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Alok's Posts / Startup

Why Denial is Bad Business

I wrote this with the 23 year old girl in mind. 

This is dedicated to her, to her cause, to the women of India and to the right to BE who they are, as they are.

May this also serve as a warning to this government and the governments of the future that DENIAL IS DEATH.

(As published in the Economic Times – Saturday – 29.12.12 (Back page)) – Please read the full text of the article after the image

Being in denial is not uncommon. We all indulge in the falseness of pretending that things aren’t what they seem to be. For a little while, that’s fine. But if denial becomes your way of life, then whether you are a businessman or politician, you are in serious trouble.

“If they don’t have bread, let them eat cake.”

This phrase is often misattributed to Queen Marie Antoinette – the queen of France. Apparently, when told that they peasants in her land didn’t have bread to eat, she muttered that they could eat cake instead; being oblivious to reality. She was guillotined later in the tumultuous movement of the French Revolution.

While Marie Antoinette may not have said these words, the actions of the Government of India in the recent tragic case of the 23 year old girl, certainly translates into the same message. I watch horrified as I see tormented and anguished Indian citizens being lathi charged and water canonized, as if they are French peasants storming not the Bastille, but Raj Ghat! I am agape as I hear a politician on television say, “Despite being a Sunday, I still meet people…” I have tears in my eyes as I see young girls protesting on the streets, being manhandled by policemen as if they were moving furniture and not the delicate daughters of India.

The Government of India is in denial and has made denial its business model. They don’t seem to understand their citizens anymore. As this heart breaking case demonstrates, the youth just wants to be heard and reassured – something very human and basic that the government does not get!

Remedy: Delhi Topiwalas – please step out of your corner offices. Console the youth and give them confidence. That’s all they really want.

Don’t read the writing on the wall, but please see the potholes in the street?

If you live in Mumbai, I don’t need to tell you about the condition of our roads and the congestion in our streets. The city is a sewer or ‘Sulabh Shauchalaya’ at best.

Reports decry Mumbai and label it ‘amongst the worst cities’ in the world to live in. As a startup entrepreneur, I can’t motivate professionals to migrate to the city to join my business anymore. At a conference at Harvard Business School, a bright young American once told me, “Alok, I will work for you for free! Just take care of a decent accommodation for me in Mumbai.” I quietly said, “I’ll get back to you”, knowing very well that “decent accommodation” in Mumbai for a westerner would cost me more than my monthly CEO salary!

The administration that manages Mumbai is in denial. They happily believe that the city that contributes the highest income tax can be treated like a landfill, to be piled up with non-degradable garbage. The lesson they will soon learn is that people don’t like to live in garbage dumps. And when they leave, they take their tax rupees with them.

Warning: Mumbai Government – people are rapidly deserting the city in their hearts and minds. Stop them before they leave for good.

Be uncomfortable. That’s the new posture to be successful.

When you sit in Vajrasana – the yogic posture with your knees bent, your body takes it for a while and then revolts. If you prolong the position for long, you get a taste of what Indian yogic torture feels like! But Vajrasana has to be mastered if one has to progress in yoga.

In business also, being ‘uncomfortable’ is being progressive. Being comfortable is slipping into ‘denial’ and into danger zone.

Take for instance the cases of Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) and Mark Pincus (CEO of Zynga – a rags-to-riches-to-rags games company). Both these Silicon Valley gentlemen were early adopters of Blackberry phones and conducted a lot of their business on them. They got ‘used to’ these black beauties.

Later, when Apple’s iPhones stormed the market, both Marks resisted. While they saw millions of their consumers using iPhones, they ‘denied’ themselves the experience of the iPhone, since they were comfortable with their Blackberrys.

Unfortunately, this denial cost them, and cost them dearly. The first Facebook mobile rollout and application was pathetically slow and painful to use. The Facebook IPO actually listed mobile as its handicap! Zynga, on the other hand, was slow to develop iPhone games and when the market shifted from social games to mobile games, the company suffered.

Interestingly, later on, both Mark Z and Mark P publicly said that, “…they wish they had personally started using iPhones earlier. That way they would have understood their consumers’ mindset and the market opportunity better.”

The same story holds true for the Nokia management that denied the smartphone; the Britannica Encyclopedia lords who denied the power of the Internet; and Kingfisher Airlines that denied the fact that profits (not pretty girls), make an airline fly.

Lesson: As a businessman, don’t deny what seems obvious. Fly ‘uncomfortable class’ and keep yourself alive.

Denial is a dish best left untouched. Whether you are a student, professional, neta, Mamata Banerjee or Ratan Tata… indulge in ‘the now’. And never deny anything, however silly or painful it may be.




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  1. Superb.. 🙂

  2. This is the Need of the Hour!!
    Stay Active, Accept the Change, Keep Hearing….even Eves Dropping to get hold of Reality and ACT!!

    We all live is a state of denial on some issue or other……. Hopefully after reading this write up…..some of them would vanish today!!

  3. Rightly said we need to be uncomfortable now, to be comfortable in future.

    There is great depth and knowledge in your articles, simply futuristic and as I mentioned in my tweets Down to the hearts.!

  4. “Be uncomfortable..” post is awesome. The examples described were brilliant, Alok.

  5. Well, denial is obvious requirement and thanks Alok you brought it up and reminded us about it again.

  6. Hi Alok….read it in…

  7. Dear Alok,

    The incident tore to shreads any ounce of identity we had as citizens. My government has shut its doors on us!

    This is the most helpless position for anyone, yes we are uncomfortable and need more innovation in the way we get up close and personal with these so called government reps, that walks out on Sunday in the heat of freezing Delhi to meet us citizens.

    We had  a Finance Minister in 1986 who paved the way for liberaliztion and progres; then got marked for being a failed government 25 years later by an international magazine. Have we given up on progress or have we decided to lower our standards on purpose?

    It is hard to tell if the mastery of vajrasan can help me move my mind away from the bitter rape of my society and identity as an Indian citizen without rights, it is also hard to say if the water canons make me uncomfortable or more determined to oust this situation. Pilferage and corruption are a few potholes. The bigger trouble is what Chanakya said about citizens, ‘When they abandon the government a stronger neighbour may have his way over the land and the country may not be a country anymore!!’


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