Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Accessibility: A $ 12 Trillion Opportunity!

Do you know, that total population of people with disabilities in the world is 1.2 billion which is roughly equal to the population of India or China? And only 1 of 10 people with disabilities are able to get gainful employment? For example, employment rate for people with disabilities in India is only 1 out of 200 instead of 1 to 20? How come such a large population could be ignored even though the number of people with disabilities in India is equal to the population of United Kingdom? Even in developed country like United States, labor Force Participation for People with disabilities is  20.7% as against People without disabilities:

68.8%

 

Think about it, in United States there are 54 million people with disabilities according to the definition in American's with disabilities act. Which is roughly one sixth the population of United States. If we extrapolate this number for the whole world, roughly the world population of people with disabilities is 4 times the population of United states, that translates to a population around 1.2 billion. The world GDP is nearly 70 trillion, so we can safely calculate that people with disabilities could contribute around 12 trillion worth of output if they are trained well and get accessible products and services. Shouldn't we invest for the potential productivity improvement of such a gargantuan magnitude?

 

One reason for such a large scale discrimination is that our society is built for majority. Even though 1 in 10 people are left handed, most of the devices can only be operated with right hand. Even though 1 in 10 computer users experience hearing difficulty, many videos and audios do not have captions or transcripts. Even though 1 in 4 computer users experience difficulty with their hands or legs, many computer applications can only be operated with mouse. And even though 1 in 4 computer users experience visual difficulty, most of computer  applications can not be used with a screen reader or a magnifier.

 

There are similar problems with education. Many people with disabilities do not get quality education. For example, when I was studying in the special school for the blind,  I often didn't get enough course books: for mathematic subject in eighth grade, I got only 1 Braille volume which contained first 2 chapters. Another problem was that mathematics was and is still not taught after 8th grade in special schools for the blind. If this was not enough,  many special schools don't teach English very well and predominant language of education is Hindi. Since in India official work is mostly done in English, teaching in Hindi or other regional languages alone significantly limits ability of people with blindness to get quality jobs.

 

There are many other products that are not accessible. I have a digital TV at home, but I can not use it as effectively as a person with sight would do because it is not designed to be usable for persons with blindness.

Similarly, washing machines, micro waves, and other equipment for daily use are not accessible. Until recently, if I had to withdraw money, I would need someone's help, in turn compromising on my privacy. Though there are special equipment's available for blind persons, such equipment's are often obsolete and are not available everywhere.

 

There is a way, and the way is shown by Steve Jobs. Do you know that an iPhone can be used by a blind person, hearing impaired person or a person with mobility difficulties? Steve jobs could easily ignore accessibility in iPhone but he was not a person who would ignore such things. He cared to make it happen or the systems that he had setup at Apple made it happen, but what we learn from him, is to pay attention even for things that may evade an ordinary leader. iPhone has not only transformed mobile industry, but it has also transformed accessibility for persons with disabilities. Steve Jobs and Apple have also shattered my belief that it is impossible for mainstream organizations to build products for persons with disabilities. An iPhone is not only accessible, but it is a model of accessibility among touch screen devices.

 

Another reason why we should care for these problems is because There is no guaranty that any one of us would not become disabled in the future.

Most of the people with disability acquire disability late in life such as problem with hearing, insufficient vision or problem with motor movements.

Investment in the technology and training for people with disabilities also serves as buying an insurance for people without disabilities. We invest billions for other types of insurance, why can't we invest for productivity improvement of people with disabilities?

 

So accessibility is not a nice thing to have, it is a human right and essential tool to improve world productivity

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another solution for controlling crime against women

In information security field, there is a concept known as ethical hacking. An ethical hacker would try to identify vulnerability of a system before someone else does. While further reflecting on problems faced by women, I chanced upon another potential solution which is similar to ethical hacking and I think it can solve women’s safety problems in our society.

 

There could be a special squad which would have martial arts trained women. These women would move in team, and would move in disguise at vulnerable places. They should appear so vulnerable that anyone with the tendency to rape a woman might attempt to rape them as well. The moment someone attempts, the woman could alert a trigger to call her team and arrest this person.

