Seen there, done that

It‘s a quirky world full of inscrutable clients, unrealistic deadlines and unpredictable bursts of energy, advertising is.
Presenting tongue-in-cheek peeks at life in media as it exists in India. We would also welcome such and similar thoughts that you would like to see featured in this column. Feel free to pen in your own take to

Management by cliché – In modern corporate times of increasing cut throat competition, diminishing margins and ridiculously tasteless office attire; it is sometimes only the words of the leader that are expected to thrill the innermost depths of employee souls and invoke inspiring action. However, when these words are diffidently strung together at short notice and shamelessly recycled from those used in vastly different situation before, then the organization has as much chance of progressing as the plot in a reality show does, when the announcement of the winner needs to be made….

“To lead is the task of a chosen few, even when they seem to have no point of view”

The hushed Chinese accent, the express delivery of the tea cup and Chai-La (the mystical Chinese tea boy) had vanished into the ardently bellicose fonts of ‘The Art of War’ book that adorned the lobby mantelpiece in the agency.

The entire agency was gathered in what could be kindly called an adaptation of a ‘town hall’ meeting. Everyone was speculating as to what the President would talk about, these were trying times for the agency as business was not in the best of shape and there were rumors floating that a large worldwide agency was soon going to take it over. Floating, until someone burst the balloon that had this rumor maliciously written on it, as the balloon dropped to its untimely demise, the President entered. The pallid corpse of the balloon kindly dropped on his head in a monumentally rare example of bursting the bubble even before speaking.

The President was dressed in military gear, like a lavishly pot bellied, obviously drunken General of some sad army that was likely to desert at the stroke of war. He clicked his heels and stood to attention. Then, with a felicity that did not become him, saluted his employees. They all stood stunned by the turn of events. Not because of the sudden authenticity of his salute, but because that sudden knee jerk action had caused his costume to ride up parts of his anatomy rather awkwardly. Parts that could not have been discussed with innocent minds in the vicinity

“Sir, I think you’d better relax.” said Vikas (Ram’s boss), vocalizing the unspoken desire of the entire audience for once. The President looked at him querulously. Vikas with dexterous eye movements indicated that the problem was ‘down under’. An embarrassed realization ‘pricked’ the President into a more relaxed pose.

“Ask not what you can do for your office; ask what your office can do for you.”

Murmurs started to emerge at the back, the correlation of that statement to drug overdose was being examined. Vikas again went up and whispered something in the Presidents ear.

“Well, I know it was the other way around,” boomed the President, “I was just trying to get your attention, and it is an old technique great public speakers use.”

“This chap should be called cliché Kumar,” whispered the old cynical hand in Ram’s ears, Tanya (the cute art person) giggled much to Ram’s chagrin.

“He gets so lost when he needs to address everyone at times like these that he keeps mixing things up,” the old cynical hand continued, as Tanya began to indulge him beyond Ram’s tolerance levels. “You will hear a lot of ‘we need to work like a family’ and ‘we need to be more risk taking in our strategy’; I must have heard this at least twenty three times before. He must have a whole library of these old lofty sounding generalizations.”

The President by then was in fine form and had worked up quite a head of steam.

“I know that today we are threatened, but every great civilization and culture has gone through similar times. Look at Egypt, Greece, Sparta, and Rome. It’s when we work together during moments of such crises that bonds forge themselves that look at problems and say ‘break us if you can, even all your might will not be enough’. In fact this is how we will create greater cutting edge work that will win more awards.”

The audience clapped, firstly because agencies are conditioned to react a certain way whenever they hear the word ‘award’ mentioned, and secondly they needed some relief from the inebriated decibel levels that their chief was reaching. Vikas quickly moved up again and enlightened the President again.

“Yes I know I said that last line in a different context and when I was talking about a different problem, but many times problems are there because we lack a certain fundamental level of ‘core’ values and perspective. Let me ask if there is any young person here who is so clear enough about our culture that he can come up here and speak. It’s only when young minds volunteer for tasks like these that we can come up with winning solutions to any problems. After all it’s in the mind of the young that possibilities lie, and when there is possibility there is always hope.”

