1. Your business must have a purpose; and fulfilling this purpose would lead to ‘making money’.
2. Your business must have a positive impact on the society; its long term profits would equal the positive impact created, and negative impact will result in losses.
3. The key to business success will NOT be who you know, but what you know.
4. Your business will be as strong as the relationships between its people.
5. Your business will be global, with a significant portion of either its supplies or its sales or its employees, or all of these three, coming from outside its immediate geographic region.
6. No matter what you do, your business will be an Internet business: The pathway from Google will be the passage you will need to decorate, and keep clean, every morning.
7. The words ‘tenure’ or ‘permanence’ will be as popular as ‘my lord’ and ‘Your Highness’ in the world of business.
8. Innovation and Marketing will be the only two income generating functions of your business; everything else will be costs. (As Peter Drucker said)
9. There will be no ‘best practises’ for you to learn, except that you will have to keep exploring and learning.
10. Consumer will be your God; Competition his lightening rod; Conscience will be your compass; and Contentment will lead to bankruptcy and liquidation.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
1. Your business must have a purpose; and fulfilling this purpose would lead to ‘making money’.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
I found such use blogging as a learning tool innovative, though it indeed seemed obvious after I learnt about it. Consider the programme structure and one gets to understand how it helps further. The programme in question leads to a B Sc(Hons) in Multimedia Programming. It starts with a generalist first year, but a specialism starts to develop in Year 2. The students have a choice to pick up one from three available streams - Moving Images, Interactive Media or Animation - and work on it for next couple of years. While it sounds straightforward, the biggest challenge for the students is to pick a specialism. Different specialisms need different skills and mindsets (I am told the moving image students tend to be more collaborative and the animators far more individualistic); besides, the choice is somewhat determined by what the student thinks would make a good career, though the information available to them tend to be incomplete and their judgements somewhat imperfect most of the time. So, what seems a cut and dry segmentation on paper (or on this blog) represent a terrifying choice for a first year student: s/he can sure do with some help.
The blogging can help in two ways. First, and obviously, the blogs of other students can help the student making the choice look up the experiences, and work done, of other students who have already made the choice. This makes the job of making a choice less terrifying: At the simple psychological level, one knows that s/he is not the first person making such a choice, while at a more rational level, s/he looks at the work done and may find a certain kind of work inspiring. Also, as it may invariably happen, the student in question may choose a mentor or a protagonist and that will make the act of making the choice so much more meaningful.
But this can work in a different way as well. The students own narrative identity will also create a 'pull' on himself/herself. The act of imagining oneself as a interactive media designer is, arguably, a stronger influence than meeting world's most successful web designers. The act of continuous blogging and reinforcing the imagination can make the choice of specialism quite simple and straightforward.
I must flag here why choosing this specialism is such a critical task: This is literally choosing a career. So, this is of importance to the learner himself/herself and great care must be taken in making the choice.
I can indeed think of several problems with using blogs, but none that outweigh the huge advantages: Its very public nature may prevent the students to be entirely honest and hence, the quality of other people's blogs as learning material may be questionable. But, the comparison should not be with learning materials but with conversations, and a very social learning environment that such blogging helps to create.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
First, a pastor in an obscure church in Florida decides to burn Koran on the 11th September, apparently in retaliation of the perfectly legal plan to open an Islamic community centre at a site near Ground Zero. The event ended in a farce, the Pastor finally agreeing to cancel the event after worldwide condemnation, though not before making a face-saving claim that the community centre in New York will be moved, which the Imam in New York flatly denied.
Next, France's legislators outlaw wearing Burkha in public places. This comes after their completely illegal and racially motivated expulsion of Roma gypsies from the country, another desperately xenophobic stance by the deeply unpopular President, the neo-Napoleon Sarkozy. If the French Muslims took a leaf out of Gandhi and turned this into a non-violent civil disobedience, this would have easily resulted in a defeat of the government: Instead, a hoax bomb warning led to Eiffel Tower being evacuated on the eve of the Burkha announcement.
Further, the Pope came to Britain and in his message, blamed the 'aggressive secularization'. One of his close aides, who withdrew from the visit after the controversy, thought Britain is a Third world country, because of the multi-colour nature of its workforce, plainly visible in Heathrow. David Cameron, who will meet the Pope today, is expected to thank him for 'making Britain sit up and think'.
