Beware Of 'Infomania'
E-mail's greatest virtues are that it's cheap and fast. Those also are its biggest dangers.
Before you know it, you can end up with hundreds of e-mails a day from your staff, your friends, your relatives, your business contacts, your suppliers, your clients.
Then you'll need to get a BlackBerry so these simple e-mails can follow you wherever you travel. You'll have to learn how to use your thumbs to type, and sooner or later, you will become addicted to that little black box. You are on your way to what Jeffrey Haas, a tech columnist for NOW magazine, calls "infomania"--a disease that can drain your brain.
He writes about a recent British study that observed that excessive day-to-day use of technology such as cellphones, e-mail and instant messaging can be more distracting and harmful to your mental acuity than smoking pot.
The Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London conducted clinical trials with volunteer office workers to measure how a constant flow of messages and information affects a person's ability to focus on problem-solving tasks.
Participants were asked first to work in a quiet environment, and then while being inundated with e-mail, instant messaging and phone calls. Although they were told not to respond to messages, researchers found their subjects' attention was significantly disturbed.
Instead of boosting productivity, the constant data stream seriously reduced the volunteers' ability to focus. The study reported that an average worker's functioning IQ falls 10 points when distracted by ringing telephones and incoming e-mails, more than twice the four-point drop seen following a 2002 Carleton University study on the impact of smoking marijuana.
Too much data clamors for conscious attention. It all wants to evolve into information and then knowledge. Just deciding what to ignore takes intellectual effort, and, inevitably, one's quality of work suffers.
And quality of life suffers, too.
The study showed that 62% of adults are literally addicted to checking e-mail and text messages during meetings, in the evening and on weekends.
Half of workers respond to e-mails immediately or within 60 minutes, and one in five people are happy to interrupt a business or social meeting to respond to an e-mail or telephone message within 60 minutes.
The study warns of the abuse of always-on technology and calls this endemic condition infomania.
Now, a few words about PowerPoint. Be careful about this seductive software for presentation graphics. It can turn very simple thoughts into very complex images. When you're presenting information on a screen, keep it simple. Seven lines of text is the limit. One visual element per slide is the ideal.
And don't be seduced by the endless array of new gadgets being offered that do everything imaginable. Does all this gear make life simpler? Make the executive more productive? More efficient?
Are you kidding? I was once in a meeting at Intel (nasdaq: INTC - news - people ). Everyone had a gadget that they put on the conference table. This was followed by 15 minutes of gadget envy as they were discussed. Not having a gadget, I asked the group to tell me what they did with them. When they finished, I said, "Everything you're doing, I have my assistant do. You're wasting your time." They readily agreed but pointed out that there were few assistants left at Intel, with the exception of the office of their CEO, Andy Grove. He, it turned out, had three assistants. I rested my case.
Professor Hugh Heclo of George Mason University observes: "In the long run, excesses of technology means that the comparative advantage shifts from those with information glut to those with ordered knowledge, from those who can process vast amount of throughput to those who can explain what is worth knowing, and why."
Infosys's winning formula
Nandan M Nilekani takes over as the head of Infosys Technologies , as N R Narayana Murthy becomes the non-executive chairman. Nilekani talks about the Infosys success story, new challenges and future plans.
Looking back, what has been Infosys's winning formula?
The vision and values, which were a core part of its creation have played an incalculable role in what has been accomplished. The vision was, 25 years back we saw a global opportunity for software. It was fairly clear that the world would become more and more software intensive.
We saw a great opportunity for the human capital that there was in India. Most importantly, we saw a role for a professional and people oriented company in this space.
We ourselves had been employees. So we wanted to create an organisation where employees mattered, wealth creation was shared, there was complete professionalism, meritocracy and reinvestment in people.
There was also a set of values enunciated by Narayana Murthy -- the entire credit for that has to go to him -- which laid the foundations for success and longevity. One, we would run the company extremely professionally and with an impeccable line between the personal and the corporate.
We would only take from the firm what was explicitly meant for us - salaries, perks and dividends by virtue of being shareholders. One of the challenges in India has been the dividing line between personal and corporate assets. This has not been as firm as it should be. The notion that this was a company, which was a trust and what we took from it was what we agreed we would, that was a very important part of the value system.
Second was the belief that we should create a culture of transparency, courtesy, fairness, honesty with respect to all the stakeholders - customers, society, employees and investors.
Third was creating this culture of disclosure, making sure that whatever was happening to the company, good or bad, was known to the public.
