Sunday, December 26, 2010

2 People and the Joy of Christmas!

Whenever we give gifts, my wife and I try our level best to give something that would make sense and meaning to our friends. For a couple celebrating their anniversary, we decided we would try and make a caricature and gift to them. In a mall nearby, my wife and i always see the cartoonist, drawing caricatures of people. ( Oh btw, have you ever tried standing behind the artist and enjoying the caricature? It is so much fun to make faces looking at the work in progress, as the "models" go from smiles, to frown to worry; as they try to judge how good the cartoon is based on your reaction :):) )

Anyways, we always get these brainwaves quite late in the day. Their anniversary had already come and gone and we thought we would give it to them when we meet them for the Christmas party. And of course, today was Christmas eve - the day all shops close sooner than often and people rush to their homes to celebrate Christmas eve with their loved ones. :) So, we rushed to the mall. We find the cartoonist having lunch and we mentioned we would be back in like 20 min or so giving him time to finish up lunch.

When we came back, we saw him just getting started on creating a cartoon of someone. In true spirit, thinking we would be next in line, we saw down next to him, watching humanity running around doing their last minute gift shopping. After few minutes, he turns and looks at us and says " Oh, you are back with the photo to be cartooned. But i am sorry, i am doing my last one for the day - i am sorry i wont be able to draw yours today."

We were a little taken aback... being such well planned people, we had of course not planned for any back up :)

"Huh? But you asked us to .... and we need it .. you were having lunch..." our pleads and protests fell on a totally flat face. He stopped drawing for a moment, with a lot of deliberation, turned towards us, shrugged and said "sorry, I can't do your job now!" . And then calmly went back to his work. That's it - it was like an instant dismissal.

As we walked away from him trying to figure out what should we make of our gift idea, when my wife told me - "why don't you at least try to convince him?"

"OK" i said, and i went back to standing right next to the artist. Didn't want to disturb him - you don't want him to pour his frustration with us on the cartoon that he was drawing for some one else :). After some time, he turns to be with a lot of frustration on his face and picks up his eye brows. It's a silent, but about to explode with frustration "yes?"

I put on my what i think is my best smile, "you know, this was meant as a gift to our friends, and we haven't planned for anything else.. Is there some way you can help us out?"

I have tried this question at various places, and have had various answers ranging from a sweet smile and "Oh, okay, let me just do that. its after all just ten minutes' to the same sweet smile and "I am really sorry - i wish i could help you, but i really can't..." etc - but truly, i haven't had the reaction that i got from him, from many others.

he just dropped his hands in frustration, rolled up his eyes, got a frown on his face "you know, its Christmas eve, and i just can't keep working like..."

I didn't event let him finish "you know what, it's okay, i am sorry. Merry Christmas!" We simply walked away. It was Christmas and he was probably expected to be in a party. But then, isn't it the season of cheer? If Santa could hop on and off these many homes with his big tummy and still laugh all the way with his loud Ho! Ho! Ho!, would a smile from the artist have hurt? And to top it all, it was his benefit all the way - I was going to pay him - It was not free service! Why was he being grumpy at me for that?

Anyways, this small twist had given us couple of hours of our time that we hadn't planned for. The malls were closed, and on an outside hope, we called our Fitness Studio to see if they were open ( Probably Santa needed a workout ? :) )

Surprising they were. The person who took the phone was Sam, who had registered us and so we knew by name. So, when we were signing in, we asked Sam out of curiosity - how come you are working now?

She smiles sweet and bright and said "Well, the company's policy said that we had to be open today till 10 PM. And it had to be either me or my manager. My manager has two small kids and i was definitely not going to keep him at work on Christmas eve - the kids will be heart broken!".

Both my wife and I stopped in our tracks - we were pleasantly surprised. We know how important Christmas is for people here and to see someone working late into Christmas eve, and that with such happiness and cheer was very surprising to us.

"You know, i don't have kids", she continued with the same smile and cheer. " so i decided to stay back. And anyways, i can always get home before midnight and be with my family including my nieces on Christmas"

We were simply bowled over. You know how some people in such situation has that tone of "I sacrificed my joy. Sympathize with me". That was not how Sam spoke. She was just happy that she was able to get her manager's kids happy. It wasn't a tone looking for sympathy or any response. She just said ti so full of smile, cheer and warmth!

Just two random people from across different walks of life - both faced with same situation, work a little extra when everyone else is going home. And look at what a difference a simple change in attitude brings. I wonder how i react in such situation! Wish we all had that ability, the attitude to be like Sam, seeing the positive side of things always and having the happiness of making others happy.

