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Showing posts from February, 2016

First Mover Advantage?

Being The First

Writing in 90s, Al Ries and Jack Trout made the Law of the First their first law in the celebrated 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The proposition simply was - It is better to be FIRST than to be BETTER! Citing a rage of examples from Yuri Gagarin, Charles Lindbergh, IBM and Harvard, their point was that customers always remember the first, and the second person/ brand doing the same, even if they did it better, is usually forgotten.
Presented as a Law, this may not really stand up to any scrutiny. IBM was never really the first, as were not a host of brands that came to dominate the market. In fact, Ries and Trout themselves added all those qualifications in their later laws - like, it is not First in the market but first in the mind! To be fair, what they were trying to do is not create new laws based on evidence, but rather presenting the generally accepted marketing wisdom and marshaling the evidence to support it.
But, it held - and we got obsessed with First Move…

How To Think About Kolkata

There is a Kolkata protocol. As any outsider reaches the new shiny Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport and steps outside the glass doors, and looks into the waiting and loitering multitude just outside the gate, along with a few indifferent guards, a few skinny and bespectacled men trying to look officious with identity cards hanging around their necks, the noise, the sunlight and the general atmosphere of hustle reaches her - she remembers the name: Mother Teresa! As the first act of politeness - as well as of sounding world-aware - she would usually ask those waiting to receive her about Mother Teresa. And, then, the other party would usually start talking about Kolkata's great cultural heritage, its assortment of four or five Nobel Laureates, including an implausible Ronald Ross, who did part of his research in Kolkata (and therefore, has a street named after him), and an apparently disingenuous claim on Amartya Sen, who went to college in the City but have found …

Higher Education: 'Unbundle' or Not?

There is some sort of consensus that Higher Education needs to change, but the shape of it is hotly contested. One key idea that has got some traction is that some sort of unbundling is both inevitable and desirable. This model of 3- or 4-year Undergraduate degrees, focused on one or few disciplines, is too costly and too closed for our time. Unbundling, which rests on recognition of various ways of earning college credit, through various channels and activities, would reduce the costs and allow the students flexibility in terms of time and location to complete their degrees. All sorts of experimentation has followed: From the launch of college credit bearing (as well as non-credit) MOOCs to variation of the structure of college degrees, including shortening of the time required, have got under way. 
But, it has also gone the other way, as Chris Mayer argued (see the article here). The Higher Education community in general, accepting that a transformation is necessary, is arguing for…

Waiting For Trump

Everyone has an opinion about Trump. Which is okay, because he has an opinion about everyone. So, though I do not get to vote in the American Presidential election, I shall add my two bits!
Right now, after South Carolina, the path to a Trump-Clinton match-up looks clearer than it ever was. All the predictable candidates of the Republican field, save Marco Rubio, have started dropping off, and soon, Trump would achieve what seemed completely unachievable even a few weeks ago - sound the most sensible among the group! His economics may eventually sound better than Kasich, his xenophobia more moderate than Cruz, and his common sense more than, well if he had it at all, Carson's. Oh, Rubio! Though he is still going strong, he may indeed be too smooth, too official, to go all the way in a year like this. 
Now, if Trump faces Clinton, it will be easy to see it as an ultimate Insider versus Outsider race. There is no one more on the inside than Clinton, she even lived in the White Hous…

What Makes Creative Places?

Creativity was perhaps never been more glorified. We have appreciated art, music and literature, enjoyed the fruits of scientific research and technical invention, indeed, but never before we have considered Creativity as the sole source of progress as well as redemption. Governments never wilfully proclaimed the goals of building creative economies, city planners never before had an explicit mandate for creative cities, and here is the clinchers, accountants never concerned themselves with creative output. Creativity, seen in context, is a modern religion, a source of collective well-being when all other prospects have failed.
Accordingly, there is a stampede for making creative places. Start-ups have taken the place once Public Corporations had in public imagination - the mainstay of a middle class economy! Governments now divest in public sector, they are so last century, and proclaim policies to encourage start-up making. Economists write about idea economy and collective IQ. Ins…

Internationalisation of Higher Education and Open Business Models

I have been working on Internationalisation of Higher and Professional Education for over a decade now, mostly at the business ends of things and exploring strategic opportunities. Therefore, I find myself often in conversations about how to internationalise educational offerings, often involving developed country institutions trying to tap into demographic booms in emerging markets, and sometimes, emerging market institutions reaching out the other way. 
Most of this conversation, as I see it, is opportunistic. The list of failed attempts is long, which, not incidentally, include my own two years of developing a business to deliver British qualifications online in partnership with colleges in India and China. So, my current wisdom is not just theoretical - it has all the practicalities of someone who burnt himself in the process! 
This makes me reluctant, often to the surprise of willing collaborators or investors who would see me try again, to engage again in cross-border education…

