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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Debating Team Work

There is an old saying that sometimes you have to take one of the team, what do we really mean and understand by this expression that has been said repeatedly by millions over the decades? This expression has been used in every day life ranging from school life to professional life to the field of competitive sports. It implies that at times, in order for the good or even benefit of your team sometimes you have to make sacrifices, be it big or small. I am guessing this is where this expression comes from, where being patient and making the odd compromise for the team so that the team benefits. In sports, be it cricket, baseball or football, we often see players for the sake of their teams indulge in selfless acts to prove that they are team players as opposed to individualistic super stars.

In sports like football or basketball, the most famous sports persons are always those that have a lot to show for through their individual effort. This comes in the form of goals scored in football and slam dunks (I do hope this is the correct expression) in basketball, where the star players are those with the highest of these in their respective sport. Attention of the same magnitude is hardly given to those individuals within the same team who make the extra ordinary effort of those individuals possible. The top goal scorers in football or point scorers in basketball would not be able to make their effort possible without the support of the entire team and its effort, it all begins with the first person with possession passing the ball, which eventually heads to the star player that eventually makes the goal or the slam dunk.

Collective team work is is also very evident in the sub continent's most famous sport 'Cricket', where champion batsmen and bowlers who have records to brag about, would not be in the record books without support from the other end. For example, batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting would not have been able to stack up all these runs if batsmen on the other end kept faltering and not supporting them in partnerships, same goes for bowlers like Brett Lee and Wasim Akram, who had reliable opening ball partners who kept the runs dry while they brought down the opposition wickets. Every weak and strong link contributes to team and individual effort, they are there to compliment one another one. These star cricketers would not have been able to compile records if other team members decided to be selfish and pursue their own agenda, their own targets, goals etc. A bowler who doesn't take many wickets or batsmen that do not score a lot of runs are still making a contribution to make the star performers get what they want. Some are playing under injury or poor physical form just to be there with their team mates and make a difference even with their minimal contributions.

So this tempts us to come back to the original question, does it really merit making sacrifices and taking one for the team, for the time being, this question remains inconclusive and worthy of further debate.

Collectivism and Individualism in Group Dynamics

It seems academics in the field of management sciences are obsessed with the study of culture, particularly the aspects of individualism and collectivism. Both these variables vary significantly over different cultures, some cultures are regarded as very individualistic in nature such as European cultures particular low context European cultures such as Britain and Germany, on the other hand Asian cultures such as that of Japan and Korea are regarded as cultures that are very collective in nature. Individualism in a culture implies focus on individual achievements, ambitions self and possessions, while collectivism as seen in Asian cultures implies that the combined welfare of a group, a team or a community is more important than the singular individuals in the group, and in most cases, the welfare is extended to include everyone in the group. From Consumer behavior in marketing to Human Resource Management, it seems everyone wants to understand this mechanism to get an idea of how we as human beings behave, and whether our exposure to individualism or collectivism affects us, and also our ability to adapt coming from one culture as opposed to another.
Individualism may have brought significant prosperity to the world, but had collectivism been a redundant concept it would have long died out. It's importance is still very prominent in today's world as without the pursuit of greater good, it is due to the understood importance of collectivism that even in cultures known for their individualism, human beings are put in situations where they have to work as a team or as a group collectively. Be it working in a group assignment at university level or be it in the practical world.
The purpose of putting individual human beings in a group or a team as opposed to pushing individual work is to encourage collectivism and stimulate group dynamics. In all its essence, when human beings are put together in a team, their expected to show some degree of collectivism, team work and emotional empathy towards other members of the group. Part of the purpose is to balance out the human drive towards individualism and apathy that exists in some cultures. In other words, when members of a group resort to individualism and lack of emotional empathy instead of following a collective approach, it not only serves to kill the purpose behind group work, but can result in a break down of collective effort and communication.
Breakdown in communication among groups and teams is not uncommon and has been occurring since the concept of team work dawned on the human civilization. In theory when people work in teams and groups, their differing personalities and approaches are meant to serve to compliment one another as opposed to create friction, but in reality that is not always the case. Individual goals, ambitions, targets and efforts can distort one's reality of working in a group and collectivism starts gradually diminishing. Each team has its strong and weak links, and it is collectivism within the group if approached properly that manages to make the strengths and weaknesses compliment each other, which otherwise would be nothing more than a source of friction. To create synergy within the group, a start to every collective effort would begin with understanding of what real collectivism is, and how it distinguishes itself from individualism in a team setting.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Imperial Beginning

To me it feels like just yesterday, that I arrived at the South Kensington campus of Imperial College London for what was for me the start of not just a new academic year but an opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to be part of the Imperial College experience. I was to be once again in life a Post graduate student, but a first time Postgraduate student at Imperial College London. The day at Imperial for me began with a welcome talk for new Post graduate students that was conducted in the great hall, where new as well as continuing Post graduate students from the UK as well as overseas got together to mark the start of their time at Imperial.

