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Showing posts from June, 2010

TED Video: Clay Shirky On Cognitive Surplus

TED Video: Steven Levitt on Car Seats

TED Talk: Let's Raise Kids To Be Entrepreneurs

Comment: On NIIT University MBA

I read with interest a press interview given by R S Pawar, the Chairman of NIIT, on the subject of NIIT University's launch of a MBA programme. Being an NIIT student first and then an employee for several years, I regard Mr Pawar as a thought leader and a pioneer in Private Education business in India. Despite many criticisms that NIIT faced for its uncontrolled growth and resultant inability to control the quality of services, Mr Pawar and his colleagues had a vision which transformed India in a way. I know the persistent criticism is that they just took the opportunity presented to them, but this comes from people who have not seen the hard work, the management sophistication, the long term strategic thinking, commitment to professional business practises that built NIIT. I have, first hand, and therefore, I hold NIIT in very high esteem. Therefore, what Mr Pawar says about the MBA programme is worth listening to.

This is of course just a Press Release, orchestrated, no doubt, by…

Approaches to Business Education

So, first step in the World College project, a middle-of-the-way, somewhat safe, step - the initiation of a Business School. No big deal, indeed. This is the most crowded field of education, particularly private education. In fact, a touch risky, given that there are league tables and campus recruitment salary benchmarks, the struggle for good professors and good students, both of which are in remarkably short supply. The business of business school, because of its dependence on performance parameters, is more about creating a club for already intelligent, already ambitious students. The success mantra is not to try anything exceptional, not to go out of the way.

The business education is indeed out of sync, at least a bit. We have a major crisis in the world economy because of the way we educate. Because, as some commentators put it, the focus is so much on creating clever rogues than thinking professionals. The whole business around MBA, the ubiquitous three-letter symbol of manageme…

Day 2 of 100: Talking About England

George Osborne did what he promised to do - took maximum advantage of recent poll victory, wimpishness of Liberal Democrats and the usual Conservative scare-mongering - and delivered a very harsh budget. It hit home, and thousands of teachers and other public service workers have been imposed a pay freeze. This government excels in PR, indeed that was this Prime Ministers chosen profession, and the practice of spin reigned supreme on the budget day. Britain is bankrupt, indeed, a second Greece in the making; though it is interesting to note that Britain can afford to maintain and upgrade Trident, at the cost of £50 billion, whereas Greece can't dream about such a waste.

I am not affected. I have nothing to do with public sector. But it is a stunning display of conservative comeback, which is happening all over Europe in all its ugliness. There is a cosy coalition of newspapers and conservative dagger-wielders, with some clueless privileged bobbies like Nick Clegg literally being th…

Day 1 of 100: Starting Again

I return to my 100-day project, yet again. This is all a game, so it is, but this keeps life interesting. So I go again.

This 100-day project is different from the previous one. There is a certain sense of freedom in it. I am much less constrained from what I was a few months back. I am free to pursue opportunities as I see them. I can do things, not just talk about it, at work. Overall, I am starting this period with a sense of optimism and hope.

Of course, we are living in a particularly bleak time otherwise. Tomorrow, George Osborne is scheduled to read out his emergency budget. This will mean, from the noises made by the Tories, a full-fledged return to monetarism, which will possibly mean a retrograde turn for Britain. Indeed, retro is chic, but no one seems to have much enthusiasm for any of that now. If anything, the pseudo-Tories like Nick Clegg will finally be outed, and Liberal Democrats as a party, as they vote for this budget, will be consigned to history. I do believe in th…

Notes On Education

Some time back, I wrote that the purpose of Education is to instill an intent to enquire, to provide an engaged mind, eternally curious, to seek to understand the world. Lots of things changed since then. Two major influences in my thinking came from my practical engagement in the business of education, and my studies in the University College which has provided me a systematic introduction to the ideas of education. Somewhat in the middle of this journey, I have come to realize that my initial view was hopelessly idealistic, out of touch with the practicalities of why and how education is delivered or pursued.

