Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


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Dr APJ Abdul Kalam passes away

We just finished dinner and were walking towards our hostel rooms. One of our friends exclaimed saying “APJ No More?” – all of us in unison said, “If it is a message on whatsapp, please ignore.”

I came to my room and saw three more messages pop up on whatsapp. I immediately opened my laptop to check. I went through a number of articles to make sure what I was reading was true. Sad, but its true! The man who was here on our campus just a few weeks back and enthralled us with his energetic speech and inspired us to work hard, is no more. And what an end? True to his spirit of service, discipline, sacrifice and energy, he died with his boots on. He passed away as he was delivering a lecture at IIM Shillong.

His life and his living was truly his message for us. I think we must all learn from his example. To live life as a service to others till the very end. I think the biggest respect we can pay him will be to take responsibility to live our life purposefully. I share with you his message that he gave to us on 20th June 2015.

4 things to stay motivated and achieve in life:

  1. Have a great aim (not small one)
  2. Gain knowledge
  3. Work really hard
  4. Persevere till you reach

(from my notes that I had made during his talk) – I hope we can do all the above.

Peace and Prayers for his soul to rest in peace.

Thanks Dr Kalam for ensuring that we are perennially inspired.


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The elusive ‘Focus’

As a perpetual student and researcher (now doctoral scholar) I always look for ways to learn about focus. As a teacher I talk a lot about focus to my students. As an advisor / consultant, I try to help my clients bring focus to their initiatives.

‘Focus’ seems to be a magical tool to maximise output. But most often it is elusive and misses our grip. The price we pay for losing focus is large, especially over a lifetime. This is one thing I hear from every successful scholar I interact with. It is the same secret shared by every entrepreneur I meet. Today I want to share with you an excellent episode that I observed over the past week which is an example of what ‘focus’ means.

Background: Becoming a doctoral student has enabled me do what I love most – be with books and read them voraciously. I spend all the time I can in the wonderful library of my institute. With thousands of books, magazines, journals, handbooks, encyclopaedias, research reports, online databases, information banks, audio-visuals, etc., the collection humbles me every time I enter this temple.

Episode: Recently, there was a young boy who had joined one of the courses offered by the institute. He over the past few days routinely visited the library every evening after classes. He spent about two hours every day at the same place. He used to come in with his laptop, settle near the section containing CDs/DVDs (movies, talks, etc) and systematically download information on to his laptop. It almost became a ritual. Without any distraction from people moving around, he continued with his task. It seemed in about a week, he had accomplished copying all the data available on CD/DVD form in the library. He simply disappeared after that.

Learning: Develop ‘focus’ by developing: Goal + Ritual + Repetition.

1. Goal: Set a clear goal. (He wanted to copy only CD/DVD movies onto his laptop)

2. Ritual: Set a time everyday to do the activity. (He sat every day after class at the same time)

3. Repetition: Persevering till goal is reached. (He kept coming till the act was completed)

While the episode might seem funny to some, it clearly has lessons for life in it. If one can set clear goals, all other aspects / distractions can be easily / naturally ignored. Once a time slot is allocated for an action (however mundane), it enables progress. Because of clear goal and time allocation, perseverance is possible (measuring your way to completion).

Though the episode is not important, just try to apply the same to your most important task. While copying movies from CD/DVD was probably that young boy’s goal then, what is your’s now?

If you are a researcher / scholar – are you clear about what you should read and complete by when? are you sure when (every day) you are going to do just that and nothing else?  are you persevering to get back to the act everyday?

If you are an entrepreneur – are you clear about what your current experiment is? Are you sure about what actions you should engage in everyday (sales/product development)? Are you repeating the action every day at an appointed time? Are you measuring yourself against some set goal and persevering to reach it?

Developing focus is not easy. If it was, every one of us would have been manifesting our talent’s maximum. But sadly, focus differentiates the successful over the crowd. Being entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial academics is almost the same thing – both require focus – focus on what one wants to achieve in the immediate term, medium term and long term. Set a specific time every day to engage in the act. Measure and persevere to get back to the act at the appointed time.

I do not know who this boy is. I probably will not recognise him the next time I see him. But I thank him from the bottom of my heart for he clearly taught me through his actions, what focus meant, how it can be achieved and what to do when it is done. Just disappear from here to the next!

FORMULA: Goal + Ritual + Repetition = Focus 

Think about it!


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10 Rules for writing science

I am currently attending a course on ‘Academic Writing’. This is for scholars who want to write academic / scholarly articles. Such work usually gets published in journals. Journals are usually read by other scholars to know, collaborate, and take forward humanity’s knowledge on a subject. As I was reading through number of books and papers, I accidentally landed up on a journal editorial which shared 10 rules for writing science. I am listing the rules as they are so succinctly put. I am sharing the link to the original article for a more detailed account on each of these rules.