And, finally, an Australian lawyer, Alex Stewart, posts a video on YouTube, burning pages from Koran and the Bible, and trying to assess which burns better when he smokes a joint made of them. He was apparently reprimanded and put on leave by his employers, the Queensalnd Institute of Technology, and the video was later deleted. However, his claims were widely reported - 'the Koran and the bible are just books' - and the debate rages on.
The state of the debate is appallingly similar to that of the Middle Ages and we are heading straight to another crusade, it seems. However, there are two other ways of looking at this apparent crisis:
One, while we have made great material progress, wherein we can move many times the speed of sound and perform deeds hitherto deemed impossible, our cognitive achievements remain quite limited: The best we could do in our social organization is to surrender to winner takes all' and 'dog eats dog' mentality. Dan Airley makes this point in his book, so does numerous others: We have not moved forward much from middle ages as far as our moral and ethical health is concerned.
Two, we are a time of inflection in our history where the existing arrangements of keeping order are under strain. We shall, shortly, face a deep transformation, may be a catastrophic one. The current system of national divide is under stress, and the privileged is desperately clinging on to the national colours to maintain their privileges. However, this is not the end, but this is not the beginning; this is not even the end of the beginning, this is indeed the beginning of the end.
So, in the coming years, we shall possibly see a rollback of enlightenment values, a return to bigotry and xenophobia, imposition of degenerative closed systems. I am an optimist, I know we have the capabilities of beating this back and emerge with a new, more connected, progressive system of organizing ourselves. Indeed, that end goal is worth the trouble; however, it is time for us to make a collective cognitive leap to avoid disaster and a roll back of civilization which is apparently around the corner.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I am most talkative when I am unhappy. I mostly am. The point is - those who know me well makes it - that happiness makes me unhappy. I am that compulsive boat-rocker tales seem to talk of - in desperate pursuit of 'un-happyness'.
It is a sort of a cycle: bland happiness makes me unhappy, being unhappy makes me talk and finally, as I love the words - their act of creation and melting into our minds - the talking makes me happy, and therefore, silent. This is why I write the posts compulsively sometimes - sending my sister on a desperate catch-up trail on some mornings - but at other times, slump into procrastinating silence.
Such as in last week. I have this feeling of involvement at my work, after a long time, and the sensation that I can make a difference. I stepped myself up trying to change some of the things that needed changing, and, first time in many years, things have started changing around me. The journey is not without its detractors or its efforts, but the outcome - the act of meaningful change - makes it worth the trouble. In short, that obsessive involvement gave me happiness, leading to a relative silence on these pages.
The other bit is about possibilities: Not just the current happiness, but what it can be, will be. I see a world changing possibility in what we are doing. We are moving in baby steps, agreed, but one can't really hope for big leaps at this stage. The first stage of the process of creation of a truly global education institution is imagination, and we are in that stage still. We are changing what was a largely local, London-based, college into a platform of a globally distributed education provider. The number of steps involved are huge, the challenges enormous and the journey demanding - but all this make the endeavour even more rewarding.
As I said earlier, I associated myself with wrong kind of companies and investors in the past and ended up wasting quite a bit of time in the last few years. However, there were some takeaways still, the most important one is to know what one should not do. I emerged of that experience better in lots of ways: more assertive, hungry for success and more grounded and matured. These are important attributes considering where I come from: I am a dreamer, often living in fairy lands where everything look easy and the rudeness of real life is deeply unwelcome. But, I am quite a different person now: I am dreaming still, but this dreaming is on-demand and grounded.
One more thing is indeed changing. I am definitely thinking more of staying than going back, as I start building something that I always wanted to. This needs a long term commitment and I am quite willing to make it now. Though I am tired of the disconnectedness, this may as well be my life's work and half-heartedness isn't going to help anyway. Increasingly, my thinking is to bring my 'folks' near me rather than going the other way round.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Thursday, September 09, 2010
I shall argue that time has come to build a new layer altogether. That of small city talent clusters.
We seem to be following the Industrial Revolution model, that of England in the Eighteenth century, presuming that it is the only path to growth. The conventional economic, especially all those treatise written on development economics in the sixties and the seventies, treat this as gospel truth, notwithstanding the fact that the world has changed since then.