A classmate of mine had organised an informal get together of us future classmates at the East Side Union bar which was to take place as soon as the Welcome talk concluded. Even though everyone from class could not make it to University on the first of October, for those of us who did, it was a great opportunity to get to break the ice and get to know each other in real life before our first official day of classes. Most of us were not complete strangers to each other, as our faculty, the Imperial College Business School had set up a personalised and private Facebook group for those who were confirmed offer holders for the Masters of Strategic Marketing Program. That group was really helpful and infact the real ice breaker, as that element of slight shyness and discomfort that one feels around complete strangers, ceased to be, for us it was almost like we all knew each other very well. 

Soon after, came the big day on Monday October the 3rd, our first official day at Imperial, our first day as graduate students of the highly prestigous business school. Our first day as Graduate students of the Imperial business school would be something all of us would probably remember for the rest of our lives. It was unlike any other start to the new academic year at University. Apart from the usual getting to meet our teaching faculty and getting our student ID Cards, we had a big surprise instore for all of us. It is not uncommon for universities to give their post graduate students a little gift or a souvenier to start off the year, my classmate sitting next to me was eagerly expectation some stationary, but to our surprise we got Apple Ipad 2's, all of us got one Ipad2 each. I still remember the look of uncontrolled joy and happiness on everyone's face that morning. What made us even more proud was that we were the only course in the entire faculty to receive Ipads as start of the semester gifts from the University. It really made us feel special, and made the other business school students feel extra jealous. Especially the MBA students. 

As the week progressed, a lot of energy and excitment was there on campus. The freshers week gave all of us an opportunity to learn about social and extra cirricular activities as part of the university experience catering to the wide variety of tastes and hobbies of Imperial students. This was followed by the business school drinks get together on Friday, where we met students from other degrees in the faculty, and the eagerly awaited Post graduate mingle on Saturday, which was a proper evening time party organized by the student union to cap up what was a pretty spectaculor start to the academic year. A promising and exiciting start is usually a good sign of things to come, and with that optimism, we Imperial Postgraduate students at the business school look forward to a great year ahead, a year which will academically challenge us, stimulate us intellectually and a year where in the process we all manage to have some fun as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

So a Brand is Growing, what Next ?

The concept of the product life cycle can also be applied to individual brands themselves and just like the products brands themselves also make the move on from the launch phase to the growth stage of their respective cycles. The growth stage for a brand implies that it has started receiving mostly positive widespread public appeal and the brand along with its respective product is generating sales and profitability for the organization or the entrepreneurs behind it.
The widespread belief amongst most marketing practitioners and brand managers is that most organizations should adopt a cautious and calculated approach with their regards to the marketing activities that they have planned for the brand. Be it branding, public relations or integrated marketing communications, most experts recommend playing it safe especially during the early days of the brand’s growth. This is particularly relevant for brands and products that are new to the market or have just started achieving some sort of prominent growth with respect to sales and market share. In other words, they have started catching up with the competition, indicating that there is a reasonable level of brand awareness now which is triggering response from the market.
The argument given by most experts is that new and emerging brands are not able to command the same pulling power towards their products and services as that by their more established competitors. Before brands are comfortably able to take a proactive approach to their branding, marketing and public relations activities, they are required to develop their brand equity. By doing that, the brand, the product as well as the company behind it is establishing a sort of a relationship of mutual trust with their customers. Developing customer trust is an ongoing exercise, as trust needs to be maintained and fostered over the years to take the brand to the place, where it becomes a brand of choice for its desired audience. This is where emerging brands should understand the difference between and their competitors and focus on a combination of push and pull marketing strategies as opposed to being overly reliant on the pull of their products. Depending on the company’s or entrepreneur’s brand specific marketing strategy, there might be some room for flexibility and proactive measures in branding, public relations and integrated marketing communication activities can be implemented. The most effective of which would be a pro active public relations campaign, which many emerging and established brands are able to execute successfully by engaging their relevant audiences. Many brands, both emerging and established have become success stories through public relations initiatives which have contributed a great deal towards their brand equity. However a poorly executed strategy can really erode the brand value and can result in a premature decline of the brand. What companies should not forget is the importance of segmentation, targeting and positioning depending on what their brand offers. A particular brand or many brands of the some company will not appeal to each and every demographic or consumer out there in the market.
Some might argue that we must follow the market leader and its example; however brands that are already well established and have been around in the market for sometime are excluded from this approach as the markets response to newer brands or new market entrants differs from its response towards established brands and products. Established brands have strong brand equity and a positive perceived image as a result of which they sell themselves with relatively lesser effort.
Regardless of what experts might argue about emerging brands or those that are already well established, there are no hard and fast rules to branding and marketing activities and it is dependent on other variables as well. What needs to be considered are the nature of the product behind the brand as well as the nature of the market. Most markets and economies today are very consumer oriented and as a result of which most consumers have an abundant variety of choices, especially with regards to consumer goods. With the advent of private label brands, a trend now widespread globally, consumers today are truly spoiled for choices and the cost of switching brands and products has been driven down significantly. It is important that consideration be given to the socio-economic climate where the brand and its product or service offering is being made. The purchasing power of consumers in that market place will play a role in determining the success of the brand particularly if it is not a necessity and a luxury good. For example in developing economies, mid level consumer income might be significantly lower to mid income level consumers in the developed world, and what might be seen as everyday goods in a developed economy might be seen as lavish luxury goods.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Xenophobia and Bigotry is Closer Than We Think

