Showing posts from December, 2014

The Algorithm for Serendipidity

I have resisted Kindle, again. Despite the state of my room, and the fact that I plan to relocate to another country sometime soon. It is slightly ironic that I am studying the relationship between technology and knowledge, and yet I am reluctant to surrender my book-reading habits to Amazon, however much I may love it. 
The reason is, for me, serendipity trumps convenience.
In Too Big To Know, David Weinberger talks about our two kinds of attempts to organise the world: Algorithmic and Social. The first one is to let the machine organise, based on a secret sauce of behavioral prediction. The other is to let our friends recommend what we may like, leveraging the possibility that we may now have a network of 'weak connections', who might be able to provide us with insights beyond our immediate environment. The holy grail of this organised world is indeed to optimally combine the two, because we can easily point to the limitations of each approach on its own: This is about mach…

2015: The New Higher Education

Brookings commentators see rapid emergence of new Higher Education models in 2015. (see here)
This is a reasonable expectation, given that so much money has gone into the sector since 2011, and some of the models should now start maturing - and VCs looking for exit - and delivering the goods.
The change is already in the air. The College for America has somehow set the benchmark tuition fee rate at $10,000 for the entire undergraduate degree and there are a number of ventures seeking to replicate that. Udacity starts the year by launching an University by Industry, one by Silicon Valley for Silicon Valley, by breaking down the college credentials into 'nanodegrees' (see here). As predicted in the Brookings piece, new MOOCs are also emerging - more credit bearing programmes focused on fee-paying students - and a slew of innovative tech-enhanced models coming into the market.
The big frontier of all the change is still the emerging markets. There is not much happening still, wi…

Kolkata 2020: An Act of Imagination

An old, dated piece on Kolkata, titled 'Why Kolkata will win in 20 Years', came to my attention. There are a number of things mentioned in this article that I don't agree with: The statement that Mamta Banerjee represents the moral end of Indian politics may invoke ridicule today, and the stereotype of Bengalis as business-averse and that they would need a Bengali-speaking non-Bengali for saving is mind-bogglingly absurd. But the two key propositions articulated here - that Kolkata is one of the most sustainable of the Indian cities, and that it can be fixed with good governance - are rather self-evident.

Of course, Kolkata is home and I am partial, and I shall make no claims to objectivity here. However, the fact that I keep writing about it - and indeed, there are many many people from Kolkata spread all around the world will do the same - proves perhaps that there is more to it than the dirty, dreary, poor city that the place appears to be to a casual visitor. Indeed, …

Global Workforce Crisis: Why For-Profits Will NOT Save The World?

Parag Khanna and Karan Khemka's 'audacious idea', published by Harvard Business Review in 2012, was to 'enrol the world in For-Profit Universities' in 10 years. They were talking about the 'Global Workforce Crisis' as we are trying to frame it today, along with another issue that we seldom discuss now - that of population! Since then, both of these issues have accentuated: The global workforce crisis has reached serious proportions to start threatening economic expansion (with its short term solutions, such as immigration being politically unacceptable), and the surge of population, which the expansion of global markets was supposed to have absorbed into productive work, caused serious disruptions in a number of countries when such market magic failed to materialise. If anything, the need for an education solution is ever more urgent and important.
The 'audacious idea' was however not too audacious as this simply recycled market orthodoxy without r…

Coming of The Global Hindu

India, after sixty years of committed secularism, has turned a corner.
The founding assumptions of India was that in order to survive, it must become a secular country. Indeed, such thinking was shaped by the then recent battles with two-nation theory, which the Indian nationalists lost and the country was divided, and the persistent British argument that India couldn't be a viable country because of its diversity. It was all but natural to make diversity a central theme of the constitution that was drafted - it was avowedly secular and non-sectarian and allowed the Indian states to retain many powers - and the subsequent efforts of the nation's leaders were to commit to an 'idea of India' free of any religious or cultural definition.
We are now entering the second stage of the process, when the partition, and all the doubts about viability of India, are distant memories. A new confidence has now replaced the insecurities and doubts that shaped the responses of the fo…

2015: The Pivot Point

Finally, Christmas: Time to pause. I drove around rather aimlessly on empty roads, not least because my car needed a bit of run after being ignored for weeks of my absence. But driving around in Christmas is pleasant, often with no one else on the roads at all, except on the ones which are heading out of town. This was a perfect end of a year of wandering around without a purpose but with an objective, when being on the road was more important than going somewhere. And, like this ride, one gets to know which roads to avoid even on the Christmas Day - I now know what I don't want to do next year!