We are talking about a model of development that got formalized before mobile phones, data communication, teleworking, dating sites, HTML and incredibly, even Fax machines. However, most policy makers went to school before most of these things happened. We are lagging behind a generation in terms of our development thinking.
Which is most apparent the way we think about our cities. The places of opportunity, we want them to become. We want the village youth to leave their family and friends and travel to the city to pursue their big dream: That, to us, is a impermutable recipe of modernity. To argue a contrarian view is arguing against mobility, ambition and human spirit.
But, here is a counterpoint: Modernity did not wait. The Internet/ eMail carried the world to the villages and cities. In fact, our city dependence, if anything, has worked against development and modernity, not in favour of it. The rags to riches story exist in the realm of the cinema; in reality, the people end up in slums and are condemned to meaningless lives.
Looking at this reality, one can figure why we don't want to change the model of development even if we know that's outdated. We, the urban middle class, those who write in the newspapers and decide the government policy, appear to profit from this inverted model of development. How else would we get our cheap domestic labour, our drivers, the cheap restaurant meals, the rickshaws and all the pleasures of middle class life? We keep India underdeveloped and poor and follow an outdated model to suit our private agenda of affluence.
But here are some more things to consider. The crumbling public services, the crime and corruption, the clogged roads and sewage, the rising heat in the summer, the power cuts, the floods during monsoon, the disappearance of winter, the extended travel time - we are trying to solve all the problems privately, not realizing that it only gets worse. We have given up on public transport and bought cars, but did not realize this means traffic jams and poisoned air, which, in the end, makes the whole solution meaningless.
So, finally, my proposed solution: leave the large cities and create, through incentives and government participation, small talent clusters outside the current population centres, connected by good roads but also high speed Internet. Build Cyber cities, Academic Cities, Health Cities - small replicas of Jamshedpur, if I may say, for service sector. Employ and empower local people to build and work, build connected, small town governments and give them real decision making power. India needs 500 more cities, let these grow independent of the pressures of our crumbling metros.
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
Sugata Mitra's fascinating experiments with learning is captured in this TED video. The summary message is what Arthur C Clarke is quoted saying: The teacher who can be replaced by technology, should be; and, when children have interest, education happens.
Monday, September 06, 2010
That’s the precise point raised by assorted pundits in the aftermath of the Greek financial crisis. And, after all, the World’s biggest, most powerful, most influential country, the United States, is holding together well as a nation. Nationalism there, especially after the events in the last ten years, is resurgent. So it is in China, India and South East Asia, home of half of all people on earth. So, the loose experiments in Europe and loose talk in Middle East do not put nationalism on back foot. It remains, as it was always, a central feature of the modern world.
Besides, if one thought the virtual world, realm of the Internet, will undermine nationalism, it is time to reconsider. The Economist calls this a ‘Virtual Counter-revolution’ – as the nations try to claim the web and erect controls and boundaries. This is indeed very real, anyone visiting China or the Middle Eastern countries will testify. And, such nationally erected boundaries are not an aberration, but the whole reality to people living in these countries. Such national controls are now spreading on mobile communications and all the digital footprints a person may leave behind (including their financial and medical history), and this will make nationalism the most potent cultural force in control of our lives.
Why is this at all important? Ernest Gellner made the point that nationalism is central to modern life, and apart from some presumptive sensationalism from the new media types, there has not been anything significant to suggest that we should scrap nationalism and adopt any other alternative. But also, while nationalism remains such a potent force, economic forces around us is moving to the opposite direction. No one thought the European Union or the Internet will cancel out nationalism; but many people believe that globalization will make it less important.
This leads us to see a conflict, of the economic and social/political forces. It is possible to argue that conflicts such as this usually define the change of an era. A reading of early twentieth century history will suggest a similar conflict – that between emerging nationalism (bolstered by new dynamics of industrial manufacturing, which used local resources and labour but needed global markets) and the established imperialism (which depended on rigged terms of trade, global resources for the production facilities, mainly for domestic markets) – that defined the time. The conflict moved in stages, first an European conflict between established and emerging powers, then a general economic depression which tore down the laws of economics and created a new politics, and finally a globalized war, which settled the conflict in favour of the greatest ‘nation’ on earth, the US of A.
