August 16, 2007


Pride and Respect

Ramesh Ramanathan's article in Mint makes a wonderful and thought-provoking reading. He says, we, as a country, accept mediocrity without any protest. We never demand excellence and neither do strive for it. We don't take pride in our work and are unashamed of ubiquitous shabby quality. As we celebrate our 60th Independence Day, Ramesh wants the country to take pride in our work and push the bar for excellence higher.

I can't agree more. The mediocrity is visible in every walk of life. The plumber fixes the bathroom flush which breaks down exactly on 8th day. The cab drivers of Mumbai have no remorse in running those stinking metal boxes. The condition of suburban trains is appalling. (Apparently, that doesn't stop the management geniuses from IIM Ahemdabad and Harvard to offer endless praise for Railway Minister.) The newly paved road wash away whenever the it rains more than 40mm in 24-hours. Private businesses listen provided you have reasonably deep pockets. You surely have more to add to the list.

In my opinion, this - not taking pride in your work - is only one side of the coin. The other missing side of the argument is lack of respect for work. We don't believe in dignity of work - any work, however important or trivial it is! "You are an air hostess with SpiceJet or Air Deccan? You need to get out of the rat hole and join Kingfisher or Jet" is our attitude. People think, as they are charged exorbitantly at five-star hotels, it is their birthright to curse every single thing and all the staff. We show respect (or pretend to) only to the people in the socio-economic strata higher than us. (And then we cry foul when we are at the receiving end of it and confirming that we are hypocrites.)

We always notice the absence of quality (and fail to do anything about it, thanks to our indifference), but we don't notice good work done by our watchman, traffic cops, or auto-wallah. Here are a few anecdotes.

Couple of months back, I reached Mumbai from Pune at 1 am and had to take auto to reach home, more than 10km away. The auto-wallah replies with a polite "challo." When I reach home, he calculates the normal fare as Rs 110, adds 25% night charges (Rs 28) and asks for Rs 138. When I handed Rs 150, he promptly returned Rs 12. We may use heavy words like professionalism and integrity for that, but for him, he was doing what was just right. (And just two months back, in Bangalore, the auto-wallah asked me for 25% extra during day time saying he won't get passengers on return journey.)

Rajdhani serves great Gujarathi thali in Mumbai and their khichadi unparalleled. I was not very keen on adding ghee to it, but the waiter offered explanation about how khichadi will taste even better with it. He was polite yet persuasive. Frankly, he could have just accepted my "no" and walked away. He epitomized the corporate jargon "going an extra mile."

In another case, when I got PUC (Pollution Under Control) Certificate for my bike, the owner asked me to write my address on a post card. He told that will be useful to send reminders when the current certificate expires. 2-weeks before the expiry date, I get the postcard in perfectly good English (a lot better than seen on Orkut) reminding me the same. When I didn't turn in that week, I received another postcard! I don't think any CRM software can beat that.

The crux is most of the time we fail to acknowledge and appreciate that somebody has done a damn fine job. And this is as bad as, if not worse than, accepting shoddy quality. May be we are plain indifferent. Unfortunately, this is a vicious cycle. Nobody takes pride in their work as nobody appreciates their work. And nobody bothers to appreciate even pockets of excellence as mediocrity is what we mostly come across. We must break this cycle.

To rephrase Ramesh's slogan - "Take pride in your work. Respect others' good work."

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