Perceptions or paradigm shift: Is it okay to do what you feel is right?

Sometimes, the best decisions are made by listening to your gut instinct. Because, difference in opinions is all about perceptions

Sanjeev Gupta
Published: 05, Feb 2015

Sanjeev Gupta has lived and worked across the emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East and India over the last 24 years. During his career, he has developed extensive experience in the conceptualisation and execution of innovative and customised solutions for successful business models in emerging economies amidst the challenges of transformation and policy changes and the complexities of managing paradigm shifts. He has been actively involved in the Private Equity & Corporate Advisory sector and has established a strong reputation for strategic business development and implementation of hitherto untried models in new and fast changing markets. He was the CEO of South African financial services giant Sanlam Investment Management`s Emerging Markets Business till December 2010. Sanjeev is currently the Managing Partner of Emerging Opportunities Consulting , a firm he set up to focus on working with fast growing, consumer facing, family owned businesses looking for strategic and financial support . He is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chartered Accountants, a Member of the Investment Analysts Society of South Africa and holds an AMP from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK. His hobbies include writing on business and macro-economic trends and playing golf. He enjoys presenting papers and is an active public speaker in various forums.

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I went to the duty free section of Dubai airport looking to buy my regular after shave products.

An enterprising young lady beckoned me to look at some of the new fragrances and proceeded to promise me that if I bought one of those, I would get a free anti-ageingface cream.

Pique would hardly be the word I would use to describe my reaction to her presumptuousness but I stayed quiet and maintained a stoic yes.

Deep down, I knew she had pinched a raw nerve within me but decided to applaud her candour in silence.

As I was paying at the counter, the lady at the section gave me a sparkling smile and asked if I would like to buy a new deodorant.

If I do, she told me I would get some, free anti-ageing cream for ladies. She said, “Your wife would love it sir".

I recoiled at the innocent-yet-potent suggestion. It is one thing to accept quietly my advancing age and the signs thereof. But to take an anti-ageing cream, that too something that was a free offer for my wife?

Elizabeth Taylor had once famously said, “Men who guess a lady's age correctly must be very clever but not very smart.” At that very split second, where sheer economics urged me to take that free anti-ageing cream for my wife, I was reminded of Ms Taylor and opted for "discretion being the better part of valour" option.

So yes! I didn't take the cream as I couldn't think of a single lady in my life for whom such an offering would make any sense or extend my intelligent life.

As I walked back, I couldn't stop laughing. Which marketing genius worked this strategy out or am I being silly here?

Or, is it that wives buy necessities for men and secretly tuck in those free anti-ageingcreams? None of it made any sense to me but reminded me of an experience many years ago.

I used to work in Botswana those days. These were the heydays in Gaborone, the early 1990s African success story.

A glittering city and expats everywhere making the place a vibrant, cosmopolitan, wealthy, comfortable little town tucked inside the remote Kalahari.

People like us had come from all over to work there, to do business and to pretend from time to time that we needed to be there because there was a skill deficit locally.All in all, it was a highly satisfactory situation.

And I had found a good friend in local boy Mothusi who was the scion of a chief's family. Educated in Oxford and well heeled to boot, he was a great company and always fun. He used to work with me in the same company.

But, while I diligently went to work at 7.30 am and returned very often late in the night, he used to roll in mid-morning, would be found gazing blankly post lunch and never to be found at his desk after 4 pm.

It puzzled me to no end that a clever, well-educated fellow like him had so little drive? Or was it a sense of entitlement?

I finally decided to ask and this is what he told me. “You guys, all you foreigners, have come here seeking to earn more than you can in your homes and perhaps even have a more comfortable life than in your own countries. But we locals did not leave our country. We have always had our rustic village home, our cattle and our way of life.”

He further elaborated by stating, “Diamonds (Botswana produces almost a fourth of the world's entire gem quality diamonds) have made us rich and made us build our urban centres. The government pays for our education, health care and housing. They even employ us in the civil service. I chose to join the private sector. But tell me why should I push myself?"

I was astounded with his answer.  It was a classic case of “A take of entitlement if ever there was one”.

He disagreed with me and said that it is about perceptions and paradigms, not entitlement and déjà vu.

I furthered the conversation by asking him how? He said, “I grew up in my village where every morning, at the crack of dawn, my mother would wake up, milk the cow, light the fire, cook our maize porridge, clean the courtyard and generally keep shouting at us to wake up. Somewhere in that early morning din, we would finally hear our dad wake up, let out a loud belch and ask for his mug of hot bush tea.”

“Mom would scurry around, as would my sisters to meet his demands while we, the male children, would not be expected to do anything. Dad would then get ready, take his stick, sling his food basket that mom had prepared hastily, open the cattle pen, herd his cattle out and walk out towards the grazing fields and into that early morning haze.”

He added, “I would, at mid-day, be given that one task: To run and deliver my dad his lunch. I would go and see him sitting under a tree, smoking and guffawing with his mates and looking at the cattle just ahead of him. In the evening, just before twilight, he would come home, noisily and with a lot of self righteous noises around how busy and hard his day had been. Mom would faithfully get up, help him to put the cattle inside the pen, take his bag from his shoulder and clean his feet."

”So?” I asked wondering about the explanation.

Mothusi said: "That my friend is what I knew was hard work. Now you guys tell me hard work is about waking up, coming to your desk by 7.30 am, poring through files and then staying back late till all the work is cleared or the boss has gone home. My mind tells me that is a wretched way to live. I come to office on my terms and work on my terms."

Irrefutable logic, I pondered. It's all about paradigms, perceptions and prejudices after all I suppose.

So who is to say Mothusi was wrong or I was right? For that matter, who is to ask if I should have, after all, picked up those free anti-ageing creams?

I am sure Mothusi would have, bereft as he was of all man-made rules and nuances.

I would have too if I had the courage to them tell my wife, “Yes dear. You have aged, with me, but you still look as lovely as ever".

Or if I was to be even more honest, I would have given her those creams and told her, "You are ageing and so am I. So you need a little help with some of the new fangled stuff. Please try this and see."

But Mrs Taylor came to my mind again and I decided what I had done (or not done) in that duty free shop in Dubai was absolutely the right thing to do.

And I have no regrets at all, I promise you! It's all about perceptions isn't it?

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