Doubt and confidence

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Jun 2 2014, 04:02am hrs
Every milkman mixes water in the milk the good cow gives. This anecdotal example sets the ambiguous doubt-confidence paradox we live under. Confident about the milks source and quality, we habitually doubt the milkmans integrity. As we cannot do without this intermediary function, we accept the inescapable delivery of tainted milk. Theres a French proverb, On fait des affaires dans la confiance, pas dans la mfiance, which means business is done in confidence, not in doubt. In India, these diametrically opposed contradictions are married in our minds.

Social context: Historically, from being subjects under a variety of Hindu dynasties, followed by the Sultan-Mughal Raj to British Raj to Licence Raj and now the liberalised economy, many fractions have ripped open our social fiber. One can say doubts have captured more space in our minds than confidence has. Is it our cultural heritage in India that we love the divergent mixture of salt, sugar and pepper (as I wrote earlier /article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-salt-sugar-pepper-politics/99/) like no other culture relishes it Or is tackling ambiguity a skill we picked up for survival, up to and including colonial times, when we had to always face and handle the incongruous, divergent social and political elements that were at odds with one another

An arranged marriage is full of doubtful factors. The couple that barely knows each other suddenly goes to bed after socially accepted religious rituals. From various research with women on different subjects, Ive gathered that they experience profound anxiety in spite of their parents confidently assuring them that the two families are highly compatible by culture. Inside the joint family system, each and every person lives to doubt the other (as you saw in my column Even in the contemporary trend of ZAP generation, girls and boys sharing total freedom, theres grave doubt about what will happen if they marry. Doubt is constant about the breaking down of marriages within a year or two, although the couple may previously have lived together for many years. Actually, high divorce rates among working couples is a global phenomenon that arises from economic development. When European wives started working from the new 1970s consuming age, more infidelity happened on both sides. With urbanisation, more disposable incomes and better living standards in India, the scope of doubt is increasing.

Even in consumer interactions, Ive heard that consumers buy branded yoghurt fresh every day, like milk. Thats because they doubt the retailer, believing he switches off the power at night so the refrigerated yoghurt thats best before two weeks, takes a beating.

Political perspective: The heady sweet-and-salt lassi shake is like the ambiguity of doubt and confidence in Indian politics. Before our 2014 Parliamentary election results, so many people declared they voted saffron for lack of confidence in the dynasty. So the current ruling party has to assuage and raise the confidence level of voters who did not proactively choose them.The biggest post-election doubt is that the opposition learnt no lesson from dynasty partys overall defeat and has, as yet, limited confidence to select a non-dynasty leader.

On the other hand, saffron will face continuous opposition attack on doubts raised over previous actions and the competence and vision of cabinet members other than the leader people confidently voted in. The masses generally have no expectation from political powers-that-be. So the new government has been marked with the diametrical doubt-confidence ambiguity from May 26, 2014 itself.

Business environment: Indian proprietorship companies are bold enough to act and focus on delivery. But do those MBA schools that teach family business management give any relevant lesson Whats largely taught is multi-national corporation culture theory emphasising on processes and operational issues including presentation skills. In Demings model of Plan-Do-Check-Act, MNCs want Plan-Check-Act, while Indian proprietors want Do, thats action with results.

The management style of Indian proprietor-run companies can be quite mystifying to MBA managers. The characteristics and attitudes of promoter companies can differ vastly, such as: (1) Very feudal managing style, (2) Active sharing of responsibility by owners and professionals, (3) Boardroom leadership by the owner with the company being run by professional senior management, (4) Appointing a few advisors who closely shadow the operational leaders, (5) Interference in the business by the whole family.

So MBA managers often have no clue on how to handle Indian proprietors who demand and reward tangible decisive action and shareholder value delivery. Promoters are generally focused on cash inflows and outflows instead of working on complicated internal rate of return or investment to grow markets. We can learn the excellence of entrepreneurship from them. However, if theres vulnerability in the proprietors confidence level with the senior management, it impacts every employee layer across the company, who merely try to satisfy the proprietor. If the proprietor is averse to taking risks, and frequently changes company priorities in seeking short-term gains, the management team can face the danger of being shuffled.

Sustaining business happens with confidence, never with doubt.How many things can a contract specify if theres no moral and mutual assurance of confidence between employees and employers, partners and vendors Theres need to close this basic gap and document the culture of an enterprise. Abolishing the handicap of doubt and demonstrating confidence can really take the company far. Using digital technology, the companys culture and activities, from the strategic to operational levels, can be mapped as gates where doubt is examined and erased to open the culture of confidence.War room is great for challenging and redefining the business model but not with doubt, but with confidence.

With the transparency of digital technology, its time to increase the confidence level as high as possible in every aspect in society. We may collectively need to work on how to kill doubt to move forward for a better future.

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence. Reach him at