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Strategy and Entrepreneurship


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Entrepreneurs – Don’t like College?

Think again! Are you asking yourself the right question?

Do students like being in college? If you think the answer is ‘no’, sorry you got it wrong. The answer is a big ‘yes’. Almost every student wants to be in college and almost every alumni misses those lovely days. Then what is it that makes most of the students detest college, its not college but the classes. If you ask students if they like being in classes – most often the answer is a big ‘no’. Now I know I am taking a big risk by writing this blog, especially as a teacher myself. But I have always wondered how the world will be if we allowed students to stay on campus but drop out of classes! If this itself was too much, here is an interesting list of people (many whom you will know through their ventures) who decided to drop out of college itself.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3030631/hit-the-ground-running/10-famous-founders-who-didnt-graduate-from-college

This list I am sure will run into hundreds if not thousands, if we really try to search out the entrepreneur lists. But will it work for those who don’t want to become entrepreneurs? I am sure everyone will benefit by having the courage to live a life that they feel inspires them. But it is not necessary to drop out of college to feel inspired all the time. No, that’s not what I am recommending here. All I am suggesting here is for every one of us to look at the colleges and their systems, the courses offered, the requirements, the faculty and the culture of the university, before taking a decision to register for a course. And if after joining the course if you feel you have made a wrong choice with respect to your goals, why not take a step back and make the bold change. May be the courage will be the lesson you have learnt from the experience. And may be the whole world will benefit from your courageous decision.

These thoughts are not for students to take impulsive calls and use it as a reason to not study. It is to enable you think through your style of learning and find your own way to acquire the knowledge / skill required to live your life fully!

Think about it!


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What do teachers deserve to get?

Though I am not a full time professor at a University, I spend a fair amount of my work time ‘teaching’. I loved ‘teachers’, ‘teaching’ and I am so glad that I am able to practice it today. I conduct workshops across India for entrepreneurs and owners of businesses. They range from start-ups to mid-sized emerging corporations. The only common thing amongst all of my audience is their entrepreneurial inclinations. This gives me a chance to learn a lot from conducting these sessions.

In recent times, after the publication of my book “Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice” (http://rajshankar.wordpress.com/books/), I have had the opportunity to spend time ‘teaching teachers’ across undergraduate, graduate and post graduate colleges and universities. I teach them how to teach entrepreneurship and make their classes more effective. During the process of interacting with thousands of teachers from arts, commerce, science, engineering, medicine and pharmacy – I have found that invariably one of the topics that they discuss at length is salary. Since they do not normally get to meet peers from so many institutions, workshops are a good place for them to seek greener pastures.

While improving remuneration seemed to be what many of them felt could be their biggest motivation – none of them felt the need for more feedback. Many felt that if the jobs were made more attractive with exciting packages, their teaching would improve. I felt saddened but that is the reality today. I asked myself this – “But don’t we have to earn the pay by deserving it first”. How do we know what a teacher deserves?
Before we decide what the right salary for teachers is, we also need to make their professional lives more interesting by giving them ‘feedback’. If we don’t get feedback, how are we going to improve? So when I heard this TED talk of Bill Gates (http://www.gatesnotes.com/Education/TED-Talk-Giving-Teachers-What-They-Deserve) this week, I was reminded of what many of the teachers missed asking for – ‘feedback’. If we could get feedback and we could get some time to review and internalize it, maybe we will have many more ‘super star teachers’. If one becomes a super star teacher, do they even have to ask for larger remuneration? It will go through the roof.

With thousands of successful students reaching back to you and sharing their success stories – your desires for monetary requirements will simply drop. We will also have truly happy, motivated, inspiring teachers walking on our streets (corridors).

Truly every student needs such inspired teachers to learn from!

If you have thoughts and ideas on this topic of how we can improve the teaching profession – do share it here so that we can keep the learning going!


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A Day Out with Young Indians of Coimbatore

Last week I was invited to lead a day long workshop with about 50 Young Indians (YI Group of CII). Young Indians are a sub group of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). They have chapters around the country and I was happy to be invited to spend a day with such an inspired group at Coimbatore. The fact that it was Coimbatore made it even more exciting for me. Having grown up in Tamil Nadu and heard about the entrepreneurial activities of the Coimbatore-Tirupur belt and the success they have enjoyed over the last few decades, I always look to interactions from this place.

This time the topic was ‘Getting to Market’ and the entire audience comprised of entrepreneurs who seemed to be developing interesting and new businesses. Some were 2nd / 3rd generation entrepreneurs who wanted to fork out of the foundation that their parents / grandparents had already created. They had come to learn how to look at taking a start-up to market.

