The Process of Elimination

I once wanted to start a dairy business. I had been in a government company for very long and yearned for more freedom. I also wanted to be rich. Those days, the Internet was a new phenomenon in India; it was certainly so for me. I had a dial-up connection that I had to purchase every other week or so. The dial-up operator provided me with a CD. I had to insert it in the CD-ROM drive of my computer, then listen to the dial tone of my telephone. When I was finally on the Internet, the experience was almost as pleasant as strolling on a beach. The experience of getting on the Internet was sweeter because I had recently purchased my first PC. I also bought a special table for it, with a sliding drawer for the keyboard. I also bought cloth covers with which to dress the computer parts. When I was done with a few minutes of surfing the Internet (I had to save the dial-up connection because it cost money; each CD renewal required  around 50 Rupees or about a dollar) and was in my living room, I glanced at my covered computer system, partly hidden by my brand new high-backed swivel chair, across the small hallway that separated the living room from the bed room. The idea of starting a dairy came one day, perhaps inspired by our sizable consumption of milk; between my wife and I, we needed close to a half-a-gallon daily. The milk came in plastic pouches, and there was a famous dairy in the city where we lived. My idea was simple enough: my wife comes from  a rural area, which happens to be somewhat backward industrially. I calculated that if we started a dairy somewhere in the area, it might just turn out to be an excellent business.

With this germ of an idea, I began to look for information about the dairy business on the Internet. The more I looked, the more information I got. I printed nearly 50 pages, put them in a folder, and was ready to do some primary research. I had a smart and resourceful subordinate who knew someone at the local dairy. Soon, we visited the dairy, and I inspected the heavy machines that processed milk. It quickly became clear to me that the project would require a huge monetary investment. I had very little money in the bank but was high on that blind confidence some call naiveté. So far so good. Next, I decided to do some actual market survey. I went to my in-law’s and, through one of my wife’s uncles, an affable and brave middle-aged man who worked in a sugar factory, visited a small dairy nearby. I remember that we went on his motorcycle, which I drove, through the beautiful, dry plain of the Gir forest, where the only lions in Asia are found. The dairy itself was a rather quiet place. The owner was nowhere to be seen. I moved around some heavy machinery in a large shed and indicated to the sugar factory uncle that we could leave if we wanted to. The return drive  was spent in bits of conversation and an occasional thought running through my mind that I might just chance upon a lion. I asked the kind and affable man sitting behind me if he had ever come across lions. He said sure, only a few days ago. There were two lions resting in a roadside ditch, he said, and he came upon them when he was returning from work. Soon, the dim, evening lights of his little town were visible.

The next day, a funny thing happened. My wife’s uncle mentioned my idea to his neighbor, who immediately began to mock me for my foolishness. He advised me to not commit a blunder. I would be eaten alive by local dairies, he predicted. Were there any? I asked. Now he seemed even more derisive of me. He cast a quick, cutting glance at me before excusing himself to go attend to some business in his garden. I was dejected. The man did not even want to believe in me. After much soul-searching, I came to a decision that I could not start a dairy, that it was not a feasible idea. The first idea of a business to strike me was thus eliminated. I did not regret my trip to my in-law’s place to do the market survey, or my printing out around 50 pages about the dairy business. To me, what I had done was to look at an idea carefully and decide that it was not for me. But I did so after considering the idea as systematically as I could.

Soon after this, I decided to leave India. I decided to acquire more education, as a way to open newer and better opportunities for me. This thought changed my life. But sometimes I wonder whether the road that I eventually took started from that dairy business detour. The process of elimination teaches us what we are not supposed to do, what is not supposed to work. The process paves the way for options that are better suited, that might work. I will never regret not starting a dairy. I gave it a good, hard look and decided it was not for me.

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