28 April 2009

The Importance of Chaos, Cash and Karma

Management by definition is the science of minimising disorder and maximising predictability. Unfortunately, life, business and especially startups are anything but predictable. Chaos is not only inevitable; I'd say it’s important, desirable even, to the process of starting up an enterprise.

After completing my MBA, I had to do my fair share of unlearning to adapt to the real world. Very often my ‘instinctive response’, based on my education, to situations would be the wrong one. A response which would further complicate the situation rather than resolve matters. In the same situation an 'innovative (or I dare say, ‘Jugaad’) response' would be more appropriate.

After doing this several times over in the early years, I realised that my responses based on education would probably bring better results in the long term as compared to the ‘Jugaad’ decisions. But then "in the long term we're all dead"... Often, startups are about getting through the here and now. If one was to implement the long-term-friendly-educated-response, one wouldn't survive long enough to see if it was a good call.

To a typical corporate-minded outsider this gives the appearance of chaos in a startup. Someone who is not involved in a series of ‘Jugaad’ decisions taken to manage the short-term would not see the order in the chaos. The long-term outcome is often a hugely positive and desirable result of a series of such short-term events.

The same often applies to managing cash, real cash. Cashflow management is a crucial part of management education but the way it is imbibed is to treat cash at a very theoretical or esoteric level.

Life teaches you otherwise. It’s a proven fact that the single biggest reason enterprises fail is because they run out of cash. This element is more important than marketing, operations, HR, sales, or anything else. Day-to-day management decisions in a startup enterprise are often guided by keeping your cash-head afloat rather than looking at long term profitability, organisational or financial health (Remember.... in the long term, we're all dead).

This brings me to Karma. Doing all that one can, doing one’s duty, to the best of one’s ability and aptitude without 'attachment' to the results and rewards of such actions. This nature of approach to one’s work is pretty much an anathema to classical management theory which would focus strongly on goal-orientation. But I have found this to be one of the most crucial aspects of building a business. And I don't just mean this in a spiritual sense, I believe that keeping a karmic approach to everyday work, projects and business allows one to focus better and achieve higher productivity and results.

Management education taught me a lot and brought me the distance but left me tantalisingly close... I had to learn a few crucial life-lessons to truly apply myself to the challenge of building Candid Marketing into the No.1 Brand Promotion Agency in India.

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