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Showing posts from August, 2015

The Past of The Future, and A Plan

August was somewhat the crucial month, with a both a week-long walking tour of Paris and a work trip to India, allowing me to the perspective that I desperately needed. It has been a year that I chose to take up a job after a few years of bootstrapping, and it was most appropriate for me to reflect on what happened since. Besides, I wanted to figure out what I really want to do, and travelling and engaging with different things in different countries was one of the best ways to figure this out. This allowed me to test the assumptions I had, about work and about myself, and while there are no definite answers in these kinds of things, I am much better informed now than I was only a year ago.
For a start, I know adult education is something I enjoy being involved in, and I would rather stick to this, despite some tempting offers to work for the technology sector. Even an education technology company is not an education company, I keep reminding myself, and nor an investment bank puttin…

MOOC Redux

The MOOCs did not save the world or changed Higher Ed, as promised. But Coursera's new round of funding point to a redefinition of sorts for MOOCs, and perhaps a firmer founding. It seems Coursera has found a new strategy in Professional Development, as did Udacity with their nano-degrees earlier. Instead of changing the Higher Education and emerging as replacements of college, Coursera, along with its partner colleges, have become an attractive place for people who already have degree level education and want to keep developing their knowledge and skills.
This is a new perspective in the Education Innovation conversation. The initial investor interests, which picked up around 2011, were driven by some sort of apocalyptic death-of-the-college thinking. Looking back, the trigger for this may have been the Great Recession, which brought out the middle class employment crisis in sharp relief, and made the US student debt look dangerous. However, in many a sense, that moment has now…

The Problem with Religion

I look forward to read Karen Armstrong's Fields of Blood, which is waiting for me at one of the stops of my inevitable work tours. Ms Armstrong's point, as I picked up from the reviews, that religion can not be held directly responsible for violence, intrigued me, because that is precisely what I believe. I, therefore, look forward to engage with her argument and understand the other point-of-view. I am indeed not dismissive before I managed to read the book, but hoping that she has something to offer more than the assertion, oft-repeated, that no religious doctrine is actually founded on violence.
It must be noted, at this point, that while this is a common defense (that no religion encourages violence), it is, by no means, the common understanding. A large number of people in the world believe Islam directly encourages violence, given the acts of Islamic terrorists in the recent years. Indeed, a previous generation, having experienced worldwide bloodshed incited by imperial…

Why Do We Need Freedom?

I see this interesting debate in India that one may have had too much of freedom. The public, by that I mean of the urban middle class, attitude is that freedom to do anything and to obstruct is coming in the way of order and development. The model is indeed China, whose growth rates, wide roads and fast trains are seen with envy, and the attitude is not unlike the one Dambisa Moyo recommend for Africa - a Chinese model that prioritise development over liberties, even human rights.
To be more specific, one can talk about the land acquisition bill that is pending at the Indian parliament, which will make it easier to acquire land - by evicting people - for infrastructure projects, industries and mining operations. It is important for India to build infrastructure fast and cheap, and tenancy rights are often coming in the way. As someone told me, for an underdeveloped country, freedom is a luxury one can ill-afford - we can get freedom once we have got the roads.
We all know the usual …

Teaser Loans - The Madness of Middle Class Economics

I am in India (again) and have the opportunity to follow a conversation about teaser loans, which, in my mind, goes on to show the madness of middle class economics. (Read the news here)

Teaser Loans are loans offered below the base rate (which is 9.70% for State Bank of India, for example) and which banks to want to give out. The idea is not to change the eligibility criteria in anyway (anyone remember subprime?) but offer loans at an attractive rate for the first few years.

The reason why this is back in conversation is because the Indian Real Estate market is close to breaking point. The transactions are at all time low and the inventories are at all time high. However, despite the lack of transactions, realtors refused to reduce the prices - so prices are at all time high - hoping for the Central Bank to bail them out with a rate cut.

