Showing posts from May, 2016

6/100: On The Question of Priorities

Sometimes manic workdays provide the best opportunity to reflect: Why am I doing all this?  Today is one of those, and I am pausing to write this post after a few crazy hours of clearing my inbox, so to say. In a few hours, I am off to catch a flight, in anticipation of a family event in Kolkata over the weekend, where I get to see almost everyone I call family (including some who I have not met since emigrating, though Facebook was handy). But, for that, I am squeezing in a week's worth of work in a day - and that brings out, in sharp relief, what I do and that my life has become way too complicated. At this very point, as the diverse nature of today's work tells me, I am doing far too many things, for far too many reasons. The truth is, I already know this, and have started pulling out of activities. The first casualty of this quest of simple is a community event that I got interested in, and spent some time exploring. However, this realisation - that I am doing far

5/100: A Tale of Two Airlines

In the last 24 hours, I had two very contrasting experiences with air travel, which, I believe, illustrate how to (and not to) compete globally. The first event happened around yesterday afternoon. My Sister and Brother-in-Law, along with their 5 year old daughter, turned up at the Delhi airport for their 530pm flight to Kolkata. Indigo, an Indian airline whose principal claim of differentiation is based on their punctuality and professionalism, informed them that the flight is late, delayed by an hour or so. As they checked in, though, the flight continued to be delayed. By the time my sister started talking about this in WhatsApp, it was already around 9pm. I, with many experiences with delayed flights, almost casually commented that the airline must have been taking good care of them! To my surprise, it turned out that not only the airline has not been able to confirm when the flight would leave, they did not offer food, any place to stay, and their ground staff has simply dis

4/100: On The Great Courses

I have an aversion to the word Great! This is one of the words in English language, employed to describe a little island, which has taken an altogether new level of superficiality in the usual American habit of splashing it onto anything: For example, "the Great Country of North Korea" - ok, except that! I was, therefore, naturally suspicious when I come across The Great Courses, the audio/video learning content aimed at Lifelong Learning (another meaningless expression, admittedly, except that it has a specific meaning in the European Union). I came across these through the regular advertisements in The New Yorker and The London Review of Books, and also, in a Bill Gates interview, where he mentioned that he uses The Great Courses to learn about different subjects. Gates' point was interesting: He was arguing that more than the MOOCs, The Great Courses, high quality recorded videos on a rage of subjects, designed for self-study, has great potential to change Educat

The Changing World of Work and How To Think About Skills Training

The conversation started with a question: What would you do if you have to re-imagine Skills Training in India? It was prompted by, no doubt, my posts in the past regarding the trajectory of skills training sector in India, which, I argued, took the eye off the ball - the demands of real workplaces - because the Government was throwing so much money into it. The correspondent, a retired Senior Executive with portfolio interests in skills training businesses, had a clear idea of both sides - he knew the changing nature of work and he knew the demand for skills education and its challenges - and he and I found ourselves in perfect agreement that government-funded skills training almost always changes priorities, from the student-centric priorities to one of pleasing bureaucrats and winning grants. This is a persistent problem in all countries - the education providers in the UK are no exception - but the absence of other safeguards, consumer rights of students, health and safety standa

3/100: The Two Lives

My whole project of 100 days, which, by the way, I am doing well with, is about changing my life. However, changing my life to what is still perhaps unresolved. The overall goal, to go beyond the compromises I had to do after my last experiment at a breakout, remains: But what the next breakout is about needs more thinking. As I noted in an earlier post, my enthusiasm about the world of education ventures have now somewhat dampened. The reason for this is a realisation, which comes with the exposure I have had over the last several years, that all the talk about education innovation is really neither about education nor about innovation. It is, mostly, about some desperate excess money following concepts and ideas past their sale-by date. And, this does not excite me enough: Or, let's say, it does not make me feel that any hardship is worthwhile to build another of those education apps that no one wants to pay for, or, for that matter, that For-Profit school that would peddle

2/100: India's Coming Job Crisis & Education

India is set to face a jobs crisis.  One needs to look at three things to understand that a crisis is imminent. First, the numbers. On average, 69,000 people turn 25 every single day in India, or more than 2 million every month. Women's participation in the workforce remain small and a large number of people get absorbed in family enterprises. There are about 12 million new people enter the workforce every year. Against this, about 5.5 million new jobs are created every year, many of these being in the informal sector, and lowly paid. The key sectors, the Government identifies 8 of them, usually creates about 200,000 jobs a quarter on average, nowhere close to what may be required. Second, the most spectacular job growth in the last two decades have come from Indian IT Services sector, which is going to face a crisis of its own. A large proportion of workforce in the sector is engaged in low-cost, process based work, the kind of work which is being automa

1/100: A New Kind of Enterprise

Today is the first day of rest of my life. I have written this line before, and write it again now. This quote, whoever it is from, is some kind of tag line that describes how I live fairly well.  It is true that I feel like being at an inflection point. I have lived far too long in a survival mode, licking my wounds for a past adventure and unsure of when and what I should embark on next. As it always comes with failure, I had the endless re-run of the past in my mind - if only I did that - but also what Emily Dickinson would call 'precarious gait', experience, that told me I am not ready yet. But, then, one is always ready. The sense of failure that I describe, a combination of re-runs and caution, is too attached to living a past life. Life, however, is lived forwards, and the secret of being ready, as this very moment signify, is to stop living what has been lived, and start living what is to be lived from this point on. This is not about wiping out any memory, bu

