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Bullshit Jobs, Bullshit Bingo and Anti-Bullshit Me

Bullshit Jobs

Few years ago I wrote a blog titled “TLAs: Which is your favourite?“. TLAs or Three Letter Acronyms are typical management jargon which you cannot escape in your corporate life. Technically there can be only 17,576 TLAs (26^3 i.e. number of ways of choosing 3 letters out of 26 letters, with repetition allowed).

TLAs are one form of bullshit buzzwords. There are many other types. And there are interesting tools around this concept. One of them is a Bullshit Buzzword Generator. For example, this: https://www.atrixnet.com/bs-generator.html

The BS Generator generates three cool-sounding but totally meaningless phrases which can be fitted into any corporate communication!

Then there is a game called “Bullshit Bingo” created by someone like me (who is totally anti-Bullshit). It’s an interesting concept and there are several versions!

For example, this game:

BullshitBingo

The reason I remembered this was an interesting article I read in The Economist: “Are you stuck in a “bullshit job”?

The article is based on a new book titled “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” written by David Graeber. I have not read the book yet; though I read the Economist article and got the gist of it. It’s really thought-provoking idea, and something that hits at the root of phrases such as “value addition”, “corporate efficiency” etc.

I started my career in a renowned IT Services company in India. Many of my family relatives had no connection with this new age industry. So a common question they would ask me was: What do you (actually) do? What do you produce and ship and sell?

They had seen factories and they had seen workshops and shops. But a work location which didn’t get any visible raw material, where there was no movement of goods or no smoke, no chimneys, and yet which “exported” millions of dollars of output was difficult for them to digest. So I told them that we make CDs and DVDs. Then they were OK. They had seen CDs and DVDs.

Similar question was repeated when I had moved up the ladder to become a Manager. What do you do now? was indeed a tough question to answer honestly. I often felt if I was adding the value (in true sense) compared to the paycheck I get?

Then there is typical question that haunts many mid-level managers (more so in IT sector): Is my job/role really needed? If I go away on vacation for a few days/weeks, would the work not get done at all?

The book, I suppose, tries to address such questions. This extract from the Economist article is really insightful:

Mr Graeber defines a bullshit job as one “that is so completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence”, though they may have to pretend that they believe in it. This definition, and indeed much of the book, combines two categories of roles. In the first are jobs that Mr Graeber tends to think are socially worthless, such as corporate lawyers or investment bankers. (Some of those workers may take an equally dim view of the utility of anthropologists.) In the second group are jobs where employees find themselves with little or nothing to do and, worse, must still look as if they are frantically busy.

To be honest, I have felt this often in my job. And then I have tried to change company, or my job role. Because it is really difficult for me to sustain in a bullshit job for too long.

Some people manage to spend entire career in such bullshit jobs. Most do it unknowingly, and few others knowingly. Some even master the art of bullshitting and create a fortune!

When I visit public sector (Government owned) businesses – such as banks, insurance companies, power or telecom, I can see Bullshit jobs all around me. Most of them are really not needed. Even in private sector, there are plenty of bullshit jobs – and surprisingly many are in the top management!

In fact bullshit jobs are omnipresent! They are there in academics, in places of worship (temples etc), in Government offices and ministries, in arts (Movies, Music, television), in Sports, even in charity and philanthropy!

However the two that stand out, according to me, are:

  1. Government of India has created a Ministry for river Ganga Rejuvenation! There is already a Ministry of Water Resources and River Development. But the Government decided to add “Ganga Rejuvenation” so that river Ganga (or the Ganges – the most revered river in India) can be cleaned and transformed from its current state of sanitary canal into a living stream of water. The Ministry was meaningless right from the beginning, because they could achieve the mandate through the existing ministry of water development. Four years have now passed and Ganga is equally or more dirty! This definitely was a Bullshit job in the first place.
  2. The second is actually a case of irony. I mentioned that most of the Public Sector enterprises (Government owned companies) are extremely bad. They have no efficiency, lots of bureaucracy, unions, poor customer service and they suck a lot of taxpayers’ money. So the government, rightly decided to get rid of these PSUs (Public Sector Undertakings). This was in 1991 when India started process of economic liberalization. And ironically a new ministry was added: Ministry of Disinvestment! The mandate for this ministry was to identify and sell PSUs and generate some money for the Government. 27 years later, the Ministry of Disinvestment still stands tall and has a lot of work to do! This clearly was a useless job…but it has become bullshit job because they have not been able to do their job even after 27 long years!