The Central Bank (Reserve Bank of India, as it is called in India), under the very able leadership of Raghuram Rajan, has so far resisted the polit…

Reflections and Interests : Uses of History

Reading history is one of my favourite pastimes. In fact, more correctly, reading history is my key professional development activity, if I take the view that writing this blog and talking about ideas are the most important things I do, and treat my day job as what really is - an instrument to pay my bills! Though my reading list may seem haphazard to some who only read on purpose, those lists - as I am becoming conscious of them recently - are around the big questions I labour with at the time, and most of these big questions, for me, have a historical nature.
For example, consider the question that dominates my conversations, and readings, at this very moment. It is - how does a society fall under the spell of an autocrat? I know why this question troubles me. In India, my origin country, democracy is taken for granted - various television talk shows proclaim that democracy in India is irreversible because it is so chaotic - and various democratic institutions, both at the Union an…

How Humans Succeeded, and How They Could Fail

It was interesting to listen to Yuval Noah Harri's TED talk and the subsequent interview.




The last thing first. He paints a picture where the human species may divide into two, with the rich and powerful forming a different species with designer babies and long lifespans, and others getting relegated to the existence of useless people.

By no means, he is alone in this apocalyptic vision of the future. This is indeed a fairly logical view of the future, once one fuses the ideas of technological progress, economic inequality and political domination of the rich together. There is this rather fatalistic view - that future will be better because the past has been and the human beings found a way to better themselves - but this is not the only possibility.

Best to watch his TED talk then with this perspective. His central argument that the human beings did better than the other species because of its ability to cooperate flexibly, in a large scale and with imagination needs to be inte…

India 2020 : Fear the Caesar!

One of the great contrasts between India, the world's most populous democracy, and America, one of the oldest surviving republics, is the differing approach what, paraphrasing the Founding generation (of United States), should be called the "Fear of the Caesar"!
The American approach to this is perhaps best captured in the story of Benjamin Franklin. When a reporter asked, "Mr Franklin, what did we get - a Monarchy or a Republic?", while he was coming out of one of the meetings of the Constitutional Convention,  Franklin reportedly answered, "A republic, if you can keep it!"
That fear of a Caeser, a strong leader who would undermined the republic, persisted. Another story, later recounted by Jefferson (told to Benjamin Rush in 1811), described a dinner that Jefferson hosted for John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Three portraits adorned Jefferson's room, and Hamilton reportedly inquired who those were. Jefferson said they were of the three greates…

In Response to Tony Blair

Tony Blair says a Corbyn win would annihilate Labour. Failing to elect him as the leader would do so too.
Blair misses the point that the sanitized, undifferentiated party that he helped create in 1990s is now irrelevant. This is one of the problems with change - that it does not stop. Today, after 9/11 and its wars, recession and Greece, the world is a difference place than it was in 1990. The politics must be different, too.
The triumph of centrism, as witnessed in the decades since 1970s, was not the end of History. An opportunity was provided and missed, as the lack of working class activism was used by the powerful to advance their agenda of marginalisation, inequality and power-grab. The moment may be now, or in the future, but the push-backs have now started. 
It comes just after the Tory win in the UK, but it should not surprise anyone. We should be able to see beyond Tory win and Labour loss. The Labour lost for two reasons. One, because the Lib-Dems got annihilated - and To…

The University of Practice : Rethinking The Role of Content

Graham Doxey, the Founder-CEO of Knod*, oft-repeats this one statement, that Content does not drive Learning Outcome. (Full Disclosure: I am currently employed by Knod) 
This is counter-intuitive. The usual conversation about education revolves around the title of this award or that, and the laundry list of topics that is covered by them. Course validation meetings are all about the details of what goes in the courses, and the related textbooks and library resources. The big story in educational innovation since we started talking about it with some urgency was about the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which were principally about opening the content from the finest universities in the world to general public, using digital technologies. Khan Academy, which is about learning videos, got headlines all over the world. Lion's share of private investments in education went into companies producing content, and the most eye-catching deal in the space in the recent years was the a…