We discussed the importance of looking at the question of marketing differently. We looked for ways to reach markets. We acknowledged the limitations within which start-ups function and looked for ways to effectively find customers, reach markets, inform potential buyers and convince them to try the products / services. As in most of my earlier workshops I had people getting excited at the worksheets and asking a whole lot of questions. All our class discussions were based on the cases of entrepreneurs in class. It provided the much needed debates, critical analysis and divergent inputs, so as to look at problems differently. Overall the participants went back happy, having spent a day thinking about their marketing and also with a bunch of homework to be done. They also exposed themselves to the tool called SME Toolkit that IBM has created and is maintaining. The tool has a variety of resources to enable the small business ecosystem to sustain and grow. I will write about it in a separate post but for the time being, you may have a look at it here: www.smetoolkit.org

I learned from them a lot of new questions. They asked me how they should price, how they should seek fresh channels, how they can groom their sales and marketing staff, how they can make their messaging creative, how they can improve their packaging, how they can create experiences even in mundane products, and so on. I came away rich – with a repository of questions. Interestingly I also came away with many of them asking me to come back for a review when I visit Coimbatore in about 10 days. I now sit with these questions and with the hope that I will be able to go back and give them more useful pointers to finding answers. As I always let my entrepreneurs and mentees know, the answers are for them to find. My job is to refine their questions and also provide them different views to look at their challenges. After all they are entrepreneurs – isn’t it? They can go well beyond where we can take them. So let us not limit them in any way.

Young Indians in Coimbatore is an exciting group and an energized group. They are all young, interesting, energetic, inspired and motivated. They have ideas, a supportive ecosystem and fair amount of resources. But they need to be inspired to think about their businesses more. They need to be fed with fresh tools and frameworks to re-look at their business, the Indian way. I hope to keep going back and see if I can enable the growth of these young enterprises, which have potential and promise.

In my attempt to create indigenous frameworks for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial firms, ‘Getting to Market’ frameworks and tools have been my first area. I have created and shared my finding and creation with close to 200 entrepreneurs so far and the results have been encouraging. A few have already seen direction for their enterprises, some have changed their target markets and many of them have already changed their go to market plans. I have received a few enterprises see results in less than 90 days and they are in the right direction. I will attempt to share these ideas a lot more of the entrepreneur ecosystem in India soon. Look forward to share some more results and developments as I work with such enterprising groups across India.

Thanks to NEN, IBM, YI and CII for making such a day possible. Thanks to all the attendees for making sure we had a lovely day together, professionally. I look forward to meet more of them and their growing enterprises soon.


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Global Ranking of Indian Universities 2013 – Where are we headed?

Over the past few weeks there were a few news items in the papers regarding the world ranking of Universities. The bigger question in the newspapers was around the low rankings that a few Indian universities managed to get! Universities across the world are ranked by various agencies across a variety of parameters. It is rather surprising that across two popular rankings no Indian University ranks in the ‘Top 200’. Here are two links showing us recent ranking efforts and in both the listings the earliest occurrence of an Indian University (not surprising – The IITs) comes only around 225. Here are the links to the recent rankings:

http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2013

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2012-13/world-ranking

How are Universities in Taiwan, Korea and China able to come into the ‘Top 200’? What makes these Universities rank higher than us? It is also not surprising that some of these countries are competing in the international market with differentiated products and technologies. Are the research and development efforts of the Universities in the above quoted countries of higher quality or more market relevant than ours?

Being the person who I am, I wanted to give the benefit of doubt to our Universities and hence went on to check if the parameters chosen for the research were biased towards the other nations but to my dismay it was not so. Here are some of the parameters and how we scored on them:

In the QS World Ranking Survey here are the scores across parameters for India’s top ranking University (IIT Delhi) – http://www.topuniversities.com/node/2583/ranking-details/world-university-rankings/2013

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings here are the scores of India’s top ranking University (IIT Kharagpur) – http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2012-13/world-ranking/institution/indian-institute-of-technology-kharagpur

The above two are the highest ranked Indian University’s in the respective listings’ and present are their scores across various parameters. Across both the score sheets one thing that hit me hard was that our Universities were doing well in industry income and placements. Both of which result in better pay packages to students and faculty!! Is it surprising that all other Universities below them (rest of them in India) are trying to do the same – focus on making more money?

