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Showing posts from April, 2011

41/100: Ethical Breakdowns

Max H Bazerman and Ann E Tenbrunsel write about Ethical Breakdowns in organizations. They are concerned about the sort of ethical problems that happen with perfectly good people, who are responsible family men and reasonable neighbours, do wrong things. Indeed, there will be corporate greed, cowboy businesses and an eternal hide-and-seek with regulators, but we are to assume business to be a positive force in the society, which can get us out of the current recession, we need to have our faith back average businesses run by average people: That way, this is an interesting essay to read.

The authors point to five barriers to an ethical organization: Shall we say five excuses. To their credit, the barriers they cite sound remarkably familiar. It is worth recounting them here, therefore:

First, there are Ill-conceived Goals. To quote, "we set goals to promote a desired behaviour, but they encourage a negative one". Edward Demming talked about the role quantitative goal-setting pl…

Innovating US Higher Education

From McKinsey Quarterly:

"When Michael Crow became president of Arizona State University, in 2002, the former Columbia University vice provost had ambitious plans to turn the school into a new American university devoted to educating a wider swath of students and focused on higher productivity in cultivating competitive graduates who can succeed in today’s volatile job market.

Nine years and a 25 percent increase in student enrollment later, Crow, 56, has delivered big changes in those areas and others at ASU and has garnered a growing reputation as a pace-setting thinker on higher education. He has made strides toward expanding ASU in areas such as ethnic and economic diversity, graduation rates, freshman retention rates, and in the number and intellectual reach of graduates. In fall 2010, ASU boasted an 83 percent first-year retention rate, up from 75 percent in the mid-2000s, and a record enrollment of more than 70,000 undergraduate and graduate students. A survey of recruiters …

40/100: What's Your Weakness?

I have been to many interviews where the dreaded question - what's your greatest weakness (or variations thereof) - came up. This was always a strange, conversation stopping, awkward moment. As an interviewee, this is a moment of judging the mood: Should I be honest or not? I have blown my chances before by trying to be honest. On the other hand, it is that moment when one can look arrogant or plain dumb. I have no weaknesses - whichever way you say it - proves that you are either lying, or completely self-oblivious.



For the interviewer, this is an important question. That question establishes power equations in an interview: The candidate can not turn around and say, what's yours? It is the interviewee who has to disclose his weaknesses, he is obligated to have a sense of waekness because he is sitting at the other side of the table.



There are some 'strategies' for handling this question, indeed. Some good advice came from this month's Harvard Business Review, which…

39/100: Time To Let Go

I am enjoying this brilliant summer and spent the last few days not doing much. In fact, I hardly stepped out of my house. I felt a bit unwell, but that was only temporary: The real reason is that I was feeling very tired with what turned out to be a very difficult year already. My obsession with work and consequent 12 hour workdays have their effect, and as do the disappointments with less than perfect state of things. The British government's cavalier tinkering with the international student market threatens to kill the industry off, just when the country needs it to grow up and play a role. My expectations that British For-Profit education will grow up to compete with Americans in a few years time have taken a hit: Forget the Americans, if things go the way it is going, soon the Malaysians and even the Indian Education companies will overtake the British ones.

I have done a lot of reading lately, more so for the demands of my MA course. This is my second year into it, and I ha…

38/100: Polling Time In West Bengal

The impending State Assembly elections in West Bengal, due over next couple of weeks, remind me that I have been writing this blog for more than five years. I suddenly recall my post after the results were published last time, and my arguments that the Communist Party led Left Front remained the best alternative for West Bengal.

I returned to this subject often thereafter, given that Kolkata is still home, wherever in the world I may live. My stance rarely changed, though. I maintained, for the most part of the last five years, that the Left Front remained the best options for the people in Bengal. I despaired at the personality cult of the opposition leader and her tantrum-prone politics. I deplored her populist stances over the industrial projects in West Bengal, and wished that her alliance partners, the Congress Party, will abandon her in time for 2011 elections. But, by 2009, for all my affiliations to the left of the centre parties and my dislike of leaders like Ms Banerjee, I wa…

37/100: Why I Shall Vote YES (For AV)

I received a leaflet on post yesterday urging me to vote NO on the 5th of May, helping to keep Britain's First Past The Post voting system intact. There is a photo of runners on the finishing line, and the message that under AV, the person coming second may be the winner. Like everything in today's Britain, it is an appeal to my fear: It is based on the assumption that I can be fooled, and misled easily.

This informative video from BBC will tell anyone that AV is not about the losers winning, which the right-wingers are trying to establish, but about public having more choice, elections producing results and candidates winning fairly and squarely. It is giving the public more say and MPs less to play with. It will reduce the premium on the kind of dishonest politics of fear that the NO camp is playing.

I shall argue that AV reflects the realities of political life in the modern times. Rarely, it is a straightforward choice between two clear alternatives, but many shades of the s…

36/100: The Serious Business of Humour

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My takeaways (The interesting bits that I noted while watching the video):

1. The User-led Mission Statement: To make people happy for 5 minutes a day! That's cool, and profound, at the same time.

