught in Microeconomics was ‘caveat emptor’, a Latin term which literally translated means ‘let the buyer beware’. To put this term in layman language, and in plain English, it simply means that sellers and service providers are at liberty to pretty much sell anything they want, in whatever condition they want, and it is the buyers’ responsibility to ensure that the goods/services they purchase meet the conditions for which they are required for. The only exception to this principle is if the seller actively conceals any defects or faults in the good/service.

Why exactly am I giving the readers of this blog a lesson in basic microeconomics?

Because I came across this hilariously funny article (which I have every reason to believe is fact) where during the recently held IBL (Indian Badminton League) auctions, the bidders bid USD 46,000 for Pradnya Gadre whereas her more illustrious doubles partner, Ashwini Ponappa went for a price of USD 25,000. Why? Because the auction organizers made a mistake in their brochures and listed all of Ashwini Ponappa’s achievements under Pradnya. [Link to article]

While the organizers might have made a genuine mistake, my question was, what the hell were the bidders thinking about? Were they relying only on the organizers’ brochures for information regarding the players they were bidding for? Did they do any other homework at all before bidding? Do they even care about the game of badminton? Or are they participating in the IBL only because they foresee it to be the next big sports league of the country like the IPL? Just what the hell is going on…

It is a sad state of affairs when people who are willing to spend USD 46,000 have no clue as to the achievements of the player they are buying, and have also ended up buying the wrong player.

Wonder when sports other than cricket will get any kind of respect, attention, and the love of the paying public in this country…

Image courtesy: Google image search for ‘caveat emptor cartoons’


Judging people, are you???


All of us work with people day in and day out. Not just at office where we interact with our colleagues, team mates, but also on the way to office (cab drivers, bus drivers, co passengers) and at home as well. And it therefore follows that any advice on how to be a better judge of people is always welcome, don’t you think!!!

This small, simple, yet insightful blog post [Link to HBR Blog Post] gives us 10 quick questions to ask to help us better understand people. I have provided a quick summary of the questions here which can also serve as a ready reckoner for people who are in the roles of conducting interviews to identify potential candidates for roles –

1- What is the talk-to-listen ratio? Ideally you want to interact with people who listen as much as they talk

2- Is the person an energy-giver or energy-taker? Self explanatory I think

3- Is the person likely to ‘act’ or ‘react’ to a given task? Once again, self explanatory, as this question determines the person’s ability to handle unforeseen, unfamiliar circumstances

4- Does this person feel authentic or obsequious? Although we all like our ‘posteriors’ kissed once in a while, we all know that only people who are true and themselves will work out in the long run

5- What’s the spouse like? Now this one question can easily get us arrested from an Indian perspective

6- How does this person treat someone he doesn’t know? The author espouses trying to find out how this person will treat a cab driver or a waiter to get insights about his true personality

7- Is there an element of struggle in the person’s history? This holds true if you are interviewing for people in the Senior Management levels as ability to handle tough situations is a must there

8- What has this person been reading? Once again, very apt for Senior Management positions as reading broadens the mind, thinking and ability to come up with creative solutions to issues

9- Would you ever want to go on a long ride with this person? This to me is probably the most important question for any person with whom you are looking to build a long, fulfilling relationship

10- Do you believe this person is self-aware? All great leaders and good followers are self-aware people who very clearly know what they can and cannot do, what they like and dislike, what works for them and what doesn’t

Insightful, don’t you think…

Image courtesy: Google image search for ‘judging people cartoon’

Anonymous Feedback Surveys – Are they truly effective?


In all the companies that I have worked for so far (one Management Consulting firm, two IT Service Provider firms and one Bank, all multinational companies with operations spanning all 5 continents), I have participated in Employee Satisfaction Surveys annually. And I have not just been a participant in these surveys, I have also led teams which participated in these surveys and have acted upon the findings of such surveys.

One question which bugged me about all these surveys was the fact that they were completely anonymous and this to a great extent, in my opinion took a lot of ‘context’ away from the survey itself. While broad inferences can be drawn from the data of such surveys (example, 85% of our employees feel confident in the Senior Leadership of the company), my question remains who are the remaining 15% of the employee population who are not as confident, what can be done about convincing them about the efficiency of the Senior Leadership. I just used this one question as an example, and am sure readers will get the drift of what I am saying.

In fact, one huge issue I have with anonymous surveys is more around the 45% of respondents, 35% of respondents type of questions. If 45% of my team (ie, people who named me as their supervisor in the survey) are unhappy with my performance, do I rest in peace knowing that around half of my team feels Ok with my performance or do I try and figure out how to keep the other half ready. Even if I choose to work on improving my performance, which half do I approach to find out what exactly their concerns are in terms of improving my performance.

While I understand the inherent need for anonymity in such 360 degree feedback surveys (fear of negative consequences, fear of unnecessary tensions between supervisors and subordinates), the same anonymity also renders such surveys useless when it comes to planning focused action-points to be taken.

Read this HBR Blog [Link to post] which talks about what anonymous feedback will (and more importantly won’t) tell us.

The author talks about how the lack of basic trust between supervisors and subordinates is what forces such feedback to be anonymous and that in my opinion is probably a bigger issue than anything else in the feedback survey questionnaire. If there is no trust in this relationship, then in my opinion, the building blocks of any organization are quite shaky and this needs to be addressed first before anything else. While I understand that not all supervisors are confident enough of their abilities to overcome shortcomings, and that not all subordinates are confident enough about themselves to criticize their supervisor’s working style and decisions, the fact remains that if an organization truly wants to be transparent in all its internal dealings, the only way forward would be to remove this ‘anonymity’ condition in feedback surveys.

At the bare minimum, they should at least have additional ‘non-anonymous’ surveys to solicit feedback about the true problematic areas for the company. This is probably the only way to direct focused action on the problem areas and address them decisively.

I would really love to hear out your thoughts and comments on this particular topic.

Image courtesy : Google images search for ‘dilbert feedback cartoon’