Book extract: The Cubicle Manifesto
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Book extract: The Cubicle Manifesto

M A X I M  T H R E ETHE NET PRESENT VALUE OF HAPPINESS ‘The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.’ —Che Guevara The next morning Mayukh woke up to a barrage of emails from his boss. Fiddling with his BlackBerry, he started thinking of excuses

books Updated: Mar 09, 2012 13:27 IST
Mainak Dhar



‘The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.’

—Che Guevara

The next morning Mayukh woke up to a barrage of emails from his boss. Fiddling with his BlackBerry, he started thinking of excuses that he could offer Sudha for not seeing the doctor. But with the morning rush to get to work on time, he decided to think of something later.

At work, Anupam, the Finance Manager, walked up to him and they began talking of the presentation they had to make to the Managing Director soon. It was about Project Pocketbook and its major stumbling block—the high initial investments, which meant that the Net Present Value of the project was always going to be low, unless they could find a way of getting the first couple of years’ sales projections to be much higher than was currently true. And that was where Mayukh and his marketing team had been working overtime—to come up with ideas on how they could conjure up sales.

Anupam groaned as he complained about how he would run things differently if he were at the top and how the present management was just too focused on short-term profits. And then, the two of them indulged in that cleansing ritual shared by cubicle dwellers the world over—catharsis


NPV= H0 + H1/

(1+r) + H2/(1+r)2+

H3/(1+r)3 +…….

+ Hn/(1+r)n

by the coffee machine. Or, to use a less fancy, but no less accurate title—bitching about the boss. It helped them give vent to their frustration. But, as Mayukh had learnt after so many years of working, it ultimately made little difference, since all the solutions to their problems existed in a hypothetical future where they would change the way things were run. Then it was back to the cubicle and back to the grind.

Mayukh got back to his cubicle and started trawling through the emails that he had to respond to. He was in the middle of a sentence, when the screen went white. He cursed out aloud, causing his secretary to wince. Mayukh rubbed his head in exasperation, as he tried to make sense of what seemed to be a mathematical puzzle. He was momentarily relieved when the bizarre equation disappeared, but before he could finish the email he had


The Pursuit of Happiness begun to write, the screen went white again and another line of text appeared.

Mayukh was about to curse again, when something struck him. It was the title of a movie he had once watched, in which H stood for Happiness. So what did that mean? It was apparent that the strange equation the virus had flashed on his screen was another twist to the mind games it so seemed to enjoy playing with him.

He thought about it for a minute, but still did not get it. Just then Anupam walked by his cubicle, mumbling something about the NPV of the project, and it hit Mayukh like a flash of lightning. Net Present Value of Happiness!

The equation represented the Net Present Value of Happiness. But what in God’s name did that mean, and why was the virus telling him about the value of happiness? He did not get much of a chance to dwell upon the matter, because just then his boss called him over, and for


the next half an hour he found himself at the receiving end of a long lecture on how the project that he was leading was hardly in a shape where they could hope for an approval from the Managing Director. Mayukh came back to his cubicle, fuming as he recalled his conversation with Anupam. If and when he got to a more senior position, he would try and help his people out, rather than just demand for more and more. When he becomes the boss, he would…

That’s when he stopped himself. He suddenly realized what the equation for the NPV of Happiness was trying to tell him.

When he got back to his cubicle, Mayukh found the equation displayed on his laptop screen once again, and as he looked at it, he was clear on what he thought it meant. NPV= H0 + H1/(1+r) + H2/(1+r)2+ H3/(1+r)3 +…….+ Hn/(1+r)n


It basically showed Hn as the happiness created in year n, with 0 being the current year and n being the number of years you live. In the equation, as with any NPV calculation, r was the rate at which future value is discounted, simply because there is a time premium associated with any value—something enjoyed now is better than something enjoyed later. That was the whole concept behind Net Present Value—something he had learnt a long time ago at business school, and then at work, but had never thought about applying to something as basic as happiness.

The way the equation worked was that the first year has the highest weight, as its value is not discounted. The further into the future you go, the lesser the contribution of any one year, given that each succeeding year is discounted at a compounded rate. It was based on the simple theory that present gains were always more valued than hypothetical future gains. So a thousand rupees earned today would mean more than the same amount promised a year later.

The meaning of the NPV of Happiness was clear. Planning or thinking of all the big things you may do in the future does not bring you as much happiness as, perhaps, a smaller gesture today. Mayukh looked back at the last couple of days, and realized just how true that was. He had spent years working late, with few vacations, and kept consoling his wife (and himself) that they would go on a


big holiday the next year. He realized that for him and his wife, and indeed the stock valuation of You Corp, such nebulous future plans meant less than just being there on time to have dinner with his family.

And then he thought about what he had put off doing that morning. He had promised his wife that he would go to meet the doctor but then had quietly resolved to put it off. He had not told her that he had not yet taken leave, or set aside time, to attend Aadi’s school function the following day. Sure, he might well take his family for a vacation to Europe in six months’ time, but letting them down on such seemingly small occasions would perhaps hurt them more than any promise of future joy could compensate for.

On the other hand, now that he knew what he wasn’t doing, he had the power of changing that.

Getting down to business immediately, Mayukh told his surprised secretary that he was going out of the office for a couple of hours, and called his doctor. The visit was not something that necessarily cheered him up, but he realized that it was perhaps something that he needed to hear. He was overweight, his cholesterol was high, his blood pressure was on the higher side, and if he didn’t want to have heart problems or diabetes later on in life, his doctor told him that he needed to act now.


Mayukh knew all of this in theory. It was acting on it that was tough. He had kept promising himself that he’d get some exercise when the pressure at work was not so high, but that time never seemed to come.

It seemed that the equation could equally represent the NPV of Health.

Having spent the two hours away from his cubicle meant that he worked on an overdrive for the rest of the afternoon. He never noticed that even without the laptop screen turning blank in the evening, he subconsciously paced himself so that he was pretty much done for the day by six in the evening. He was about to power off his laptop when his boss walked by, rattling off some data that he needed first thing in the morning. Mayukh felt a stab of panic. The NPV of Happiness was well and good, and he had already resolved to be at his son’s event in the morning. He wanted to have dinner with his family as well, but how could he possibly do any of that i

First Published: Mar 09, 2012 13:27 IST