Now I do not want to take on the title of being an opportunist here, but this does feel like the right time as well as the ideal opportunity to get my message across. Something I have been wanting to write about and communicate to readers for quite some time. You know what they say, better late than never. Just late last evening, a journalist friend of mine brought to my attention through his Facebook status update the shooting of a member of the Ahmadi faith in one of the urban centers of the Punjab Region. It coincids with the day when on this day in history back in 1974, the Pakistani parliment had the Ahmadi sect declared non muslims in order to please the leaders of the religious community. 

Considering the incident that happend this week in Punjab, it was fortunate that the person who was shot at survived and did not become just another forgotten gunned down victim of Xenophobia towards the Ahmadi community. Many of us who hail from the educated lot of urban Pakistani society have some idea about the rise in intolerence towards religious minorities, as well as the persecution and discrimination faced by them on a day to day basis. Whether be it the Ahmadi's, the Pakistani Christians nationwide, or Pakistani Hindu's who mostly live in the province of Sindh. Intolerence and Xenophobia though growing out of control towards minorities is closer than we think. It begins within our own community and very own ranks. No one ever even remotely suggests the idea of discrimination amongst ourselves, even amongst the pre dominant Sunni Islam sect that form a majority in this country. Even amongst this community there is a lot of prejudice towards members who are not religious, in other words towards non practising Muslims. This is just not limited further solely to Non Practising Muslims, but in some cases includes those Sunni Muslims who are not full fledged practitioners. We might not want to come to terms with accpting this ground reality but we show a great deal of intolerence towards members of our community, so how can we possibly expect ourselves to show tolerence and compassion towards religious minorities which includes a sect that has been deemed not only another religion but is seen as symbol of blasphamy towards Islam. 

I would like to propose some examples just for the sake of food for thought to get people thinking on the lines of what I am trying to say. A lot of us, our elders, as well as people our own age group, we have been conditioned into believing that anyone who is short of being a full fledged practising Muslim is a Kafir or an Infidel or at the very least a lost soul that needs salvation and should be brought back to the path of the rightous no matter what it takes. To illustrate for example, it has become a common sight to be mocked, ridiculed and made fun amongst people for not being fully religious. It would not be an uncommon occurance if those of us who are non practising are mocked over whether we pray 5 times a day or not, or whether we fast or not. Mockery is also pretty common when it comes to the life style so many of us follow, for example, we might get mocked and harassed over our life style choice be it our preference in social life, be it our preference in arts and entertainment, it can also be on something as trivial as us watching television or reading literature that talks about religion from a neutral perspective.

Two examples from my own personal life, I would like to throw in the basket here are one occassion at a gathering, some one in my age bracket tried to make fun of me in front of others by asking me 'how many times I had prayed that day' with that big devilish smile and all the front teeth prominently visible and on one occassion. i got labeled as some one heading down a path of blasphamey for reading Karen Armstrong's 'A History of God'. Now this book is not only one of the world's best selling books, but the writer of that book has openly showed admiration for Islam and frequently visits Pakistan with a message of compassion for humanity. I have even been accused of being a potential blasphamer for not praying in congregation during namaz times. People truly love to discriminate here on the grounds of religion.