Fourth was the belief that the challenge for India was not to distribute wealth but to create wealth. But having created the wealth, making sure that the beneficiaries of the wealth were spread out. Then the notion that the company was more important than any one of us. Therefore in case of a choice, the decision was based on what was in the best interest of the company. Then the fact that it was about team work.
This was a group of people with diverse skills and backgrounds, each of whom brought some unique value to the organisation. It was really all this meshing together that made it work, provided you the longevity, anchor and fulcrum around which you do things. That's what really kept us together and sometimes unique.
These ground rules, which Murthy defined have provided sustainability, longevity and uniqueness to this corporation.
What were the lucky breaks for the company?
The fact that we could start our business, get work right from the beginning, was a good break. Getting great clients like Mico, Reebok and GE was a huge break. In recent years Infosys going public in the US in 1999 and creating a brand was a big break for us.
Is it right to say the going would have been entirely different if the new policies had not come in 1991?
Oh, absolutely. We have been saying at every forum that the reform momentum that the late prime minister Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, then as finance minister, gave were really the turning point in our growth.
The fact that licensing was abolished, taxes came down, duties came down, software technology parks were established, capital markets were liberalised, foreign investors came into the capital market, foreign exchange became easier to get, the telecom infrastructure began to improve - the genesis of all this can definitely be traced to the momentous events of 1991.
In many ways Infosys is the shining example of the benefits of economic reforms in India. As of last count we had 58,000 employees. Assume that for every job we create in our industry, we create five jobs to support this industry. That means in effect Infosys creates a quarter of a million jobs.
The economic impact of that in terms of job creation is significant. The whole idea of economic reforms, which was to reduce the dead hand of government on enterprise, let Indian entrepreneurship bloom, has really been redeemed by us. Jeff Sachs says that the green revolution gave India food security. Today our oil bill is $50 billion. IT-ITES exports are $ 24 billion which has happened essentially from our human capital, and the inward remittances of Indians working abroad is $ 21 billion. Just as the green revolution gave food security, these two categories have essentially given this country oil security.
In more technical terms Y2K was a great lucky break?
In fact, three things happened together. One was Y2K. Clearly that was an important point. The second was the dotcom boom, which coincided in many ways with the Y2K and third was the huge investment in telecommunications that was unleashed after the telecom liberalisation in the US in the nineties.
All these trends in a sense coalesced in the late nineties to 2001 and created a situation in the technology space where demand for technology resources far exceeded supply. This created a market opening, which we were able to take advantage of. If you look at our growth rates, we went about $ 3-5 million in the early nineties, by March 1999 we were $ 121 million when we listed on the Nasdaq. Then we jumped to $ 200 and $ 400 million in two years, riding on the back of this triple boom.
Looking back, the tech bubble bursting and 9/11 at that time were real big.
Our growth rate slowed down to something like 30 per cent in 2002, but I think the difference was that there was another shift in the market. After years of binging on technology there was a backlash and customers started questioning why they were spending so much on technology and what was the value they were getting.
So the market moved into a return on investment, value for money, more bang for the buck kind of atmosphere and we were able to take advantage of that. In a sense, we took advantage of the triple boom in one way and when the market shifted we were able to rejig ourselves for that.
Looking ahead, how is life likely to be in the next 2-5 years?
Until 2001, we took advantage of the triple boom in technology spending to take the company up, build up a brand, go up to $400 million. Then when the market shifted on more of the ROI kind of thing we were able to position ourselves as someone who provides a faster, better and cheaper way of doing technology.
That essentially led us through to the billion in 2004, two billion in 2006 and this year we are looking at $ 2.9 billion or thereabouts. What this also showed conclusively to the world was that what we had here was a new way of doing things, structurally different, disruptive to the legacy players and sustainable. Therefore we think that what we are seeing today is what we call the battle of the business models.
There was a legacy business model based on local resources in different silos - in each country some people working for you - to a global model which we have essentially invented. It treats the whole world as a network of people and finds ways to reallocate work on that network in an optimal fashion.
We think this model is fundamentally superior because it is faster, better and cheaper. So I think in this battle our model has been proved superior, which is why you see the legacy competitors trying to do the same thing. They have realised this is the future.
Now when we go forward, we believe customers are asking for the Holy Grail in our business, which is companies that in their execution capability are built on this global model. At the same time customers want us to be well versed in their business challenges and be good mission critical transformation partners.
Whether you come from the new model like us or the legacy model, that has to be your end position. The customer wants both, all the cost efficiency, quality, timeliness of our business model. He also wants you to know how you can help him to change his business. We also believe the transformational activities in our clients in the next several years is going to be unprecedented.
