Oh! The 100 things to do before I die

Here is a guest post from our client Mats Goldberg, an aspiring writer and philanthropist. He lives in Sweden and his goal is to become an accomplished author someday. While going through his blog, I found an interesting video post featuring “The Buried Life – 100 things to do before you die” a reality documentary series which aired on MTV several years ago. Inspires people to get on with doing the things they really want to do and so my pick for the title of this blogpost itself. I posted the video at the end of this blog post. And we (GetFriday) would be happy, if we can help you do that in our own small ways. Here we go with Mats, thanks for spreading the word.

Sunder P

I was surprised when they contacted me from GetFriday.com (as mentioned in Timothy Ferriss book “4 Hour Work Week”) to ask me to write a guest blogpost for their blog. I have only used virtual assistants since the beginning of 2012, so mind me; the surprise and appreciation I felt when asked to write this post.

After some thinking I realized I have quite a good hang of this thing called outsourcing. Sure in the beginning I wasn’t too clear with what I wanted to accomplish or what tasks I would hand over to an assistant. I was in fact rather stupefied with bad directions and wishes. Of course that sometimes happen still today, but I have learned to better structure my ideas and wishes.

Whenever I mention that I do outsourcing to India people always ask what I let my assistant do. To clarify this I usually refer our relationship as me being the owner of the company, my assistant being the CEO that delegates all the tasks I want to have done to more suitable people. In short a machinery built to work as smooth and as fast as possible with every single task, since time is my major concern. I don’t just see the one assistant I see a whole team!

“So what tasks do you hand them?” is the second question and to be frank my answer is simple: “Anything!” I started out by sending a scanned document with about 3700 contacts that I needed to turn into an Excel document. After two hours I got a report saying they finished 900 of these contacts. In eight hours the job was done. had I done it myself it would have taken at least 40 hours without including all the interruptions at work.

“Wow!” if that could be done, what else could I hand over? I started to make my own list of things that could be done and then assessed what I wanted to be done first. The bullet points that has come on print is the following:
- Send physical birthday cards to near and dear people.
- Buy Christmas gifts online and have them sent to me.
- Create logos for my business ideas.
- Research legal issues in operating and starting online gambling companies in Aldernay, Gibraltar, Singapore and Malta.
- Contact and get confirmation of the right to print the high definition material of creative resumes of almost 200 people for an upcoming book that I write.
- Research online lotteries and calculate odds of winning them.
- After the above mentioned research create a website based on the information found offering my own salary up for winnings.
– Together with my virtual assistant build an e-commerce store from the base of Tim Ferriss book.
- Create iPhone apps for a new way to barter.
- Structure my addresses and contacts.
- Proofread my blog.
- Help me plan and execute adventurous trips.
- Help in marketing and SEO campaigns.
- Make background research on several private issues.
…and so forth!

The list can be made infinitely long and the areas just as wide. In working with my virtual assistant (VA) Diyva, I have set a goal for us both to gain knowledge in new areas in life. I thirst for knowledge but don’t want the hassle it gives by making me have to spend all my free time doing things others can do better and faster. I don’t need to manage everything with hiring personnel and seeing to that they do their job. My goal is to free my time from necessary work to things that I’m more passionate about. GetFriday helps me with that!

In short; if you want a full and free life, make sure to understand your capabilities and hand over the tasks that you know others can do better and focus on what makes you passionate. In that way you become interesting and an inspiration to others to do the same with their life. Become a person of influence and help change the world for the better in the way that suits your heart the most.

The Buried Life video

Read more about what you could outsource to a virtual assistant at: http://www.matsgoldberg.com/42-things-you-could-outsource-to-a-virtual-assistant/. If you want to follow what I do, just click on through to www.MatsGoldberg.com or follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/matsgoldberg) or Twitter (@MatsGoldberg).

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Digital Marketing Entrepreneur goes virtual

Back after a longish break due to getting too busy with incubating a new startup idea within our business. Getting from the germination of a new idea to a proof of concept or roll out out stage is certainly the most challenging phase. Especially because the torque required to start something from a state of inertia is obviously the biggest. But that is just the beginning of tighter days ahead. As with every new idea, there is a huge adrenaline rush and the thrill of waking up to something new while running an obstacle race against time, to get things started. All part of the game.