However, one must also ask whether the current practice of education - which is more about providing answers, and more so, providing credentials required for a purposeful employment - is deviant from what education should do. One may or may not take an idealistic point of view; however, if we accept that our current social structure is less than optimal, and there is plenty of e…

Being A Londoner: Three Stories, One Truth

The British Media spent most of the last month complaining out the 'anti-British' rhetoric in America. Led by President Obama, many senators and public intellectuals were overtly critical of BP's handling of the Oil spill in Mexican Gulf. The company looked clueless on how to contain the spill and several attempts failed and only a somewhat partial solution seems to have been achieved after two months of efforts. The extent of the disaster makes Exxon-Valdez looks tiny - one Exxon-Valdez a month, as one of the TV commentator puts it. The problem in the British media was none of this disaster, and the fact that this will severely affect the ecosystem and livelihood in an entire region, but that the American rhetoric on BP's responsibility threatens British jobs and Btritish dividends etc.

True, BP is one of the premier companies in Britain. One pound in each seven pounds paid in dividend by British companies come from BP. They employ thousands of British workers, and ser…

Building The Cathedral in Baby Steps

I must admit that I am enjoying what I am doing now. The work isn't easy, and involves changes in my own habits and lifestyle. But I am always excited by possibilities, and there is plenty to be excited about in my scope of work that I have now. Effectively, I am trying to pursue my big dream - setting up a world college - in a series of baby steps. So, this is the 'building the cathedral' feeling, where the day's tiredness does not seem to matter because of the purposefulness of the endeavour. Suddenly, my life has taken a 360-degree turn, from being a drag to a race, and my sense of wastefulness and despair have disappeared.

On that happy note, I have started writing this blog again. In fact, the last week's silence was the tipping point, the transition from resignedness to purposefulness. Someone pointed out that the silence in my blog points to my happiness, which probably is true in context, but not necessarily the way I want this to be. This blog is my place o…

Return of Depression Thinking

The World Cup Football could not have been timed better: We needed a diversion from continuous bad news. For every good news these days, there seems be something darker lurking around the corner. The moment economies seem to be returning to growth, inflation starts to raise its head. As we hear the US jobless rates dropped, we also know that most of these new jobs came from US Government, primarily temporary positions created for the US census work. In fact, the job data turned out to be bad news and only indicated a precipitous fall in private sector job creation.

The scare regarding European finances seem to be on hold right now. But Europeans seem to have taken the recovery for granted. While Spain was forced into a Greece-style austerity package, Hungary's government thought talking about Greece-style meltdown is a good idea and paid the price. That, however, did not stop Britain's David Cameron keep stoking up the fears of Britain defaulting at some future date, all to ram…

Joining the Middle Class

A book changed my life. This is a Bengali novel, about someone who joins revolutionary communist movement in Bengal. The book shot to fame as it won some sort of an award that year [It had a second year of fame much later, when it was made into a movie]. I was in the final year of college then. I was not communist, in the sense of card carrying, but shared the deep sense of anger and disillusionment that communists were supposed to have.

The book, which appealed to me because this was about a 'true' communist, a revolutionary one, who did not compromise with the establishment and did not become a clerk. He, instead, fought, got tortured and died or became paralysed, I don't remember which one after so many years. What I remember is that he had a rather futile end - nothing really changed - and he wasted his life, in a way.

Frankly, this was not just about the romanticism of my adolescent years. There was something more, a personal story. My uncle died young, presumably shot…

An Idea for Civic Education

Michael Sandel talks here of how one can raise the standards of political debate, which is key to the performance and sustanance of democracies. He invokes Aristotle, talks about flutes to golf to same-sex marriages, and talks about making available such sessions online, for learners in China, India and elsewhere.





From TED.com:

Michael Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard. His new book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, explores some of the most hotly contested moral and political issues of our time.