I am big fan of teaching as a profession and hence will always prefer that faculty are paid and taken care of well, but if primary focus is on enhancing the pay packages of students and in turn the pay packages of faculty; it may be not be a very good long term strategy in a country where ‘Knowledge is considered sacred to be even traded’. Where is knowledge creation headed then?

While I am not trying to pass judgements on anyone or any system in particular, I think as a country we need to ensure that the education sector finds its core purpose and devise policies that put Saraswati ahead of Lakshmi in their policy. Should centers of learning not have their priorities in this order? Just as business places Lakshmi before Saraswati!

Let’s all, who care about the future, think patiently and thoroughly on education!


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On Teacher’s Day, 2013

The nice thing about teacher’s day is that it gives us atleast one thank youopportunity to think about those people who have shaped us into what we have become.  It is an act of benevolence that cannot be repaid in any form.  Even if you are a teacher today, you continue to be a student at a higher level, under a more evolved teacher. So this is one day where nobody can refrain from saying ‘Thank You’.  This makes the day that much more special.

India today has more people below 35 than over it, and this trend is set to continue for a fairly long time in the future.  All of these people are like wet clay. They need potters. The sad part is that:

a)     Clay does not know it needs a potter

b)     Being a potter doesn’t seem too interesting to too many

India has clay. It doesn’t have enough potters. A country that has created some of the greatest teachers or gurus of the world is today finding it difficult to attract people to take on this role.  One of the reasons why it is becoming difficult is because we have begun treating teaching like any other profession, thereby undermining its immense context and contribution.

Let us today resolve in our own small way to respect, support and sustain the teaching community. Let us make every effort to showcase this noble profession in the right light and inspire enough people to consider it as a worthy vocation. I also hope that every teacher takes it on themselves to enhance their maturity so as to handle the rough clay with soft hands.  Happy Teacher’s Day!

 


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How can we teach thinking?

If you believe that education is to enable and sharpen thinking function in an individual, then this is a question to Wilbur_Thinking__Animation_by_TheEndxTypeANIMEanswer.One of the biggest complaints across industries is that educated youth are not able to think objectively and deeply.  What is the reason for such shallowness in thinking? Even policies and decisions when turned into actions seem to display shallowness in thoughts. 

This is primarily because no school or college teaches a child or a youth how to think.  When teachers and students had more engaging sessions they seem to have the opportunity to question and discuss a topic.  As the pressure on the student and the teacher increased, the first thing that left the classroom was questioning.  The teacher no more questions the student and the students are happier leaving the teacher undisturbed.  Questioning is the singular tool that can develop the thinking function.  Not accepting things as-is is the first step to enabling thinking. If we question and then accept the knowledge it remains with us for a much longer time.

The lack of questioning has resulted in rote learning which in turn has hardened the thinking muscles.  To ensure that we train children and inspire them to learn, classroom time has to be spent in raising questions, doubting stuff, experimenting to validate and allowing whatever learning to be absorbed happen.  Such learning will produce liberal minded and self thinking people who will necessarily by habit think before they act.  Teaching people how to think is probably education’s top challenge and priority today.


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Commuting to College – The new challenge to learning

I am sure every one of us would have heard stories from our grandparents about how they had to struggle to busreach schools and colleges to gain the little education that they did. In those days almost always the educational institutions were far off and tough to access. I have heard that my grand father used to swim across a little brook to save money of the bus ride – to study at school.  This I am sure was not an exception in those days. It was very much the norm.  People used to travel great distances with difficulty to gain knowledge.  In the era of no electricity, the time left to imbibe, read or do homework was too little.  Did this stop them from gaining the education or going on to become successful? Were they happy or dis-contended towards the end of their lives?

We somehow seem to have come a full circle. In today’s world it is not uncommon to see a college student spend about four hours a day travelling. When I handed out a bunch of readings during one my recent sessions at a B-School, I was surprised to hear from many students that the reading seemed a bit too much for one evening. It was over the tea break that I understood their actual difficulty. They were spending as much time on the road as they were spending at the institution trying to study, I decided to do the bus journey myself for a day to figure out if this was a reason or an excuse.  Just one day was enough to understand why commuting takes away much more beyond the time spent travelling.  If one day can be back breaking and tiring, I wonder what it will be like to do this four to six hours bus rides every day.

While it then seems valid to not expect a student to consume a large amount of literature over the week, it definitely does raise the question on whether studying this way will result in any form of knowledge at all. While the same problems do exists for people working these days,  the resultant downside on students seems way higher.  Isn’t it better to board on campus than spend more money (in form of time, energy and cash) being a day scholar? Going residential could also mean being more environmental conscious than the 1000 of bus rides for completing the course. Commuting is truly becoming a challenge to learning and this requires serious attention and action. Innovative solution in this space is much needed and could make a larger difference to the society at large!