So when I had a client of ours send us a guest post for the blog, I was more than thrilled. Our guest Christian Hollingsworth, a smart boy entrepreneur and now an ambitious young digital marketing consultant commands a twitter following in excess of 170k and that’s no mean feat. He is a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to digital marketing. So here we go.



Christian Hollingsworth - Digital Marketing Consultant, blogger


Working with GetFriday has been nothing but pleasure.
For months, if not years, I’ve read about many online professionals who have had great success in outsourcing a portion of their work to virtual assistants. It seemed to be the very last post I read about virtual assistants, which finally tipped the scales.

Preparing For the “Virtual Assistant” Jump
For most people, there are areas of concern before making the jump into hiring a virtual assistant.
Many people wonder, “Should I trust a virtual assistant? Will they be able to handle everything I give to them? Is it worth it?

  • As with all new ventures, there’s a certain degree of trial, error, and testing. It’s important to keep the communication lines clear when working with your virtual assistant, otherwise, the channels could become quickly cloudy.
  • Let them know what you expect from them, be clear in dictating tasks, and track their growth and progress.
  • I’ve found that it takes time getting used to working with a virtual assistant. One area, in particular, is continually finding those tasks that you’re able to outsource.
  • I always enjoy asking myself the question, “Would my assistant be able to handle this task, and allow me to free up more time?”

What tasks do I outsource?
After doing some research, I found GetFriday to be the virtual assisting company that would best fit my needs. I noticed they offered completion of web design, blogging, and administrative tasks.

Now, as I sit here writing about my few months with GetFriday, I smile. Here are just some of the tasks I’ve already been able to assign to Muzamil, who is my wonderful administrative assistant.

  1. Daily the spam emails that come to my inbox are combed through, non-spam emails are saved, and the rest deleted.
  2. On a daily basis Muzamil prepares an email with the top five blog posts from the day within the business, social media, and technology industries. I’m able to click through, use the ones I want to share, and stay updated on the latest happenings I need to be aware of.
  3. Calls are made to people whom I need information from.
  4. Appointments are scheduled.
  5. Emails sent with my media kit to potential clients.
  6. Muzamil is my main administrative assistant. I’m able to forward him any blogging or web design related tasks that need completion, and he is sure to organize a team of individuals who are prepared and skilled enough to complete the task.
  7. Blog post research.
  8. A healthy dose of motivation. I know that if I’m not feeling particularly motivated one day, Muzamil will be on my case, asking what’s needed next. This is a great benefit to me as a self-employed individual, as I know Muzamil is sure to check on me daily.

Virtual Assistant Muzamil

As you can see, after only a few months I’ve been able to outsource quite a few tasks to GetFriday. I know that as this year develops, the tasks I outsource will be even more, and the accomplishments greater.

The services provided by GetFriday cost little, are of supreme quality, and free my time for the tasks that only I’m able to complete for clients. It’s a win all around.

That’s one smart young man helping another one, across the globe. Thanks, Christian and Muzamil for this one.

Sunder P

About Christian Hollingsworth: Christian is a digital marketing consultant, blogger, entrepreneur, and recording artist. He makes money online and teaches others how to do the same.

Image copyright: SmartBoyDesigns and Muzamil

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Out-of-the-box Task Ideas

A post from GetFriday after a long pause. Been busy with too many things (like launching a new business idea for the Indian market). My apologies. Our client and old friend, Norman Wilson sent us some of his task suggestions, out-of-the-box ideas that can only come from someone like him. I hope this will prompt some of our clients to get little more adventurous in terms of their goals with GetFriday. Here we go, hope you like them!

Norman Wilson’s Task Suggestions
toy-boat construction

Toy Boat Construction Manual by Akhil Chalil

In April of this year, I introduced my project Virtual Assistance here on the Get Friday blog. In that post I outlined my approach to engaging with Get Friday, which prioritized artistic, ethical, and intellectual value over economic value. In forgoing a profitable engagement for myself with the service, Akhil and I were able to peel back the corporate veneer, revealing limitations, histories, networks, power, and desire by making toy boats, construction manuals, a video about the best fighter jet in the world, PowerPoint performances, international mailings, pulse rate tests, Excel graphs, office installations, and more.

Akhil has left the company and I am no longer an active Get Friday client. Though I’m grateful for what we learned and accomplished with the project, there are still a bunch of ideas for tasks (some more feasible than others) that were never actualized. In publishing them here on the Get Friday blog, my hope is that others will be inspired to take up my approach and start their own versions of Virtual Assistance.

