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Showing posts from July, 2015

The Point of Failure (1/100)

Having failed a few times, I claim I know what it means. 
Knowing failure means a few things. 
First, it means that I know that there are degrees of failure. There is indeed that complete, catastrophic failure - the end - that most people think about when they think of failing. But the actual experience of failure teaches you that it can be far more gentle, and indeed reversible. Having failed, therefore, means many bad things but one redeeming one - overcoming the fear of failing.
Second, the experience of failure also teaches one to plan for failure. This is a departure both from the failure-as-catastrophe view of the world (in which case, no plan is really enough) and also the bravado of not thinking about failure. Indeed, this is not planning to fail, but planning for failure, so that if and when it comes, one has a Plan B in hand.
Third, failing leads to an optimistic view. This does not mean failure is nice - it is never so when you tried something that did not work - but that …

Unlocking The World of Work

There is an essential disconnect between how we educate our young people and what we expect them do afterwards. 
When in education, we assume a world which can be neatly divided into a world of ideas and the world of action. In the university settings, the world of ideas is higher, neatly rational, one to be mastered through disinterested inquiry. And, indeed, the world of ideas is sets the norms, with which one should guide the world of action. 
However, after this, we expect those educated enter real life and work. At work, the expectations are little different. Here, ideas are important, but they are not the norms within which all actions must be taken, but the tools to use in action, and indeed, actions shape as many ideas in their turn. There is no disinterested inquiry, but the messy world of practice - where human interests, follies, emotions, all must play out - is shaped by engagement. 
While these two views are so different, our current systems of education and work are sha…

A Year of Travel

July and I complete a year of travel. I spent most of the year on the road, travelling mainly to India and sometimes to the Philippines. This was some kind of reset, just as my project in global education seemed to have stalled, which, at the least, allowed me to regain the confidence that ebbed in the midst of a failure. When I launched the previous project - where the cardinal sin was optimism and we set out despite knowing we were underfunded - I told my business partner that i felt confident that I could rebound from a failure, if it might come. This last year was just that, my effort to rebound from a failure, and I feel reasonably satisfied with where I am now.
Satisfied but not content, which is a curious feeling, as I know how much is still to be done. So, I am not counting the chickens yet. However, I needed to test some assumptions, restore faith in my own abilities, and clarify some of my own objectives, all of which I have done now. This meant three weeks of travel every …

Man versus Machine - Should We Worry?

If we accept there is a tipping point for any trend or fad, that is now for this conversation about man versus the machine, or, more specifically, what impact automation would have on jobs. This is an old conversation, dating back centuries (Luddites, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes and Leontieff - all made their point), and the fear that machines will take over our jobs is not new. And, indeed, the counter-argument, what the Economists call the Lump-of-Labour fallacy, or the mistaken notion that there is only a fixed amount of work to be done (and, therefore, a job for a machine means one less human job), is extremely well-known. So, one may ask - what is the fuss about?
Indeed, it is quite a fuss if you call it so. As The Atlantic visualises a World without Work, the Foreign Affairs says Hi to Robots and wonders whether humans will go the way of horses. Harvard Business Review tries to look beyond automation and allows Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, the High Priests of the Second Machi…

A Legitimate Aspiration : India as the 'HR Capital of The World'

The Indian Prime Minister unleashed a big idea in his big speech last week, India as the HR Capital of the world! Speaking at the launch of Skill India campaign on the World Youth Skills Day on 15th July, he laid out the goal of making India the Human Resources capital of the world. This was a sound objective, something that is suitably aspirational for a statesman and rather obvious at the same time. There is a looming Global Workforce Crisis, using a term coined by Boston Consulting Group, which may notionally cost the global economy upwards of $10 trillion between 2020 and 2030 - and India has the right raw materials, young people, for a solution. 
It is also India's  opportunity to lose. The country's 'Demographic Window of Opportunity', a period when at least 55% of its population is working age, opened in 2015. When population of most other countries are ageing - both United States and China would start to have more retirees than working people within the next f…

Higher Ed in India - Educating For Democracy

I wrote about the need for a paradigm shift in thinking about Higher Education in India and the pointlessness of carrying out the discussions, and drafting policies, without answering the question what this is all for. I alluded to the innovation of Morill Act for its boldness, but did not literally mean that is what India should now be doing. The discussion in India needs to be conducted in the current context of development of the country, and its specific challenges - how to build mass provisions for Higher Ed without allowing rampant fraud and profiteering, how to combine its heritage and global outlook, how to reconcile the variations of regional and religious thinking into an overarching Indian identity - and it would be an act of imagination, not mimicry.