 

Such people should be punished for attempt to rape, and the punishment  for attempt to rape should be severe either death penalty or life imprisonment, because if someone could attempt to rape, he could rape as well and that should serve as cleansing of society from rapists. This would also deter potential offenders, as any target could turn out to be special officer in disguise.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Potential Solution for the Protection of Women

Rape incidence upset me so much that after any such news, I have never been able to stop thinking about it. I get mad thinking about how the victim would have felt and faced the situation. But this time Damini incidence didn’t trigger any adverse reaction until I got to know about the details of what happened with her. I didn’t think too much about it, but was upset for a long time. I struggled a lot to find some solution to reduce such incidences, and I knew that increasing the punishment may not solve the problem. Then I sort of stopped thinking about it, and thought that perhaps this is the risk that we take for the freedom of enjoying going out.

 

Then in a eureka moment, I had a solution. What if there is a tiny device embedded in watch, jewelry, belt, or anywhere that is not so obvious but accessible to a woman. When a woman senses danger, she can activate the device quietly, and the device sends SOS message to central server along with its location. The device can use cellular network to send messages and find its location. Once the message is received, PCR van should reach within 5 minutes to the indicated location. The device should also continuously send its location incase the victim is in a vehicle.

 

At the same time, women should also carry stun devices such as pepper spray to immobilize the attacker so that she can save herself till the time rescue party arrives.

 

I understand, A major challenge would be the placement of PCR vans so that they can reach anywhere in the city within 5 minutes. But I think our police and government can figure such logistical details.

 

 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Immersive leadership: My Thoughts on effective way to manage

Most of us would have experienced leaders who do not have grasp of what is happening in their teams. Often such leaders would be second level or higher level managers. Usually team leads or first level managers would physically be around their teams. The manager who is either at second level or higher would try to distance himself from the Individual contributors But the main trait of such managers is that they primarily depend on impersonal methods such as reports, memos or analytical tools.

 

The problem with reports and memos or analytical tools is that they filter out great deal of details that are subtle and unstructured. These methods are by nature designed to capture stable information, i.e. one may not be able to write in a report that I could be wrong and I feel that a particular person is incapable. Such judgment requires observation of many instances. Personal involvement allows capturing of subtle details and reach conclusion gradually.

 

Based on my experience and reflections, I have formulated leadership concept known as immersive leadership. Immersive leadership is about leaders staying in touch with their environment. I have been influenced by two Indian historical figures. One was Mahatma Gandhi and another was Mughal emperor Akbar.

 

Gandhi could have been the best example of an immersive leader. Gandhi had means to live a comfortable life but he chose to live like a monk. Many of his contemporary leaders lived relatively better lives. But Gandhi decided to live among ordinary Indians and adopted their way of life. So he wore self woven loin cloth and lived a modest life in a hut. In my view, This life provided him 3 strengths. First,  He didn't have to worry about arranging for means of livelihood so he could focus what he wanted to do. Second, he could understand their aspirations as he stayed among them. And third, since he appeared similar to ordinary Indians, he could influence the masses.

 

Akbar also kept himself immersed among Indian populous. At that time most of Mughal rulers stayed aloof from native Indians. Akbar Choose to break away from that tradition and held regular meetings with scholars of different religions and he stayed in touch with citizen. Another way for Akbar to stay connected with the populous was that he move around in cities in disguise. He realized that many of the policies of Mughal rule caused undue hardships for his citizens and so he modified them. Akbar is considered founder of modern India and during and after 100 years of his rule India was prosperous.

 

I believe the following 7 things are required in order to be an immersive leader.

 

1.       commitment to seek truth: Unless leaders do not understand the reality, their actions could be misguided. Reality is shrouded under many layers and discovering it requires commitment. It is easy to mistake opinion as reality. For example, everyone once thought earth is the center of the universe and it took many lives to change that opinion. History is replete with similar other examples. To avoid such problems, leaders must think critically and promote critical thinking in their organizations. Besides critical thinking, leaders should also understand human psychology. Psychology helps leaders to gain in cite into potential pitfalls in our thinking or others thinking.