*Note: Get Friday “assistants” will be referred to as “coworkers.”

-Ask your coworker what their favorite recreational activity is. For instance, jet skiing. Assign your coworker a task in which ride around on a rented jet ski paid for by you (on a credit card). Also hire a videographer to shoot a video of your coworker riding the jet ski. Make an account on a stock media marketplace and upload the jet skiing clips to the stock media marketplace. Title these clips “Young Indian Professional rides jet ski.” When the clips have made enough money to pay off the original jet ski rental and the videographer, plus another jet ski rental, this time with the full-insurance package, send your assistant on another jet-ski adventure with a hired videographer. This time ask your assistant to set off the jet ski, jammed in full-throttle, towards a pile of rocks. Upload this exploding jet ski footage to a stock media marketplace, and when it has generated enough money to buy a custom finish jet ski, buy Get Friday a company jet ski.


-Ask your coworker to call a friend who works in an Indian call center that provides outsourced customer support for an American company. Just to chat.

-Imagine and draw each other’s respective work spaces. Mail your drawings to each other.

-Make an animated e-card for your coworker, but email it to yourself. Then print it out frame by frame, and send it to your coworker as a FAX. In the FAX cover letter, state that you would like the hard copy scanned, turned back into an animation, and archived in your client file.

Fax machine

-Ask you coworker to go on a freestyle web surfing adventure and to document any locative advertising they witnesses.

-Ask your coworker to collect objects, materials, and samples from their local environment that have become internet and computing metaphors – window, folder, file, server, superhighway, shopping cart, traffic, trojan horse, spider, virus, worm, web, packet, page, desktop, attachment, stream, chain, link, spam, junk, net, board, paste, copy, etc. Have them mail you as many of these objects as possible.

-Call your coworker from your office water cooler. If you don’t work in an office, call your coworker from a display water cooler at Office Max. Ask your coworker to stand near the water cooler at the Get Friday office, and then ask them what they did last weekend.

-Order your coworker and their team a pizza from Dominos in India, and then order yourself an identical pizza from Dominos in your country. Eat simultaneously.

-Ask your coworker to send you a favorite picture of themselves. Commission a painting from www.yourartnow.com of you and your coworker jet skiing through the internet. If Your Art Now asks what the internet looks like, tell that the painter should decide.

-Hire additional virtual assistants from companies such as Brickwork, Bpovia, Ask Sunday, and Outsorcerer. Initiate an online political think tank with the goal of establishing a virtual nation state. Codevelop a currency, a flag, a constitution, an anthem, speeches, ID cards, ideas for social welfare programs, and more for this international organization. Online performances of this nation state, such as conferences and the inauguration ceremony, can be shared live online.

-Send your virtual assistant a survey for ranking you and your relationship.

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Getting your Outsourcing Right!

It always been quite a baffling experience over the years trying to understand as to what makes outsourcing tick. If we knew the answer, we ought to be able to solve the issue of customer satisfaction and keep all our clients happy. But time and again, we kept witnessing an unpredictable phenomenon; Outsourcing on an individual or small business level works well for some, while it backfires miserably for some others.

The moot question being why is it so unpredictable, though the most obvious reasons would simply point to poor quality of service. The fact remains that it isn’t the only reason for failure. We found that success is not exclusively dependent on the quality of service alone, but depends on a lot of other factors, especially when you are dealing with a situation of cross-border global work exchange.

So I tried to set forth on understanding the factors that affect the success of outsourcing especially w.r.t individuals and small businesses. With large business or Fortune 500 outsourcing, it is usually a business process or a transaction flow that gets outsourced and there are typically large teams on both sides to manage the transition and the associated risks. It is relatively harder to manage expectations when compared to let’s say manufacturing outsourcing, but is still easier when compared to managing individual expectations.

The key problem here being that an individual’s expectations are rather fluid, likely to change with time, seldom possible to capture / document properly and is quite unlike a business process. Can one capture an individual client’s needs within a Service Level Agreement? Extremely difficult, if not impossible.

To add to the complexity there are other issues like cultural differences, sometimes communication barriers and the willingness of the client to get organized. Many clients read about outsourcing, get excited at the prospect of being able to do it as an individual and promptly sign up. And 99% of the time, they either over anticipate their needs at the start or they haven’t organized themselves properly and analyzed as to what can be outsourced and what is best kept in-house. When this happens and there is a mismatch of expectations, it generally leads to a sense of disillusionment for those that are under prepared for the challenges of outsourcing.