If I learned one lesson through the last couple of years, it is this: I have become weary of the educational-industrial enterprise. This is not just about profit motive in education: Having spent most of my time in For-Profit Education, I have none of the weariness about education businesses. I have, however, noted the apocalyptic view of sending the world to For-Profit schools: This, in …

Kolkata: Desirability of Decline

William Gibson had a point when he said - the future is already here, just that it is not evenly distributed.
The same thing can be said about the past, which refuses to go away. 
The city I come from - Kolkata, India - retains a large slice of the past. A visitor may see in Kolkata people who have lost hope. A people who is clinging to the past - they are justifiably proud of their great citizens - but the future has been erased out of all conversations. All the dilapidated buildings, all the great clocks situated all around the city which have stopped working, the noisy tram cars and the procession of Ambassador cars, modeled after a GM model from the 60s which is now out of production, make this a city of all-embracing nostalgia.
It is no surprise that the young people leave. They go away searching for better education, jobs, money and lives - to other Indian cities and abroad. They leave behind parents who talk incessantly about them - even their bright futures turned into annal…

What Gets You Hired In 2015: Top 10 Skills for Graduates

I came across an interesting survey by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a not-for-profit group, which aims to determine what the employers want in graduates they hire. The survey draws upon a relatively small group of employers, there are only 260 respondents as reported in the Forbes article, and this includes a number of large corporations.
The information coming out of the survey, as reported in Forbes, are somewhat obvious in itself. The most preferred degrees for the participating employers are in business, engineering and computer and information sciences. The skills that the employers prefer are the following (in order of preference):
1. Ability to work in a team structure
2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems (tie)
3. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
5. Ability to obtain and process information
6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
7. Technical kno…

Conversations 24: Why I am Kolkata

In Annie Hall (1977), Annie tells Alvy, "You don't know how to enjoy life. You are New York!" 
I came back home last Friday, but, as always, I remain really confused where home is. Pico Iyer doubts that home is really any place at all, but rather where you take your guards down. My home in London ticks that box, as I have not lived in Kolkata for more than a decade and feel besieged when I am there. 
But, then, I think all too often when I shall be doing practical stuff. I live an emotional, engaged, life, dreaming away most of the time. I carry this change-the-world optimism with me alongside the repulsion for narrowness of people I have to do business with. I feel almost good when people say I have unfulfilled potential. I start all too often - make new beginnings as if past never existed. I feel proud of my dilapidated being because it indicates a tradition, long forsaken, that I want to belong to. I eschew all the company that will have me for company, in a homage t…

Global Workforce Crisis: Case For A Creative Education

Global Workforce Crisis is real, going by plain demographic numbers. The solutions available, immigration, offshoring and extending the retirement age, are politically difficult. The only available option is improving mass education, but there are entrenched interests, of power and privileges, that seeks to undermine the case for a good public education. If this does not make the problem look bad enough, there is more: It is not more of the same education that would solve the problem and we may need to think about the educational model as well.
This new educational model, I shall argue, needs to put creative and cultural education at the heart of the educational process, at all levels. Our current model of education assumes that culture is a rich man's thing, leaving out all the museum visits and piano lessons as expensive add-ons to schooling. Mass education, as we see it, is a rough-and-ready thing about literacy and numeracy, which will allow the pupils a shot at all the vario…

How To Think About Your Career

If you are coming out of college, how do you start thinking about your career? Or, if you came out of college a few years ago, and have dawdled through various things you don't like, how do you re-think about your career all over again? Indeed there could be numerous variations of this scenario, each person having an individual one, and the key question to ask is whether there are any general rules to think about careers at all. And, if you want to get really deep, you may start musing what's a career anyway.
Let's start with the philosophical one. My favourite story about this is the story of the young man who was fishing in a pond middle of the day when he got accosted by a busy type, may be some distant uncle. Horrified with this young man's laziness, the older man advised him to abandon leisurely pursuits and get some productive engagement - education, employment or training whatever. The younger man asked him what would happen if he did that: The older man told h…

Does Online Learning Work?

In my first job, back in 1993, I used to carry around a printed list (this was before PowerPoint) with me: Customers often asked why email may be better than fax, and I thought carrying around such a comparison with me would save a lot of time. 
While that issue was satisfactorily resolved, I am still having to answer a similarly challenging question: Does online learning work? The comparison, this time, is with the classroom learning. I would accept that this is not exactly a rerun of fax-vs-email thing, nothing ever is: However, there are common elements in the conversation, particularly two. First, those who tell me that online learning doesn't work with most certainty have never done any, just as the skeptics eschewed emails in my previous experience. Second, my answer that it is better for certain kinds of activities while Fax may be needed for certain other kinds of things perhaps could be repeated - I usually say classroom training is very good for certain things that onli…

