Saturday, November 06, 2010

Journal Entry: Licensed to Dream

I wrote that I am no businessman and many people agreed. But a friend kindly reminded that may be no one is born one. I tend to agree, it will be wrong to say that there is just one kind of person who can succeed in the world of business. That will be cynical.

Perhaps, I was indeed cynical: After my disappointments in the recent years, I may have been generalizing the specific. But I must now liberate myself from my own experience, and not generalize: Despite the narrow focus on money, business in general has been a force for progress in our societies and entrepreneurs in particular can bring about social changes, for better.

This is quite heartening: I got drawn into the idea of business not because I was drawn to money, but because this seemed to be the only vehicle of bringing about social change. There is a bit of mythology around this, which I have possibly unwittingly bought. But, given that social change is usually brought about technological progress, and not by philanthropy or any change of heart, entrepreneurship, and if I can borrow a concept from Clayton Christensen, disruptive entrepreneurship is usually the best way to bring that about.

I do think that business is all about making money is essentially correct. That's the sort of 'essentialist' proposition one needs to avoid all the time. People do businesses for all sorts of reason, including for freedom and identity. Business is for making money is the speculator's attempt to attain high grounds, and change everything into a dragon's den. I have spent enough time with a range of entrepreneurs, successful and not so successful, to know this bit: In fact, the not-so-successful ones usually can't tell a reason, other than making money, why they are in business. For the successful ones, there is always a purpose. I may be told that businesses are started for making money and purposes are invented later, but that will give me the opportunity to allege cynicism at the other end: Money always comes later.

So, I may give up being a 'tycoon', but it will not be equal to giving up all my entrepreneurial pursuits. Rather, with a bit more reflection, I see the need to team up with other people, who have complementary skills. I know I have to watch out for a common minimum ground: Those who are united in the sense of purpose, and not merely trying to seek out something to make money. But, once that is agreed, I think I can work well with other people, and together with others, I can indeed create an enterprise worth its purpose: A disruptive enterprise, as I put it earlier.

This thought gives me a lift. I am pursuing my dream of setting up an Online World College, and making progress: This is not the time to give up. Despite different kinds of difficulties, things are coming together, and I am enjoying what I am doing after a long time. I have now started cutting down on my commitments, particularly those which are not intellectually satisfying, and focusing on creating a new life, friends and all, altogether. I am quite conscious of the long term nature of this enterprise: I have committed myself fully to what I am doing now for the coming three to five years. I have started anchoring myself: Given up on going back to India in next five years and committed myself completely into acquiring skills and experience in the Higher Education sector, including that of teaching and education management. My studies at UCL, which should be completed next year and allow me to get, hopefully, a Masters degree in Adult Learning, which should be helpful. But, more than anything else, I shall want the World College project to be successful - which will be an inexpensive platform to expand access to Higher Education for a large number of people around the world.

I now know one change that I have gone through, since I wrote that last post about being a businessman. I stopped caring about the speculative investors. Whenever I talked about the World College, I was bugged by the comments that this was neither new or novel. I now know, that does not matter: It is needed and it is meaningful. Above all, this is something I am passionate about, and don't mind spending my whole life working on it. Once I got that, it does not matter anymore what the investors may think about it.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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