These are relatively smaller scale examples of growing xenophobia towards non practising Muslims. A more accurate description is one very rapidly changing trend that is taking place nationwide, and it is something you will find even among the affluent of Pakistani society in the urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. What I am talking about is the impulsive and emotional desire of religious Pakistani's to do everything in their power to try and revert non practising Muslims back into the spectrum of being full fledged practitioners. It is almost like magical or supernatural force possesses them and they can not control themselves and feel obliged to change the other person no matter what. Some do follow a positive approach towards it by taking in an interest in you and your life, and by displaying compassion, trying to be a good role model in front of you, making efforts to communicate to you the benefits of having religion in your life and the change that it will bring.

Now though I am not a fan of preaching, but that method I do not disapprove off, it is a sign of a good educated human being to be a good listener. It doesn't hurt to listen if something is communicated to us in a positive manner and which appeals to our common sense. However what I am against are the other methods that people use to try and change you. These include attempts at guilt and fear inducement. When we talk off guilt and fear inducement from the religious context, we are actually talking about the attempts by others to instill a sense of fear of amongst us, fear of God, fear of the grave, fear of the After life, fear of what the hell fire awaits us even if we make the tiniest mistake in our life. Guilt inducement on the other hand, is attempts to make us feel guilty, make us feel bad about our way of life, our life style choice, what to do, how and who we are on an individual level.

Attempts of guilt and fear inducment if successful manage to create a lot of problems for the individuals who are naturally not ready to have a religious transition in their lives. These include loss of sleep, paranoia over death, hell fire and the afterlife, social withdrawal, judgmentalism and loss of self esteem. In other words it creates a sense of social and emotional insecurity among the individuals who are convinced by the religous people who themselves believe their God's chosen warriors to spread the good word, and with social and emotional insecurity  comes depression, anxiety, high levels of stress, which can have a strong effect on individual health (both emotional and physical health), social skills, common sense and ability to think positively. Before we go and say that the state of bigotry towards minorities is getting out of hand, let us look closer and observe the level of bigotry closer to home. It is closer than we think.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Business Case for Public Relations

For quite some time now there has been a general misunderstanding with regards to public relations management and having a proactive public relations campaign amongst individuals and organizations across the globe. Many see it as a step child of marketing or as a function secondary to core marketing functions and activities such as research, advertising and promotion, strategy and brand management. Failure to recognise the importance of a public relations campaign and the need for a public relations campaign and having a proactive approach towards is what at times leaves organizations, individuals and even governments vulnerable and unprepared when disaster strikes, or they are confronted by unplanned events leaving them with more than they can handle. A disaster whether be it natural, man made or corporate comes without warning and unless organization's have a contingency plan already in place, they are caught off guard and unprepared. 

Throughout modern history, there are countless examples of where there has either been a corporate disaster or a set of circumstances, where it has proven to be a source of embaressment for the organization and a public relations nightmare. These include issues with product quality and human safety, such as the ordeal that Toyota had to go through last year especially with regards to its vehicles in the American market. Safety issues with the braking system on several of its models forced Toyota to withdraw thousands of its cars from show rooms from not only the United States but from across the world. This was a big source of embaressment for an Auto mobile giant that for decades had enjoyed a flawless reputation. 

Not too long, the energy giant BP had to face the biggest embaressment in its corporate history which eventually lead to the resignation of their star CEO who had taken BP to new heights and had been a profitible leader for the organization. This corporate disaster had come in the form of a massive oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico just off the Alabama Coast in the United States. Mounting pressure from various groups ranging from environmentalists to the president of the United States proved to be a massive public relations nightmare for the energy giant. The government of India, last year faced a significant Public Relations challenge on its own, so did the government of South Africa in the run up to two of the largest sporting events of 2010. Word had gotten out, that the atheletes village set up for the commonwealth games was below par and unsafe for use, while the public relations challenge that South Africa faced in the days leading upto the Fifa World Cup was over incomplete infrastructure and the high crime rate in South Africa's urbans centers. 

Even the sporting apparel giant Nike which is renowned around the world for its slogan 'Just Do It' and being the manufacturer of choice for countless sporting celebrities was not immune from a potential public relations nightmare. Countless activitsts accused Nike of exploiting labourers in the developing world though its 'Sweat Shops', where workers had long working hours and inappropriate working conditions. Glaxo Smith Klien faced a huge embaressment in New Zealand a few years ago when a couple of high school students while conducting a science experiment discovered that their world famous drink concentrate 'Ribena' actually has no traces of Vitamin C, this was inspite the product's association through its marketing activities with high quantities of Vitamin C.

