Showing posts from March, 2011

19/100: The History Mistake

There are two kinds of people, those who read history and those who do not know it exists. And, it is easy to tell who is what from a conversation: Reading history gives a view of the world around you and inform you with a perspective. I am a history reader, indeed. For me, history is a living experience, manifested in small details of life. For me, the irony of Gaddaffi , the writer of the Green Book and of the freedom to the people, is ever so apparent: So is the hypocrisy of the current NATO action of bombing the way to a regime change. You can see that everyone is playing for time; they always did, in war and peace. However, reading history also tells me that men make history and it is not the other way round. We are not mere pawns in a great chess game played by an absent master, but we make our own moves. There may be an iota of truth in saying that those who do not read history is condemned to repeat it, but it is equally true that sometimes, we repeat as we read - see a Kenned

18/100: The Decline of MySpace

MySpace , going by the latest reports, has lost 50 million users over the last 12 months, of which the last two months, January and February this year, have seen a loss of 10 million unique users. It is now down to 60 million users from its peak of 110 million, and it is expected to fetch a valuation of $50 million, down from $330 million that News Corp paid for it only a few years back. Compare this with the stratospheric rise of Facebook and its multi-billion dollar valuation, and the decline looks stark and irreversible. This will possibly happen, as the executives look rather directionless and talk about MySpace being an entertainment site rather than a social network. That seems like the business-speak that is sinking the company: It is the social context of entertainment which broadcast media executives never get it. But it may be the time for social media to grow up. It is no longer enough just to blame old media thinking for new media failures. Remember Friendster, which took

17/100: The Twenty-something Phenomenon

I have one thing against the twenty-somethings: I am not one of them. As it is obvious from the tone, I regret the fact. Because the world today moves around twenty-somethings. In this Mark Zuckerberg era, if you are not twenty- ish , you are unloved. VCs think you are history. You are not licensed to dream. I was told that if you have reached forty without messing up your life completely or doing something insanely great, you are not qualified to dream. My rather feeble protestation that there were always great men in history who found their calling in mid-life, like Gandhi or FDR, was pushed aside. We don't live in that era anymore, I am told. Yes, indeed, life's faster and there is more respect for young businesspeople. Young business-people by itself is a new phenomena - it is much easier to get capital and run a business early in your life. I contend that what really changed is this - starting up has become easier - we have more young people pursuing a business career. A

16/100: The Change Imperative

The business I am in is facing the full force of change. The immigration laws are changing, forcing us to rethink our business model; the university funding is changing, opening new opportunities for us. I have been here before, indeed. I started my career as a Systems Administrator managing Unix systems, in 1993, just before the advent of Windows. Then, I moved onto another company in a job setting up their private network, in 1995, just before Internet became commercially available in India. And then, we rode on the Dotcom sentiments and ran a Certification Training company in 1999, just before plane-loads of software programmers started returning to India. From these experiences, and others that I studied, I know that the best option available for a small business is to change with the environment. The greatest advantage of smallness is nimbleness, and one must take full advantage of this. The worst thing one can do is to sink in denial; but that's exactly what most small busin

15/100: The Consequences of Muddle

I would expect a Tory government to be business friendly. But it is clear that the current British government is caught in a web of its own confusion. At one end, it talks global and wants to connect to the rapidly changing world, kick-start an enterprise society and build a competitive modern economy; on the other, it needs to fulfil its promise to take Britain back to the past, play on its islander mentality, and erect, if it could, an wall around the coastlines to keep everyone out. This is obviously spilling out to its approach to Higher Education: It is throwing the whole university sector in crisis with its harshest culling of public funding in two generations, in the hope that private sector will step in to fill the void and meet the British industry’s requirements of skills and knowledge, and then, as if to make up, it is cutting out the Private Education sector from the lucrative international education market, Britain’s third largest export industry by some count, in the hope

14/100: Endgame for British For Profit Education

Theresa May, as expected, delivered - undoing the British Education industry within a span of one speech. At the time when the British Government is talking up industry and enterprise, she delivered a muddled protectionist policy, kicking off a civil war of sorts between the publicly funded and privately funded education providers in Britain. The policy is harsh and abrupt, though it goes an extra mile to reclaim the international student market for the embattled British universities. However, the proposals, more or less, exterminates British For Profit education industry: If you are publicly funded, you go scot-free, if you are private, you must be dishonest - was the presumption she worked with. So, if a student chooses to go to a For Profit college, they will have no work rights or the rights to bring a dependent, so on and so forth. At one stroke, the visas that Private Colleges could have sponsored are being capped, and they are being told to change their accreditation system with