The E-School Method

The new Digital Economy demands new sets of competences and abilities, enterprise being the most critical. While one may think of Enterprise as critical for those who set up and run businesses, enterprise with the small ‘e’ is the everyday ability to find problems, optimise resources and think creatively, opening up possibilities of doing better even within the most process-orientated of the jobs. Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University estimate that more than half of the current occupational categories face significant risk of being automated within foreseeable future, and for many professions, this is real and the job roles are already changing. Even as we get used to the term ‘Knowledge Economy’, the process-orientated, middle skill jobs that were the mainstay of the Middle Class economy, are fast disappearing, taking the ‘Knowledge Worker’ with them. What is coming in its place are jobs that demand innovation, creativity and person-to-person contact, jobs th

Tagore The Educator: The Two Demons of 'Traditionalism' and 'Technological Attitude'

I was asked recently in a NDTV interview: What do you think Tagore would if he was alive today? My answer was that he would remain, first and foremost, a poet. That was indeed the safe answer, but I disappointed the interviewer. She was asking how Tagore would react to today's world - what life of action he might have chosen! Besides, Tagore the poet, however ubiquitous he may be in the life of the Bengalis, is less known: Most of the available translations are quite pedestrian, and his unique evocation of rural Bengal and his lyricism makes him somewhat out of time in our sceptical world. To imagine him as a poet in our day would involve imagining Tagore as a writer of blank verse and pop music, a leap of imagine that may not come very naturally. However, my answer was flawed: Tagore perhaps wanted people to see him as a poet and a mystic, and to remember him as such, but he lived a life of action. His most cogent identity was that of an education reformer and an educator, f

India 101 for Global Education Start-Ups

In discussing a global education business, someone asked me why one should do India if India is complex and one of the most difficult in the world.  This echoed my own position as it used to be. When I was trying to raise money to do UAspire, if anyone asked which countries we were planning to aim for, my answer used to be - "not India"! It was an awkward answer given my Indian heritage and connections, but one I thought was most pertinent, given that we were raising a small amount of money. And, sure enough, my assumption was right - despite getting most of our time and effort in India, all of our signups came from China, where we spent a lot less time!  However, that was 2012. My views have changed since, not least because of the economic instability in China, and a change in the political environment which has made doing business there a lot more complicated. India, in the meantime, established a demographic pole position - a quarter of the world's new workfo

Business Model for Education Start-Ups: Three Ideas to Consider

Lean has come to Education too, but it needs some special consideration. Education Start-Up is no longer an oxymoron, but a real thing. Venture Capitalists do invest in education, and some indeed treat this as the next big thing, a sector with abundant growth potential in an otherwise growth-less world. However, this is one sector in search of a business model: Most VCs would try to use models they use for technology or media businesses on education propositions - and they mostly do not work. I have tried and failed with an Education Start-up. Since then, my approach has been one of caution - quite antithetical to my usual excitable nature: Whenever I have been invited to join Founding Teams, I have shied away, and stated that the education start-ups need much more capital than one could possibly project using a technology or media investment model. This, because the Customer Discovery process, central in the Lean Start-up worldview, has special challenges when it comes to Ed

The Flat White Economy

There is this lovable term used in England - The Flat White Economy! For the uninitiated, this comes from the variety of coffee the twenty-something geeky youngsters working in the 'creative economy' in London, one of the world's leading. This, an uninspiring vision of placid coffee, seems to capture the great promise of economic renewal of industrial wastelands of North England, as well as the inner city precints of London: It no doubt offers me a catchy term to make my point about the City economies. But, to clarify, while I like the term, I use it literally. As a lover of good coffee, the term conjures up milky blandness rather than exciting aroma, and regardless of the implicit euphoria behind its coinage, I see it for what it is - the really 'flat' growth in a mix that lacks proportion or equity, obscuring the inevitable disappointment in frothy rhetoric and pricey labeling (I usually order a White Americano!).  This is not a resentment of a new taste

In Search of Idea Cities

If this blog needed a purpose, I have one now. I started writing just for the sake of writing, and later, used this space for reflecting on my experience as well as exploring ideas and connecting with people. It was a serendipitous journey, with twists and turns of my wandering mind suitably exposed, and I assiduously avoided being boxed, or turning this blog into a commercial promotion of myself. And, this is not a holier-than-thou stance - I indulged in usual narcissism on Facebook and tried to do desperate social climbing on Linkedin - it is just plain love, of words and of ideas and of conversations, and I wanted to keep this one space uncorrupted of the other 'social me', in order to welcome them as they came.  But then there is something I love. And, all my wandering is really a quest for that one thing, in a way. My otherwise pauseless life may not allow me the space to love anything except for the socially mandated, all the middle class stuff about careers, mortga

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