Friday, April 27, 2012

Global E-School: What That Means

All my efforts over last few months have been directed towards setting up a global e-school. This is a term I picked up from one of the blogs on Forbes.com: E-School, as in Enterprise School, as opposed to Business School, is a place to learn the art of the enterprise, as opposed to the formulaic thinking that B-Schools usually represent. In short, it will be more art than science, greater focus on people than process, and emphasis on possibilities rather than the mechanics of accounting.

If all this sounds wonderfully vague, it is meant to be. There isn't a formula that one can quickly follow in defining an E-School, because there isn't a precedence. What I talk about may sound more akin to a liberal arts college than a Business School. I see sessions on history, psychology and creative writing to be an integral part of what we may end up doing in the school. After all, the goal of the school will be to help shape entrepreneurial mindsets: It must start with a leap into unknown.

Two things I know about the school we are going to create are that it is going to be global and that it will fuse together creativity, enterprise and technology.

On being global, I have a particular point of view. I see public higher education being predominantly local, because it is usually the national or local governments who pay for it. On the other hand, being an independent college, run by the fee receipts, means serving a global clientele of students and employers. In the end, being global is slightly more than the touristy ideas of globe-trotting: It is, if I may try a definition, the capability of viewing national cultures, whichever culture one seems to have been put inside, both from inside and outside. In other words, having a sense of perspective even when someone is embedded into a community. This will, hopefully, liberate the students from the 'my way or highway' mentality most higher education endow them with. 

Fusing together creativity, enterprise and technology is an idea I have talked about for most of the last two years. In this context, creativity is more than being able to paint, obviously: It is more about thinking creatively, trying uncommon solutions to known problems. This is also about adopting the 'change the world' mindset, instead of 'make money' mindset. Enterprise is about doing it: I have always loved Joel Barker's rhetoric: "Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision merely passes the time. Vision with Action can change the world." I want to embed it in the ethos of the school. And, finally, technology is the white knight in this idea, something that will help make things happen. Good technology training, which will sit at the core of this idea, will enable the dreamers to do something useful, something creates social value and creates wealth. 

In a sense, I see technology to be the 'content' of what we teach and enterprise to be the 'context', to be pursued by creative individuals living in and dreaming about a globalised world. Some friends on the left may see these ideas as irredeemably neo-liberal, but in essence, this is also as revolutionary as it gets. It is not about spreading any fixed notions of commodity fetishism around the world, but about imagining new possibilities of a better world and trying to shape it. My complaints about most B-Schools is that primarily they imbibe their students with a consumption framework: A sense of identity on the basis of what they are going to have, not what they are going to do. This may sound like going back in time, but the idea of the E-School is to bring back action, rather than ownership and consumption, firmly back in the agenda.

Coming down to the practicalities of the project, I am indeed at a very interesting point. I am trying to use a platform which is very different, and trying to leverage its core assets, established presence, partnerships and people, to mould into this new shape. This invariably meant dealing with legacy though: Changing the mindset, processes and outlook have taken me this long even to get to the starting point. Inevitably, there were times when I surely wanted to quit: Times when the legacy seemed irredeemable, and the whole new project impractical. My loyalties, however, throughout the time, was to the idea, which did help me to plough on. However, now, it seems that we, me and some key colleagues, have won the first round: Some fundamental changes have began. Once the school comes about, therefore, it will have an instant legitimacy: It would itself be a result of the same entrepreneurial pursuit that it would intend to train its students about.

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