All our customers are going through major change. These changes are driven by globalisation, technological innovation - telecom, demographics - more young people in Indian and China than in the west. They are also driven by the fact that technology has made outsourcing possible. Supply chain technology has made outsourcing to China possible, information technology and telecommunications have made outsourcing to India possible.
The share of India and China in global GDP, which had gone down from 50 in 1820 to 8 per cent in 1970, has gone up to 17 per cent in 2002. So there is a shift in the economic ratios of the world, creating more purchasing power in India and China.
What this means for companies, and it affects every company in the world, is that what they sell, whom they sell - today India is consuming 4-5 million mobile phones a month but for that you need to develop a phone that costs only $ 10 - where you produce it, where you service it - the service call may be to a call centre in Bangalore - and how you manage this global operation is changing.
You have to manage operations in a new way using information in a real time basis, monitoring everything globally. So we think companies across the world are going to do these transformations, which we call the transformation to the flat world.
We think Infosys is uniquely placed for this because not only have we ourselves provided the direction on this, we ourselves are a flat world company. Therefore we can be the partner of choice for our global customers to transform themselves. That's the big agenda for us in the coming years: How do we develop more and more capabilities on top of what we already have to become a transformational partner for our clients.
What are the challenges you face in delivering this?
We need to continue to build our business knowledge, domain capabilities, consultative mindset, intellectual property, solutions, platforms, and invest in our brand as a transformation partner. We have already done quite a bit of this and the set of actions we have to take to go where we want to go are very clear.
There is a cogent, articulated strategy and agenda for action and everybody in the firm is on board on that agenda and that's what we are driving towards. The agenda is essentially doing all that is required for our customers to use us more and more as their transformation partners.
A lot of it has happened but if you ask me what is the overwhelming agenda for the next two to three years, it is clearly getting that going. Of course there are a lot of other things like scale building.
Source - Rediff
How Infosys grooms its future leaders
Great companies can neither be built nor their greatness sustained without great leaders. A Reliance would not have been possible without a Dhirubhai, nor an Infosys without a Murthy.
But on August 20, 2006, at the age of 60, when N R Narayana Murthy retires as the company's chief mentor and chairman, Infosys Technologies Ltd is not really chewing its nails anxiously.
A succession plan has long been put in place and the smooth transition of authority and leadership ensured. Murthy will also continue as the non-executive chairman of Infosys.
Of the seven original founders of Infosys, one of India's greatest corporate success stories, only four will remain at the helm of affairs at the company from August 21: Nandan Nilekani, S Gopalakrishnan, S D Shibulal, and K Dinesh. N S Raghavan retired in 1999, while Ashok Arora had quit the firm much earlier, in 1989, to settle down in the United States.
While Infosys continues to be in very good hands to take on any challenge, the IT major has already identified a pool of 400 leaders who will steer it in the future. Especially, since the founders of the company are in their early- or mid-fifties and due for retirement at 60.
So how does Infosys groom its future leaders? The process is long-drawn, meticulous, and in consonance with the company's stated vision: 'To be a globally respected corporation that provides best-of-breed business solutions, leveraging technology, delivered by best-in-class people.'
This is where the Infosys Leadership Institute at the company's Mysore campus comes into the picture. The 162,000 square feet structure, built at the cost of Rs 41.1 crore (Rs 411 million), is where the next generation of Infosys leaders is being primed.
Says S 'Kris' Gopalakrishnan, chief operating officer and deputy managing director, Infosys: "The company has identified 400 'leaders' on the basis of several parameters: their performance throughout their tenure with the company being a prime criterion for selection."
Gopalakrishnan, who will take over as the company's President, COO and Joint MD, on August 21, spoke to rediff.com at Infosys' Mysore campus during its 25th anniversary celebrations.
"Great performance puts employees on the fast track to growth within the organisation. As does their commitment to surpassing customer expectations, setting standards in business and transactions, and being an paradigm for the industry and the company," adds Gopalakrishnan.
"Creativity, devotion to being ethical and sincere in dealings, and the commitment to strive relentlessly in pursuit of excellence are also major considerations while identifying future leaders at Infosys," he points out.
The charismatic Narayana Murthy, speaking about his retirement, said: "I do feel sad, but am happy too. It is a mixed feeling. It's like getting your daughter married: you are sad that she is going away, but happy that there is someone younger -- and stronger -- to take care of her."