2. Defining the business as the 'Business of Humour' rather than the 'business of photos of Cats' or the 'business of animal photos'. Again, listening to the users at its best.

3. The distinction between Popular Culture and Internet Culture: That there is such a thing. It is indeed different from celebrity gossip and all that. The Angry Birds that make the wave is not to be seen anywhere near the Westminster Abbey on the Royal Wedding day.

4. The definition of Internet 1.0 as 'transactional' - where people went to do a thing - against the Web 2.0 as 'cultural', where people express and connect. In fact, I disagree slightly: I used Bulletin Board services and made friends there, but I get the point.

5. Interesting point about sites, as they grow, shed so…

35/100: The Unfinished Globalization

I say, on my Linkedin profile, that I wish to work to build a great organization ready for Globalization 3.0. Indeed, there is some justification in the labeling - I saw the resolution (seemingly) of Capitalism/ Socialism debate and the globalization of technologies (Internet) as the first wave and the globalization of skills and people, mainly through cheap air travel and cheap phone calls, as the Second. Indeed, there are other people who would think that this is quite a narrow generalization, globalization was indeed a process that started with Italian merchants; and there are others who would say that globalization was always there - in fact, it was nations which are a later invention.

This is a truly many-sided debate. The most high-pitched battles are indeed fought between the 'World is Flat' people, who believe that the global corporations are making national boundaries irrelevant, and the 'Shock Doctrine' people, who believe in exactly the same thing, but think …

34/100: Students As Consumers

Paul Krugman makes a point in his NY Times op-ed piece - The Patients are not Consumers. Criticizing the Republican stance on Health care, where they resist state provision and starting to claw back in Medicare in the name of 'consumer choice', Krugman asserts:


Medical care, after all, is an area in which crucial decisions — life and death decisions — must be made. Yet making such decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge. Furthermore, those decisions often must be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping.

It is possible to extend the argument to education and examine whether the new mantra of 'students as consumers' hold true. Education, after all, is a complex decision - and shapes the students lives. A lot of specialized knowledge, and in the case of education, an active participation, is needed from the s…

33/100: Would More Universities Solve India's Education Problem?

India has a problem. Its many million middle class needs opportunities, so that they can make their lives better and get a share of the new prosperity. This should be easy: The Indian companies are going places and foreign companies are coming to India. In the world which is claimed to be flat, a world of opportunities have opened up to the Indian middle class. Only if they could get it.

It should be easy, but it isn't. The problem is - India's higher education system is seriously out of date and out of depth. Its initial problem was that it did not have the capacity to serve the middle class. With the government opening up the market to private investment, however reluctantly, the capacity problem seems to have been solved for the moment. Suddenly, there are vacant seats in the management and technology schools. But this could be symptomatic of their poor quality, and not a case of supply outstripping demand.

It is quite easy to see that indeed is the case. Only 2% of India'…

32/100: Cameron: Britain's Warren Harding Mistake

David Cameron is one of the more 'impressive' Prime Ministers Britain has had in the recent years. Young, handsome, articulate, someone with 'clear' views and a bias for action, who wins almost every PMQ and who has so far effectively dangled the debt question to transform almost all aspects of British life: What a contrast this makes from the unloved Gordon Brown who could get nothing done. Cameron's twelve months already make the preceding Labour years feel like ancient history, the charmed life of the boom years as well as the time of massive expansion of the 'collectivist' credo, and he seems destined, like Tony Blair, to leave a legacy, however long his coalition manages to cling together.

But, like Tony Blair, this legacy may not be a positive one for Britain. Because, David Cameron, for all his posturing, is a hopeless populist, who succumb to every opportunity to please his home crowd. He has not stopped being a publicist and start becoming a Prime M…

31/100: Can An Online College Work?

Charles Handy said - Trust needs touch. But one would wonder how much of that is true, when most people's best friends are virtual ones and there are these strange cases of people trusting people from what they know of them online, often with tragic consequences. Some of the world's biggest brands today are online ones, Amazon and Google and Facebook among them, and though there are a number of people who would still look for a 'safe' ATM machine, Amazon seems to have no problems getting people to use their credit cards online.

In context, would people trust an online college seems daft. Indeed, there are trust instruments which can be built in to create the trust. The problem is that Online College space is littered with big failures, UNext and Universitas21 among them, but this is not about lack of trust from the students; most of it was bad business in the first place.

The problem with most Online College projects are that they are conceived for wrong reasons. Doin…

30/100: India's Higher Education : Moving In Circles

The problem of Indian Higher Education does not come from the poverty of ideas, but the populism and vested interests that drive the policy-making. This plagued India's past, and just when it seemed to be emerging out of lumber, the same disease caught up with it again. Indeed, Higher Ed is good business and most politicians keep their money invested in it, but by continuing to protect their interests, the country risks missing out on its demographic dividend and getting itself on the slippery slope of missing a historical opportunity.