 

2.       Commitment to the cause or organization: while we examine our beliefs, we should also be committed to our goals or objectives. without commitment one may find it difficult to get enough energy to stay engaged because obstacles can drain our energy if we are not grounded. And healthy commitment comes by examining what type of person we are and what we value.

 

3.       Know yourself: In order to understand what we are and what we want, we need to be self aware. Just like truth, self knowledge also does not reveal itself easily. There are many beliefs about ourselves that if refuted, would make us uncomfortable, and to avoid such a feeling our mind decides to ignore such thoughts. Also there are a few biases such as self serving bias and disconfirmation bias that keep us away from learning about ourselves. Self serving bias is our tendency to view our own actions more positively than that of others. In short, developing a capacity for disciplined and honest self-reflection( refer to Avolio) must be developed in order to be an immersive leader.

 

4.       Develop Willpower: It takes a lot of willpower to stay on a path chosen. In any thing we do, there are distraction like calls of sirens to waver us from our path. According to latest scientific research, Willpower is like muscle. Like a muscle, it can be developed over time with practice and like a muscle, it also gets depleted with use in the short term. So practicing willpower helps to develop it.

 

5.       Develop Empathy: working effectively with others requires the leaders to understand about others inner lives. This understanding provides clue to the thoughts or feelings of the constituents. Empathy can be developed by regular exposure to others perspectives. Such perspective can be gained through autobiographic  accounts of others.

 

6.       Communicate effectively: leaders learn about other persons through empathy but they must know how to express their own perspective effectively. Effective communication depends on leader's ability to understand the other persons perspective and leader's skill in coaching.

 

7.       Shared Vision: Through empathy and communication a Leader becomes fulcrum around whom shared vision develops. Without buy-in, leaders can not get anything done. So leaders develop communication highway with the constituents.

 

In order to practice immersive leadership, a manager in an organization could practice what is known as management by walking around. Another way could be to also observe how his or her direct reports who are also managers interact with their direct reports. But the most important thing is intention to observe, various techniques are not that important.

 

I think one barrier in immersive behavior is appearing to be working. Management by walking around means that you are not at your desk and appearing to be not working. Most of the people in organization always appear working even if they don't really have some work.

 

Another barrier is lack of open mindedness. We all want to be sure about what we think, and with some maturity there are not that many unresolved issues. But that is true for others as well. If I speak as if my word is final, then others feel that I don't value them and their ideas. Perhaps one way to resolve this problem is to believe there are multiple stories about the same issue, and my story is valid and so is the story of others. The idea of single story and multiple stories came from Chimamanda Adichie's ted talk: The danger of a single story. According to her, everyone has multiple stories and we should not form an opinion about others based on single story. I believe every situation also has multiple stories, so try not to believe that there is one universal reality.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Could we solve energy problem and reduce global warming?

I have been living in Delhi which is a very hot place during summers, so I have been always struggling with heat in
Delhi summers. On top of the heat, we Indians often have to live with power cuts. I started wondering can't we
solve both problems of heat and power cuts?
I don't exactly remember when I had this crazy idea, but must have been in late 80s. I was in my early teens and I
was a self styled science thinker, so I thought I could find the answer to this problem.
I learned that energy is not created but is transformed from one form to another. Another concept that I learned in
my 8th grade was that if we join a copper and an aluminium wire, and connect them to a hot and cold sources then
electric current starts flowing in the wire. So I began wondering, why can't we create electricity from the
environmental heat? Why should we require energy for both heating and cooling? At least one of these processes
should give off energy? At that time internet was not there, for people who were not in world class universities,
so I could not explore this idea further. I was further constrained by my blindness which didn't allow me to go to
a library and find out the answer.
But I kept thinking about this problem and when I got access to internet, I tried to find the reason. I never found
a reason why this can't be done, but I found about a few similar techniques being used to generate electricity.
These are on the lines of what I studied in my 8th grade. These methods are based on heat to electricity conversion
that requires temperature differential. If we can find cold and hot regions, there are ways to generate
electricity. There are a few electricity generators that depend on temperature differential in sea water.
But the question is why do we need a temperature differential? When we need more heat, we can switch on a heater,
and electricity gets converted to heat. Why can't we build a cooler which does the reverse?
Wouldn't that solve many of our problems? We could run our cars that convert heat to electricity. Imagine in stead
of cars that Bern fossil fuel and make our environment hotter, we could have cars that pass by us and we feel cool
breeze? Similarly a poor person in village could have an air conditioner that would generate electricity that could
either provide lighting for his house or could contribute to the common grid?
Well, that could pose a reverse problem of ice age in stead of global warming!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