Rule 1: Keep It Short

Rule 2: Keep It Compact

Rule 3: Keep It Simple

Rule 4: Use the Present Tense

Rule 5: Avoid Adjectives and Adverbs

Rule 6: Focus

Rule 7: Signal Novelty and Importance

Rule 8: Be Bold

Rule 9: Show Confidence

Rule 10: Avoid Evocative Words

Article titled “Ten Simple (Empirical) Rules for Writing Science” by Cody J. Weinberger, James A. Evans, Stefano Allesina

Link: http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004205

Happy Reading and Writing (eventually)!


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Knowing NITI Aayog for entrepreneurs

I am currently attending a course titled ‘Doing business with government’. Does the title of the course not sound cool enough to attend, especially in India? I am enjoying the course. Yesterday’s session was on NITI Aayog. The speaker was one who had recently retired from the planning commission. Hence expectations were high.

He started by bringing out the differences between the planning commission and the NITI Aayog. Fundamental differences of why the change was brought about, is it just a name change, and so many other questions were clarified during the short interaction. I thought of sharing a little from that session in today’s blog. After attending the session, I agree with the speaker that we Indians need to know more about the government and its functioning. Once we expose ourselves to the information that is shared by the government, we will be able to see opportunities. We may (probably) also stop complaining that we do not have enough information in India to make any fact based decisions.

What does NITI stand for?

National Institution for Transforming India (NITI)

NITI Aayog is a national level think-tank that replaces the ‘Planning Commission’. Is it just ‘old wine in a new bottle’? Does not seem like. While the planning commission thought for India as a whole, the whole activity was centralised. This means the assessing of resources nationally was done centrally. This activity will be continued by the NITI Aayog as well. The Planning Commission also did the tough job of allocating resources to both central and state level programs. Now this created a large power centre in the planning commission. It had the power to allocate – but this seems to have been stripped off the new think-tank, the NITI Aayog. With this, the NITI Aayog becomes a purely advisory body, a think-tank. There is now greater decentralisation of the planning mechanism with larger representation of states.

We were given to understand that the primary change between the Planning Commission and the NITI Aayog is the reduction of power to allocate resources. Other differences include: While the Planning Commission was more ‘top-down’ in its approach to planning and allocation, the NITI Aayog has been structured to be more ‘bottom-up’ in its planning, without any allocation powers. The powers to allocate is said to rest now with the Finance Ministry.

One of the big take aways from this course (i’m still mid way through the course) is that any Government is a different type of complex organisation with conflicting priorities which requires a tough balancing act. This makes governance very difficult, especially in a country as large and diverse as India. But as citizens of the country it is our responsibility, not to just vote every 5 years, but make an effort to visit the website of the government, read the various documents placed for public viewing and share thoughts. While doing this we may come across number of schemes, plans, programs and projects that the Government has approved for socio-economic development. We may also find opportunities to participate in the various development projects of the Government.

Doing Business with the Government is a wonderful course for entrepreneurs – I only hope that aspiring entrepreneurs realise this and make the maximum use of the interactions. For those who want to know more about the NITI Aayog, you may please read these links:

http://planningcommission.nic.in

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NITI_Aayog

Though the NITI Aayog is yet to have its own website, I am sure it will come up soon. I hope that the intent of the institution is implemented and India realises her true potential. Look forward to learning more about working with government and public sector institutions through this course.

If any of you have any questions and inputs on this topic, please do share! India is today the land of opportunities and the government promises to offer a few of them. Let us see if we can participate and play our part as entrepreneurs.


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Opportunities in Japan – A Hyperaging Society

One of the key activities that entrepreneurs engage in is opportunity identification and exploitation. The latter is not possible without the former. In the last post (https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/finding-opportunities-a-skill-for-entrepreneurs/) we discussed the importance of picking this skill – identifying opportunities. Here is a good case of why it is important and how it can be applied.

Japan is an ageing society. Now this may not be news to people who regularly read international developments. But what is interesting news for entrepreneurial folk is that this is a certain change that is shaping up. No one can probably change this change that is happening. But if we put on our entrepreneurial goggles and look at this change taking place, there are innumerable opportunities that present themselves.

