Lessons from the highway
Every now and then you have to embark on one of those highway drives, where in between listening to music and juggling for toll, you also get a chance to get into deep thought and reflection.
A drive on the Mumbai Pune expressway is almost the perfect location for deep reflection. Atleast, while you’re on the highway.
Last week, I embarked on one of these leisurely drives and as always when you get onto the highway you’re trying to figure out where you really fit. They say, ‘don’t change lanes mid-stream’ but its also important to figure out if you’re on the right lane to begin with. The left lane is for the slow moving traffic, folks who really aren’t in it for the long run. In most cases, they’re also a confused lot not knowing when to get on, when to get off, whether they should be putting the indicator or whether they shouldn’t.
It’s difficult for me to be on this lane, I don’t know when the traffic will hold me up, also there is one really to follow here. Someone, who will guide and mentor me as I handle the perils of the road.
I decide to switch lanes. I move to the middle lane. This line is filled with cars like Santros, Alto’s, Swift’s; in many cases not very different from the kind of cars you see in the left lane.
But, they’re dynamic, competitive and agile, every now and then a car from the middle lane tries to cross on to the fast moving right lane, sometimes even staying there for a substantial period of time.
You find the true character of a car when a faster car comes up behind him.
Some go out of their way to give way, some give way; others hold up traffic on the right lane thinking somehow that a Santro is faster than a Lexus.
The folks who give way, they are the smart ones. They realize that their time hasn’t come, if they’re not going to be overtaken now they will be at some point. The race for them is long, more importantly you need to compete with someone your own size.
They are the other folks who go out of their way to give way, they are the ‘over-eager’ ones. They believe that taking a dangerous turn just to give a faster car way will somehow make them appeal to the faster car. The truth though is that they’re endangering the highway while doing so. They are also subservient to the faster car often going out of its way to please the faster car. It doesn’t really work though, the faster car has seen so many ‘subservient’ ones like it that it hardly appeals to them anymore. If the ‘over-eager’ needs to become more important to the fast one, it needs to if anything help it go faster; simply getting out of the way or offering to help just won’t cut it. In the fast car’s world, he shouldn’t have been in the right lane to begin with.
Finally, they are the ‘pretentious’ cars. The Swift’s which think they are ‘Subarus’, the Esteems which think they are ‘Aston Martins’, the Hyundai’s which think they are ‘Porsches’. These are the toughest to deal with because they seriously believe they are going faster than they really are. Finally, the highway is about relative speed, you going at 120 Kmph means nothing if the Merc to your right is cruising at 160 Kmph.
As the ‘pretentious’ car proceeds down the highway, the faster ones come up behind him. The ‘pretentious’ car doesn’t give way and steps up his pace, soon enough though he is consumed by the faster car so much so that he is forced to switch lanes and is then further slowed down by traffic on the middle lane. More so and more importantly, the faster car makes a mental note of this ‘pretentious’ car knowing fully well that it’s a car it wants to stay away from if it encounters it again on the highway.
Finally, I take a look at what’s happening on the right lane. They are 2 types of cars; the ‘Nouveau’ and the ‘Stately’. BMW’s, Audi’s, Volkswagen’s, Sports Coupes, Convertibles, they all make up the ‘Nouveau’.
They are cool, metrosexual made up by individuals who in many ways have learnt the way of the world. They’re also fast. While they’re great with dealing with the faster traffic coming up behind them, often acknowledging it and giving it undue respect. They aren’t so great though in dealing with slower traffic that comes up ahead of them from the middle lane. In such cases, they often go out of their way to prove a point. Really, if you’re driving a Mercedes Convertible and he’s driving a Maruti Wagon R, do you really need to prove one? A lot of times, they get so caught up in reaching the destination the fastest, that they don’t stop to enjoy the drive.
Next come the Stately, these are the Top End Merc’s, Jaguar’s, Aston Martin’s, Bentley’s and is some cases the same cars as those driven by the ‘Noveau’ lot.
But hey, its not just the car that’s important, its also the state of mind. These folks cruise down the highway, they’ve really already accomplished what they wanted to in life and their key priority now is to make it to their next destination reasonably quick and most importantly safe. In most cases, they aren’t driving their car themselves, most often they’re too busy resting and spending time with their family to get bogged down by petty encounters on the highway. Their drivers echo their sentiment, I’m already ahead of most of you, the intelligent ones on the road already know it and the ones who don’t, well they don’t really matter.
I notice that they simply cruise down the highway and a lot of times are also well placed to over-take a ‘Nouveau’ car up ahead of them. In most cases, they don’t. The battle is inconsequential when the war has already been won.
In life, we meet the personification of these cars everyday. Folks who are too humble for their own good, folks who are smart and agile, folks who are pretentious and have a lack of clarity on what car they’re actually driving and finally accomplished folks, both the nouveau fast-track ones and the stately ones. Often one makes a transition from one car to the other in a 3-5 year time-span, yup the same amount of time one takes to buy a new car.
What many don’t understand that unlike on the highway where the cars and hence the status associated to them are distinct, life itself is far more complicated and dynamic with countless number of parallel lanes. If for instance a salesperson knocks on your door, he’s driving the Ford, you’re driving the Ferrari. Tomorrow you realize he has access to some market intelligence which could be very useful to you; suddenly you’re driving the Ford. The roles are inter-changeable almost instantaneously, therefore regardless of which car you’re driving its always important that you’re fair, just and nice.
Nice guys might finish last, but the not-so-nice, well they remain on the highway.
Across all people I meet and work with, entrepreneurs, associates, colleague, business partners; this is something I subconsciously size up very quickly. What car is he driving and what car does he ‘think’ he’s driving. My approach changes accordingly, finally market forces determine everything and that’s life.
Looking back over the last 4 years or so and all the entrepreneurs I’ve had the privilege of meeting, it’s really entrepreneurs who’ve been most certain of where they stand themselves in a particular situation that succeed. The ones who succeed the fastest are those who clearly understand when they’re driving a moped and when they’re driving a BMW 7 Series with brand new Harman Kardon speakers. They adapt and take advantage of situations with amazing dexterity.
What car am I driving? Hang on a minute. Who are you and what did you want to discuss?
P.S If you’re a politician and you’re reading this post, it doesn’t apply to you. Regardless of what vehicle you’re actually driving, in the real world you’re driving a Bentley, yup – the Continental GT.
Atleast for now.
P.S.S If you like this post, you might also want to read this post by Alok. If you both know which floor you’re on and which car you’re driving, I guess you will do ok.