"The company is now in the hands of the youngsters. It is necessary to recognise the power of youth and to nurture it. We must respect youth and create opportunities for them to participate in everything. Which is why at every function, we have the youth participating. I am about the past. I am gone. They are the future," says Murthy.
"The pool of 400 leaders," says Gopalakrishnan, "that Infosys has identified is from across the globe and does not comprise Indians alone. It is in keeping with the company's multi-national, multi-cultural image where excellence is the most important condition."
"There is a three-tier mentoring process at Infosys.
Tier-1 of the Infosys Management Council, which consists of the company's board of directors, mentors Tier-2 leaders who in turn guide the Tier-3 group.
About 45 executives are a part of the company's Tier-1 of the management council. And each of the leaders undergoes exhaustive and sustained training through the company's personal development programme -- PDP.
Infosys training programmes are designed to enable company professionals enhance their skill sets in tune with their respective roles," says Gopalakrishnan.
The management council is an advisory body that takes strategic decisions on the company's businesses and was set up by N R Narayana Murthy, with the idea of building an outfit that is built to last and is ably "geared to handle the uncertainties of a global market, the high and lows of business cycles, and to power the company towards strong growth in the future," says the Infosys COO.
When Murthy first set up the council, he found that the young go-getters in the company were diffident to air their suggestions. It was then that the idea of an in-house leadership institute was born. Encouragement from the top management has put an end to the fears of transgressing the chain of command, and young Infoscions are now urged to give vent to their creative talent and come up with their ideas and plans.
The faculty at the ILI has in a note spelt out the rationale behind the institute and charted out the manner in which it operates.
The ILI was set up in 2001 to prepare Infosys to manage its exceptional growth; to prepare its executives to handle the external and internal business environment; and through 'thought leadership' create better customer value.
The leadership development programme at Infosys takes after similar processes followed by many global mega corps. It has been refined to suit the particular needs of Infosys and is termed as the 'nine pillars for leadership development in Infosys.'
These nine pillars form the backbone of the PDP and each leader can choose from these pillars for personal development. "Depending upon the individual's need to grow and the company's sensitivity to these needs, every (short-listed) individual is groomed to lead the company in the future," Gopalakrishnan says.
The chosen few -- 400 of the 58,409 employees -- identified as 'high potential Infoscions' undergo a three-year 'leadership journey' that includes training, actionising personal development programme, interacting with other participants, understanding the company better and resolving real business issues.
The note prepared by the ILI faculty enumerates 'the nine pillars for leadership development' as:
1. 360 degree feedback
This is the mechanism through which the company gathers data about an individual's performance and abilities. This information is collected from coworkers, including peers, subordinates, managers and customers. Personal development plans are prepared on the basis of this feedback. Then, each of these individuals is assigned an ILI faculty member to help prepare the PDP and to follow it.
2. Development assignments
Identified high potential Infoscions are trained at various functions of the company through job rotations and cross-functional assignments. This helps employees to acquire new leadership skills outside their own areas of expertise and experience.
3. Infosys Culture workshops
These workshops are designed to fortify the Infosys culture amongst the participants, help instill better communication skills through sustained interaction amongst themselves, and identify with the values and processes involved in leadership development.
4. Development relationships
This includes one-on-one interaction in actual on-the-job work climate and leads to better sharing of knowledge and camaraderie amongst individuals. Mentoring forms an integral part of this exercise.
5. Leadership skills training
The 'Leaders Teach Series' are workshops that the company's Tier-1 members, including Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani (CEO and MD), hold to acclimatise the next rung with leadership roles and to groom them through their own rich experience.
6. Feedback intensive programmes
These are akin to 360 degree feedback, but based on formal and informal feedback from employees that an individual interacts with.
7. Systemic process learning
This helps individuals to gain an overall view of the company and its diverse and complex systems, business, operations and processes. It is a continuous process and helps improve the individual and also the systems.
8. Action learning
This exercise constitutes solving real problems in real-time conditions, but as a team.
9. Community empathy
The company stresses the need to give back to society through involvement in various developmental, educational and social causes. This programme helps nurture a social conscience amongst its leaders.
"The last 25 years for Infosys have been successful. And we are ready for the future. Yes, our growth rates will change, the business cycles will change, our ability to influence the business environment will change, even our leaders will change. But what will not change in Infosys's future is our ability to achieve profitable growth legally and ethically, our guiding set of principles and our values," says Gopalakrishnan.
Meanwhile, there is a buzz about the imposing edifice of the ILI set amidst the verdant expanse that is the Mysore campus of Infosys: the next CEO, COO, CFO are being readied there.
By Shishir Bhate