“I have heard that one only fourteen times before, how original,” quipped the old cynical hand in typical ‘back row’ mentality, purely for the listening pleasure of people in a five feet radius around him. Tanya giggled again, Ram felt slightly more jealous.

“A volunteer, I need a volunteer,” enquired the President of his troops

These cases usually resemble situations in which goats have been asked, by reasonably democratic zoo authorities, to step forward in the scientific spirit of adventure and risk entering the lion’s cage with the noble aim of exploring what is meant by the ‘lion getting his goat’ at a purely grammatical level. The goats understandably find their own anatomy to be the more pertinent subject in question and hence seldom willingly accede to the cause. Homo sapiens quickly replicate the successful survival behaviors of the other species hence it was hardly surprising that no one seemed keen to humor the President.


“That’s great, just the initiative I wanted to see young people in my office taking. Come up young man!” An elated President was welcoming some poor sod

Ram was scouting around to see who this idiot could be, when he had the strangest sinking feeling of people looking his way and smiling, further examination of his body revealed his hand had risen to dangerous heights that it had never aspired for before, courtesy the old cynical hand. The culprit was sporting a depressingly evil grin, like his targets for the entire year had been magically met. What hurt even more was the uncontrollable laughter bout that Tanya had got herself into.

There seemed to be a time and space accelerator at work, because in the blink of an eye he was up there facing the entire lot of one hundred people. Post his college days, Ram had rarely presented at office, especially given his level in the hierarchy, worse still, he had absolutely no clue about the subject in hand

“When lack of knowledge makes you want to look, you need not go any further than the nearest book.”

The essential riddle and the tea cup came in a flurry of insight as Chai La disappeared into a stream of co relation subroutines on a nearby computer.

“Hey! How did the tea cup appear in you hand?” asked the amazed President, “Anyway I must remember not to drink so much, the stage is yours, young man.”

He gallantly stepped in little to the side in true military fashion, high marching his way to a position five feet away. The histrionic distraction gave Ram enough time to collect his thoughts before the audience attention would return to him.

He sought books, the first one that caugjht his eye on the mantelpiece was ‘The Art of War’, Ram knew what he had to do, for once Chai-La’s conundrum made sense

There was silence. The Ram began. He knew he needed a good starting line

“Every battle is won, before it is fought.”

The silence grew even deeper; the President was stunned, then he began clapping as did the rest of the audience, the crescendo rose, Ram felt a feeling he had never quite experienced before, he felt confident. His eye began scanning the other books on the mantelpiece, thee were quite a few, maybe he could pull this off

“Today this is even more important because we are in a situation where we need to thrive on chaos.”

Rapt attention, then thunderous applause, Vikas’s jaw had dropped to an all time low, Tanya had an interestingly admiring look in her eyes….

“And we need to establish a culture that will help us isolate the mega trends that will govern the market, such that no competitors action can ever be a future shock to our clients,” Ram was on a roll now, the audience was lapping it up, the President had a kind avuncular look on his face

“In fact there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers,” the moment he said that, Ram realized that he had got it very wrong.

Pin drop silence. The President looked at Vikas. Everyone wanted to look elsewhere.

“Meeting dismissed, see me in my office Vikas, we need to talk about where our younger people, who have no sense to know otherwise, are getting their king sized egos from?”

Vikas gave Ram a look that meant problems later. The rest of the audience vanished like they had received urgent emails from their chairs who were feeling rather jilted just then.

Ram stood alone on the battlefield.

“Not everything can be done by the book; there is trouble to be had if you leap before you look.”

The tea cup appeared again at lightning quick speed as Chai-La disappeared into the cover of a music CD on Vikas’s table. It read ‘Appetite for destruction”

Ram knew what was coming.

The writer is an independent strategic & ideation consultant. He is also the patron saint of Juhu Beach United, a football club that celebrates the "unfit, out of breath media professional of today." You can write to him at (

(The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same)

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