The current paradigm in Higher Education thinking is defined by three factors, the requirement of employable graduates, the need for an educated technocracy and the role of the State as the protector of public interests and k…

Higher Ed in India - Incremental Improvement versus Paradigm Shift

Higher Education has become a subject for Prime Time TV in India. This is not because there is a sudden awareness that the system is not working, but rather a string of other events - the closure of a high profile institution which operated without a license for many years (see my earlier post here), a scandal that exposed Civil Services examinations in one state were rigged for a long time, a Nobel Laureate Economist writing about Government meddling and limitations of Academic Freedom - that brought the subject to the fore. The conversations, stoked by temporary concerns, would almost certainly fade away again, once these issues become old news. But, it is worthwhile to follow it while it lasts. [See one Indian-style talk show, where everyone talks, here]
One could claim that this is not new and the question of Higher Education has got political attention throughout the last decade. The Presidents and the Prime Ministers regularly talked about it. There was a huge expansion with pr…

Causes and Me

I was in the United States when the news of US Supreme Court disallowing gay marriage bans hit the wire. I did not follow all the developments, but picked up the news dinnertime while looking at the TV in the dinner hall of the hotel. Delighted, I turned to colleagues sitting at the dinner table and declared my joy at such a landmark judgement. The two other non-Americans present at the table obviously agreed, but only American colleague present shook his head in dismay - I am shocked! he said. In the ensuing discussion, I picked up the reasons for his objection, stemming from his belief, some perfectly justifiable ones once you accept the basis - the religious belief - to be valid. And, I do, as I am aware that my delight is also informed by my own preference (and belief) that people should be free to choose who they want to marry! The fact that I continue to believe my colleague is a perfectly decent, rational and reasonable individual, even if he disagrees with what I think one of…

Can Countries Tax Businesses?

Greece proposes to raise the Corporation Tax rates from the current 26% to 28% (and possibly to 29%, if needed) in the plans submitted to its various creditors, alongside other measures such as tax rises and pension savings. This immediately draws the usual complaints - that businesses would have less money to invest and create jobs - and makes an interesting contrast with the UK, where the Chancellor has proposed a reduction of Corporate Tax rates, all the way down to 18% by 2019. The rationale presented is simple - that this would attract businesses and create jobs. Both countries are technically in austerity, though in completely different economic positions. Though the welfare cuts in UK were no less severe than those proposed by the Greeks, the two countries are taking two different lines as far as businesses are concerned. Greeks are proposing to raise corporation tax - something that is completely out of fashion at this day and age - while UK is trying to become, almost, a tax…

Disrupting Internships

Joanna Venator and Richard Reeves makes an important point about the relationship between Social Mobility and Unpaid Internships (see here). While it is an apparently great way of connecting employers willing to allow young people work experience with students who can afford to do this for free, this gets in the way of social mobility. Not just richer and more connected parents get their children better quality internships, the very fact that some people can afford to do unpaid internships while most others can not, make the all-important difference. The equation is simple - employers hire for experience over anything else and internship provides a way to buy, as one still has to be able to afford to be an intern, experience.
This is the way it has been, one could say. The other way of looking at it is that this is one aspect of education ripe for disruption. Internship is a product, which many can not afford. Its value is well established, but there are many non-consumers. And, whil…

Indian Poet, English King and A Case of Infantile Nationalism

The Governor of the Indian state of Rajasthan has a new issue. He thinks the Indian national anthem is somewhat not right, as it praises the then English king, George the Vth. He has a specific, poetic suggestion to make - he wants to replace the word Adhinayak (meaning Leader, though he thinks it stands for Ruler) with Mangal (Good) in the lyric (see the latest here).
Governorship is political retirement, but some people refuses to fade away. The governor in question, Kalyan Singh, presided over the demolition of Babri Masjid, the coming-out party of political Hiduvta which now triumphant in India, when he was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. That was the crowning contribution in his career, one that he would be long remembered. He seems to be trying best it now, by dismembering the National Anthem - and by implication, its writer, Rabindranath Tagore, a bĂȘte noire for nationalists for good reason.
Though the poetic suggestion is a new thing, the accusation is not. The song was …

