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I can’t help but observe that folks love their data in India… lots of lovely numbers, preferably in pretty charts or graphs. Which are generally accepted as ‘truth’ and ‘correct’.
When I contrast the work I do in India vs say Indonesia or Malaysia, there is generally a wealth of data tracked and reported by companies here compared to sometimes quite limited data points in other markets.
But here is the thing, it can be absolutely maddening if you have to DO something with those lovely numbers.
Because, you see, 1 doesn’t necessary mean 1 and 2 doesn’t necessarily mean the 2 you think it does so as a result when you try to put them together you don’t get 3 but instead 4 or 5… and that result definitely does not match that other figure from another report or source that is supposed to be the same thing!! Arrrghh!!
During a recent project, I was reminded of this – full force! With much angst, long hours and considerable effort required for things that should have been simple to provide, understand and then use effectively.
Why? It seemed no one had ever probed deeper into the numbers. They were simply accepted. At the board level.
Yet as soon as I attempted to compare those lovely statistics across different reports and distribution channels, then attempted to validate with my own calculations, sense checking what I found during a diagnostic, nothing added up.
So I had to go back – asking what may have seemed like extremely obvious things but revealed quite different assumptions and completely different methodologies which meant those pretty numbers presented for years were actually not correct… or more precisely were correct only if the different definitions, assumptions and calculation methodology were disclosed.
Without such disclosures, one side looked really healthy whereas the other side looked like complete laggards… which when using the same definitions, assumptions and calculation methodology provided a slightly different picture. Hmm…
In another case, it was a classic ‘elephant’ scenario… each was busy describing the tail, trunk, leg and other body parts in isolation. So while the elephant trunk is a trunk and correct exactly as described on its own, when asked to show the elephant as a whole (i.e. put the pieces together), two trunks were added, making for a rather strange looking elephant.
Except just as this potentially misleading elephant photo proved, when the image is questioned and examined further rather than simply accepted as a freak of nature, another story (or in this case another elephant!) is revealed.
Had I simply accepted that elephants can have two trunks and reported this marvel at the shareholders meeting, we would have missed completely the 2nd elephant and continued to perpetuate the myth of the exceptional two-trunked pachyderm!
In a land where creative accounting is an art form and there is an army of experts to help dodge taxes, it is no wonder that blindly accepting numbers as fact without checking and making the effort to understand in context is a dicey thing.
This is not just in a corporate context but political too. Just take Scroll’s recent ‘fact check’ articles on the Prime Minister’s Independence Day address… or assertions on the effectiveness of demonetisation. If you probe a little deeper, do not accept ‘facts’ and ‘data’ at face value, an alternate perspective emerges.
In fairness, the complexity and range of variables found in India means simple measures may not be sufficient. That is a large part of why trying to neatly fit things together isn’t so easy.
I have a great deal of respect for the calibre and quality of the people at the companies I work with and an appreciation that the reality may be (and often is!) different than someone externally expects.
A standard global report or approach may simply not account for all the factors. Sometimes what it takes is creating a bridge between the two that helps provide the context or story so that everyone can see there really are two elephants.
Living India Tip #4
Moral of the story? The numbers you are given may not be ‘wrong’, however they just may not be ‘right’ as you initially interpret them!
Don’t be afraid to check there isn’t a 2nd elephant hidden behind! And help make it easier for others to quickly spot that 2nd elephant too…
Everyone likes a nice story book happy ending? Right?
And guess what? Spoiler alert! I’m about to give you one…
To recap… once upon a time I had real salaried jobs in India.
With each job at each company there was a little thing known here as a “Provident Fund” i.e. something you contribute to towards your retirement.
Which is a great thing!
Except that if you are not actively contributing to your Provident Fund (PF), it goes dormant and lies there withering away with no interest accumulating.
Yeah… you got that right… it gets frozen.
Factor in inflation… rupee devaluation… and basically what could have paid rent may not even buy a cup of coffee when you try to retire. I exaggerate… somewhat… but not completely…
So what happened?
Job #1 – Zippidydoodah!!
- Remarkably quick… merely took a few calls, getting the right forms, supporting documents in place and that was it!
- Redeemed in weeks… that’s correct! Under a month!
Job #3 – Get smart!
- Began with the usual “We lost the paperwork” and “Ooops! We didn’t set it up with your middle name…”
- Re-submitted paperwork with a different ID and different bank account without my middle name. Smart lass, eh?
- Redeemed in only a few months… that’s correct! Under a year!
Job #2 – Umm….
There is a reason the middle job comes last in this story…
There was more than one obstacle in this case… Like any good tale there were villains aplenty!
Villain #1 – Good old M&A
Original company merged with its global competitor… Combined company again went through a further acquisition… each change meant a further complication.
Villain #2 – Good old incompetance
Original PF registration had the wrong date of birth. Yeah, I know, how could that be when all supporting documents has the correct date of birth? Simple… someone… somewhere… wrote or typed a “0” instead of a “9” and voila! We have a problem.
Villain #3 – Good old ignorance
Once navigating a defunct PF was managed, date of birth corrected, someone got the bright idea that I was disqualified from withdrawing due to my citizenship. Seriously???
Yet like all good stories, we have heroes too!
Hero #1 – Good old boys…
Unbelievably, remarkably, astoundingly… despite all the changes, the Finance guys at my erstwhile employer remain.
Even more amazingly, they respond to my emails and til this day do not ignore my calls.
Without them nothing – and I do mean nothing – would have happened.