There are some clients who have been with GetFriday for the past 5 plus years and are still going strong, while there are others who drop out in frustration within weeks. So after years of studying cases of failure to meet client expectations, we came up with the idea of a video tutorial to help clients understand what it takes to succeed. We used the concept of illustrative story telling (concept inspired by RSAnimate) to capture the essence of it, in 7 clear steps. And hence titled ‘The 7 Steps to Outsourcing’. We hope you will like it and please do share it with friends / co-workers and others who may find it useful.

P.S. This video is definitely not meant to pass the buck of making outsourcing work, exclusively to the client. It is meant to help clients and potential clients understand what it takes from both sides to make it a success. This apart, there lies an even bigger responsibility on a VA service like GetFriday to understand client expectations better, deliver good quality of service and be able to help the client gain time.

Sunder P

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Getting your Ideas to Spread

In the context of a more interactive world, the old rules of marketing are quickly falling by the wayside. From an era of TV commercials aimed at mass markets, where the consumer was a passive spectator, we have moved into a world where consumers are not only interacting with the products / brands they like or hate, but also sharing their likes and dislikes with other consumers in real time on the web / mobile web. Feedback is easy and instantaneous and the rules of the game are changing rapidly.

Seth Godin in this 2003 talk, argues that when consumers are faced with way too many choices and have too little time, the most obvious thing for them to do is to ignore stuff. So if your product or service doesn’t stand out and if the people at the fringes of the normal distribution curve don’t care about it, then you have a loser on hand. He further stresses that being remarkable and appealing to a smaller section of loyal innovators (consumers) is more important in today’s world than being mediocre and mass market. Watch this fantastic TED clip from Seth.

Looking back at our trajectory in the global VA space, GetFriday certainly wasn’t the first virtual assistant service on this planet. In fact, the concept of virtual assistants has existed for decades in the US and other parts of the developed world. These were mostly people who were employed as secretaries or assistants in large corporations who at some point decided to get out of it and work on their own terms with a select few clients from the comforts of their home / home office. All very good as long as you knew your clients very well and have had shared a good relationship with them for a very long time. But that was unremarkable and wasn’t something that caught people’s attention. Not yet!

With technology enabling really cheap long distance communication via the net and the emergence of tools such as google, there was an opportunity that emerged. Through a stroke of luck, we ended up doing the most bizarre things for a journalist (AJ Jacobs of Esquire) like reading a bed time story to his child in NYC from 10,000 miles away in India. It seemed really queer at that point of time (2005), but was indeed a remarkable thing to attempt and carried a good amount of shock value. And its success proved an important point that it didn’t need a huge corporation’s might and machinery to be able to work with someone on the other side of the globe. With the Internet, it was all possible. That caught people’s fancy and created the first wave for personal outsourcing.

And the next important thing for your idea to spread is to find a bunch of people who really care. People who are really passionate about what you do and then hope that they will tell their friends about it. GetFriday literally grew from zero to where we are now on zero marketing budgets only through client referrals or word of mouth. This is not to say, that we had impeccable service all through. We have had our fair share of terrible slip ups, errors and inconsistencies due to a host of reasons. But people who knew what to expect and how to make it work (your band of faithfuls), really manage to reap the benefits and eventually becomes evangelists for the service. And hopefully if you manage to keep and grow this flock steadily, at some stage you will reach a inflection point where it can explode. Facebook, Twitter, Wiki are all good examples for this.

It is difficult but not impossible to do it provided you understand the new rules of the game and start playing by it!

Sunder P

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Morgan locks spurs on transparency

Transparency; an often repeated word that pops in everyday corporate life. Everyone accepts the need for transparency but when it comes to actual practice, we find it incredibly difficult and possibly even painful.

Morgan Spurlock, the academy award nominated documentary film maker needs no introduction to people in the US. He became famous (or rather notorious) with his movie ‘Super Size Me‘ of 2004 that was a hard hitting critique of modern day fast-feeding (read: McDonalds). His critics, of course question his methods at deriding the companies he targets. Despite die-hard fans and an equal number of detractors, one thing is for sure, you can hate him or you can love him, but you just can’t ignore him.

In this hard hitting but humorous TED talk, Morgan locks spurs with the hidden, but highly influential world of brand marketing. It is downright hilarious as he shares the video of his quest to make a completely sponsored film on the issue of sponsorship and transparency. It is quite obvious that transparency isn’t something that sits well in the world of advertising.

