Saturday, January 31, 2009

What is required to be called a professional?



Recently I read an excellent article written by Subroto Bagchi on what it will take to be a great professional in the days to come. This is a question that I have had as well. As he rightly says these days almost everyone has a digital SLR. Since everyone can take great pictures these days, photo-shop them, and freely upload on the Internet, what is the difference between them and professionals such as Dewitt Jones or Raghu Rai? This is a question equally relevant for doctors, architects, software engineers, lawyers and dress designers.
He states that according to Howard Gardner (“The Harvard professor who has written 20 books and received 21 honorary doctorates; the same man who questioned the role of IQ in determining intelligence. In fact, it was he who had propagated the idea of multiple intelligence.”): "whatever may be your profession, to succeed in the world ahead, you need to master the five minds of the future…"

"The first is the mind of the discipline. You may be a trained photographer or a qualified surgeon. It does not matter. Your professional qualification is not what will make you a professional. You need to devote yourself to your profession of choice for at least 10 years before you can understand its nuances.
Empirical studies indicate that, across disciplines, amount of time is a minimum requirement. You have to give yourself to the profession as against looking at it just as a means to a livelihood, a career or a job. You need to build affection for your profession and a long view of time.
The second is the mind of synthesis. The future requires the capacity to build abstractions. In other words, you need the mind of synthesis. It is about developing an understanding of ideas, concepts and problems in an interdisciplinary manner while building depth in one's own discipline. A great shot on the outskirts of Delhi requires an understanding of where Delhi comes from historically.
The third mind is the creative mind. Clients do not like the tried-and-the tested solutions any more because those solutions are simply not innovative enough. Precisely because they are tried and tested, they have become the past.
Competitive advantage is about creativity, and creativity is about taking risks. The creative mind is about building the capacity to answer what is new and what is different about the solution you are suggesting every time.
The fourth mind is the respectful mind. In the future, all problems will require interdisciplinary solutions. Whether it is about negotiating a nuclear treaty or removing a cancerous cell from the pancreas, if anything qualifies to be called a problem, then chances are high, the solution would have to be interdisciplinary.
That means experts from different fields will have to listen to each other, learn from each other, collaborate while they compete, disagree without being disagreeable and then put multiple minds together, build consensus and emerge with the strength of the respectful mind.
Why do you think one CEO fails and another succeeds in taking a militant trade union along? Why do you think one educationist prevails over others while settling the contents of a high school textbook on national history? Why one physicist is able to get agreement on making a certain standard universally acceptable in a transnational negotiation involving competing interests? Those who succeed have the respectful mind
Finally, great professionals of tomorrow will need to understand and master what Howard Gardner calls the ethical mind. This ethical mind is about the capacity to certify the completion of one's own work. That rules out most people who need someone else to supervise them. Whatever may be your profession, to be called a professional, you must master all the five minds of the future and only then can you be globally accepted.
But why should we worry about being globally relevant? Because the benchmark no longer remains local. The benchmark is now Dewitt Jones."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We and POLITICS

I read two excellent articles on politics and our role in them written by Siddharth D. Sanghvi and Swati Ramanathan.
Siddharth wrote “In India, politicians have come down with politics as if it's a sexually transmitted disease; an affliction, a bane. Under the guise of governance, genocide, rape, torture have become institutionalised in India, all instruments in our War against Terror.
Image associations with politicians scare me. Say Narendra Modi and Jagdish Tytler and I see flames. Say Raj Thackeray and I see broken glasses. Say Lalu Prasad and I see cowsheds of cash.
While all countries have corruption in their system, only India has a system within the corruption; our system is officially a sleaze ecology. For when our politicians are not whorishly auctioning their votes on nuke deals, they're brokering development contracts with builders' lobbies.”
Aristotle was right when he wrote that "to live an ethical life it is impossible to not engage in politics".
But as Swati says “ mere 9 per cent of the urban youth vote. This political abstinence by our youth, in a country with 47 per cent of our population under the age of 20, does not bode well for the future health of our young democracy. We are in danger of creating a permanent and large constituency of non-voters.
Engaging in the politics of our city, state and country, is engaging in nation building. Yet most Indians, young and old, prefer to stay away from politics, viewing it as a vehicle of corrupt power and crime. Engaging with government is anathema to most Indians.
Faced with a choice, we prefer to go over, under and around government, anything rather than engage with it. While we do volunteer for causes, the average Indian feels that he or she has little political or social impact beyond the occasional power trip to the ballot box."