I shall argue a similar conflict is already underway. Indeed, during the time of last conflict, the Imperial Britain reigned supreme and nothing indicated its decline, till it actually crumbled. The end of Second World War may have appeared like the Second Coming of Imperialism to most. But it was not to be, the world changed. One may almost conclude that in these conflicts, economics always wins; that statement will make capitalists happy, but so will be the Marxists, who will call such conflict a conflict between the techniques of production and relations of production.
We are at that inflection point then, and I shall argue that what we are witnessing is not the Second Coming of Nations, but its twilight.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
But, indeed, that's not all. Gandhi is not just a leader of a national liberation movement, but his teachings are equally valid outside its immediate context. His methods were valid in the face of any oppression, however idealistic this may sound. His principal assumption is that everyone has a 'soul', a human existence inherent in themselves. In fact, his methods against oppression was about transforming the oppressor by appealing to his humanity. Not very different from what Paolo Friere would commend, his methods were long term and almost distracted by the immediate political context of the freedom struggle. In fact, outside creating the nation, Gandhi is a failure in terms of the national liberation struggle: The country that got created bore little resemblance with the one he imagined. But, today's India exposes the limitations of that alternate model and begs for a revaluation of Gandhi, stripped of his institutionally embalmed self and a return to his message.
Also, Gandhi's techniques to spread his message deserve further attention from all 'influencers' of social change. His telling of the story, living that story in his own life, exposing his own frailties and appearing human - he dies as a normal person without any hope of a resurrection - but insisting on the message that everyone has a human bit which could be encouraged to come out.
Saturday, September 04, 2010
But Saturdays are far more active, and though I usually spend a good part of the day shopping and stocking up for the week, it is still my time to plan for the following week. Sometimes, the planning horizons are longer, and issues on table are too complex to be decided upon immediately.
This is one of those Saturdays. The key question I am grappling with is whether or not, and when, I shall be able to return to India. This appeared a no-brainer even a few months ago. I was in a dead-end, thoroughly unsatisfying job, which involved travelling to India once in a few months. An additional dimension was added by the racist abuses I had to endure, ever so often, inside my own workplace, to which my employers decided to turn a blind eye (or make some lame excuses if I ever brought this to their notice). The only obvious way out was to head back to India and start my life all over again.
This did not eventually happen. When I eventually walked out of the job, I decided to linger on in the UK to complete my studies at the UCL. As one thing leads to other, I eventually ended up signing on for a longer course of study, and landed up with a better than expected opportunity to work and set up something new in Britain. Three months into this, I am rejuvenated and can see an all-new possibility again, an opportunity to undo all the frustrations of my last three years; and, not just that, but starting and establishing something truly remarkable.
On the other hand, I have started losing touch with India. It has been a while since I spoke to the contacts I made, as I wanted to allow my former employers, despite the deep anger I felt about the treatment I received, a fair chance to establish the business after I left. This was a difficult decision to make, but I concluded any ongoing conversation involving me is invariably be, and be seen as, meddlesome. While I started building a new set of connections, and starting reestablishing some I lost over time, this meant putting the plan of return on hold for a while.
All I did in India in this period is set up a business in Mumbai, primarily led by my brother than myself (I acted just as an advisor and facilitator, in return for some equity), and committed myself to act as a liaison for this business in the UK. Given my hands off involvement, this business has been shaped, over last few months, by the people running it rather than by me, and the principal objectives got moulded accordingly. So, even if I initially envisaged participating in this particular business as a possible way of facilitating return, by now, I am as distant as I ever was.
So, today, I was forced to think what I do next. It is already quite clear to me that I can't go back to India for at least another three years, given the commitments I have already made. What I am forced to think about now is whether I can even go back after these three years, given that I am building a life from scratch in the UK again. In three years time, my identity will be here and I shall possibly not have any ties with India at all, except family ties. This will become ever more difficult to find my way back.