At the same time, there are countless examples in modern history, where a good proactive approach to public relations campaign has proved very beneficial to the organization in Question and has made tremendous business sense. The best example that comes to one's mind is Apple Computers and their Pro active Public Relations campaigns that involved their founder Steve Jobs who has personally been there at the launch of all major innovative Apple products such as the Iphone and the Ipad. Both of these products are a tremendous success story, as the Iphone managed to create the bar for standards in smart phones, while the Ipad created an overnight market for Tablet PC's. Nintendo, the gaming console giant and a veteren of the industry is amongst the beneficiaries of having a proactive approach to public relations. It was because of their proactive approach to public relations, that they were able to transform their gaming console the 'Ninetendo Wii' into a massive success story in the presence of heavy competition from technically superior products such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's Playstation 3. Ninetendo's Wii manage to outsell both the Xbox and the Playstation 3 for two years in a row. Public Relations in the form of Word of mouth is also another Public Relations tool that many individuals and organizations use to achieve success. It was 'word of mouth' that transformed both Starbucks and Facebook into massive success stories from their humble origins. 

These examples of a proactive public relation campaign validate the importance of having a proactive approach to a public relations campaign and how it makes good business sense to have one in place. Firstly a good well planned public relations campaign is relatively more economical to conduct as oppossed to a full fledged marketing communications plan and can be more effective as well. Not only is a good proactive public relations campaign good for the company's bottom line, but at the same time a good proactive campaign contributes significantly towards the brand equity of the organization and its products and services. It creates a very strong towards the company and what they have to offer. At the same time, it allows the organization to transform itself into an employer of choice amongst the talented and innovative job seekers who during economic boom have significant choice and bargaining power when it comes to career options. A proactive public relations campaign also manages to shield corporations and individuals from legal reprecussions which at times could come with a hefty fine or restrictions on business activities, at the same time it creates opportunities for building and consolidating relationships with those in the wider community and the external environment. 

More Than Just a Video Game

Marketers at various corporations have always tried to think outside the box and develop innovative strategies to advertise their products to their target market. The massive growth of broadcast media meant that it was only a matter of time before most messages communicated get lost in the clutter and it was only a matter of time before marketers thought of alternative mediums to get their advertising message across to their desired audiences.  It is there, it is very real and it is probably here to stay. For those of us who have grown up playing video and computer games over the years or have ever even casually played them are well aware of the fact that In-game advertising is a part of every day life. Though it is not a recent phenomena, in the recent years In-game advertising has become an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to an estimate by Massive, Inc, it is expected to hit the billion mark in a few years time. It is not surprising considering the phenomenal growth the gaming industry experienced particularly at the hands of gaming on smart phones. 

To define In-game advertising we can say that it is advertising that appears in the video game over the duration of the game play. In-game advertising can appear in the form of adverts in the corner of the screen to billboards and hoardings in the background to the actual use of the product within the game. To put it more simply, In-game adveritising is more or less product or brand positioning inside a video game, similar to how products and brands are intentionally positioned through film and television. In-game advertising has provided marketers with an opportunity to position and promote their products to their desired audiences by targeting gamers especially in the age of high definition and three dimensional video gaming experience. Various products and services, particularly those belonging to major multinational corporations have managed to make a place for themselves iinside video games through In-game advertising. These include the likes of Google, Wal-Mart, Nike, Coca Cola, as well as Fast Food giants like KFC and McDonalds. 

Game developers such as Electronics Art have benefited a great deal due to In-game advertising, as their developers are the brains behind some of the best selling titles across major gaming consoles such as Sony's Playstation 3 and Microsoft's XBOX 360. Some of their best selling titles feature FIFA, which is the best selling football videogame in the world and Need For Speed, a racing game which features some of best modern day sports cars available in the market. Need for Speed provides probably the best platform for an Automobile manufacturer to showcase their brand as well as their best and upcoming models. Fifa on the other hand gives its gamers the opportunity to play as their favourite team such as Manchester United or Arsenal where on occassions brands associated with the team, as well as the specific tournament league are prominently visible throughout the game. These include the official sponser of the league itself, the official sponsers of the team and the logo of the apparel manufacturer to every micro detail. Not to mention the hoardings that on the edge of the pitch that display various brands as they do in real life during an actual game. This is especially relevant, if the video game is based on an actual event like the Summer Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, where all official sponsers of the event are present in the official video game as well. In a way, advertising messages are being recommunicated to the audience by breaking through the clutter.

Many companies and brands are attracted to the idea of In-game advertising as not only are they able to innovatively break the clutter, but also because most gamers when engaged with a video game can play continously for hours with total undivided attention.Those passionate about gaming are rarely involved in multi tasking while playing the game. However there are limitations to what marketers can achieve through In-game advertising and their efforts to communicate their message might prove to be in vain. Marketers must be fully aware that their audience might not be mature enough to understand the signals communicated to them or responsive to the message. This may likely result in the message going un noticed.