British sociologist Herbert Spencer who coined the concept of social Darwinism argued that the same forces of natural selection guiding evolution should apply to human society too.I read a column by Indrajit Hazra where he wrote “You, model citizen with the well meaning furrowed brows, may well ask why there is no similar natural selection for our political leaders. Why aren’t the incapable, power’n’pelfwallahs simply kept out of the system? Isn’t evolution all about filtering out the bad and keeping the good, until we get the super-duper, long grained variety of political leadership.No, evolution- or in Darwin’s words, ‘descent with modification’- isn’t about constant betterment. There’s nothing qualitative about who stays on and who goes. One survives by doing whatever it takes to survive- and that’s determined by whatever we allow as survival tactics.So will being a performing politician become a necessary requisite for politicians? Well that’s purely up to us who’ll be doing the ‘selecting’ in the April elections. Ultimately, we’ll get the political leadership we’ll be allowing to survive down the years.”
Going back to what Swati wrote, “Looking towards the US again, volunteering is considered a bedrock of community building, inculcated through schools and colleges. In his campaign speech, Barack Obama promises a $4,000 tuition credit for students who commit time to community service.
More than 60 million average Americans commit volunteer time. Youth volunteering in the US is estimated to be 36 per cent between the ages of 15 and 25 and more than half of those volunteering firmly believe that they can make some difference to the community they live in.
The youth that volunteer in political organisations—13 per cent-believe they can make a difference on various social or political issues. Studies in the US indicate that youth are twice as likely to volunteer, engage in politics or vote, when they grow up in a household where someone volunteers.
The good news is that volunteerism as a concept is not new in our society and is deeply embedded in social structures, building a stronger sense of community and trust. We continue our social networks and support structures in our cities, but these networks are not concerned with politics.
The reality is that we cannot do away with politics if we are to solve our overwhelming social issues-poverty and crime, for example.
In India, we have long been used to a relationship of patronage, ruled by feudal lords, maharajas, and the Raj. We have yet to embrace the power of the citizen in a democracy. We are a billion voices with the power of a billion votes at our command.
Our right to vote is the privilege of our democracy and a civic duty. Yet, we have reduced our role to that of a complainant and critic of our governments. Most of us do not invest in our political identity or political beliefs.
In striking contrast to what we are currently witnessing in the US, average citizens and students in India do not campaign for political candidates, or attend public meetings, or concern ourselves with public policies. We see our role of "citizen" through a limited lens-paying taxes and obeying laws. Our political identity of "voter" is supremely undervalued.
We are comfortable forming networks to engage in music, religion, business, rotary, social service, but are uncomfortable about engaging in politics. We shun politics with an unusual righteousness and starve our youth of civic role models.
The protestation that corrupt candidates turn us off voting has become something of a convenient copout. Perhaps, we do not have good enough candidates because there are not enough good voters who care enough to cast their votes.
Clearly, our change is not going to be led by individual messiahs. But do we believe that one billion voices are powerless? Let's not get trapped into a nirvana fallacy, waiting for perfect conditions before we are willing to play our rightful role in India's political journey.
Our youthful demographic dividend has been hailed as an economic positive. Let's also consider it a democratic positive.
Turning 18 can become a milestone not just because it allows you a driver's licence, but also because it allows you the licence to vote. Will the youth lead our one billion voices out of political indifference?
We live in a country that demands so little from our citizens. Over 20 countries, including Australia, have introduced compulsory voting for its citizens. Singapore enrols all male citizens upon reaching 18 years, to a mandatory two years in national service under the Singapore Armed Forces.
Jury duty is mandatory in the US and can be deferred only twice. During times of war, all able young men have to register for the draft. We demand absolutely nothing of our citizens, of our youth, for the privilege of citizenship.
The spirit of service is what drives tall leaders around the world to do great things and average citizens to commit to causes of common good. It inspires individuals to look beyond themselves and empower others.
But in order to empower others we must be empowered ourselves. Let's begin with the simple act of voting.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unleashing the Indian Entrepreneur