13/100: Waiting for Theresa May: Changes in British Student Visa System

The British Home Secretary, Ms Theresa May, is scheduled to announce the long anticipated changes in the Student Visa system about an hour from now. She is expected to say what everyone expects her to say – and what conservatives have said before – that they are cracking down on the visa abuses, limiting immigration and reversing the open door policies pursued by Labour. However, the message will appear – to the rest of the world – as confused and off the mark as the government’s approach and policy to immigration has been so far. Ms May and her colleagues are fully aware that any misdirected tweaking of the system can cause long term and irreversible damage to the British Higher Education industry. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has recently pointed out that this should be treated as a key export industry, and he is indeed right. In fact, Higher and Further Education is one of the rare sectors where Britain can claim some sort of a World Leadership, behind America but ahead of t

12/100: On Setbacks and Teams

After a long time, my life returned to normalcy yesterday. An after-office pub trawl lasted till 11pm, not because of the quality of the wine - I was merely on Guinness for a belated St Patrick's Day celebration - but because of the quality of the conversation. Indeed, it was mostly office stuff, to start with. It was about the urgency to construct a vision, something concrete and achievable, yet something that breaks the cycle of trivialities that seem to engulf our work. That way, we are at an interesting point. We are affiliated to a couple of universities, and we run their courses. The recent audits and examination boards went well, and everyone is jubilant that we seemed to have met our objectives. However, to me, this is just the starting point and not the end. To my colleagues who had a more public sector background, satisfying the very high standards of the regulators and the accrediting bodies is the goal, an end. To me and the colleagues coming from private sector trainin

11/100: On Courage

I am at it again. I am sitting on the edge of abyss intending to jump. I don't need to, but I thought it was required for my self-respect. I won't jump perhaps, as I am a bit older and a bit wiser, but this is familiar territory. But play aside, there is a question of principle here. This is what I actually said. I said compromise never actually achieved anything significant. But, then, that's not strictly true. Most things in life are based on compromise. Why did I say that then? To be honest, it sounded good when I said what I said. The thoughts only came thereafter. But there was a rider: An important one. All compromises are not the same. Some are big compromises, which makes everything open for tweaking. These are things when you give in. This is like agreeing to steal money or murder people. The compromise has gone so far that it violates what most people will think to be important principles. This can also include the things like acting fairly and with integrity, tre

10/100: Writing, Interrupted

I am trying to keep awake and survive at the same time. Sleep is much like death, admittedly. The problem here is boredom, though. It is a dull morning, like the usual English mornings when Spring wants to come but Winter wouldn't still give away. One of those middle of the week days when the optimism of the start is lost but the weekend is still too far, and the carry-on spirit is faltering in the middle of the predictability of life: The 8:33 train, the walk on London Bridge, the unsmiling receptionist, the creaky lift, culminating finally in the usual hustle and bustle of office life, accentuated, in anything, by the birth-pangs of these words, only the noise of typing. Coffee isn't helpful, because that may drive away sleep but brings the awareness of death closer: And dosing off is no good, as, apart from the public spectacle, it mollifies sleep but makes me unaware of death and irrelevance. So I try writing, which does all the things - make me look busy, generates suffi

9/100: Teaching Creativity

It is interesting that I land myself in a situation that I am writing about - how to be creative under pressure. I am writing a coursework for my masters studies in Education, and the subject is how companies can 'train' their employees to be creative. I have been reading literature and following discussions on the Internet for a while on the subject, and formed an opinion: That too much emphasis is put on technical aspects of creativity - the mechanics of coming up with a new idea - and not so much on the context, that creativity is a deeply social process, which can flourish in an environment set for it. This brings me head on to the managerial view of creativity, that it is not a haphazard process of getting there, but one that can be managed within time lines and budgets. Indeed, that's exactly what the managers of creative departments - design shops, advertising agencies etc - have been doing for a long time. It is important to note that these organizations are rather

8/100: The Difficult Part of Change

Two weeks into my 100 day plan, I am starting to see the problem. The credit goes to the chaos in my life at the moment - the deaths, the house move, the difficulties at work - and I am starting to see where I am going wrong at this time. It is simply this: While I pledged to change my life, I tried to change everything around me, except myself. I must say I am starting to see the problem. My ego was mightily satisfied acting as a change agent, but the same thing - ego - is actually the biggest hurdle to change. I may have facilitated some changes around me, but of critical importance was my ability to change. This diminished over time as I became satisfied with my work. Now that I know the problem, I have admitted this publicly. I did go up to colleagues and admitted that I took my eye off the ball. I made a career transition to higher education intending to teach and write: Indeed, that's what I still intend to do. However, I got sort of waylaid by the battles I had to fight, and