India is Higher Education's most attractive market. It has all the ingredients of a Higher Education revolution of sorts: Millions of young people, growing economy, skill hungry employers and an education system not fit for purpose from the word go. Higher Ed in India, in particular, is a game of political privileges and cronyism; consequently, Indian institutions fail to make it to global top table and also fail to equip its 2.9 million graduate…

29/100: Completing An Year

As we approach the May Bank holiday, I am reaching a personal milestone: The completion of the one year of being low key that I promised myself. I have done well in that regard. I have learned new things - teaching and writing mostly - and have curbed travel and stayed home. I lived a 'regular' life, revolving around a desk job of sorts, possibly for the longest continuous period in my entire life. I haven't tried any new ideas, not the big ones at least, and focused on doing the little things that needed done.

At the end of it, however, I feel quite ready now to try again.

The business that I work for is at an interesting juncture. Its traditional market has just disappeared, as the UK government is making some fundamental changes in the immigration policies for students. This change, while others and me predicted long time coming, has happened almost overnight. The pace of change presents some existential issues, indeed, and my time is currently devoted in dealing with the…

28/100: On Product Launches

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27/100: Cameron's 'Unwise' Speech

David Cameron made a speech on immigration. This was not a policy speech - there was no new announcements made - but rather a politics speech. This speech did indicate where the government stands on immigration. Everyone should have known where the government stands on immigration, but we forget that this is a coalition government. We know where the Tories stand, but Prime Minister, who is not just leading the Tories but the Government, needs to carry the coalition's vision. Indeed, his speech was far too xenophobic to be accepted by the more liberal elements of his own party, let alone his coalition partners.


Interestingly, David Cameron's objection to immigration was social, rather than economic. This is rather strange as his other policies seem to echo Thatcher's dictum: There is no such thing as society. This is also an interesting shift from Gordon Brown's 'British Jobs For British Workers' politics, almost an acknowledgement that there is a strong economic…

26/100: What I Learned So Far

Writing my CV and my profile on Linkedin and the like, I have always visualized life as a journey and I as a traveller. In a way, this is more uplifting than imagining this to be a play and I as an actor, as I would love to reach somewhere after all these efforts and not return to where I was before, as an actor invariably does. But the implicit assumption of a journey that you know where you are going, and what should happen next: Not so in this case, life is indeed more serendipitous than a rail trip.

These unexpected twists and turns remain no longer unexpected as I get used to it. I laugh, therefore, when I see an younger colleague flustered when her neatly planned seating arrangement in a student event goes wrong. I tell her in private that planning it out was still a great achievement, and the expectation that things would go according to plan was an act of great valour, but accepting that things would go wrong is an essential part of sentient existence. She tells me that I have …

25/100: Waiting For An Upturn

One year into the Tory rule, Britain looks seriously out of sorts. It is quite difficult to keep a tab of all the policy announcements, and all the U-turns, that happened since. The over-riding theme, however, was the 'cuts', the systematic dismantling of the welfare state, and the Utopian hope that something else will take its place. The consequences are bound to be severe: This is exactly the kind of policy US government followed in the years leading to Great Depression. There are many similarities: The faith in market forces, the almost sadistic celebration of creative destruction, the bookish hope that enterprise is a cure-all, and finally, the very British habit of watching the weather, in the housing market.

Which has now effectively stalled. The declaration of victory against recession was surely premature, and the double-dip seems to be back in force. The housing market, except in London, has stalled completely, and this is before further mortgage crunch and higher inte…

24/100: A City Morning

A tune melancholy
The foreglow of the Sun,
A morning quiet
Without the city-burn.
A few minutes perhaps
Of watching nature's glory,
Triumph over the skyline
And start the daily story.
What is past was once the future
And so would this moment be
Before the noise steals it, however,
Consign it to memory.

23/100: Finally, An Weekend

Finally, an weekend: One with no prior commitments, no pressing housework, no coursework to be turned in on Monday, nothing to prepare for, nowhere to go. I knew this was coming and hence, had a late night yesterday and returned home quite drunk: So, as usual, half of Saturday was over even before I started. But, even with that slight regret, that of missing a gorgeous, blossoming spring day, complete with pure blue sky and chirping birds on the street corner and an unusually light traffic on the road outside my window, I feel happy. That deep happiness, which is only a fine line apart from melancholy, that of being alive at this gorgeous moment, as if I have waited my whole life to be here; but only a whisker apart from missing everyone else, all those who should have been here with me, and of all the imperfections of this steady state and indeed knowing, back of my mind, that this is not the steady state.

The only way I can explain happiness is as a momentary feeling that you don'…

22/100: Discovering the Box: Creativity in the Workplace

The Creativity ImperativeBusinesses today consider creativity of their staff as a critical, possibly the most critical, factor for their ongoing survival. This is because the environment, political, social and commercial, has become so fluid; as Yogi Berra put it, “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Constant change, demanding and more aware customers and citizens, rapid information dissemination through new technologies of information and communication, and intense competitive and regulatory pressures, are pushing companies and people who work for them to innovate and adapt continuously.Set in this context, employee creativity has a whole new meaning. It is traditionally understood as people thinking about products and services, which did not exist before, or tweaking and improving the existing ones. Competitive pressures add to this creativity imperative. Information is fast and cheap, and communication technology is driving the costs of production and distribution constantly. Bes…

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