At the end of it he makes an important point that companies that are not paralyzed by fear of the unknown (consequences), willing to take risks, and most importantly embrace transparency, will be able to go a long way.

And I can’t agree with him more. Here is an account of GetFriday’s personal tryst with Morgan.

On 28th April, 2006 we received a request from Carolyn McEwen, the producer of the reality TV show, “30 days” asking if we would be willing to participate in an experiment on outsourcing with Morgan Spurlock. While most of the episode was supposed to cover IT and call center jobs that were getting outsourced to India, they wanted to include GetFriday also, if possible. Given Morgan’s reputation, one should have been wary to join in on any effort that carries the risk of showing the Indian outsourcing industry in bad light.

After some thought I sent back a reply to her a day later, expressing our willingness to participate. I reckoned that we had nothing much to lose, but everything to gain. Given that we were small, we decided to take a bold and positive approach to the whole thing. Our goal then was to handle things as honestly as possible, while hoping that it turns out to our advantage in the final cut. We kept doing Morgan’s work for about a month, while keeping our fingers crossed.

Finally, on 9th June, 2006, Carolyn sent a message confirming that the experiment was over. Am reproducing the mail verbatim without her permission. Sorry, Carolyn! But six years later, it shouldn’t really matter!!!

Hi Venky,
I’m finishing up at “30 Days” tomorrow (Friday). I want to make sure we have Get Friday’s address so that we can send you a DVD of the outsourcing episode once it airs. In case you have access to U.S. TV, it’s supposed
to be broadcast on Wednesday, August 30th at 10pm on the FX Network. There is a chance that FX will rearrange the order the episodes at the last minute, so I’d keep an eye out for it in August. The second season of “30 Days”
begins on Wednesday, July 26 and runs for six consecutive weeks. Outsourcing is supposed to be the last episode.

Please send me your address by Friday, if possible. Also, could you send the spelling of the fellow who was Morgan’s personal assistant? Thanks for everything! You guys were great.


Despite the fact that we were happy to have impressed Morgan’s team with our service, we waited with bated breath for the episode to air. It did and to our surprise it turned out to be the most balanced and honest view on the subject of outsourcing, both sides of the globe. It didn’t turn out into an episode of India bashing, as most would suspect. Unfortunately we didn’t get air time because the episode was too call center focused and we probably got edited out in the 30 short min. Here is a link to Actual Reality – 30 days, though the video has gone missing.

Looking back at it, we were happy to be part of such an experiment and have learned our lessons in not shying away from taking risks and being honest. Am a Morgan fan!

Sunder P

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Internet’s role in economic progress; India

Can the Internet make a difference in a country like India that has 37 percent of its 1.2 billion population living below the poverty line? According to the Indian Planning Commission (govt. body that sets India’s economic policy) the poverty line for the nation’s cities was 578 rupees ($12.75) per person a month. For rural India, it’s even lower at about 450 rupees ($9.93) per month. The World Bank global poverty line, at $1.25 a day or about $38 per month, is three times higher than India’s urban level. In this context, does having the Internet or not having it, make any difference to the common man or people living in abject poverty?

While it is appears that the statistics make the Internet look inconsequential to people living below the poverty line, there certainly is more than a glimmer of hope.

One of the earliest Internet based initiatives (launched in 2000) in the rural sector that found success was the e-choupal from ITC. Prior to that, farmers in rural markets were deprived of market information and were forced to sell their produce through middleman at ‘mandis(indian term for agri markets). ITC empowered farmers by setting up internet kiosks in villages that enabled access to real time market price info for their farm produce. ITC (that required the farm produce) benefited from making their supply chain more efficient through direct buying from farmers. Since then 6,500 e-choupals across 40,000 villages have empowered more than 4 million farmers in 10 different states. A clear case that grass roots application of technology can make a huge difference in the lives of people.

ITC e-choupal

Internet Kiosk for Farmers in Indian Villages

ITC, incidentally started life as the Imperial Tobacco Company (sharing ancestry with Imperial Tobacco, UK) and then was known as the Indian Tobacco Company before being rechristened as ITC. They took their rechristening quite seriously and worked on changing their portfolio and becoming one of the most respected firms in the area of CSR. There are many more companies like Bharti, HUL, Tatas and foreign firms such as Google and Microsoft that are trying to make a difference in this space. Unfortunately, all their work put together will only amount to a drop in the ocean due to the vast expanse of India’s rural landscape.