It often reminds me of BBC Classic “Yes Minister” and the Department of Administrative Officers and the episode on empty hospitals, called “The Compassionate Society”. Do watch it! It’s hilarious and equally relevant after 3 decades…

 

 

 

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The Book I Lent You…

Today (23rd April) is observed as “World Book Day“.

I came across an interesting bookshelf with shelves that made me think.

Could you update following bookshelf with your choices?

Bookshelf

It is an interesting one and I’ll try to fill up and post my version sometime soon…

But I can immediately mention “The Book I Lent You” section since the list is long and I have really lost (?) few good books. So here is the list:

  • The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
  • How to Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen
  • Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Romancing the Balance Sheet by Anil Lamba
  • How Life Imitates Chess by Garry Kasparov
  • Games of Strategy by Prof. Avinash Dixit, David H. Reiley, and Susan Skeath
  • बोर्डरूम – अच्युत गोडबोले
  • अर्थात – अच्युत गोडबोले
  • युगांत – इरावती कर्वे
  • खिल्ली – पु. ल. देशपांडे
  • गणितातील गंमती – वा. म. कोळेकर
  • थोरांची ओळख (माझे इयत्ता ४ थी चे इतिहासाचे पुस्तक!)

Well, in some cases “Can I have it back?” is not really an option. Because the people are not part of your life anymore. And maybe the book serves as a memory, or probably they might have already disposed off the book long back (when they got rid off you). In any case, “Can I have it back?” is irrelevant.

By the way, imagine the deeper meaning of “Can I have it back” in such cases. What is one implying by asking back the book which he once lent to his near and dear ones. If the book is used by the friend and has some notes, scribbles written by that friend who is no more a friend, will it be troublesome to have that book back?

On the other hand, if the friend doesn’t have that book (or doesn’t want to return your copy), and if he buys a new copy and gives it to you, is it the same thing? Worse still…if the friend just sends the money-equivalent of that book to your wallet or Amazon Gift account and asks you to purchase it yourself…how insulting would that be?

“Can I have it back?” is a futile question in case of a dear (ex-) friend who you lent book to. It is like asking “Can I have my memories back?”. If they are “shared memories”, you cannot (and should not) have them back. You can do whatever you want with “your version” of it, and that is it…

So let them keep the book…maybe they’ll read/ interpret it differently.

As Edmund Wilson said — “No two persons ever read the same book.

My Week-end Is “Book”ed

I wrote in a recent blog post that I have stopped buying books in 2018 since there is a long backlog of unread books.

But it seems books chase me as much as I chase them!

Today, I received a parcel from a dear friend. And to my surprise it contained a book!

Now my week-end (and may be subsequent few) is “booked”…

Thank you buddy for the gift! You know what makes me happy 🙂

Memories are special, but not always…

Today I saw following tweet by India’s ex-cricketer Virender Sehwag

2011_WC.png

Today happens to be the anniversary of India’s 2011 Cricket World Cup victory! 7 years since one of the most memorable sporting achievements in the history of Indian cricket…

Memories are special…but not all. The last line of Sehwag’s tweet led to one such memory:

What were you doing that night?

Well, I don’t specifically remember what I was doing – most likely I was watching the celebrations and post-match events on TV. But the question got me thinking about what she was doing?

And it led to a painful walk down the memory lane – the wrong lane.

She was roaming along with spouse across the high street where lot of people had gathered to celebrate the Indian World Cup Win! And this was during the heydays…

People move on and memories fade. But some memories fade slowly…and that’s painful.

But as they say: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

So I need to get over and learn the art of forgetting! Maybe I should learn the art today…the 2nd April since tomorrow is another day.

On another note, I saw an interesting book on the street yesterday. Added it to wish-list:

Book

Charlie Munger and Mental Models

Who are your idols? Who have had profound impact on your thinking? Who have contributed a lot in shaping up your personality, your philosophy? Who have inspired you and motivated you?

Every person would have some “idols” or influencers. That could be a single person or many people for various aspects/qualities. They could be your parents, family, friends or public figures (including “eminent dead”). How do you discover them? At what stage you “realize” that they have caused deep impact on you?

These are the questions that often fascinate me. Someone said to the effect” “Tell me what songs your youth sing and I’ll tell you future of your nation”. On similar lines I feel that one can get great insights about future by seeing who the society idolizes. If Kim Kardashian is the person you idolize, well, you are headed towards fast extinction.

