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Showing posts from February, 2017

The Unbearable Lightness of Business Books

Or, I could have said - why I can't read business books. At least, not anymore.
This may seem inconsequential, but it is not for me. In fact, it is an existential problem that I face now: I can't read business books! It is very necessary for my career - being well-read is one of the advantages I brought to table as a professional - and indeed, crucial to maintain my professional credential as a Chartered Marketer, which I attained with great effort, once upon a time. And, yet, I can't bring myself to read Business Books.
This isn't always there. I did read Business Books, quite extensively, until about three years ago. I did maintain a subscription of HBR, bought Strategy & Business and Sloan Management Review regularly at WH Smith, maintained a small collection of business books all the time with books on marketing and innovation prominently featuring on my shopping list. I even had my favourites: I read all of Clayton Christensen, Henry Chesbrough, Michael Cusum…

Why Everything Is Not Business

Everything is business, we are told. Business, the discipline of making profits, is, to us, a higher ethic to strive for. In fact, it is the only ethic left standing. The Governments and its leaders style themselves as Corporate Leaders, rather than trying to be Statesmen; the Universities want to be 'business-like' rather than being 'academic'; charities and community organisations are expected to operate 'like businesses'; and even in families and relationships, being 'professional' is seen as some sort of ideal. And, this idea - everything is business - pervade education, regardless of the subjects taught, and we are constantly bombarded with assessments, deadlines and deliverable.
But what does 'Business like' really means? There is no one crisp definition, but there are some key concepts that pop up whichever way one defines it. These are 'outcome', 'measurement' and 'efficiency'.  
In any enterprise, being business…

Reforming The Indian Higher Education: Rethinking Liberal Arts and Sciences

For those who accept that the structure of the world economy is undergoing a change - automation and political imperatives in developed countries putting a stop to expansion and even reversing the earlier model of offshoring production and back-offices - Indian Higher Education needs reform. The current system, which has grown out of the large, publicly owned metropolitan universities and technical institutions, has been primarily driven by the growth of private, not-for-profit institutions focusing on Engineering and Business Education. This growth meant that India produces an estimated 1.5 million engineers every year, the largest number in the world, but these engineers are crucially dependent on the Offshoring sector, which has driven the job growth in India for the last two decades. With the expansion of the sector slowing, there is a jobs crisis already: Various reports put the rates of campus hiring anywhere between 15% to 20% of the graduate engineers. 
However, this is a cla…

Paradox Of The Commons

We have grown up with the 'Tragedy of The Commons' programmed in our brains. 
If something is common property, no one cares for it - we have taken it for granted. It is because the way incentive systems are believed to work. If something is everyone's property, no one in particular has the responsibility for its upkeep; and yet the person who gets there first and uses it to the maximum, gains most. So a common forest is overfell, common pond is overfished, common field is overgrazed. And, on the other hand, property rights really protect the productive capacities of the resources, and creates common good. How convenient!
This looks like common sense that can be so easily proved empirically. We know it from our instincts - from overeating at the buffet or binging at happy hours - that costs for using something makes us more responsible. And, we came to accept the conclusions that followed from this idea: That everyone is better off when the natural resources are privately …

Hinduism and The Indian Culture

My previous post, on whether Hinduism is the only thing to unite India, to which my answer was negative, was based on the idea that Indian culture is quite distinct from 'Hinduism'. It is this point that needs further elaboration, as the apologists of the Hindu India, both the traditionalists and the new liberal kinds, claim that they are one and the same.
I was brought up in a Brahmin family, and read Sanskrit - primarily as my grandmother was a 'Pandit' and a Sanskrit teacher - and read the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. For a year of my life, after I went through the 'Upanayana', I performed a puja three times a day. Later in life, I read Upanishad and Gita out of intellectual curiousity. And, yet, this still does not cover the core texts of Hinduism - most critically, the various commentaries by later Holy men, which, for many Hindus, represent the revealed religion. 
But this is perhaps the key point: That someone may grow up in a Hindu milieu but never…

"Only Hinduism Can Unite India"

The title of this post is in quotes because someone told me this. This was some days ago, over lunch in London, something that I stayed with me since. This is one post I started writing, and then deleted, and then tried again, and again - until this moment when I resolved the question of the headline: Rather than trying the feeble 'reimagination' or 'new idea', using this quote directly was better.
Indeed, there is nothing new here. This is the current conversation in India. In fact, suggesting anything else risks being shouted down in India today. However, why this made me reflect is that this was not coming from any zealot, but someone I know and regard highly for intellect. Also, this came out of no online spat or shouting match, but a reasoned conversation about India's future, and came from someone who cares about the country as deeply as anyone could. Finally, and importantly, the person telling me this was liberal and highly educated professional, lest anyo…

Being Global: Designing A Certification Programme

In 2013, when we started U-Aspire, I developed a certification for Global Business Professional. This was endorsed by UK's Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and subsequently, we got this recognised for Masters credit by the University of Greenwich. However, when we started marketing, we put more effort in selling longer programmes like an Higher National Diploma, offering a pathway to UK degrees. This is what everyone apparently wanted to talk about, and we somehow accepted that as a small company with little capital, we did not have the wherewithal to change the conversation. And, yet, when I look back at the U-Aspire experience with the benefit of hindsight, I consider this to be one of our 'original sins', as we got to obsessed with degrees. With the talk of degrees, comes the question of ranking, legitimacy and the rest, a conversation a small and unknown company can hardly win. Alternative credentials, even if new and unknown, has its own attractions, and,…