Over the past 200 years, these resources of the country have served the rest of the world. It is now time to serve the nation. Unlocking the potential of the nation is not rocket science. It can be achieved and fast, but only if the nation has the determination and the discipline to do so.
According to Jagdish. N. Sheth “one idea to unlock the country's potential is to ignite the Indian entrepreneurship from the bottom-up. Entrepreneurship is one of the most egalitarian and non-discriminatory traits. It transcends literacy, age, gender, caste and religion. It is possible to organize entrepreneurship at grassroots level. But, entrepreneurship cannot flourish unless the nation respects it, promotes it and makes good entrepreneurs its heroes, no matter what religion, caste they belong to. It will also require giving up orthodoxy or respect anchored to history.”

"Misers mistake gold for good, whereas it is only a means of obtaining it," said Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld 350 years ago. According to Dipak. C. jain it is the entrepreneur who most seems the antithesis of the skinflint. Rather than hoarding wealth, entrepreneurs try to generate more of it by using ingenuity, taking risks and going beyond conventional notions to offer solutions that improve life, influencing others to do the same. “The best go beyond themselves to focus on solving problems that make a difference for others. They aim to transcend traditional boundaries of business and geography to take a global perspective on the world, thereby improving their own and society's fortunes.”
However, Rohit Agarwal, CEO, Techtribe says “When we look at comparisons between the Silicon Valley and India, the latter is moving in the right direction although not completely there yet. The gaps exist in attitudes rather than infrastructure and availability of money.
For example, a majority of the best IT students from foreign universities would be driven to solve a major problem rather than make money. Their passions drive what they do professionally whereas here, entrepreneurs are more interested in making money rather than solving the problem.
The other pitfall is the reluctance, if not the inability, to take risks. Venture capitalists notwithstanding, this tendency prevents Indian entrepreneurs from stepping out on their own and changing the environment in the most fundamental way.”
Dipak speaks of wider media emphasis on entrepreneurship.” Newspapers and magazines should get more engaged and feature stories about entrepreneurs and business leaders who are making a difference. Articles that reveal how these people have achieved their success are especially helpful, as are pieces that discuss business strategy, since readers can then gain the inspiration and understanding to start their own ventures.
After all, the outcome is the sight, but the process to reach that outcome provides the insight.
Indians have entrepreneurship in their DNA. Unleashing that power requires dream, drive and a diploma. The Indian middle class will continue to grow so long as proper training and education is available to those seeking to better themselves.
With commitment from the Indian government to provide the foundations for economic growth, and in partnership with the nation's educational system and media leaders, the road to entrepreneurship has never been so open as it is today.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