Should You Start An 'Employability' Training Business? Five Questions

As Education-to-Employment gap becomes worse, the popularity of 'Employability' training grows. This is a worldwide phenomenon: The government usually pays, and many micro businesses are set up every year in the hope that the students will also pay for it themselves. The format is usually cheap and cheerful: Bring in the learner for a few days, tell them how to write CVs, present themselves in the interviews, how to dress, how to shake hands and how to look confident. 
Since those people I know in this trade are not stupid, I would think that they are driven either by incredible optimism or sheer opportunism. How else can one believe that if someone was not employable before their kind intervention, they become one just by learning to do better handshakes? There is no denying that learning to write CVs, or doing better at interviews, are important skills; but these things can only work if the students know in the first place what they want to do, and have the right skills to …

Global Workforce Crisis: Framing The Education Question

I have posted about Global Workforce Crisis and Education as its only plausible solution. However, the question remains: If the problem is so obvious, and everyone more or less agrees that good education is the solution, and, more importantly, as everyone seems to talk about it too, why do we have so little done? Indeed, one could say that there has been a surge in private investment in education - in fact, education, and particularly technology-led solutions to education, has been one of hottest sector for venture investment since 2011 - but the impact of it, particularly in improving access and quality of education for poorer people, has been very limited. In fact, apart from the eye-watering amounts that some of the MOOC companies raised (and one could argue that MOOCs are not for everyone, but just the well-educated), most of the education investment has gone into creating top-end schools and colleges, improving the quality and opportunity for the top 5% - 10% of the population […

Conversations 23: Imagining 2015

Stricken by Jet Lag, I am up and wondering in a hotel room looking into the sea in Kota Kinabalu: Somewhat the perfect setting to be thinking about 2015! One may think these moments are more suited to think about past than the future. But, despite all the ups and downs in my professional life in 2014, I have not spent too many sleepless nights last year. And, the ones I did, I owe them less to anxiety and more to Jet Lag, something, when I was younger, I would have considered to be some kind of badge of honour! And, in this saga of sleeping and not sleeping, I guess lies the big story for me for 2014, and the things to carry forward next year.
The fact that I am even looking forward to 2015, despite the fact that I have effectively failed to do what I set out to do (and in the process, incurred debts), is a good starting point. Through 2014, or even through 2013, I somewhat acquired one crucial twenty-first century skill, the ability to live on the edge! I emerge with a sense of opti…

Global Workforce Crisis: Education As A Solution

I recently wrote about the 'Global Workforce Crisis' (see here). This issue, from my perspective, is both self-evident, because there is no denying of the age curve, and limited, because there are so many other issues, political, social, environmental and even emotional, that need to be dealt with before we can even start talking about 'workforce crisis'. The world is more than one giant factory, and pursuing problems such as these make us overlook that.
However, it is also equally important, before we indulge into any of those 'soft' aspects of the Workforce crisis, to appreciate how important 'economic growth' really is in the system we live in. Small is beautiful may be a great motto, but in the wider economy, with constant growth, there will be no 'credit'; and without credit, there will be no economy. The economic debate is not about how we can keep things the way they are, but how we can keep moving forward - because the modern economy we…

Be Creative to Save The World

The creative space is the ultimate retreat of a humanity under siege.
Technology is already turning upon us. Those who celebrate technological progress, have already made it antonymous to human progress, by dislocating the concern for greater good from the pursuit of technological sophistry. To make billions, one needs to think up an Uber: To think about what happens to poor taxi drivers who want to play by the rules isn't one for the entrepreneurial playbook. With the return on capital as the overriding concern, and when more and more capital is pooled into the pursuit of ever better technologies that may replace all but those brilliant, favoured and lucky few, technology is more like that celebrity lover that we may all desire, but whose celebrity does indeed render our own plainness irredeemable, our lives meaningless.
Creativity, counterintuitively, is our opportunity to reclaim our lives. This is counterintuitive because we have gotten used to a certain concept of creativity…

Global Workforce Crisis: Time To Start Thinking

In an interesting TED talk (see below), Rainer Strack underscores the urgency of thinking about global workforce crisis. The numbers, as projected in the work of BCG (to which he was a contributor), are indeed telling: The workforce crisis may cost $10 trillion worth of GDP between 2020 and 2030 (see the BCG work here).

This is not any doomsday talk urging people into action, because the facts are in plain sight anyway: The population in developed nations are aging and there are not enough new births to take the place of retirees. The solutions are common sense but politically impossible: Import workers from countries which may have surplus labour or worse working conditions. Indeed, Messers Strack and others see the limitations in this formula and suggest a mix of measures, not just geographical migration but also non-geographical ones (such as offshoring) and bringing more women and retirees into workforce (Child labour is indeed a taboo subject).
This conversation is important in …

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