A country like Pakistan is a good example of where inspite of the popularity of video and computer games, In-game advertising might not currently be the ideal medium for advertisers to spend their budget. Most current generation gaming consoles such as the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 and their games are very high priced for the affodability of the average Pakistani. Though there are affordable alternatives available such as pirated games being played on home computers, advertising that appears in most video games are relevant to developed markets where the purchasing power of most consumers is relatively high or game's country of origin where those brands are a part of local culture. In order to yield full utility of In-game advertising, messages communicated through the video game needs to take into account not only the socio-economic climate of the gamer, but also what brands are familiar and relevant to the desired audience. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eid and its lost meaning

Yesterday our Pashtun brothers and sisters in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa bid farewell to the holy month of Ramadan and today are marking the first day of Eid ul Fitr, and tomrow as off Wednesday the 31st of August, the rest of Pakistan including myself would be marking this religious holiday and festival. Its only been a few years now that Eid in Pakistan has been a part of my life, for many years I was on foreign shores when the holy month of Ramadan ended and we were blessed by the arrival of Eid. Since for so many of us living abroad, Eid is just another working day with just the slight adjustment of early morning Eid prayers at the very best, if it wasnt for the Eid wishes we would be getting from all around, a lot of us would fail to even realise that the current day is marking such a joyous occassion.

When abroad we think of Eid back home and what Eid meant for us, what was it like being family, friends and other loved ones, little do we realize back home Eid has changed quite a bit and it is not what we have experienced growing up. It is not hard to wonder if Eid still holds the same meaning in the hears and minds of people as it did when our generation was growing up in the 90's. Long gone are the days when we as Pakistani's took pride in our collective spirit and our sense of community which was particularly evident on Eid days. Now we live in an age and era, where our realtionships with people that meet in our lives have been reduced to one's which are merely transactional in nature and lacking the depth of the human connection. Growing up in Pakistan, for me Eid was more than just collecting Eidi from all my elders, though Eidi was an important part of my day, for me Eid was also about meeting loved ones and spending time with close family and friends. It was also about forgiving and forgetting, sharing and caring, a spirit of joy, brotherhood and compassion which can not explained in words.

The part of Eid that involves meeting people is some what still there, but a lot has changed in our society over the last 10 to 15 years. It seems the real spirit of meeting people has evaporated into thin air and meeting people is now a symbolic practise more than the real desire to meet them. In the last 10 years or so, the values in our urban centers have transformed and they haven't transformed for the good, they have become more or less commoditised in nature where our interaction with others is based now on what utility we can derive from our exchange, or at best the attempt to keep a dying tradition alive. Values that were strongly associated with Eid have also disappeared, missing now from our every day lives is compassion, empathy, the spirit of brother hood, tolerence, patience and love. It would not hurt if all of us took a few minutes out of our lives to think about this when we wake up in the morning for the call to Eid prayer or the ringing of the alarm clock for the family breakfast. A few minutes of personal thought with regards to bringing out the spirit of Eid can make the difference in how our Eid holidays go. How about for a change, we show some real enthusiasm in meeting our friends, family and loved ones, while at the same time make the effort to re connect with old friends and relatives we havent met for a long time.

Confusion,Social Perception and Common Courtesy

Thanks to technology a few weeks back, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old acquaintance of mine now living in the United Kingdom. In the process of catching up with my old acquaintance, I brought to his attention a very recent mild conflict that I have been engulfed in for some time with another person. Upon elaborating the detailed nature of this mild conflict, an idea, an opinion was put forward by this gentlemen with regards to the practise of common courtesy in modern day urban Pakistan. The suggestion by my acquaintance was that the reason for the lack of common courtesy was due to confusion and a misperception with regards to what basic common courtesy is, and he rightly pointed out that people are unable to differentiate between basic common courtesy and being nice to others. In other words, what he was trying to say was that the practise of common courtesy is mistaken by many people regardless of their background as a good will gesture or an attempt at being nice to the other person. I agreed with his suggestion, that our society, particularly our youth has not reached the level of maturity to establish the notion of the practise of basic courtesy in their day to day behavior which is an inherent part of many cultures and societies.

