Sunday, August 14, 2011

Global e-School, anyone?

First of all, who would want to be a global entrepreneur? Finding local opportunities and building business on that basis is what entrepreneurs usually do, leaving the international trade bit to the big and the bold. But at the heart of entrepreneurship today, lies the n=1, r=g equation, that near-romantic idea of finding the best ideas and solutions from around the globe for that one, the one at the front of the till, special customer. I shall argue even small enterprises need this; otherwise, in the copycat world, they can't go on surviving. Competitive advantage is not just for the big guys!

For me, entrepreneurs are a different set of people. They are the new alchemists, if I can borrow an expression. What's important in that label is not the gold part, I am not sure alchemists ever made Gold, but the search part, the dream part, of an Alchemists' life. They are the people who believe in their own capability to turn an idea into gold, okay metaphorical one. And they put everything on the line for this, their career, well-being etc. They are not the one who wait for the workday to end, but wish it could go on forever. They don't crave for security - security is for the wimps - but only possibility.

If there would be a time when we need a set of people who could turn dust in gold, we need them now. Whatever we thought was gold has turned into dust, and we need a new set of leaders. This new set, shall I say, have to be different from the others, in the sense that we are no longer in a boom-time economy. Without being pessimistic, it is only reasonable to think that we have entered into a long depression, which will last for five to ten years perhaps. Except that this new breed of leaders who can get us out of here.

The way the new entrepreneurs will be different from their predecessors will not just be about being depression-era entrepreneurs, but that their business ideas will possibly be fundamentally disruptive to the host societies. The model of society that we have today has failed: Its economic institutions are just one manifestation, but we are heading towards a huge social upheaval and a culture meltdown. The tensions among various cultures and religions in the world will tear us down, but even before, we have to deal with the internal schism within the Western societies, as evidenced in Norway killings or British riots. But amid the chaos, lies the opportunity: The new entrepreneurs will discover huge global arbitrage in the semi-globalized world and turn that into opportunities of disruptive innovation. In short, I am saying, they would attack social norms and change social institutions and transform social relationships: That's the new 'social' entrepreneur for all of us.

Can one possibly train these global entrepreneurs? I am a believer of a distributed e-school approach: That these new set of people should travel around the world seeing and living inside different cultures and societies and be immersed in a journey of discovery of opportunities. I am talking about four gap years of intense studies and unending travel and meeting people, learning of language and culture and technologies. I have no market research except a deep conviction that the college education today is the source of the problems we have. We only train people on narrow skills and to pursue selfish gains, almost erecting a boundary wall of snobbery and exclusivity around them and telling them to forget about the people outside the wall. The opportunities, however, lie just outside.

Indeed, bringing together such a global e-school is a lot of challenge, as this disrupts everyone's idea of education: of factory processing impressionable minds within a box called the classroom. But I know that educators around the world are thinking about the same. They are concerned that what they do in the classrooms are not producing those leaders who will make the world a better place, but rather those who will scurry for cover of job security and an anonymous and pointless existence rather than sticking out. But, in a world where higher education is primarily funded and regulated by the national governments, everything has to be thought in nationally boxed ways. Often, that is not a good idea.

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