Sunday, November 25, 2012

Counting Down to Christmas

Finally, it feels that I am in the home stretch to end what has been a freaky year. In a way, I am exactly where I was a year back - not a good thing - in the middle of raising money for a start-up business and completing various personal commitments; seen another way, I am far down the line, not just a year older, but much wiser, having gone through a real double loop learning with business, and having connected with a number of very interesting people along the way. I feel confident and happy, and looking into 2013 to be the year when all this must deliver.

Standing still isn't any good, and I regret that the fact that we haven't moved much forward in real terms. For this, I blame the middle months and a diversion, a period when we abandoned the start-up proposition and tried a MBO of a much bigger entity. There was an enormous learning, but we failed - in my estimate - to consider the human factor at play, a mistake I regret personally. One of the things I consider my strength is interpersonal intelligence, and with hindsight, I know I completely overlooked the some of players in the equation and their personal agenda, and somehow got blind-sighted by what people told me rather than what they meant. In the end, we lost time working on a deal which was destined not to happen, and ignored the proposition that we were already working on, a year earlier.

Learning is one thing I take away, and that is not just about watching out for stakeholder interests next time around. I should have already known this. The deeper learning is about what I really wanted. The most valuable piece of advice which I was given during the year was that I need to focus back on the UK, rather than talking global all the time:An advice immensely valuable, as all my schemes are always global and therefore complex for investors, but something I choose to ignore, because that's what I am, global at heart and in search of excitement in life. Even if it makes sense to take a local health food franchise and make millions hawking stuff to people, that may not be my idea of business: I want to do things that I love, rather than what would make me money. And, it is finding what I love is possibly the biggest learning that happened through the year.

Almost always I knew that dumbing down our original proposal and fitting it around something to do in Britain - an intelligent interactive enterprise training to be delivered alongside college courses, for example, indeed a me-too, undifferentiated proposition solely based on 'better quality' claim - would have been attractive to some of the investors we were talking to. They didn't like the level of complexity of the proposal we were putting on table, a global play in a regulated industry using emerging technologies. I also knew that positioning the proposition to education investors, rather than technology ones, had inherent limitations. However, let's say the story of 2012 was about being honest to myself: We didn't want to sell the idea as a technology play, because we did not see it to be, and our deep conviction was that we were trying to change higher education, and create a global model of it, and using technology to achieve this. The fact that we saw the easier route, yet argued against taking it as we didn't believe in it, gave me, progressively, an idea what I really like to do in life.

The plan for 2013 is therefore simple. We shall go ahead and create this global education proposition, regardless of when and how much investment we get on the table. The last few months taught us about the bootstrap life and improvisation; they also taught us that there are more than one way to get towards one's goal. Personally, the last few months in particular, but also all the events leading into it, taught me the value of remaining focused on what I really like to do and making every day count, building skills and abilities that could plausibly count towards my final objectives. This is the life I want to experiment with - in the remaining 30 days to Christmas: A focused life of making everything count.

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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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