R&D


I recently read two excellent articles on investing in R&D by educational institutions as well as IT firms written by Dipankar Gupta and Shruti Maheshwari.
Dipankar believes that “If there is one big idea that India should pursue then that is of making this country a knowledge powerhouse. We set up several IITs, we have over 270 universities and famous institute of sciences, but we have forgotten to energise them with funds and enthuse them to do research.
All our ideas about modern knowledge come primarily from the West, and often do not suit our demands. We have millions who are sick and ailing, but we are yet to conduct appropriate research that could help them.
India may have more than 270 universities but by the most charitable ranking of the Times Higher Education Supplement, our IITs rank 50th in the world, the IIMs 84th, and the much talked-about Jawaharlal Nehru University a lowly 192nd.
We all know, or should know, by now that endogenous growth takes place when R&Dis locally produced and applied. If we take a look at Scopius or the Citation Index, Indian scientists and scholars have put up an unimpressive show. India figures badly in citations in Nature, the most acclaimed science journal. The country was not always this way. Indian intellectuals were prominent and, in many cases, at the cutting edge of knowledge well before Independence.
This was possible because people like Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee were at the helm of affairs on the educational front. In the 1907 convocation of Calcutta University, Mookerjee had this to say: “From now on the (Calcutta) University is not just an institution issuing certificates, nor is it even a conglomeration of colleges… It will be a centre of learning and the expansion of the frontiers of knowledge.”
Accordingly, he encouraged high science in Calcutta University. He never argued that since India is a poor country, it is not capable of sophisticated sciences. We are often fed such arguments today, particularly by a few UN agencies.
Mookerjee brought in people like C.V. Raman, Satyendranath Bose, Sisir Mitra and Meghnad Saha. All these scholars were recognized not just in India but internationally as well. Calcutta University became a knowledge hub since it encouraged research.
In the course of time, Nehru’s many temples of knowledge have become clearing houses for the mediocre and the standards were set so low that almost anybody could get a college degree.
Even in the much-vaunted information technology, we are adept at doing pretty primitive operations that the West has ceased to take interest in” such as product and process development.
Shruti writes “to quote some numbers, an institution like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) produces 200 PhDs in computer science every year whereas India awards 34 PhDs in the subject annually.
Most of the IT sector in India is still not into innovation full throttle. Companies are more often than not looking to replicate success stories of the West.”
According to Rajdeep Sahrawat, VP Nasscom, most of the Indian IT firms don’t do major research in computer science technology. After all, how many patents have the top IT firms produced in the recent years? They are building applications on existing technologies. Top five to six software enterprises are all moving towards becoming solution providers.
So finally as Dipankar says” if there is one big idea we can pursue, and pursue realistically, then that is to put our might, mouth and money where R&D is. Let us concentrate on doing high science. It is this endeavor that would alone stand guarantee for sustained economic growth for the future.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there



This proverbial L.P. Hartley's famous opening line, if heeded, could also augur a central shift in our perceptions of the past, believes Nayanjot Lahiri.
She further says,”the sword these days is frequently summoned to silence the pen. Authors, university departments, and institutes that write and research about matters that don't fit hagiographic versions of history, have been physically attacked.
It is realistic to expect that such unseemly spectacles will continue to unfold for the simple reason that our past is imprisoned in our present day ideas of what it supposedly was. This proclivity, in fact, reminds me of the dismay displayed by the Afghan, Ahmad Shah Abdali, in the battle of Panipat in 1761.
Apparently, Abdali had never been confronted with unclothed troopers. When he realised that as the main ally of Shuja ud-Daulah, he had such Hindu gosains or warrior ascetics indirectly fighting for him, he prudishly lectured Shuja on the "impropriety of unrestrained kafirs, naked in front and behind…parading and lounging in front of Muslims, and ordered them removed to a distance from his camp."
The gosains did comply with Abdali's request, moved away from his line of vision, and, notwithstanding the Afghan affront, acquitted themselves well in the battlefield.
If we accept that people and cultures in ancient and medieval India were different from us, we would feel no sense of retrospective shock about what they ate or drank or wore, or for that matter, what they didn't wear.
I am thinking here of ancient India's most powerful emperor whose first portrait shows his queen without clothes. The royal in question is the Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, and this earliest labelled portraiture of Ashoka comes from a sculpted stupa at Kanganhalli in Karnataka. Surely, the frontal nudity of Ashoka's consort suggests a world that is very different from our own present-day 'civilised' notions of royalty?
Or take the case of cattle which, by a long shot, was a very popular animal food for many millennia in ancient India. This is evident, among other things, from the fact that practically every Harappan civilisation site where animal bones are found, has inevitably yielded cattle bones. And yet, this fondness for beef is something that some Indians find difficult to digest. The major reason must be because they tend to think of themselves as the direct descendants of Harappans.
Shouldn't we admire and appreciate such people, even if they enjoyed food and carnal lives that were different from ours? Until we stop searching for 'our' ways of doing things in antiquity, we cannot freely and meaningfully engage with the enchantment of history.
Apart from unleashing intolerance, present sensibilities of this kind can also promote dishonest research. It is, for instance, unfortunate that despite thousands of metres of soil being excavated from Buddhist religious complexes, faunal records from very few sites are actually mentioned in publications. In Sri Lanka, faunal remains from two sites, the Sigiriya Vihara and Anuradhapura, have been recorded, but these bones have apparently never been identified.
Good historians are supposed to use historical evidence to tell true stories, stories in which 'what' and 'how' explanations are provided. But if the integrity of the evidence itself is compromised, the history written out of it will be a distorted one.
History cannot flourish in an atmosphere which privileges what is congenial and proscribes what is inconvenient.”