I continued this discussion over the weeks that followed with several friends and acquaintances, some of whom far more experienced in the realities of adult life in Pakistan. They too reaffirmed what the English doctor had told me, the concept of common courtesy is alien to society here and people mistake basic courtesy as 'being nice' to the other person. Though I will not disagree with the notion, that many people refrain from 'being nice' in order to display that they have not let their guard down or to show case their social bargaining power, in the process they end up overlooking basic courtesy which from my point of view is the right of every human being on earth, even our foes are worthy of basic courtesy. This tempts one to Question, what determines our social behavior, what is is that determines whether whether one will practise common courtesy with others? Who will be a recepient of common courtesy and who will be overlooked. The determination of who recieves common courtesy also leads to our personal decision with regards to who to be-nice to, and who not to to be, if they are two seperate things.

Not being a stranger to human behavior, having studied human behavior from the context of organizations and the corporate world through out university and graduate school, I would like to propose a theory based on what I have learnt academically in the classroom. In organizational behavior we were introduced to a concept called 'peceived power differential' to explain work place socialization, as well as the role of power and politics at an organizational level. It is a very simple theory that states that how individuals in an organizational setting treat each other is determined by their relative perception of the other person. In other words, how they see the other person when they compare the person to themselves. Whether individual perception sees the person as on par with us, below us or above us in terms of power, influence and status at the organziational level. For example our immediate supervisor or boss would know that he or she has some power differential relative to us which he or she can exercise for their own advantage at some point. So if one experiences, slight mistreatment at the hands of our immediate bosses, its because they feel they are at a power advantage relative to us, and what encourages them is the knowledge that they can exercise that hierarchial difference to get away with it.

Using the theory of the perceived power differential as a base, I would like to propose a similar theory. Our behavior in social circumstances and our ability to practise common courtesy is dictated by our 'percieved social status differential', in other words how we percieve others relative to ourselves socially or in a social setting. It is pretty much the same thing as the perceived power differential, just re-worded. So the following hypothesis is what I would like to propose, to those reading this, I would like to request that they take out just a minute from their life to think about what I am about to propose.

Hypothesis 1: When we percieve the social status of another individual as higher relative to that of ours, we give the individual in Question preferential treatment which includes going out of our way to be nice, courteous and cooperative with or towards those people. Such behavior could be classified as an attempt by us to be perceived as equals by the person in Question.

Hypothesis 2: When we percieve the social status of another individual relatively equal to that of our own, we will practise common courtesy atleast to the very basic level. This would be maintain the status-quo that we have with the other person, and keep a sustainable relationship intact, whether it be amongst friends, peers or sheer acquaintances. Its percieved social equality that serves as a psychological ice breaker between individuals which leads to the creation and transformation of sustainable friendship or good management of communication with acquaintances.

Hypothesis 3: When we percieve the social status of another individual to be below or inferior relative to that of our own, we will even abstain or restrict ourselves from the practise of very basic common courtesy and our behavior might even go to the extent of going out of our way to be discourteous, impolite or even hostile with the person in Question. A possible reason for such behavior could be either self-assurance about our own identity and self worth, or sending out a signal to the other person that they are inferior and we are off a particular standing that we wish to maintain. In other words, we try to them they are at the back end of the stick and we are better than them. Usually the recepients of such behavior also become victims of our negative and anti social behaviour traits, because we see them as below us, we might even be tempted to blow some steam. Example of behavior when we perceive some one as below below us, includes lack of acknowledgment when we stumble across acquaintances in public, rude and impolite responses to basic communication or approaches from the other person, infact even resorting to slanderish gossip about others reflects that in our perception we see others as relatively inferior.

To my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, I would like to thank those who made the effort to read this, and I would like to request once again, to take a moment out of their lives to spare a few thoughts on what I have proposed. The reason for my emphasis on common courtesy, is because the absence or lack of common courtesy is what actually leads to breakdown in communication, misunderstandings and many avoidable conflicts.

Monkey business at the Cinema

British film maker Rupert Wyatt made an attempt to bring the classic franchise 'Planet of the Apes' back to the cinema screeens. He managed that with this year's release 'The rise of the planet of the Apes' which for many months now was seen as one of the most eagerly anticipated summer time releases of the year. The film stars Oscar nominated actor James Franco (Spiderman, Milk and 127 hours) alongside the Indian beauty Frida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) with a supporting cast that included John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) and Brian Cox (Xmen 2).