Here are a few who have cited and started leveraging it creatively:

Ayumi shoes – by providing shoes for the old which helps them avoid slipping and falling while also keeping knee and joint pains low

Benry corporation – by providing daily use services like buying grocery and delivery at doorstep, cleaning homes, etc for the elderly

Kozocom – by creating a social networking platform for the elderly

While these are just a sample of how entrepreneurs identify opportunities and leverage them, what is important to learn is that there are changes taking place all around us. These have to be closely watched. The opportunities they present for the skills you possess need to be identified. Only if we learn the skill of clearly identifying opportunities will we be able to find them. If we don’t find many, we may not find the right one. The above is only one more illustration on the importance of seeing changes and finding opportunities. Hence it is important to learn this skill well.

How do we learn this skill? Read more here: https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/entrepreneurial-skill-sensing-opportunities/

Happy Searching!


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Finding opportunities – a skill for entrepreneurs

It is not uncommon to hear entrepreneurs constantly worry about the lack of data! In fact on of the weakest parts of any business plan is the description of the “opportunity”. Even trainers who facilitate business plan and entrepreneurship programs find it difficult to teach opportunity identification. But as Peter Drucker said, studying changes leads to finding opportunities. I have found it very helpful in teaching my students the skill of noticing changes. It has helped many of them kickstart successful start-ups. Many faculty who attend my ‘Faculty Development Programs on Entrepreneurship” also ask me how we can teach this aspect. So when I saw this news item I could not hold myself but share it.

Link to article: http://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/telecom-subscriber-base-reaches-alltime-high-at-97-crore/article6871085.ece?homepage=true

TRAI reports are filled with information on the telecom space. This provides enough details to understand the changing trends and patterns in the telecom market. Companies, start-ups and others will know who is adding users, where, how many, amongst others. This could give hints as to whom they should collaborate or partner with for reaching potential customers. Looks like this information combined with increasing number of smart phone models below 5000/- would usher in the mobile commerce business much earlier than what many predict. Also the number of people requesting for number portability is also increasing. The amount of data usage on mobile devices is increasing. What kind of services do you think can be offered to this growing base of subscribers? Are there offline services that can be viable opportunities? How are many of these people consuming information? How many of them actually go for repairing their mobile handsets? Is servicing handsets a good business? Where are these new subscribers getting added? Are these people actually consuming data services or are they voice based customers? Hundreds of questions can be raised around these. Ask and you shall end up with the real opportunity in a while.

While each of these may be only data by themselves, entrepreneurial minds should consume all of this information and attempt to make connections. This will lead to fresh opportunities for their existing businesses as well as absolutely new opportunities as well. Reading reports and details related to market trends is a good place to identify and locate opportunities earlier than others. Learning to do this come through practice. This, then becomes an entrepreneurial skill that budding entrepreneurs should pick and existing entrepreneurs should sharpen.

Entrepreneurship Educators will do well to include activities like these into their programs and workshops. Inclusion of data / reports relevant to the area in which opportunities are being sought can bring about a different flavour to your course. Participants are bound to go back from the program with specific ideas and opportunities. Discussions around them could also bring out the sweet spots for business model innovations, new product innovations, service innovations, etc.,.

Identifying and exploiting opportunities is the most exciting aspect of entrepreneurship, but is also the least taught. But if we make attempts to experiment with datasets like these and futuristic reports, it could lead to the creation of some new pedagogies. I think so!

Lets all try and share our experiments so that we can make teaching entrepreneurship more fun and fruitful.

If you have any experiences around teaching / learning entrepreneurship, please do share and lets learn from each other.


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Eleventh Biennial Conference on Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), Ahmedabad hosts a research conference every two years, called the Biennial Conference on its sprawling campus. Over a hundred national and international academicians come together for three days and share their ideas and thoughts. Amidst the brainstorming and networking there is also some entertainment to lighten up the intense discussions.

The Centre for Research in Entrepreneurship Education and Development (CREED) drives all the research activities at EDII. The Biennial Conferences are also managed by the centre. The centre also does a lot of other activities like offering fellowships, running a journal, etc. To know more please read here: http://www.ediindia.org/CREED.asp

I first attended the Biennial Conference in 2013 (Tenth). I presented my paper and was happy to listen to so many more from both India and abroad. EDII had announced its Eleventh Biennial Conference (18-20 Feb’15) a few months back. Since this time around I am residing on the beautiful EDII campus, I am also playing my own small role in hosting this grand and probably largest conference on entrepreneurship in this part of the world. Truly excited about this! If you are interested or associated (even remotely) with entrepreneurship, you must not miss this event. To know more about the conference please read here: http://www.ediindia.org/doc/Eleventh-Biennial-Conference-Brochure.pdf Please check with the conference coordinator (details in the link above) about how you can participate in this conference.

Look forward to meet, network, interact and learn a lot through the conversations over the 3 days.

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