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Why should you go to school?

Since the time I started teaching I have been asking this question to literally every batch I teach. Since I teach mostly at the800px-Saladeaula_itapevi post graduate level I assumed it must be the most matured answers I get. Surprisingly when I worked with a bunch of school kids, they seemed to have better answers. The school kids went to school “to learn and be taught” while the post graduate students went to school “to get a degree and a job”!!

I wonder how when the same kids grow up, the answer changes from being liberal at school to more servile at college! From wanting to be taught we move on to get a job. From wanting to learn we move on to getting a degree. Somewhere along the way we are losing out on the underlying need to go to school i:e the place of formal learning.  What should school be for? Especially in today’s world where most of the information part of the subjects can be learnt sitting at home on the laptop – why should we spend time going to school? How should we spend time at school?

Face to face time at school between teacher and student should be treated with care. It should be spend in reflection, contemplation and discussions. The more discussions, the more the perspectives to look at the same body of knowledge. It is by looking differently at the same set of questions that we keep improving our understanding of the world and its functioning. It is through this same method that we solve many of the challenges that people face in the world. All this enables enlargement of our thinking faculty. This leads to more open minded citizens for the future.

So fundamentally schools are places where people are taught how to think? These are places where people are allowed to learn how to think? Once they learn “how to think” they must embark on the path that excites them the most. This will show the world more places.

Going to school for anything else is actually not using it for the right purpose.

Think about it!!


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Why is reading on the decline?

Nobody needs to state the fact that reading is on the decline. But look around and you will find that we are generating more800px-SZ-Bibliothek-_Bände_1-20_(Ausschnitt) information than we ever have had access to in the past. Ask working people and they will tell you they do not find the time to read anything. But then what about our students – whose vocation, duty and responsibility is to voraciously consume information and knowledge?
So wheres the problem?

The problem at least with students who are reading much lesser than their predecessors are the following:

  • they are spending more time commuting than before
  • they are spending more time staying in touch than before
  • they are doing more activities than studying at college
  • they have less energy than before at the end of day
  • they have so much to do for others (teachers, college, exams, etc) than before

With all the above and more – even students ask me: ‘Sir, where is the time to read so much that you give us?’

I feel sad for these students because if there is anything that a student can do to build up a knowledge base – it is through reading. Only if they read widely they can see the world (including individuals, families, companies, other social groups) differently. They can observe and identify challenges to work on! They can then contribute through thinking and experiments!

But if there is no reading, it is like going back 50 years in time. Going back to start all over again.

I agree that we can always search solutions to specific questions on Google – but knowledge is not “what can be reached” it is “what has been reached”.

Think about it! I hope this will serve as a trigger for you to protect your reading time or your listening time (if you listen to books than read them).

I read recently that Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, still reads 6 hours a day and he is close to 90 years of age!! He has been doing this for over 60 years!! So where else do we need to go for proof! So where’s the delay – go pick up a book!


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The Gen-Y Student

I got the feel of  Gen-Y Students as I interacted with some school children last month! The image you see is Imagethe pains that a student took to sketch me, while I was taking equal pains to teach them aspects of Entrepreneurship! This attempt and subsequent conversation around this brought out to me how students have evolved over the last two decades (when I was a student)!

When we were students our sketch of our teachers were our expressions of frustration at either the subject or the teacher. Not an expression of artistic drive!

Even if it was a positive expression, we would never dare to show it to our teachers! But this student was quite easy on gifting me this lovely drawing.

I had told him I would post it on the blog. But as I was travelling I could not scan it. However after giving me enough time of two weeks, he politely reminded me that I have not yet posted it, and requested if I could do it.  The tone and the earnestness made the task get done. As a student I would not have had the temerity to push on with my teacher. In my era they were best left alone after class!

I find this ability of today’s students to be positive, be confident, be trusting and willing to talk to teachers definitely an evolution on the positive side.  Not only do they challenge us in class, but very often they goad us to push our own limits of understanding at the levels of subject and life! I am glad I am teaching these Gen-Y Students. However, I could not shake out the feeling that somewhere between school and college this spirit gets eroded in our students. Why and How is something that requires attention of all involved. It is time we put together thoughts on how the energy present in a school student can be preserved till they reach college.

This sketch was made by Anirudh! Thank you Anirudh for the sketch and all the very best !!

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