7/100: The Big Society

As David Cameron oversees a rapid dismantling of the Welfare State, that bastard child of Capitalism which won the Cold War but never got any credit for it, he must be hoping that something else will fill the void. Something else must, as Welfare State held the western societies together and its absence may mean a world full of despair, breakdown of social life and crimes and drugs and all the things noir. Cameron's big idea was to fill the void with 'Big Society', a sort of third sector utopia where the voluntary citizen organizations and social enterprises step in to fill the void, create opportunities and spread the word for self-reliance and creative thinking. The problem is - it is not working. The reason it is not working, and it may not work in future, is because it is so utopian. There may be a lot of lament about the disappearance of community, but this is one thing that capitalism does: Removes the social markets. We would love to see things in pretty boxes: Socie

6/100: The 'Battle' of Ideas

Tony Blair calls Global Higher Education the front line in the battle of ideas. [ See Here ] He is unduly combative: That's him. The global higher education can be seen as a more collaborative venture than the one- upmanship that Blair suggests. I shall argue that continued superiority of the West, the thing that Blair wants to protect, is not good for anyone, not even for the West. I know this would be counter-intuitive in this age of resurgent China. Public discussion in the West is about how to keep ahead of China, India and other 'emerging' powers, and the idea that the only way to do that is to be ahead in terms of the knowledge economy is well accepted. The growing young Indian middle class would invariably take over all the jobs that can be offshored , and the cheap Chinese migrant workers will make the world's goods - so the thinking goes - the only way the 'West' can stop becoming a wasteland of unemployment and stagnation (just as China and India h

5/100: Why I Don't Want A Kindle?

I have finally moved home, after living in the same flat for almost seven years. The movement became quite a long drawn affair, particularly because of the books I bought over the years. On top of this, the house I moved in has no bookshelves, which meant another significant expense and today, a whole day's very tiresome visit to our local IKEA . In fact, I find the shopping experience in IKEA the most distressing I can have, not just because of the layout, where you have to walk miles before you can start the business of shopping: It must be nice for people who are building a new house obsessively, but not me - with limited time and specific requirements. The £600 odd expense on bookshelves sound a bit ridiculous at this stage, but it must be made. My life isn't going to be back to normal till the books are back on shelves and become accessible yet again. In the new place, where I can afford a small study, allowing me to read and write in relative privacy, looks promising; bu

4/100: Choices for For Profit Education: What's Quality?

There is a halo around 'Quality' in education, and it's mostly mystical. The business world has somewhat figured it out by now: With zero defect and six sigma, and established standards and all that, the businesses have made big strides in the last three decades. A definition - doing what it says on the tin - as well as an understanding - meeting and exceeding customer expectations - have taken hold. But while education administrators keep talking about quality, and often define it with the terms borrowed from the world of business, the concepts remain quite woolly and difficult to measure. It is quite obvious why it is so difficult. Education is not a product as we understand it. It is a mission critical service, more like healthcare perhaps, but when we move into higher education territory, it becomes a cross between a luxury, like silicon enhancements, and a social necessity, like a fire service, at the same time. But more critically than the nature of education, the pro

3/100: Choices for For-Profit Education - Agency versus The Brand

Higher Education in Britain is currently in the middle of what can be called - after Karl Poliyani - a Great Transformation, where a historically developed, social (and not socialist necessarily) education system being replaced by a system of open markets. I am indeed enjoying being an involved observer, not just as I study the phenomena, but also at work - as I explore, progressively, building a market-led college to offer courses and collaborate with universities in transition. A conscious exposition of this work, I concluded, should be at the core of my 100 day agenda, and therefore, I have started writing about it. In Higher Education, this is an 'All Change' time. The universities are in serious disarray, and it indeed seems that the government is also indecisive about what they are going to do. The hidden Tory agenda has finally come up in the open and is now head to head with the Lib-Dem muddle, and suddenly, the university administrators across Britain are left in an u

2/100: On Time

Time, for me, is a house to live in Built in air perhaps, A bit crowded too, with all people of the past But one I can't get out of. Time is also my dear old friend, Like a suitcase that travels along, With all photos and moments, and a familiar smell, One I can't ever get rid of. Time feels like a running train I was let in without a pass, I have to get off when it stops But there may still be a long way to go. Then, time is the place I go to, To become a bunch of moments perhaps, And to end up in someone else's suitcase, May be her, who loved me.

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