And the person you idolize may change over the years, because you change and grow or the person changes and is no more relevant. The so-called “eternal” idols, or thoughts only mean that they sustain for longer period – maybe decades or even centuries.

So who are my idols – as of today? Well, I want to write about them  in detail, so won’t list all the names. But I’ll begin with the first one today.

His name is Charles T Munger, also known as “Charlie Munger” – the longtime partner of Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chairman.

Warren Buffett is well known for his wealth and wit. But not everybody would know that one of the biggest influencers in Warren’s life is Charlie. Warren is very outspoken and you can find hundreds of interviews, books and articles on Warren. But there is not much material available about Charlie Munger. Or, it wasn’t until recently. There are four well-known books about Charlie Munger, and I possess and have read all of them.

CM_Books

There is another book I discovered recently, “On Success by Charlie Munger” which I am yet to read.

CM_On_Success.jpg

And then there are few interviews and speeches of Charlie on Youtube which I highly recommend. I will share some links at the end.

I “discovered” Charlie Munger very late in my life – when I was 31 years old. I knew Warran Buffett for few years before that and had read everything about him. I had also known Charlie as his partner, through speeches and Shareholder Letters of Buffett, but I had not “followed” Charlie much.

In general, Charlie was not very popular till 2000s (I maybe wrong on this. Maybe I am speaking only about India). But the more you read about him and listen to him, the more you crave for his worldly wisdom.

Charlie is 94 years old and still very active. Warren Buffett is 6 years younger – 88 and again, very active. The duo has now achieved a cult status (Warren had achieved it many decades ago) and people queue up whenever these two make a public appearance and talk.

What I like about Charlie and the reason I consider him as idol are two excellent qualities:

  • Charlie Munger is extremely well-read and has indulged in lifelong passion of accumulating knowledge and learning multidisciplinary skills. He quotes Confucius and Ben Franklin and Seneca and many others. To quote Charlie: “That sounds funny, making friends among the eminent dead, but if you go through life making friends with the eminent deadwho had the right ideas, I think it will work better in life and work better in education”. He also quotes contemporary thinkers and even people who were born 30-40 years after him. So he has no qualms on giving credit to whom it is due. In fact, Charlie is like a window to many other great thinkers. I got to know about many other people through Charlie’s citations, examples, quotes and then pursued these people further. In nutshell. Charlie is like an “aggregator” of all good things, knowledge, wisdom etc. You follow him as the first step and then you can follow others
  • The second reason is that Charlie has also developed his own thinking over the years. He often talks about “Mental Models” – frameworks for thinking and decision making which he has developed or compiled over the decades, and he keeps on updating and improvising them. Mental Models is a unique contribution of Charlie Munger because of which many people in investing community now rate Charlie Munger above Warren Buffett (and I don’t think Buffett would mind that. He acknowledges that often)

 

Here is an excellent article/blog on compilation of Mental Models of Charlie Munger (113 models as of today).

Mental Models: The Best Way to Make Intelligent Decisions (113 Models Explained)

I also stumbled upon a document consisting of “The Best of Charlie Munger from 1994 to 2011”. Whoever has compiled it needs a big applause! Here is the 349 page document.

The-Best-of-Charlie-Munger-1994-2011

Lastly, I will end this post by sharing few Youtube videos which I particularly liked:

 

 

 

Quick Thoughts: Skin In The Game and Facebook

Since Jan 2018 I have temporarily stopped buying books. This was a harsh but much-needed decision bacause I realized that I was only buying new books without finishing the earlier ones, and in some rare cases, not even opening the books bought earlier.

Looking forward to finish the books in shelf soon and start with “To Read” list which is also piling up – with some exciting additions.

One of the books on Top of “To Read” list is the new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “Skin In The Game”.

I have read book reviews and also watched several interviews of Nassim Taleb about this book. So I know the broad theme. In fact I wrote a blog post earlier on this theme and “Vested Interest” which you can read here:

The reason I remembered this was because of a note by Kotak Equity Research on “Uncanny parallels between Facebook and sell-side research. Here is the note:

Will write a detailed blog on this soon…

Good Read: Zen and The Art of Bookselling

There are many booksellers who sell books on pavements, or road-side, but very few do it passionately. I know few such people in Pune and visit their stalls often and also get good books at bargain price.

