Note: This article was originally published on April 3, 2014
I’ve always enjoyed going for talk sessions. One of the best things about this particular role of mine now with Startup Village is the fact that I keep getting invited for college sessions. There is this practice of giving you something at the end of the session as a token of their appreciation. Well, I’m cool with this practice and appreciate and understand the fact that it a good gesture on the part of the college. But the key idea I wanted to highlight in this particular article is the need to rethink all these practices: both in its relevance and execution. My problem is with the way we end up adopting these practices just because this is how it has always been. My problem is with the reluctance to rethink the value in these practices by understanding and critically questioning why even such a practice existed in the first place.
Let me attempt to better clarify what I’m trying to say here in the context of the title of this article. I keep going to college sessions and then I get a token of appreciation at the end of the session. Now on almost all occasions, I have received some sort of a random decorative piece that could potentially go into a showcase. In some instances, it also contains the name or logo of the organisation as well. Now, as much as I appreciate the gesture, I don’t have any value (apart from the value in the gesture itself) for the items I receive. I don’t like these, I don’t have a showcase in which I can put these things in, I don’t retain these stuff with me and the most important of them all being that I don’t like carrying these stuff back with me. Just take a look at the memento that I received for a talk at a college in Thrissur, which incidentally also happens to be the college in which my sister did her pre degree course, and then you will get a better picture of what I am talking about.
Now, agreed that these are personal preferences. But that’s precisely my point! I willingly and happily accept invitations to such sessions and on the face of it, without any expectation of receiving anything (material) in return. And then in the name of showing gratitude, I’m provided me with something that I don’t like, that provides no value to me and more importantly again, inconvenience me. Inconvenience in the sense that now I have to carry this thing back with and figure out a way to store / dispose this. Imagine me having to carry back something like the one in the pic all the way back from Guwahati! (I had been to a talk at IIT Guwahati as well last year and they also provided me with an inconvenient token of gratitude)
Now I have highlighted the issue. I have also been giving some thought as to what could be a potential alternative to this “token of gratitude” situation. Denying the college the decision to give anything in return is also not the optimal way to go forward since forcing that option will also leave people engaged in the social transaction unhappy. Given a choice, I would be happier to receive a box of those 5 rupee Kit Kat’s or even just one Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar over those inconvenient memorabilia that I so often end up with. Having said that, let me highlight the fact that there were some occasions I was happy with what I had received. Three infact. The times when I received books — I have an insatiable appetite for books!
The first book I received was one of PG Wodehouse. I don’t recall the event neither do I look forward to reading that book but I was happy that it was a book. The next book I received was at a Tata business meet that happened in Cochin for which I was invited as one of the panelists. They also gave me a book. It was a book that spoke about the Tata’s story though; but one of those non-fiction books nonetheless and hence scores high on relevance for me (I read non fiction books almost exclusively). The best instance was when I received this book from Murugappan of the Murgappa Group. The occasion was that they had invited me as a chief guest for the flagship events of CUMI. CUMI is one of the companies under the Murugappa Group and CuFest was the event.
It was the book titled Startup Nation. It’s the story that talks about Israel and it attempts to capture what made Israel one among the best technology innovations hubs in the world. So it was a book, a book that was relevant to my reading preferences, a book that would be good for my understanding in better executing my role at Startup Village and a book that was selected keeping all this in mind. Now this was really thoughtful. And the book also had a hand written personal message from Murugappan himself. Now this was something that meant a lot to me and provided value to me through and through.
The book with the handwritten note from Murugappan
Now in this case, it so happened that it was a book that I wished to read and its only fortunate that I had not read that book earlier. But there is no way that they could have figured that out. So this is what I was thinking. I will write a blog post to explicitly and proactively inform people with my thoughts and preferences on this memento citation. I can also include the list to my book reading list. (I was using a reading list app by Amazon on Linkedin which they subsequently stopped. Now I’m checking out Good reads as an alternative). That way I think everyone involved in the social transaction has a better understanding of each other’s preferences, while also retaining their individual right to exercise their own choice.