The last few weeks, after the sunrise at Pondicherry, have been very hectic. I was continuously on the move – starting with an inaugural address at the NASSCOM summit for SMEs in Delhi, then a trip to Sagar near Jog Falls in Karnataka to be with the folks at NINASAM – an outstanding organization that I must tell you about someday – another talk at NASSCOM’s Quality summit (I am done with NASSCOM for the year… ) in Bangalore, a trip to Bhubaneswar and finally, the last weekend with 150 doctors at the Narayana Hrudayalaya – talking to them about the idea of Vision. It has been busy and fulfilling!
The SME Summit had an air of uncertainty – the timing is such that it is natural for people to question if at all it is a good time to be a start-up or are these times particularly bad for being an SME?
At the Shangri La Hotel in Delhi, the venue for the summit, MindTree co-founder Krishna Kumar and I were sharing a room the night before. The morning conversation was pretty much pre-ordained by the news of collapse, gloom and doom in the capital markets as we waited for breakfast before heading down to the summit venue. We were discussing the issue of bad times and good times and what they do to business. Then a young waiter came in, bringing with him our idli and tea. As he set down the food, we shifted our attention to him. He was about twenty four, very pleasant and clearly knew and liked his work. KK and I started a small conversation with him. Where was he from? What had he studied? Who was his family?
You will be surprised how everything changes with these three unhurried questions.
He said that he was from the hills of Himachal Pradesh – when he spoke those words, I could see the mountain streams and apple blossoms in his eyes.
Then, blushingly, he told us that next month he was getting married!
KK and I were delighted – we congratulated him.
The young waiter thanked us, collected the tray and, with a glow at the thought of the young-bride-in-the-waiting, walked out on an invisible carpet of clouds.
He had heard about the bailout packages in the US, the shroud of rumor about the ICICI Bank, the layoffs in the airline companies and the impending slow down.
But he is getting married next month.
What can be a bigger act of confidence in the future than raising a family? Bringing a coy bride all the way from the land of the gurgling streams and apple blossoms into the harried capital city where our man would return to work – serving idli to people who become friends between a loaded tray and an empty one-people whom he may never meet again.
KK and I watched his receding steps to realize a simple truth: slowdown or not, people will marry; they will visit friends with the new bride wearing a pair of jeans but with her hands covered in those white and pink bangles that notify the whole Universe about her change of status; they will celebrate; they will mourn; one day they will get up in the morning and wake the kids up who must now go to school; they will go to work; start a new business; they will cook a meal and eat; they will fight with their loved ones, kiss and make up and then sleep. So, we told ourselves, the world does not really come to an end after all.
The times, whether bad or good, do not target anyone just because he is a start-up or a SME. People marry while the stock market collapses, people also start companies, get new customers, and make good and bad business decisions. Some plan to build the first floor and some close shop. So, there is no point in despair.
At the NASSCOM summit that morning, I told people about the hatch-rate among wild salmons called Coho.
Coho salmons are one of the most prized fish – both as game and food.
They spawn in fresh water and return to the ocean where they grow up to become adults. When the time comes for them to reproduce, they return to their place of birth and lay eggs. Out of 2500 eggs an adult may lay, only 375 survive. Of these only 30 become “smolts”; these are big enough to migrate to the ocean. Of these, only 5 become adults that grow up in the ocean and of these, only two one day return to spawn.
All creative acts must follow a similar process – that is Nature’s way. It is a sobering thought. As against the 1250:1 chance of success among spawning salmons, in our lives, we expect every single creative effort, every enterprise to become a success. It simply isn’t going to be that way. That has nothing to do with good times and bad times. There is no point blaming the economic environment because the economic environment only mimics Mother Nature.
Like the two fish that will return to spawn, we simply must keep working hard, duck the nets and the bears waiting upstream, swim further away and pray a little bit longer. Along the way, we attend a birthday, a christening – sometimes a funeral and, if we get the chance, certainly the apple blossom wedding that is due next month.