My wish to Santa this year was to make more them like Sam :)

Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Take me to your leader!..."

That seems to be the standard dialogue Aliens say every time they land on Earth.. In one of the quirky moods, i was watching the movie "The Day the Earth stood still" ( not the 1951 original, which i have watched quite many years earlier :) - but the 2008 Keanu Reeves Version. The Aliens come out and tell the awestruck humans - "Take me to your leader".. the story goes that we are first taken to the political leaders, who speak of protection, of defending earth and killing the aliens which does nothing to the alien intent of eliminating Earth ( as a punishment for all the bad things we are doing ). Later, the aliens are made in touch with a brilliant scientist who shares all the good things we are doing with the aliens and tell him, that we humans have a history of uniting and doing good things when we are at the tipping point. This alien visit is a tipping point and hence we will pull up our socks. Fortunately for us humans, Reeves as the messenger is convinced and saves the world.

I switched off the flickering tube and i wondered to myself, who truly are our leaders? Is it the politicians who govern, who administer rules and regulations and direct the country, and thus the world; or is it the brilliant, eminent minds - the scientists, the thinkers who lead the world through brilliance, inventions and discoveries?

I, for one, tend to choose the scientists. It is these minds, that convey the growth that we have collectively had. It is truly these minds that have shown us the way to move forward. These eminent brilliant minds are our true leaders. The rest of us, politicians, economists, common public have only either supported the growth or stayed out of their way.

Don't misunderstand me- the rulers, the governors are necessary, to ensure that the scientific thoughts are directed well, are regulated well, and change is managed well among the larger world.

Who would you take the aliens too, if you were stopped one day and told, in a metallic voice "Take me to your leaders" ???

( The movie posters are courtesy, wikipedia. I just loved the 1951 poster and could not but put it there for all of us to enjoy. :) )

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Of Innovation and Daily life!

Have you ever moved your house? If you haven't, you should definitely ! :) -That is the day when a lot of worldly realizations hit you. Things such as: There are still a lot of people whose bills cannot be settled by credit card; and, remember that plastic card called the ATM card - well the daily limit for withdrawal of money from an ATM is not so big!! :) ( especially when point no.1 has come true for you :) )

Normally, needing cash would mean getting hold of your account number - which beyond being printed in that obscure place in the cheque, we never bother imprinting in our mind. Then going to the bank, getting hold of the withdrawal slip and filling up all the numbers; withdrawing money. ( and if the cheque books and stuff are well packed by your better half, that simple task of getting the account number can be a very formidable task :) )

So here i was, in the exact situation that i mentioned above. All my documents were well packed and there was no way that i could convince my wife to open the package. It was easier to face the sarcastic look of the cashier while i ask her for the number of my account. As i walked into the bank, i was in for a very interesting and innovative surprise. ( btw, Can a surprise be innovative? :) )

There were no withdrawal slips or deposit slips!!!

Every counter had a card swipe machine in front of them. The same machine which you find in countless merchants - which is so familiar at the billing counter of any shop. Well, each counter had this machine. So, when you want to withdraw money, you simply swipe your card, key in your pin number and tell the amount that you need to the teller. She authenticates your id, enters the amount and you are rich!!!

That's it! Don't you think it is an excellent innovation? Of course, it does make it extremely painless, less time consuming and easy for the user, also imagine what it does to the bank... It doesn't have to maintain another set of database about the withdrawal slip numbers. they don't have to build logistics around printing and delivering those slips .. I think its simply great.

I have always been a sucker for using technology for simple day to day life activities. And i couldn't stop but keep marveling at this simple innovation that has made the process so simple. Another similar innovation that i have seen is in the Universal studio, where they have used fingerprint based biometrics for lockers.

They don't allow you into some of the rides in the Universal studio if you have a bag or a purse etc. And there are lockers available where you can store your belongings if you want to go to these rides. But lockers have locks; and together with it are those small things that have a tendency to get lost so easily- called keys. And i am sure the park management did not want to worry about lost keys, forgotten keys etc - So they had a very simple plan. They connected all the lockers to a central computer. You go to the screen, scan your fingerprint, and pick a free locker. the computer open the locker for you. Put your stuff in, and close the door - it locks. To open the locker, scan your fingerprint, computer identifies your locker number and opens it for you. After two hours, the lockers are auto opened ( if i remember right ) so nobody can take a locker for more than 2 hours!

I thought these instances of leveraging technology to help day to day activities are absolutely brilliant examples of out of the box thinking and innovation. No wonder more and more companies are asking the users to submit the ideas that they can convert to functionalities in their product.

Way to go, technology! :)