About Paris, Culture and Speaking English

As the Eurostar emerged from Channel Tunnel and the train announcements switched to first English and then French from the other way around, I had that feeling of being back at home, which is paradoxical. I have lived in England for 11 years now and familiarity is a factor, particularly after being reprimanded at the Left Luggage facility at Gare Du Nord for not speaking French. But then, English is still not my first language, and my schooling was not in English - it is a language I have learnt much later in life. But, as it seems, my worth today is defined by English I speak and write - as I make my living as a rainmaker and enjoy my occasional Warholian 15-minutes on this blog.
But, before I get to the point about an English-speaking Indian, let me say a few things how it felt in Paris, where I spent a week (which should explain my silence on this blog). I took off to Paris for many reasons, one of them being able to reset the clock back in my own mind - I once spent a particularl…

Enterprise Culture and The Entrepreneur

There are many different types of entrepreneurs but the Enterprise Culture, the official celebration of enterprise that dominate the media and our talk, highlight just one of them. And, this, a culturally biased version of the enterprise, is not just counter-productive as it does not fit into the context of many societies, but also regressive, it prevents rather than promoting possibilities of enterprise and innovation.

The dominant tale at the heart of enterprise culture is what I shall call the Pioneer Narrative. Think of the Wild West, the Gold Rush, the Unattached Man in search of jackpot, a sort of rough, manly version of creation. Played out in the United States, the primary exporter of enterprise culture narratives, this lies at the heart of our portrait of the entrepreneur as an young man, tough, unconstrained, stops at nothing, up against the nature but offered its bounty, its abundant land that lay there to be claimed. 
Enterprise existed much longer than the Wild West and …

Humans Are Underrated - Hope in the Age of Machine

Geoff Colvin's Humans Are Underrated is set to come out in the UK in September and I would look forward to read the book. From the snippet published in Fortune magazine (Read here), Colvin seems to make an interesting argument. That it is time to rethink what it means to be human. In the race against the machine, it is futile to try to figure out what the machines can not do. Very smart people have tried and failed before, as the logic of Moores Law caught up with their prediction. With the Arrive-By date of Singularity set in 2029 (by Ray Kurzweil), even the tasks we think are beyond technologies, will soon not be. So, the point is not to try to outsmart technologies, but to figure out what really matters.
The answers he provides are not dissimilar to the ones we already have had. His list of five big 21st century skills include empathising, collaborating, creating, leading and building relationships. These are similar to what we hear from other people trying to think about The …

Imagine A University of Practice

Despite the success of the universities around the world - there are more students going to them than ever - time has come to think about a new model. The universities work wonderfully well for a few, as they have always done. More precisely, few universities work well for few people, but they are unable to become the drivers of social mobility and the magic potion for the middle class dream, as they were slated to become. Part of this is of course about the change in the nature of work, that we have technologies that limit the number of middle class jobs, but the model has failed to adapt to these changes, or, in another way, to influence the changes to have more broad-based benefits.
These changes, globalisation and automation being two prime-movers but there are others too, must be taken into account in thinking what kind of education we would want now. Sending more people just to get degrees, as politicians keep talking about from time to time, is not a solution. Thinking about w…

The Architecture of Disruption - University As User Network

Uber crossing $50 billion in private valuations, taking two years less than Facebook to get there, should focus minds on a new business model - that of User Networks! If it was unthinkable that an algorithm-led business can dramatically change things even in the most regulated industries and in most unlikely places (India is its second biggest market after US), this is fast becoming all the proof one ever needed. Whether this valuation will sustain (part of it may be due to the asset price inflation due to loose money), it is already a formidable business globally - and indeed, more than a fad! 
Entrepreneurs everywhere are already studying Uber and how it got there. This article, which I was introduced to recently at a meeting, makes some interesting points about billion-dollar companies. There are many salient points worth noting here, but for me, the most important aspect is perhaps the delayed monitization, and made up through strong product/market fit or creation of network effe…

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