Recently the Govt. seems to have woken up and is coming up with an ambitious plan to connect 160 million Indians with high speed internet by 2014. Only time will tell whether they will succeed or allow India to fall way behind the other BRIC nations in terms of Internet connectivity. Watch the video and read Moska Najib‘s report for BBCBringing the Internet to Rural India’s business community“.

If there are still lingering doubts on whether the Internet can play a role. Have no doubts, it certainly can; in education, tele-medicine and micro finance. Looking at this 2008 report “Internet changing life in Bihar & Orissa villages” by Nilanjana Bose for CNN-IBN it is clear that there is no dearth of ingenious ideas (DakNet) for using technology (wi-fi and wi-max) to connect villages that were hitherto unconnected. You can also see how the spread of knowledge and skills happens so fast with the Net that people can be trained to become employable with some efforts (in areas that don’t hinge on how well you speak English).

Education through the Net

Rural Children - Learning on the Net

And with connectivity, knowledge and awareness of opportunities improve and with it, lives of people are expected to improve.

Speaking from our own personal experience at GetFriday, a significant number of our employees are from tier-II towns and rural centers. Some of them would not have stepped out of their towns all through their lives. But with a little bit of skill development and training, these same people manage to cut across cultural barriers, develop personal relationships with their clients and handle work across the globe. It is just amazing that very many innovations and ideas would not have been possible without the Internet.

Knowledge is awareness and awareness empowers people. In a bid to create social uplift through entrepreneurship, good friend and veteran of the Indian IT industry, Dr Sridhar Mitta created a social entrepreneurship firm “NextWealth“. The idea is to provide IT and BPO services for the Indian domestic market through partnering with entrepreneurs who run centers that locally employ people in rural markets. Here is a Knowledge@Wharton report on this innovative concept.

Arogyaswami J Paulraj, a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford University, says Mitta and his team are on the right track. “Offering employment opportunities to segments of population that have been locked out so far will make India more competitive in an increasingly tougher world market for IT services.” The social impact, Paulraj adds, will be to “improve wealth distribution and reduce migration to larger cities.

If the Govt. does its bit then technology can be real game changer for improvement of society. Especially in places like rural India or sub-Saharan Africa.

Sunder P

All rights to contents referenced in this article belong to the respective copyright owners.

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Access to Internet; a human right?

The United Nations has declared access to Internet as a human right in a recent report. “Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states,” said the report from Frank La Rue, a special rapporteur to the United Nations. You can find more info on this report here on the LA Times.

The declaration of access to Internet as a human right is to be viewed against the backdrop of a clamor from governments across the world to enact better regulation of the Internet. Obviously, governments don’t like leaks of any kind, more so if it is a wiki kind. The most recent call came from the French President Mr.Sarkozy for tougher regulation at the e-G8 forum that took place in May at Paris. Industry leaders like Google, Facebook and Twitter who shared the platform at e-G8, however differ that the Internet should be left to regulate itself. The lines are clearly divided.

Here is an interesting alternative take on cyber-utopianism from author and journalist, Evgeny Morozov. (as always, beautifully animated by the RSA!).

This talk was given in 2009 and he obviously didn’t see Tunisia and Egypt coming at that time, though he is right in saying that many regimes across the world curb or try to control access to the Internet. He also tends to over-simplify things while applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to how people use the Internet. With or without the Internet, pornography has existed since mankind. It is wrong to assume that people who are operating at the bottom of the needs hierarchy may / will not move to a higher aspiration level if a need arises. Such needs arise when there is oppression, persecution and curtailing of basic human rights. And the Internet along with the mobile helps to propagate activism much faster, much wider than any previous medium of expression available to mankind (radio, telephone, fax, print).

The Arab spring uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other countries has clearly demonstrated the important role that the Internet plays in freedom of expression and any move from an autocratic to a democratic society. The benefits of a relatively less regulated Internet, far outweigh the negatives. And even if repressive governments bring in regulations or clamp down, the Internet is a lot more complexly connected for it to be completely curbed. Unlike other media that can easily be clamped down on, this is far more difficult if not impossible. Like the US govt. with all its state machinery at hand, found that it could do little to stop Wikileaks from continuing to leak information.