But then, I close the day with one clear answer: I must find a way to go back. Some day. It does not matter what opportunities I get, but I am Indian and will remain so. My British passport can't alter my colour of skin or who I am, and as identity is important to me, I shall only find my space and myself in India. My days of stay, this exposure, will all be important: I learn an enormous amount everyday and I am sure this will all be helpful when I go back to India and try to do something. But I have to put a time - as of this moment, I shall put it at 30th June 2014 - when I must go back. That will mark my ten years here, ten years of being in a self-imposed 'exile', time enough to immerse myself in a way of life as I wanted to. But I shall look forward to 1st July 2014, when I shall start my efforts to build a life in India all over again.
Friday, September 03, 2010
I am usually a morning person. But, after joining the college, my daily schedule has changed a bit. I never get home till very late, and then my studies and other commitments keep me awake. The alarm, as usual, goes off at five, but I have struggled to get up that early.
But, today, was different. In fact, today, as the alarm went off, I felt lazy. There was none of the early morning summer sun to be felt through the curtains: It was all dark. It felt different. Though it was tempting to stay in bed for longer, it was the mixture of guilt and curiosity that pulled me to get up. And, then, I saw the mist outside.
So, the autumn has finally arrived. On time, and in full glory. Now, surely the leaves will go. Warm clothes will come out. Days will become amazingly short. The chill of the wind will soon turn into rain. After a long, dry and hot summer as it was this year, I have almost forgotten winter, but it has now made its presence felt.
It felt the right time for me to start fresh. Yes, I keep starting fresh, renewing myself, and give the feeling that I don't know where I am going. But that was the nature of my life for last four years or so. I now know: I must pursue, with single-minded commitment, the purpose I set for myself: A World College.
In fact, a few things in the last couple of days only helped me firm up my mind. For example, an offer yesterday, a lucrative one, to work with a businessman to set up colleges in different countries, one that will dispense British MBA degrees in different countries. He was honest and upfront: He told that he would be in it for money and didn't care which MBA we end up giving. He was impressive, but too clever for me. I realized how much I have changed by experience. Few months ago, I would have been excited, thought about this opportunity for a few days, and would have at least made an attempt to get going. But, I reached the conclusion almost instantaneously this time: I am not going to work with people who are in it for money.
This is such a change. Finally, the dot-com ghost, the ideas of flashy businesses and quick exits, which dominated my life for the last ten years, is off my back. Yes, this indeed means giving up the dreams of becoming a paper millionaire any time soon: Accepting that this is not going to happen. However, I am almost happy to be here: Knowing that there are more ways than one to be successful.
What is amazing is that once I have reached the conclusion that such businesses are not for me, I feel much less confused now. Yes, I feel a bit old, bit too wise not to hang around with speculators of the world, and a touch cautious not to waste my time anymore: A feeling of mortality is now coming to me. It is coming at a good time. The mistakes I have made over the last few years in my career was about this - the idea that a good business can be built notwithstanding who the money came from - and getting involved in myriads of wrong associations, relationships that was not too last beyond its immediate context. The oldness, despite its misty feel, is amazingly clear in contrast: I now know what I can do, and feel an urgency to do so.
So, this post is a fresh start, a quest for a new new thing. Some things are becoming clearer. For example, the 'World' College is nothing but an University: I forgot that Universities are supposed to be places of universal knowledge, a sort of a global thing by definition. Despite my training as a marketer, it is time to look beyond the skin and know that it is not the label, but the content, which matters. However unexciting the idea of a place-based university is in this day and age, what I am after is actually an university, with one difference.
That bit comes from my father, who was a great teacher, but worked for a mediocre, inner city college all his life. He would proudly say that he has done more in life than the teachers of elite institutions, as he taught people 'who no one would take'. I obviously know those people, being an inner city boy myself. This also made me feel a deep distrust of academia, with its elitism and intellectual skulduggery, but more at home with business, with its democratic spirit and commitment to 'anyone can buy' spirit. I could not bring myself to dream about an university, because this meant closing the doors to underserved people: the term 'college' sounded just right. But, indeed, what I was planning is not new or novel, just one of the places of learning; nothing new, my yesterday's contact would have said, but something in short supply.
So, as I start the workday, I feel focused again, rejuvenated again. Back to old form, I would say. The idea of working my head down for two years and learning new skills is back in the agenda. Pulling a team of smart people together is also central to this idea, people with commitment to good education. I am also conscious that I have to complete a learning agenda - my education at UCL and outside - and I am better off focusing myself on that rather than seeking a short-cut.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
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