trust your inner iron core

I wrote this poem around mid march 2004.

 

trust your inner iron core

 

trust your inner iron core,

Don't seek approval from anyone to be sure.

 

think deeply, before you come to believe something,

once believed, do not let it be shaken by anything.

trust your inner iron core,

Don't seek approval from anyone to be sure.

 

may the world rise against you,

or the devils try to shake you.

hold yourself to your utmost standards,

watch them crumble under their own shambles.

trust your inner iron core,

Don't seek approval from anyone to be sure.

 

Do what gives you the inner bliss,

worship your work to your last hiss.

seek enjoyment in your work,

Anything outside is just a quirk.

trust your inner iron core,

Don't seek approval from anyone to be sure.

 

embrace those who do likewise,

help them if they come to you for advice.

remember a time when someone helped you,

think, if they were not there for you.

trust your inner iron core,

Don't seek approval from anyone to be sure.

 

If you do something, which is worth in your eyes,

let the moment come, and you will see that the world is surprised.

trust your inner iron core,

Don't seek approval from anyone to be sure.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Improve with Personal Commandments

 

A few years back, I had an interesting idea. perhaps it was based on couple of observations. the observations were: Most of us get to know about 10 commandments of bible. then I read a book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey

 

It occurred to me, that if we create our own commandments, and keep changing them as we learn new things, we would be able to improve ourselves. Although at first changing the commandments may not sound a good idea. But on further reflection, if we stick to our original ideas, (probably when they are not matured), we would become rigid.

 

So as an example, I would write down my personal commandments, and would try to update them whenever I learn something new. that will also generate another question, how should we learn new things? In my view, new things can be learned by

 

Life: observe your life and try to reflect what can be learnt from it.

People: talk to people and you may ask them what is the biggest learning of their life? in my experience, everyone has something valuable to share.

Books: lots of great persons have shared their learnings in the books. it might take you some time before you might be able to find quality books, but with time you would certainly be able to figure out good from the rest.

Science: all the above ways have one limitation, and that is limitation itself. all of us have limited experience, but often our experience does not tell the complete story. the greatest person would miss out on many things that do not happen in his or her life. A Science based book would try to aggregate many experiences and would be able to present a better picture. SO also read books that try to base their perspective on scientific thinking. by science I do not mean scientific facts, many people peddle scientific facts to suit their own agenda, so try to think if the book is based on scientific thinking. I can't explain scientific thinking here, so either do a Google search or wait till I write my next post.

 

Finally, here is my personal commandments.

 

Relationship: Relationship with my family and friends is the most important thing in my life

Truth: seek truth about myself, human nature in general and everything else

Trust: Relationship is about trust, so always strive to build trust.

Respect: respect everyone, because when we don't respect someone, we don't respect some part of us.

Passion: Work with passion, only passion can bring best in us

Enjoy: Life is short, enjoy whatever we do.

Energy: strive to be energetic, results happen with great energy

Focus: staying in focus gives results.

Balance: life is about balancing competing needs and perspectives.

Perspectives: for any decision, always try to obtain multiple perspectives, single perspective can mislead us.