Friday, December 03, 2010

Journal Entry: Snowed In


As you can see from the pictures, taken during my regular mile-long trek to the nearest working railway station (about 20 minutes walk for me), I am currently snowed under. This whole week has been quite a nightmare: Monday, it was the Tube Strike, and though I could get in alright, most of my colleagues suffered and many of the meetings got canceled. Then, Tuesday came the snow and complete collapse of the transport system. Tuesday night, I took four hours to get home though it is only about half-hour journey. (Still I must consider myself quite lucky as most people could not get home that night and ended up staying in Train carriages overnight)


The misery continues, though I am getting used to it. I have now adjusted to this mile-long walk every morning to the nearest working station, queuing up behind the crowd well outside the station concourse for the hourly service to Central London and then doing a somewhat similar exercise every evening. The fun is that it is not snowing in London and my colleagues can't really get what we have faced in the South of the river. If I poked any fun with anyone suffering from the tube strikes, I have been well compensated.

The week, therefore, was quite unremarkable, except a few special events. We had a fairly promising meeting with an university wanting to start New Media courses in London. I am hopeful that we can put everything together quite soon and be able to start a really good course offering in quite a niche area. My ideas of combining technical education along with business savvy, enmeshed within a liberal education environment (by which I mean a commitment to exploration, learner centeredness and an openness to diversity) were well received by my key colleagues, and I am hoping that we shall be able to create that environment when we get started. This will be quite a break from the professional training environment within which we offer our business courses - with certification as the main objective - and I am hoping that this experiment will help us set up a model of combining the ways of Private Education (Managerialism, focus on resource utilization, efficiency inside classroom) with the values of Higher Education institutions (Collegiality, commitment to inquiry and openness, building a 'Citizen'), which we can then use as a model for the partnerships we shall embark upon with the universities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Some of my colleagues are reminding me that these are big plans and there is a quite a gap we have to cover from the current realities of the UK private education market, which is mainly about commoditized courses, facilitation of visas of different kind and brutally efficient operations of getting 'bums on seats'. However, possibly for the first time in my life, I have committed myself to something I would absolutely want to achieve - a world class education provider with global operations - and have decided not to give up regardless of what I have to face. It is fitting perfectly with my mindset to start all over again about staying in the UK - go back to my initial days of working in warehouses and putting in the equal amount of hard work - and staying focused on the job at hand, rather than trying to do too many things (which was my problem at my previous assignment). Another thing that I have learnt - to be compassionate but not to compromise - is also giving me a lot of pleasure: Suddenly I know that I am making many right decisions, whereas earlier I made too many mistakes either succumbing to sentimentality or ego.

The digital media/ new media is interesting to me as this allows me to center my business plans into quite a niche area, which is in demand, but combining business and enterprise offerings with it allows me to create quite a general platform, which can be ported into other countries and territories. This is indeed my grand plan, which isn't yet widely shared among my colleagues: This is something I shall treat this as one of my key areas of development. To make any such plan successful, one needs a group of talented people who are completely committed to the project and wish to stay with it for a period of time. Indeed, this means that the idea needs to be shared, but also a reward structure must be built to ensure that such efforts of team members are rewarded fairly. Education, despite being a high growth industry, is not the one with most sophisticated management thinking, most people coming to it from either a public sector or trading or real estate background. None of the software industry's flourish and natural commitment to innovation is evident anywhere in education, but this is precisely the thing we shall need to achieve if the project is to be successful. Again, I knew this before, but was too meek to give in to other more persuasive colleagues in my previous jobs: This time, I am quite clear that this is the only way to create a winning model and staying steadfast on this.

However, at this time, my plan is to bring a team together which stick with each other and believe in the potential of the project: This is what I am doing currently. I have already been blamed for 'groupism', which is an interesting epithet considering that I have earned it while fighting the vested interests. This is an interesting political lesson for any workplace or public life for me: Groupism isn't always bad. In fact, in almost every situation, one can find a dominant majority and a cornered minority, and protecting the dominance of the majority, which most organizations tend to aim for to protect the Status Quo, is the surest way to kill off innovation and miss the next big thing. The only way to avoid 'Groupism' in such settings (and in colleges, the 'hegemony' of the majority can be quite pervasive) is create 'pockets of excellence' free from the interventions from the powers-that-be. This is why I call it an interesting strategic lesson for me, as I intend to achieve exactly that: A separate 'Team of Excellence' away from the daily stresses and strains of the business.

The problems of achieving this, indeed, is that you are working inside a running train. My quest for excellence and new models must keep meeting the minimum requirements of the business - cash flows - and must work within the existing cultural framework. This is no less difficult than performing the Die Hard acts in Action Movies, like walking on the ceiling of a running train compartments with a group of baddies shooting at you from all directions: I indeed feel quite like that sometime. However, I have also learnt what can make you keep going at times like those: You must not fear to fail. Because you can not rationally expect success against such odds, and failure seems like a pre-destined outcome, you must not give in (because you die then) and keep going. You can say this is my Bruce Willis moment, and it indeed felt like that walking through the snow storms all of last week.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

One should be considered lucky if "Snowed in" - think of the many homeless.
Have you ever thought why it is called "nightmare"? For those who sleeps through the night!. One can avoid this ....mare by working during the night. This will allow an invention of a new word "daymare", which is now a very much part of my life.

Aunul

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

I get your point - sometime daymare may beat the nightmare and that's why it is best not to sleep through the day :)

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