Yes, there is no refuting the dire need for better regulation to control cyber terrorism, cyber crimes, abuse, exploitation of children by pedophiles, identity theft and piracy. But regulation should not curb freedom of expression or the interactivity that has made the Internet what it is.

I will try to showcase how the Internet is leading to economic development and human progress in this part of the world (developing nations / emerging economies) in my next post.

Sunder P

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More is Less; The Paradox of Choice

We live in an age where we are continuously bombarded with a plethora of choices. We constantly push for more and more choices as well, thinking that it will give us more freedom and will truly liberate us. More choice is equated to more happiness. And it is almost considered a pseudo-fundamental right in most developed and fast developing nations. But does more choice really mean liberation, more happiness? The answer is NO.

Looking back on my own life as a kid in a place like India in the 1980s, the choices were way too limited. You just had the state run television with one channel. The telephone line and the device (with the rotary dial) too was supplied by a state run agency and had a black only option. There was only one type of car, the Ambassador (based on the Morris Oxford III model) in a predominantly white model. Reminds you of Henry Ford and his famous statement “Any color….so long as it is black”. Service with the very few options available was pathetic. Almost always was a Hobson’s choice. But strangely enough it still held a lot of joy for the consumer.

You eagerly waited for your favorite programs on TV (that probably aired once a week). The stuttering long distance call made on trunk dialing (the telephone operator actually switches you and connects) after an inordinately long wait, gave an immense sense of satisfaction about connecting to people far away in those days. The one and only car was truly a status symbol in those days. It was loved dearly by its owners. Sounds strange!

Come the era of satellite television, mobile telephony and the internet, the choices have multiplied exponentially and have gone past the stratosphere, but you still don’t see people truly happy about the choices in front of them. The satisfaction levels as well as the interest levels have gone down. From flicking through channels on your TV incessantly to getting bored with a iphone video game in no time, the new age consumer is highly distracted. The attention span has dwindled to micro seconds and we find it difficult to focus on anything beyond a few minutes. Sprawling malls everywhere provide all your favorite products under a single roof, but yet there are so many choices, so many brands and so many subtle differences that you are completely confused. Online buying provides a wide variety of choices but you are again dependent on a price comparison website or a consumer review website or a consumer blog to tell you what is under the chassis and how to kick the tires before buying anything. Again no definitive answers there. And you are in no mood to trust any single person’s opinion either. All because choice is supposed to empower us. We want to be in control and we are afraid of letting go, lest we make an inferior choice in the bargain.

We are spoilt for choices but we find it extremely hard to make those choices. We almost go into a state of paralysis, mulling over the choices and continuously weighing the pros and cons, over and over again. This paradox is sometimes referred to as ‘Buridan’s Ass‘ (after 14th century French philosopher, Jean Buridan).

Psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of the book ‘The Paradox of Choice‘ illustrates this concept very convincingly and makes a compelling case that ‘more is less’ in this TED talk.

It is indeed true that when we move from a state of limited or no choice to increased choices, consumers experience a surge in happiness or satisfaction. But above a certain threshold limit, it becomes crippling and leads to a huge drop in the satisfaction levels. In fact, the depression that most people experience at this high level of saturation is much more than when compared to a state of limited choice.

Does this paradox have any effect on a VA service like ours? It does and in fact, much more than I first imagined. Sifting through the kind of tasks we normally receive from individual clients (personal assistance, not business), I realized that a significant amount of time was spent on a size-able number of similar tasks. All of them pertaining to reviewing several dozens of choices, if not hundreds and then dwindling them down to a select few from which a client could choose. Options on which cell phone to buy, which one worked better in a particular area, which data plan worked better, which vacation destination was better, which flights were cheaper, which hotels were more convenient, which parking spaces could be pre-booked on a sweet deal, which software app was better to even which movies to watch.

It was easy to figure out that the plethora of choices was driving clients mad, almost into paralysis and perhaps eating away into their precious time. And they probably decided to use some extra help to bring down the choices to a more meaningful and manageable number. I can’t be complaining because this paradox was leading to more business for us. Barry incidentally mentions about Pareto Improvement or optimization of choices being a mutually beneficial option where people with infinite choices shift the onus of making that choice to people who don’t have that many. I think that is what is happening between GetFriday and its clients. Thankfully, that means more business for a VA service like ours and less paralysis for consumers.

Also watch this very interesting TED talk by psycho-economist and author of the book ‘The Art of Choosing‘, Sheena Iyengar. Barry and Sheena, both echo similar thoughts on the subject of choice. Happy viewing!