Hero #2 – Good old persistence
Even with the right people behind you, without consistently, persistently following up, resubmitting documentation, checking and rechecking… submitting new documentation, checking and rechecking… submitting yet new documentation, following up, checking and rechecking…
Only with pesky sometimes annoying prodding could any progress be achieved.
Hero #3 – Good old info
When ignorance reared its ugly head, more help was needed.
Even the right people, with persistence, gets nothing accomplished without the right “proof” that what someone less informed thought impossible was indeed possible and proper. Information is power. Proof of that information is even more powerful!
Documents were duly submitted dispelling ignorant assumptions that foreigners – and more specifically Canadians – have no access to their Indian Provident Fund.
So then what happened?
The heroes prevailed and defeated the evil villains and my beautiful lovely provident fund was won!
Redeemed in only a few years… that’s correct! Under a decade!
Moral of the story?
Living in India Tip #2
Remain friends with the finance and admin guys of your former employer!!! You never know when you may really really really REALLY need their help!
I’m coming back!!! To say that I missed being in Jakarta is putting it rather mildly…
After a nearly two year hiatus, I finally have another project back in Indonesia. (insert image of mad happy dancing)
Can’t wait to be re-united with the guys and dig into the work!
No wasting time apartment hunting – chose a serviced apartment walking (hopefully not stumbling!) distance from the project office in Kuningan. Almost booked at my last Jakarta ‘stay-cation‘ spot, however bagged a slightly better deal nearby.
I also can’t wait to see a couple crazy friends… earlier trips resulted in an ad voice over (“Can you drop the Indian accent!“), overnight drive just for 1am dinner at a hill station, joined family time in Bandung and a slightly random road trip in Java.
And the food – OMG!! There will be feasting fit into all the focused work…
Once upon a time we had land line phones… a home number and a work number. If you knew someone really well, chances are you had their number memorised. Anyone still able rattle off a number from the 1980s better than your spouse / partner / significant other / best friend’s current mobile!?
Then along came the mobile phone… instant contact anywhere, anytime.
Which is great if there is something truly urgent.
Which is not if you want to have some modicum of work / life balance and a certain degree of… ahem… privacy.
But here is the thing… somewhere along the way it became rude to just pick up the phone and call someone… like a guest landing up unannounced at your doorstep while you are still in your PJs, haven’t brushed your teeth or hair and generally growling at the world.
On 26 Dec, we welcomed our kitten Zoe in the evening. We also threw a rollickingly good Boxing Day brunch.
The idea was to revive a ‘tradition’ from Canada where Christmas would be devoted to family, but Boxing Day? Oh that was prime time for those near and dear friends who are like family!
Feasting, feasting feasting!!
And what is family friend time like without a feast? So I encouraged folks to ‘box’ up their Christmas leftovers and bring to our home. As the day progressed, dish upon delicious dish piled up. To the point where both our living room and kitchen tables were groaning under the weight and even the kitchen counter and stove was bursting with fabulous food. (Shame on me! I was too busy socialising to take a pic!)
Most dishes needed heating, so between the stove and microwave, something sure was ‘cooking’ in the kitchen. At one point, my re-heating duties were taken over by a couple of friends and my partner’s mother’s helper. Not quite sure how it happened, but to cut a long story short, we literally managed to burn out the micro!
Now this is India… which means anything can be repaired. And sure enough, my very serviceable microwave can indeed be fixed. However the cost to replace the part blown is 4 times its re-sale value and inching close to that of buying a new cheap one. After a dozen years, we decided it was time to ‘upgrade’ and get a swank new microwave come grill come convection oven, donating our old micro to our driver who will be able to get it repaired or re-sell it.
So out with the old and in with the new! (more…)
There is one thing we all love to bitch about the world over – taxes!
However… I just gotta say… the taxation system in India takes a certain kind of mettle, a patient and calm acceptance of the absurd as the norm, a heaping helping of humour and more!
Some may have followed my earlier follies… for those that haven’t… I have 5 tax years of refunds ‘adjusted’ against an amount the government thinks I owe it from 2009 whereas the reality is the reverse! (more…)
I’m doing a very happy dance right now as I’m about to hop on plane to Singapore!
I’ve shared before… over the years Singapore has become my ‘alternate’ home… It is where I based my international company, it is where I go periodically to drum up potential business, it is also my home away from my home away!
I know this trip will be chock of meetings, merriment and more. I’ve packed a lot into each day… literally from the moment I land til the moment I leave! But I’m just too greedy to finally be back!
How can I not squeeze in a Christmas tree and lighting celebration at friends? A veggie feast at a hipster joint? Some jazz? A little whisky? And mixing up some work related meetings with catching up with some favourite ex-colleagues?
So will you hear from me in the next week? Likely not!
I will simply be too busy swinging around Singapore.
The trip to Jodhpur was delightful and I may eventually get around to sharing another post or two about our time at the palace or film set.
However right now, all attention and focus is on preparing for Door No 2 – Kolkata.
Good news! I did get the short assignment – yeah!
Even better news! It will take me to Kolkata for a few days – even bigger yeah!
Alas my client’s office is not exactly in the heart of the city. So scope to revisit some familiar haunts is minimal – not so yeah…
And, keeping my client needs paramount, I’ve put together a schedule that leaves nearly no room for play.
I’m still hoping a friend or two can come rescue me for a small adventure on my one free evening.
No matter what – can’t wait to hear the music of Bangla in my ears, chow down on delicious Bangla food, dive into a good project and… let’s be honest… escape the Mumbai heat for a couple of days!