The One Right Answer

We are all taught from our schooldays that every problem has “one right answer”.

As good children we learnt it really well. As we grew up this was reinforced by the high school teachers; undergraduate lecturers; and even by our post graduate professors. So we formed this mental model firmly in our heads. We made it stronger every time by listening to only those who reinforced it. Every time someone would question it or force us to think (basically question it) we resisted it (unconsciously).

But pause and ask yourself this question: Do situations in life have one right answer (really)?

You know the answer but your mental model makes you go for the opposite. Why?

Ask? Question? Think? Redeem yourself!!

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Discarding before starting again

Before planning new projects (something that gets done during this time of the year) it is important to clear up the table (physical, electronic, and mental) before starting anything new.

A good way to do it is to “tidy up” your place – keep what’s useful; give away what you may not need any longer (but someone else may); and discard what is useless.

I tried doing this over the last weekend and I was surprised !!

Never realised how so many things got accumulated. So many papers, books, stationary, clothes and other things which I had not even looked up for months on end lay right there on my shelf and around my room. Removing them needed time as I had to look at each of them and decide if I would use it going further (in the next year). Honestly, a difficult question to answer. I felt like keeping every single one of them (telling myself how important it was). Thank God I had recently read a little book called “The art of discarding” by Nagisa Tatsumi (‘Suteru Gijyutsu’ in Japanese) and this helped me happily reason to myself and become freer in life.

Interestingly a day after the tidying project I find myself immensely productive. So if you are wondering how to spend your last week of the year – “decluttering your home or office” by discarding what may be unnecessary could be a great way to finish the year — and an even greater way to enter 2018. It might help you find a lot of things that could be more useful to others.

Think about it!

How long do you take to poop?

Yes, it is really about the ‘big job’ that I am asking. Surprised! Read on – I think it is important.

Most of us do not take excretion as a serious business. Many have challenges in engaging in this task. I have heard people say they sit for hours (not minutes) on end in anticipation. Too many exert much pressure to reduce the anticipation – after all we all are so busy that we cannot waste time sitting. But pressure over time leads to complications! Ask people who go to gastroenterologists seeking help with excretion.  Only when this becomes a problem do realise how serious doing the ‘big job’ is, to life and healthy living.

Hence when I came across this interesting study, I could not hold myself from sharing. It appears from the research referred to below that if you are taking more than 12 seconds to get done in the morning – you take more time than what most mammals do.

While this is not a prescription for healthy living, I definitely think being aware is the first step in that direction. Read about this interesting research and you will know much more about pooping and also about how interesting a life in research can be.

Short Overview: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/04/heres-how-long-it-should-really-take-you-to-poop.html

General Overview (slightly longer): https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129081-most-mammals-big-or-small-take-about-12-seconds-to-defecate/

Research Article (published in the journal ‘Soft Matter’): http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2017/sm/c6sm02795d/unauth#!divAbstract

 

Teaching machines to learn

“Machine Learning” is no more new. Literally every new kid with even a wee bit of curiosity with technology knows about it. But while programming machines to act intelligent was the earlier approach, teaching machines to learn for themselves is where the world is headed.

With Google and Facebook making substantial investments into the tools needed to make machine learning happen, the trend has only been speeded up. The next fight for these biggies in technology is on whose artificial intelligence tools are going to be used more widely to enable machine learning. At least in the case of Google and Facebook the tools seem open source and available to the world at large.

On its part, Google is providing a free online course through Udacity. The course is going to be led by Vincent Vanhoucke, a principal scientist at Google. I am sure by sharing their knowledge on this toolkit, they will open up the minds of many more engineers beyond Google to experiment and take machine learning forward.

For more information look up these links:

TensorFlow (Google’s latest machine learning system) – http://googleresearch.blogspot.in/2015/11/tensorflow-googles-latest-machine_9.html

http://googleresearch.blogspot.in/2016/01/teach-yourself-deep-learning-with.html

Putting Deep Learning to Work – http://blog.udacity.com/2016/01/putting-deep-learning-to-work.html

Course Link – https://www.udacity.com/course/deep-learning–ud730

I am posting this so that many of my young engineering minds (especially the entrepreneurial ones looking for new opportunities) may pick up such emerging skills. There is so much engineering talent across India, which if can be educated on skills like the above, will startup scalable unicorns.

Startup India by learning how to teach machines how to learn!

Dr Mohanty on Educational Leadership

Earlier today I attended a special guest lecture by Dr Ajit Mohanty (http://ajitmohanty.org) at The Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), Gandhinagar, Gujarat (www.ediindia.org). On the dais was Dr Mohanty sandwiched between his teacher (Dr Misra) and his student (Dr Shukla). It is rare to see three generations of teachers (or students) sitting together and sharing their mutual warmth. I feel privileged to have had the good fortune of seeing and listening to them. Now to the subject of the lecture itself.

A well known, seasoned and celebrated academician in India, Dr Mohanty, was true to his topic. He had his agenda clearly laid out. The presentation was easy, smooth and candid. His astute observations brought to light some of the key leadership issues and challenges that the Indian Higher Education System faces. As a researcher, I enjoyed the approach taken by Dr Mohanty and the innumerable opportunities it provides for further scholarly investigation.