Sunder P

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Making sense of the Indian headshake

In a global workplace, managing people from different cultures is a big challenge in itself. But managing and getting the assistance of workers from a different culture, in a different country, remotely without ever (possibly) getting to see them face-to-face is a whole different ball game.

In my opinion, understanding each others context and cultures is critical for any business relationship to succeed. We are acutely aware of this given that we serve busy individuals and small businesses (not corporations) from 50 odd countries. Each client comes from a different culture and context, much different from us. And we do have to contend with problems arising due to these differences, every single day. Not a easy task by any stretch of imagination. For my fellow Indian workers who may be displeased with this post (please read the disclaimer at the bottom to understand the context).

Now let me point to some examples that highlight the key differences in the thought processes between a Western client and his or her Indian assistant or worker (cultural context), which may appear rather funny, but could have a very serious bearing on the long term success of the business relationship.

1) The inability of Indian workers to say ‘NO’ is probably the biggest culprit to misunderstanding when working with western counterparts or clients. Being hospitable, being friendly and being helpful is ingrained in the Indian culture and hence people generally find it difficult to say ‘NO’.  Even when it comes to things they can’t do or things they are not comfortable with. So when they say ‘we will try’ or ‘we will give our best shot’ it means that they are taking on work they don’t understand or can’t handle. It merely means that they will be attempting it, (of course) with the best of efforts. While the Westerner wants you to tell him that you can’t when you really can’t, the Indian just finds it difficult to say anything other than a ‘YES’. Results in a big let-down. The client, because he actually thought the worker would be able to help; the worker, because he feels that his attempts to be helpful were useless.

2) Deadlines are sacrosanct for the Western and many other cultures (Japanese). But the typical Indian is more worried about the goods and less about the deadline. In fact, a particular delivery may have some serious issues or may have run into unforeseen problems and the Indian may have taken great pains to solve the issue or somehow make it work. But he fails to understand the importance of communicating back on the timeline delay, well in advance for the client to make alternate arrangements.  And this results in dissatisfaction for both parties. The client because his deadline is simply not respected; the worker because his efforts on the face of the difficulties he had to surmount in getting the job done, have gone unappreciated.

3) Westerners expect people to ask questions if they do not understand. Most Indian workers presume that asking questions will be perceived as a sign of weakness or ignorance and hence fail to ask them when it is most required. This leads to a lot of assumptions that could easily go wrong. The problem lies in the upbringing from childhood that places greater emphasis on being taught, than in learning. Asking questions was rarely encouraged in those days. Of course, the current generation of children in India are a lot more confident about themselves and wouldn’t hesitate to ask, if in doubt. And hopefully, that will change things over a few generations.

4) Failure was taboo in post-British era Indian society. And hence fear of failure can stop people from pushing the limits or taking decisions on their own, especially when it comes to client’s work. It is a good thing if clear instructions have been given, to stick in within the fence. But even otherwise, Indian workers are generally fearful about making decisions that may backfire. This again has to do with the fact that failure is not well accepted. Failure is not seen as a stepping stone to success or as part of learning process. Filing for bankruptcy in a business means your are doomed to never do business again. On the contrary, in the western world this means you are better equipped to get it right the next time and make a success. Hence in India, you will find people more willing to merely comply than raise their levels to create new benchmarks. However, the newer generation of Indian youth is quite different and is moving in a positive direction.

These are just some of the numerous aspects of cultural differences that may result in an imperfect fit, if not properly understood. And it happens primarily due to a lack of awareness from both sides of the sensitivities involved. Of course, there are numerous positives to the Indian culture which is highly contextual and flexible. To better explain this, I would like to point to this TED talk from Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik which illustrates the difference beautifully.

So while every person’s culture is deeply ingrained in their psyche, it is inevitable in a global workplace that no one shall be left untouched by the culture of people living thousands of miles away on a different continent. Cultures are exchanged day in and day out, at the global workplace and it may result in a fusion; a kind of melting pot, which hopefully will take the best from every world. The success of the Indian IT-ITES industry globally is a clear indicator that cultural adaptation is happening faster than ever.

Disclaimer: Indian workers are generally seen as hard working, congenial and smart and are respected globally. The problems if any, crop up due to the cultural disconnect with their western counterparts. This post is meant to address that issue and appeal for a better understanding from both sides, in order to do business successfully.

Sunder P

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