The Economic Consequences of Greece

It may be a cliche to say this, but common sense was increasingly uncommon. As Thomas Piketty maintained, the current approach to Greek debt is driven by astonishing ignorance of history (see here). The fact that Germany has actually never paid its debt - not after the First World War (when it started another war not to pay) and after the Second (when rest of the world saw sense in not imposing austerity) - is important, despite the claims that German debt was different (see here).
History is indeed the big elephant in the room. However, for many people, the question of debt is a moral one. But this, the moral question, is less straight-forward than it appears. Historian and TV Presenter Simon Schama, after the Greek vote, went on Twitter to say that he might as well vote not to repay his Credit Card debt and ask the banks to restructure it. Even allowing for British humour, this is a surprisingly ill-informed view. A country is not a person, even though Margaret Thatcher and her suc…

The-Capitalist-as-Philanthropist Or Why The Business Will Not Save The World

I was recently forwarded an Wall Street Journal article (see here, may require subscription) arguing against the Ford Foundation pledging $11 billion to fight inequality, by a colleague. I was not sure whether to agree or disagree with the claims of the article, as, at one level, the claim that businesses should spend their money doing business, seems entirely justifiable. But, there is a bigger, and implicit, claim - that the businesses can solve the problems of the world by doing business - which I can not disagree more with. 
Before I return to the subject of the article, I should elaborate why I have such a dim view of the capacity of businesses to solve all the problems. Businesses are usually good at one thing - focused efficiency - but this is not the only thing that can solve all the problems. In fact, the businesses often create more problems than they solve. Before we jump into this conclusion positing the Capitalist as the ultimate Philanthropist, we must carefully examine…

The European Test

Finally, we have what we have been waiting for - Democracy versus Capitalism! 
It seemed we took two things as one. We expected people to be pliantly follow the subtle commands of money or debt, which became instruments of choice instead of machine guns, for international dominion. In one Greek Sunday, suddenly, the cozy deception came to an end, and the game was exposed.
We have been told that Democracy and Global Capitalism can not coexist within the context of a nation-state. This was the thesis of Dani Rodrik of Princeton, proved accurate in many cases, but hushed up because it is rather inconvenient. But here it is now, the cat is out of the bag!
The extraordinary sacking of the Greek Finance Minister, precisely at the moment of his triumph, is perhaps how these things go. It is an indication how little leverage one has if someone has given in to International Financial interests. It only works for the rich - it is okay to look after German voters but the Greek ones - and if a c…

On Institutional Politics

I consider myself political, but find it difficult to align myself to institutional politics. It has been a constant battle since I was in college and was expected to pledge allegiance to one student union body or another, in a very divided and political state, and utterly failed to choose. In terms of institutional politics, there is nothing equivalent to 'open-minded' and therefore, I firmly belonged to the 'confused' group, or worse. Over time, I have learnt to accept this as a compliment.
This is because institutional politics is confusing, and if one is confused, one is possibly thinking. I can perhaps cite many examples, but the one closest to heart is the ongoing debate, somewhat cutting across party-political lines, about abundance and Armageddon. While these ideologies are not on the ballot by themselves, they are clear markers of political positions that inform ideas, and taxes, that are on the ballot. On one side, there are people who believe that we are in…

Reflections and Interests - A Quiet Year

This weekend, one that just ended, was one at home after a few months, and I spent it that way - at home! I stepped out only a little, for a habitual trip to the library and some shopping, but spent most of the time adjusting my body back to the UK Time Zone. I have now come to live in a permanent state of Jet-lag, dozing off at times in the middle of reading or even writing something, and this was my desperate attempt to call some place home. 
But such quiet time, rare as it is, was useful for reflection too. It has been a year of constant traveling, and a year in which much has changed for me. A year ago, I was struggling to make my concept work, somewhat clueless on what is to be done and starting to doubt my own abilities. A year on, as I spent time in the markets and tested my assumptions, I know what works and also what I want to do. My ambivalence on where I should live is somewhat settled, and my interests, though it moved somewhat, are now clarified. In essence, this year on…

21st Century Skills - Are We Missing Something?

The discussion about 21st Century skills is a bit confusing, because they sound a lot like 20th Century skills. 
Consider the talk about collaboration, critical thinking and communication. We have been talking about them for a while. Did we not know the value of critical thinking after the horrors of the Nazi takeover of Europe? Did we not need communication skills in the golden age of advertising? And, in fact, most twentieth century innovations, and one could claim the middle years of the century as some sort of golden age of innovation, came through great collaboration. If we were not talking so much about these then, it was only because our thinking about skills and abilities are always retroactive. The rote memorisation of knowledge, which seems, by common consent, the point of what we now think twentieth century skills really were, had been dead in the water long time since, not just at the point of conception of the Internet. We somewhat forget that the Newspapers and Librarie…

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