Varieties Of Online Learning

Ask anyone what 'Online Learning' means and you know why they think it is a poor alternative of the classroom learning, the real thing. 'Online Learning' is mostly reading texts and watching video online, and that dreaded 'forum', which is about talking to each other but 'not for me'. This picture is consistent, as even the proponents of Online Learning would often concede that those who can afford college, should go to college.
But, while the advocates of Online Learning may make its case based on affordability, its costs at the point of delivery is insufficiently understood: The learner has to find appropriate device (or devices), data plans, quiet spaces and required self-discipline. If the popular 'Total Cost of Ownership' estimation was ever applied, Online Learning is not a cheap alternative. 
Despite this paradox, that its costs and promises are not in sync, Online Learning became wildly popular because of one thing: Degrees. The global…

'Hindu' Theory of Creativity

This post is not about an idea that just popped up in my head, but about something that I saw. And, that, though uncharacteristic, is most appropriate. I just came across, while reading a book about 'Genius Clusters', a 'Hindu' theory of creativity!
I am reading Eric Weiner's Geography of Genius, a concoction of travelogue and psychological theories, representing a tour through spots of great creative flourishing in human history. I am about half-way through, and have already travelled through Athens, Hangzhou, Florence and Edinburgh - and currently in Calcutta! It is a chatty read, serious ideas and wackiness bound together, and oftentimes, as a book of this nature would invariably be, too simplistic. But, every now and then, there is an idea worth all my effort, and my current pulse-rusher is this notion that Hindus have a different notion of creativity.
Here is the argument in brief: That, in Judeo-Christian, currently Western tradition, the idea of creativity …

The 'Soft Skills' Question

I notice a strange disconnect in my conversations with Employers. If one asks what they are looking for in new recruits, they tend to talk about soft skills: Initiative, Team Work, Communication etc. But when they write person-specifications and seek to recruit, it becomes a conversation about technical skills, at least mostly. So, how important are soft skills, really?
It should be very important, as all of those who ever worked in a commercial environment know. One must navigate the organisational life, and that needs soft skills. The moments one is in front of customers, soft skills are super-important, critical. And, progress in professional life hinges on soft skills too. No wonder one of our customers reportedly said,"I hire for technical skills but fire for Professional Skills".
Two things come to mind. First, the relative importance of soft skills versus technical skills vary depending on who in the organisation one is speaking to. The business managers, those who l…

Free Basics and Free Trade

Some people are angry at India for maintaining Net Neutrality! Marc Andreessen just tweeted (and then deleted) that this may be another mistake just like Anti-colonialism! He could not be more right!
Mr Andreessen's point is, of course, that India suffered from anti-colonialism! This, apart from proving that every smart people can be woefully silly at times, seems to come from some standard text that many Americans seem to cling to, even if they have no idea what colonialists did, where India is on the map and how it feels to be an Indian. Partly, some Indians contributed to this narrative, making a big deal of the liberalisation of the 90s (which, at best, has produced mixed results), though this confusion between Anti-colonialism and Import Substitution is rather uniquely American. An aside is that this does not show just ignorance about Indian history, but also America's, which was an inward-looking country sustained by trade barriers well into the twentieth century (it on…

The Third-Place For Education

As Post-Secondary Education continues to evolve with time, we are having a good hard look at what the College might look like. So far, we have pursued binary ideas - elaborate campuses that exude solidity or tradition versus virtual, online spaces - but the next College form may be something inbetween: A third place. I use the term in the same way as Ray Oldenberg defines Third Places, a place for community, the coffee shops etc. That community and connection, not tradition and not content, is really at the heart of education is the fundamental reason why this should be such.

So, college for me would be one of those converted warehouses with long rows of tables, chairs, sofas, coffee bars and technology gadgets, with designated meeting places and quiet rooms, and perhaps a gym, but never a classroom. There will be no teachers either, just team leaders, and coaches, and those who lead discussion groups. Indeed, the picture is more like Raphael's School of Athens (yes, the one that…

The Legend of Steven Jobs

We have two Jobs: One, the magical creator of iPhone, and even more, of the whole iGeneration, whose life story is one of a visionary, one that stayed steadfast through various failures and ultimately prevailed. The other is, of course, much more human, with all the failings, tempers and tantrums, who refused to accept parenthood of his own daughter and made life miserable for his colleagues at Apple so much that he managed to get fired from his own company. This latter story makes him no less visionary, but just a bit less perfect! The perfect millennium man, the first story eventually overshadowed the second story at the turn of the century, as the second coming of Jobs - his very successful return to Apple and making it the most valuable company in the world - played out, helped no less by his Cancer survival and finally, death.
One can say I was watching Steve Jobs, a very good movie with Michael Fassbender as the lead. I am slightly weary of hero worship, and therefore, would us…

A Search for Creative Life

What enables Creativity? This has somewhat become the central question of my work.
In a way, it was always there. I always sought opportunities where the boundaries between work and play fades - in other words, sought out work that I love - though this often meant a circuitous route to what other people may call Happiness. In fact, with time, happiness became something I do not seek, just the right opportunity to be creative! Happiness became, to me, a bottle, and the outside it, in the ephemerality of work and play, joy is to be found! 
However, as Freud would have said in a different context, the economic life suppresses, rather than enables, such opportunities. The modern men (and women) is expected to play its part in the vast, global arrangement we have come to call civilisation, trading their very opportunities to be themselves, in return of happiness - or, what everyone calls happiness. In this sense, pursuit of happiness is the antithesis of a creative life, and yet, it is th…

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