Educating for Mediocrity

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The paradox at the heart of middle class lives is this - it is an unending pursuit of mediocrity.
I know we want to see it differently. The great middle class dream is the pursuit of happiness, in Jefferson's classic formulation. Happiness is about setting an achievable limit and being content with that. Happiness is an end, it is about stopping at a reasonable level, and not aspiring for more. It is about being what you can comfortably be. Which is, seen the glass half empty way, mediocrity.
Surely, pursuit of unhappiness would not inspire anyone. But this is indeed at the heart of educational enterprise, of the idea of an examined life. It is about continuously testing one's limit, a pursuit to escape the comfort zones. Even when everything seems content, the point of education is to question the very contentedness, and to introduce perspectives, spatialities and temporalities: No happiness is complete, all encompassing and lasts forever, is the inevitable verdict of educat…

For The Citizens of the Future

There are other ways of describing them. An inexact 'millennial', approximating the year they were born in; a condescending 'young'; a technologically determined 'Digital Native'; or some other consumer label such as 'Gen Y'. 
But we did not try to invent a political identity for them. Partly because we don't want them involved in politics. We want them to be career-focused. If they want to disrupt anything, let them be entrepreneurs. The lessons learnt in 1968 was that they should be kept out of politics and we are following that playbook.
As a result of keeping younger people out of politics, we see the emergence of a new politics of the past. The proto-imperialists in Britain, who believes that they can walk out of European Union and gain their glory back in India or Nigeria, are channelling the angers of the past to shape politics. A cynical billionaire, borrowing from Adolf Hitler's phrasebook, is taking America back to a past that never w…

Education for Economic Development: Rethinking The High School

The work and careers are changing. As most process-based jobs get automated, it seems the winners will be those with greater intellectual skills. In the meantime, the salary premium for college graduates have risen dramatically - mainly as a result of non-graduates falling precipitously. This is taken as evidence of centrality of college education: Everyone should be able to go to college, has become the political mantra.
This is good for colleges themselves and hence, they have promoted the idea. And, as the educated usually takes upon themselves the role of society's critic-in-chief, the conclusion has not really be questioned. However, while the poor countries followed the cue and started expansion of college education - and, because the state does not have money, this means a poorer public education and enormous expansion of terribly bad private education - it is worth looking at the phenomena closely and exploring its wisdom.
At one level, work has become more complex and co…

Would 'Exporting Manpower' Solve India's Job Problem?

The conversation in India today is centred on exporting workers. The Indian government is funding Skills Development centres across the country with a mandate for training young people so that they can find jobs abroad. Partly, this is a reaction to India's job crisis - only about 150,000 net new jobs are being created in the organised sector against 25 million people entering the working age every year - but this is also based on the policy thinking that India would be 'manpower exporter' of the world in the coming years. 
The wisdom of aiming to 'export' manpower is surely questionable. 
First, this also reflects an inadequate understanding of the scale of the challenge in India. In India, 70,000 people turn 25 every day on average, or about 2.1 million people every month. The total number of Indians living abroad at this point of time is 15 million. Whatever capacity of skill development for overseas employment could be created by the government, it is goi…

How to Be Global?

For being global, this is the worst of the time and the best of the time. 
The worst part is obvious: Various countries now want to put themselves 'First' and that is not an ideal scenario to start thinking globally. Multinationals are in retreat. Trade Wars seem imminent. Currency disputes are heating up and cross-border immigration is becoming more difficult. Even UK, which proclaims its ambition to be 'Global' and has always benefited from being open, has started pulling up the drawbridges and succumbing to Little Englanders. However, in this, there is a new promise, and that is the best part. The globalisation that we saw from the breaking of the Berlin Wall to the breaking of the Wall Street Banks was about building global value chains, of moving capital and commodities across the boundaries. We may be approaching an end of this phase. But this marks the start of a new phase - when the problems are global, from migration to climate change to terrorism to educatio…

Why Trump Isn't Hitler And We Shouldn't Call Him So

Should we compare Trump to Hitler?
Hitler is a real historical figure, but he is also a symbol, something we invoke perhaps a bit too often. Anyone disagreeable in government is called Hitler, as well as any act which smacks of authoritarianism is quickly branded, 'like Hitler'. So, it is not a surprise that the spectre of Hitler has been invoked, as Trump is unleashed on America. What is surprising is that this discussion is getting serious, with Liberals writing detailed comparison why it may be so, and indeed, an assortment of angry Conservatives denying any resemblance.
Some of this Conservative case is easy to make. Contemporary America has nothing in common with Weimar Germany, at least at the surface. It has an evolved Republican tradition - the oldest in the world, in fact - and history of stable governments, and do not compare with the Republic that lasted for slightly more than a decade and regularly saw Chancellors come and go. Germany was blighted by economic cris…

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