Monday, January 05, 2009

Poor do not need charity but the opportunity of enterpreneurship


The excerpts from an article written by C.K.Prahlad( He is the writer of “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits”) I recently read.
Societies have always searched for an ideology and an institutional framework to balance collective and private interests. In the last century, this struggle played out as a confrontation between two clearly defined ideologies—communism and capitalism.
Capitalism may have won, but capitalists themselves have started re-examining how to adapt themselves to the 21st Century. The question of how to create prosperity and social justice is at the heart of this debate.
This time, the debate is not across the aisle but within the party. Capitalism is re-examining its focus towards creating solutions for larger social problems.
Capitalism is built on a few key principles:
Entrepreneurship, innovation, investment and organisation are at the heart of capitalism.
Investors, who finance the ideas of entrepreneurs to create businesses, deserve to benefit with returns commensurate with risks.
Private property and the rule of law are paramount in such a system.
Private enterprise, in a system of transparent transactions, can benefit consumers and provide incentives for business.
Capitalism is usually associated with participative democracy.
No one really questions these basic premises any longer. The practice of capitalism, however, has not been without problems, and must adapt itself to address these issues. Does capitalism shortchange consumers, employees, suppliers, and communities?
Does it care about the poor and the disadvantaged? These are legitimate questions.
Recently, Bill Gates suggested that we should focus on creative capitalism that explicitly recognises the four billion poor and develops market-based solutions to help them.
This has led to attacks from two sides—those who believe that this is not the private sector’s job and those who believe that this is one more attempt on the part of capitalists to impose their will on the poor.
The debate must focus on solutions, not ideology.
If we stop thinking of the poor as victims and start recognising them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole world of opportunities will open up. This is a call for the private sector to use its creativity and resources to deal with rampant social inequities.
The focus should be on dealing with social inequities as a business and not through charity. Profitable businesses usually grow and sustain themselves. On the contrary, many governmental initiatives are subject to change with changes in government.
We know that the alternatives have not worked very well. Worldwide, aid and subsidies have proven to be mostly ineffective. Most importantly, subsidies create dependence and rob people of dignity. The direction of philanthropy changes often and results are not documented and measured.
Without a long-term, self-sustaining solution that reduces poverty, we are likely to create higher levels of inequality. If neglected, these concerns will undermine the very social legitimacy of the corporation.
In India, it is a call for inclusive growth(As Sanjay Subrahmanyam writes in another article” The protagonists of liberalisation in India need to remember that the market cannot exist in a social vacuum.”). The demand on the private sector, the institutional embodiment of the principles of capitalism, to recognise and respond to these concerns is urgent.
India represents aunique opportunity for developing the practice of capitalism for the 21st century.It has a vibrant private sector and a participatory democracy. It also has inequalities, not just in incomes but also in terms of opportunities.
If the country can find a way to make capitalism work by addressing problems of poverty, illiteracy and subsistence agriculture while creating new opportunities for the poor and vibrant businesses at the same time, the consequences are tremendous. There is no better place to develop the “next practice of capitalism” than India.
The growth of self-help groups (SHG) and the role of civil society in microfinance is well-documented. Several large firms now recognize that they have to seek partnerships with village entrepreneurs. STD phones started the trend towards creating micro-entrepreneurs.

Private sector must participate in confronting social ills like illiteracy, malnutrition, poor healthcare in an efficient business-oriented manner.
Public sector must recognise that flexible and adaptive systems are needed to cope with these problems. Both must recognise the critical role of the civil society. The new social compact will enlarge the scope of private sector.
It must focus on innovations that dramatically alter the economics of products and services so that markets become inclusive. But that cannot be done without the active support of the public sector and the civil society.
For these sectors to collaborate, they must all agree on their common interests—reducing inequalities and building a just society. The systems will work only if we focus on transparent transactions, the application of advanced technologies, innovative solutions and a deep belief that what is at stake is the very social legitimacy of private and the public sectors as institutions.