Most well made speeches start with a bang and today’s was no exception. He stated a well known truth – ‘our education systems are a large scale failure’ (wow! I could not think of a better way to put it). He did not stop by stating the obvious, but took a deep dive into the possible reasons for the problem. Some of them are: macro level policy hurdles, leadership, chaotic nature of academic environments, debatable business role of today’s faculty members, narrowing gap between for-profit enterprises and socially inclined enterprises such as educational institutions, amongst others. As a true academic he did not promise to provide a panacea to the challenge – but restricted his remaining talk to one aspect of the challenge: leadership.

He beautifully captured through the ‘ringing bells’ example how our educational systems strive to remain status quo. He also spoke how most selected leaders are better academics than administrators. He used the popular ‘Peter Principle’ to highlight the leader identification and appointment problem. It seems that most leaders in educational institutions focus more on ‘chaos avoidance’ rather than ‘innovation and entrepreneurship’. He clearly established the fact that academic skills are not sufficient to lead educational institutions.

With examples from India and around the world, he gave a number of examples and cases of both success and failures of educational leadership. He also justified his stance that probably the Indian educational system is not ready for transformational leaders, but can greatly benefit in the interim with change-producing leaders. His examples provided leading thoughts on a possible solution – ‘distributed leadership’. Distributed Leadership is not delegation, but leaders at every level. Higher education truly requires leaders at all levels, who can bring change (in a small way, though routinely), which in turn will result in habits and eventually a change in culture.

I liked his approach towards the end of his presentation where he offered solutions, which he said we could choose to reject (not accept). It speaks a lot about the person.

This was one of the occasions where I did not want the talk to end. May be because it was on a topic close to my heart or was it my love for teaching or was it that I was listening to a true academic after long? A short amount of time, borrowed from lunch was used for answering Q&A.

I left the talk inspired about academics and with number of ideas for future research. I am excited at the timing of the lecture since I am currently working on some ideas of applying entrepreneurship to higher education.

Thanks to EDII for arranging this insightful lecture.

Are we losing jobs through Growth?

If you are not retiring in the next 1-2 years, your job may be automated. You may be redundant in your role. What are you going to do? No, it is not a pessimistic complaint over automation, but a serious look into a fast growing trend. Automation has been slowing eating away number of jobs, but with robotics really taking off, we seem to be entering a period of jobless growth. Surprised?

How repetitive is your job? If it has close to 50% you have to really read this and think about it.

Robotics is changing the way we visualized work. While it was believed till some time ago that robots may not be able to do many of the things that humans are good at, technology improvements is questioning these beliefs. In fact robots are not only cheaper to procure, they are much easier to maintain over the long term. The biggest benefits to organizations: no rest, no vacations, no bonus, no benefits, no attrition. Is this not close to utopian, especially for manufacturing organizations? This would also make the companies more competitive in the marketplace.

So, if you thought all of this is affecting only the production and manufacturing jobs, hold on. Slowly machines are being taught to think too. Once they learn this to a certain degree of flawlessness, the day is not far when we would have entire call centers being replaced by robots. Will the world not look different when we see robots doing most of the daily activities? Won’t tax filing and audits slowing become automated?

What will you do? Now, that question remains unanswered. There are still number of skills that robots may take time to learn. What are they? Are we teaching / learning these skills enough? Are our schools being revamped to deal with this new economic and social order?

Once thing is certain, jobs are going to get automated, more quickly than what we have imagined. So, think how you can develop skills which machines may take longer to pick up. That is probably the only way to keep your role intact.

This makes the role of government and policy makers difficult and challenging. Only the truly long term thinkers can help solve this forming puzzle.

Happy thinking!

Is lack of ‘collaboration’ killing us?

I recently heard a business school professor ask the question that most of us ask ourselves quite often: why Indians perform so well as individuals but as a nation we are far behind? Why is it that Indians shine outside of India, but fail to do so much when they stay back? He seems to attribute the problem to one word: collaboration.

Here are some points worth pondering on:

To shine in India, we need a better ecosystem. Why is it that Indians in America do so well, it is because the ecosystem allows them, encourages them, celebrates them and enables them to continue it. The same level of people in India, somehow lie low, not known, and many times under performing in relation to their potential. So, if we want our potential to be utilised, our country to see its citizens thrive from within its borders, we need to create a mode conducive environment.

To shine in India, we also need a better mindset. A mindset that has to be inculcated right from younger ages that if we collaborate, we can achieve more. Our mindset teaches us (reiterated by parents, teachers and society at large) that to do well, we have to beat others. This gets ingrained in children by the time they reach high school. Hence sharing drops, and this leads to lone performers. But this does not help in the long run, where big projects require people to work along with others, to make their work successful.

If both these are not done in large quantities:

  • A conducive environment for allowing, encouraging, recognising, and celebrating entrepreneurial thinking and action
  • A collaborative mindset amongst the people (especially the younger ones)

It could result in a total mismanagement of our demographic dividend. An asset that requires some serious chiselling to derive value out of, else it could turn disastrous.

Think about it!