Recently one such person – Sameer featured in a Marathi newspaper. Sameer has started a WhatsApp group for book lovers and regular visitors of his stall on Lakdi Pool (I am also a member), where he shares info about good, rare books and people instantly book them. At times he conducts auction of rare books and people fiercely bid for them and often raise prices multi-fold. Here is a newspaper clipping about Sameer from Loksatta (Marathi daily).

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The reason I remembered this and decided to write this blog is that I came across this wonderful article recently about a bookseller in Mumbai and thought of sharing it as part of the Good Read series.

Bablu has said some very profound things in his video! Worth watching!

I am reproducing the article from Scroll.in (along with link to original article and video).


 

Bookseller


Source: https://scroll.in/video/864917/watch-this-pavement-bookseller-of-mumbai-could-teach-all-salespeople-a-thing-or-two

Skin-in-the-game vs Vested Interest

Yesterday I was working on a stock idea for which I had to write analysis and fill in a template form. The form had couple of standard questions such as whether you are a SEBI registered investment professional etc. The last question on Disclosures was: “Have you invested in the stock you are covering? If yes, how many?”

This question got me thinking. The question was plain and simple: “Are you eating your own dogfood?” Or, since I am a vegetarian, the question was: “Do you eat your own pudding?”

The question has two sides or themes: Skin-in-the-game and Vested Interest – which are two sides of the same coin.

quote-ideas-may-be-superior-to-vested-interest-they-are-also-very-often-the-children-of-vested-john-kenneth-galbraith-107-34-44quote-the-press-which-is-mostly-controlled-by-vested-interests-has-an-excessive-influence-albert-einstein-61-69-70quote-every-historian-has-a-vested-interest-the-decline-and-fall-of-the-roman-empire-was-not-peter-greenaway-148-6-0634Upton Sinclairglobal-perspective-cambridge-igcse-key-terms-35-638ideas-may-be-superior-to-vested-interest-they-are-also-very-often-the-children-of-vested-interest-quote-1Skin-in-the-GameSkin in the game - WBWhen you have skin in the game you behave differently

A typical stock analysis and recommendation is for identifying multi-baggers or stocks with huge upside potential.

If you recommend a stock because the stock, according to you, is going to go 5x, and at at the same time you disclose that you don’t own a single stock, the obvious question would be – “How come you don’t own a stock which you believe would go up 5x?”. It means two things: (1) Either you are sure or there is no conviction OR (2) Maybe you have another 20x stock idea which you are not disclosing. Whatever maybe the case, this lack of “skin-in-the-game” makes the stock recommendation suspicious.

On the other hand, if you recommend a stock and disclose that you have a significant position in it, and you have invested a lot of personal money in it; the obvious thought would be that your recommendation is biased. Since you have “vested interest” in seeing to it that the stock is bought by people you would give a positive analysis/report.

So it’s a catch-22 situation. Is there any way out?

There is. But it is a process and not one-time activity. First of all, you should buy the stock. Skin-in-the-game is absolutely important. You have to share the risk and reward of your recommendation. Secondly, if the stock has significant upside (say 5X) you should also buy and keep buying while it moves up. It shows conviction on your part that you are super-bullish. At least, you should never sell.


This dilemma is not only about investing; it is true about many other walks of life. For example, if some Indian living permanently in the US, having no investments in India, constantly lectures on what India should do and how it should improve systems, sooner or later people are going to shut him up. He has no skin-in-the-game. He should not preach from outside. If he cares, he should be in India improving things from within.

Now take case of Office of Profit. If you are part of Government or a Ministry that can decide fate of an industry and thus a specific company, and you also happen to be beneficiary in that company (stakeholder or a Director), then you clearly have vested interest. That is strictly unethical and illegal and not allowed.

All such matters are very subjective and there is a fine line between right and wrong, accepted and not-accepted. Skin-in-the-game can be a virtue in some cases and a vice in others. Ditto with vested interest.

Nassim Taleb, the famous author of books such as Black Swan and Fooled By Randomness has written a book titled “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life” which is on the same theme. I haven’t read it yet but going by other books of Taleb it should be an interesting read! Look forward to reading it soon…

 

My life and work …by Henry Ford

I had written a couple of posts before on My life and work by Henry ford. This is one book I immensely like and I would recommend this to everybody who is an entrepreneur, a wannabe entrepreneur, interested in Business/ Finance or like to read quality and thought provoking stuff!

I have uploaded the soft copy to my blog. You can download it here:

It is not a big fat tom, so you can very well print it and read – no need to purchase it (which anyways is difficult to get)

Do tell me how you find the book…

~ Kaustubh

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