The film itself is set out to be a prequel to the popular franchise with the intention of taking us back in time to the origins of when human kind's dominance on earth started falling apart and apes begun taking over the planet. The movie is set in present day San Francisco, where a prominent bio medical research organization is trying to develop a cure for alzheimers disease and in the process they do their laboratory testing on apes prior to determing its suitability for human use. After a failed attempt at developing a cure, the lead character of Will Rodman played by Franco decides to adopt a surviving infant chimpanzee after all other test subjects were put down on company orders. As it turns out, the surviving infant chimpanzee is able to demonstrate skills and abilities beyond expectation. The rest of the story is pretty much predictible and does not have any twists and surprises to engage the audiences. The title was a bit of a mis match though, as this film does not depict as much an up rising by the apes, but rather the origins of where things started falling apart. Even by the end of the film we are yet to see a catastrophe of epic proportions which depicts human kind's destruction and earth's conquest by the apes. A more fitting title would have been 'Planet of the Apes: The Origins'.

Though Franco is a remarkable actor and showed a great deal of promise with films like Milk and 127 hours, his acting in this film left a lot to be desried. The same can be said about Frida Pinto, the star of Slumdog Millionaire is yet to impress global audiences with her acting abilities. None the less this movie does manage to give her the much needed exposure that is required in Hollywood. The animation, graphics and special effects also left a lot to be desired. Most of the apes seen in the movie are a product of CGI animation, as opposed to Tim Burton's attempt at the franchise where the apes were played by actors wearing costumes and covered in hours of make up. One can saftely assume the use of CGI was due to the complex nature of working with animals, how ever with over reliance on CGI it managed to deprive the film of a personal touch which one comes to expect from a visit to the cinema. If a sequel is to follow, one can hope for an improved film viewing experience.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Remember Remember the 5th of November but Not this One

It has been some time now, that the city of Karachi has witnessed the return of theater. Theater has marked its return in both the English and the Urdu language and over the months the residents of this great city have seen some remarkable plays. From recreated musicals such as Shah Sharabeel's 'Bombay Dreams' to the classic Urdu story 'Begum Jaan'. The latter featuring the acting talents of the likes of the Nimra Bucha and Naila Jafri. This past weekend, the city witnessed the staging of 'V for Vendetta' held at the Rangoonwala Center Auditorium in the Dhoraji Area of Karachi. The choice of venue for stagging the play was a surprising one, as most productions including ameture and student theater make their way to Karachi's Arts council as venue of choice.

V for Vendetta is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore which depicts a dyspotian future in the United Kingdom where the country is ruled in a dictatorship style manner by a fascist political party. The graphic novel was popularised globally including Pakistan by its cinematic adaptation in 2006 which starred Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. For those unfamiliar with the plot of V, it revolves around the story of a masked vigallente that wears a Guy Fawkes mask and identifies himself as V, who intends on bringing down the fascist regime ruling the United Kingdom and recreating the original 5th of November gunpowder plot to blow up the British parliment. For fans of the movie and the graphic novel, this promised to be the most eagerly anticipated play of the year and an ideal way to end the pre-ramzan theater season, however much to the disappointment of not just fans of this remarkable film and graphic novel, but also fans of theater itself.

Our first impression off the production house behind this play was not a favourable one, as upon arrival at the Rangoonwala Auditorium there were no signs, posters or banners put up indicating that this was indeed the correct venue for the play. As for the play itself, inspite of producers promising punctuality, the play started about 40 minutes later than its originally scheduled time. A possible reason for the delay could be the very poor turn out to the play for a Saturday night. Considering the massive capacity of the auditorium, it barely had 5-10% attendence. Even the exclusively reserved front row VIP seats were vacant through out the play. The temptation of free luxury gourmet chocholates could not tempt those invited to attend the play. My best guess is that word got out following the premier night with regards to the quality of the theaterical production. Even as the play commenced

The play itself was not a proper theatrical adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel rather it was an imitation of the 2006 film, incorporating major scenes from the film such as the chancellor's speech and the alley scene where the character of V saves the character of Evey from being harassed by government officials amidst the late evening curfew. The actors playing the lead characters of V and Evey appeared unconvincing and unprepared for the role, with the only remotely convincing acting coming from the actor potraying the grand chancellor. However poor acting was not the only source of disappointment for the audience, as the quality of production lacked professionalism and adequete management. The direction and on screen execution of the play reflected a great deal about the ability of the team behind this production. The set and the props were very poor, as was the quality of audio and visual effects. Apart from that, there were long delays and pauses between scenes, on occassions for upto 10 minutes the audience was left sitting in the pitch black darkness of the auditorium between scenes.

Poor acting and long pauses combined were amongst the reasons why this theatrical experience failed to catch the attention of the audience and engage them in the story. One can only hope that in the future, we see a return of this epic novel in the form of a professional theatrical production that does justice to V for Vendetta and executes it in a manner that this story truly deserves. For those that missed out the play, they truly did not miss out on anything.