Saturday, July 19, 2014

Conversations 7:Three Mistakes of My Life

I allowed my life to drift quite a bit in the last six months and trying now to re-instill a purpose and take back control. It is an appropriate moment, then, to think what happened, which should tell me what not to repeat as I move forward.

In short, I am guilty of taking the easy path which leads to nowhere. This is such a common mistake, and I am amazed that I did it when I look at the time since New Year 2014. The story goes like this (almost improbably): I give up my globe-trotting job in 2010 to get into education, and then spend about two years working and building a network in the sector. I was working in a For-profit institution during the time, toiling to fix its operations and build the brand so that it could become the platform for the online education I wanted to get into. This effort came to nought, as the owner of the college decided not to pursue the ambitious goals and sold the business, leaving us to try the start-up route.

This is where I made the first mistake (which I see with hindsight): When we had to default onto the start-up option, we did not re-imagine the plan and went with the ideas and concepts that we already developed. Now, indeed, this showed that we were committed to our plan, but the reality had changed and we probably should have tried something radically different. In short, I went with the easier option.

Then, after working for twelve more months on the start-up, after all the accreditation were finalised (this is why education remains a difficult business to do in a start-up mode) when we raised some money but not enough to pay ourselves and do marketing aggressively, I decided to focus on a few key partners and somewhat reversed my earlier strategy to expanding the number of conversations I was having. Again, this made sense at the time: We just did not have the resources to keep traveling, and my finances were getting stretched living through the bootstrap period. But this committed us to a few partners, who were, as I shall understand with hindsight, not reciprocally committed to us. Instead, they were doing what Indian businesses typically do: Collecting the plaques on the wall, figuratively. This was my second mistake, keeping all my eggs in an Indian basket!

The third mistake I committed around the same time is to take on teaching work, which was the low hanging fruit for me - available, and which allowed me to cover my expenses and live in the hope that these partnerships will start paying off. This actually meant my ability to travel become quite limited, distancing me further from the projects I was trying to further. I did try to do Skype or Phone Calls to make up for my physical absence, but, as I knew already, this never works in India. Again, I tried to take the easy way out and live in hope, and ended up wasting six months and living quite miserably.

This ends now. I realise the mistakes I have made and decided to pivot. First, I decided to move away from the business plans we worked with and decided to pivot, something that takes us away from the dependence on business partners altogether. Second, we decided to strip away all the complexities of the business, that created such dependence in the first place, and focus instead on a few essentials which we can do well. Third, I decided to get rid of all my teaching commitments, which I was not enjoying anyway, and get back to international business which I know and enjoyed. 

There are lots of things I learnt from this, not least the requirement to focus on essentials rather than entertaining an expansive view. I have also understood what I like to do and what I don't: The detour was worth it, but now I am seeking to get back in track. I am now committed to developing some deep expertise - on a region, and of a trade - rather than trying to have a broad view of education in general and how it is evolving. The latter is my general interest, as is evident to anyone reading this blog with some regularity, but I have realised that conversation is outside the scope of For-Profit Education, where I still have to earn my bread. 

Hopefully, these lessons will stick: I am now recalibrating my engagements, enhancing my credentials as a marketer, and regaining my Asian market expertise by taking on projects that allow me to get back there. I have also decided to focus my various research and writing work on the subject that interest me most, that of the history of ideas, and hope that all of this will add up some day. I have set a goal for myself to get back to Asia within a three year timeframe. This rather 'frank' note, which is directed at myself, but also posted publicly for my friends, is the first step in this 'journey'. This is hopefully my return to real life.

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