As of fall 2009, some 14,000 Harvard students have taken Michael Sandel’s legendary course, "Justice." His lectures draw a thousand-plus students eager to discuss big questions of modern political life: bioethics, torture, rights versus responsibilities. Sandel's class is a primer on thinking through the hard choices we face as citizens. The course has been turned into a public TV series with companion website and, this past fall, a best-selling book: Justice: W…

Education as a Business

Some of the things I planned earlier are coming together, and among them is the plan to set up an educational institution in India. I am learning the ropes, discovering how the cold logic of business interacts, and shapes, the starry-eyed talk of building an education institution. To be honest, I am getting a first hand feel why a for-profit business may not be best format to run an education operation.

If that flies in the face of conventional wisdom, I can do little. Over the last few years, I have noted the essential conflict between the logic of profit maximization and the longer term needs of an education operation. It is not an one-sided story: I also know of the bureaucracy and the risk-aversion that plagues the public education providers, and how that does not help the learners in a rapidly changing world. But, on the other hand, I have seen the dark sides of managing education with the objectives of return maximization, and have seen so many scandals now that I would believe t…

The Problem with Israel

Israel can get away with anything. They can copy other people's passports and send out death squads. They can blockade an area and starve civilians. They can bulldoze unarmed students. They can board a ship with medical aid and food supply and fire on those who had the courage to carry them. They can develop nuclear weapons on their own but have the license to bombard anyone else if there is any hint of a nuclear ambition on the other country's part.

They can get away because they are civilizations outpost in a resource-rich region. They are the stooges of old colonialism, mainly British. They are supposed to divide and terrorise the Middle East, and keep it in permanent disarray. They seem to be under permanent seize, even if they are the strongest country in the region. They regularly give the impression that they are some superior race, returned and maintained in their land by God [or by America] and they can kill, maim or rape anyone they wish.

The problem is - they can'…

In Search of Creativity

Someone told me that my CV looks like a search, and the question I need to answer for myself is what I am searching for.

The observation stuck. I have 'stepped from plank to plank', indeed. That's my favourite poem - first picked up on an Underground, and now in a very central position of my bookshelves in Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems - which I repeat here:

I stepped from plank to plank
So slow and cautiously;
The stars above my head I felt,
About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch,--
This gave me that precarious gait
Some call experience.

That seems like the story of my life as well. When I tell it, I talk about the 'experience'. I always look for some. I work with a charity for experience, I travelled around on business for experience, I pick up odd projects to enhance my experience, even I exiled myself to expand my experience. This is the point I stress. To all my friends, all those who know me, this seems improbable - are you not su…

Being A Londoner: Random Reflections on A Chaotic Life

I am thrilled today. I know which compartment of my train from Moorgate stop right in front of the exit of Liverpool Street station. This meant I walked a little less, but may be not - because I had to walk those extra steps anyway while getting on to the train. But, still a small victory: I have saved about 30 seconds and the hassle of walking through the gathered crowd waiting to get into the train while I get off. That was surely smart!

But, may be, it is just my lucky day. I got onto the same train I get on to every day, at 8:26 from Croydon, a busy commuter suburb on the South of london, but today, amazingly, I got a seat. This was just lucky, someone got off at a station in the middle [they never get off, at least from this particular train] and the girl standing next to the seat did not want to take the vacant seat. That was so unusual! This almost looked tailor made to make this a happy day for me. As the departing passenger packed his bags and slided past me for the station, I…

After Science

Science is the new dogma of our age. Of the industrial age.

We have done brilliantly with science. We have battled nature and pushed the boundaries forward. We have changed the possibilities of human life, and also greatly extended it. All because of science, and the hundreds of thousands of people who have engaged in research and came up with answers hitherto unknown. We owe our existence, almost every minute of our life, to various scientific discoveries that led to this point.

And, therefore, not reasonably, we believe in science.

This faith is boundless, a dogma. Our world is based on simple principles: scientific is good, everything else is bad. In this setting, we must substitute our faith with science, because faith itself is non-scientific. So, we have Scientific Management, a set of processes and methods which can clock and chain human work. And, it is not just the bankers and businessmen who caught on the fad. We have Scientific Socialism, which dates back to the days of the or…

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