Sunday, September 27, 2009

Do you know your first ancestors?

We ran a competition on "the best comment" on this particular blogpost. We got tremendous response! The top 5 contributors (alphabetically) were: Bhupendra, Gaurav, Kapil, Swatee and Vikrant. And the best among these was the comment by Bhupendra. Congratulations Bhupendra for winning! Now send me an email (to with your full contact details, and let us start the process of getting your dna analysed by NatGeo people! Other noteworthy contributors were: Akash, Chetan, Nidhi, Prasad, Rishikesh, and Shashank. Thanks to everyone for participating.
Special mention : Kapil (Joshi) - very good suggestions regarding blog layout. Ideally we would like to implement all three, but we are facing some technical issues doing that. Can we have your contact mobile number, so my technical guy can speak with you, incase you can help?

Once in several years, we come across a story that stirs the soul. That makes us sit up and take note, and wonder - oh my God! So this is how it is! I share one such story with you now. It has made me wonder since it began (a few years ago), and since I practically participated in it (by getting my dna analysed).

Suppose I were to probe your ancestry. I begin with a simple question - do you know who your parents are? The answer will be most likely 'Yes'. Then my next question - do you know where (which city/town) did they come from? The answer will be known to you.

I dig deeper. Do you know your grandparents (both maternal and paternal)? Do you know where did they come from? Then the next step. Do you know who your great-grandparents were? And their locations? This is probably where most of us will come to a halt. This is most likely our limit of knowledge about our ancestry. Even those of us (in India) who are extremely caste-conscious will not know the "exact" details of our ancestors 10 or 15 generations deep. And beyond that we will be completely clueless. But 10 or 15 generations itself is barely 200 to 300 years. That's not too impressive really. Admit it - we do not know anything about our first ancestors!*

Modern written histroy cannot go beyond 6000 years. Anything beyond that is a dark area where we never venture. Mankind's deeply held secrets lie there, waiting to be unearthed. That's "deep ancestry" - the story of your ancestors when no formal record-keeping happened. Time so remote in the past that the sands of eternity have obscured everything from us.

Good news! It is possible for you to discover your deep ancestry - who were your ancestors tens of thousands of years ago (broadly speaking), and where were they located**. You find that exciting, right?

The National Geographic team started a project (alongwith IBM) about 5 years ago which attempted to re-created the lost threads of the greatest story ever told! This is the Genographic project, that relies on original dna samples collected from volunteers around the world (through a harmless cheek swab, I did one for myself), and then analysing it, and plotting the results on the grand jigsaw puzzle that scientists are fitting tight.
Today, we take the colonisation of the entire planet for granted. We know man has populated every possible geography. But who are we actually? Where do we "really" come from? Who were our first set of parents/ancestors? What were they like? Are we all related? Where did modern man really originate? How did we spread across the world? What routes were taken by our ancestors? 

These are maybe the most profound questions you will ever ask.
Fortunately, it is possible to reconstruct this story, and as scientists have gone about doing that, they have discovered how dangerously precarious this journey of modern man was - we could have vanished at any point in time of this journey (at one point, the entire population of mankind was reduced to just 2000!). This story tells us how amazingly hard-skinned and versatile we humans truly have proved to be.
Scientific DNA studies suggest that all humans alive today descended from a group of African ancestors who took the modern form around 200,000 years ago, and who - about 60,000 years ago - began a remarkable journey. A journey of migration in various directions, starting from the heart of the African continent.
You and me are the end point of that journey. All of us alive today - 6,50,00,00,000 of us - are end products of this great journey that a few hundred (or a few thousand) began. So that makes all of us relatives.

Some aspects of this story that really fasicnated me

  • Luck played a big role in groups of migrating humans' survival
  • All men alive today exhibit the same Y chromosome related genetic marker - proving they have descended from the same primordial "scientific Adam"
  • All women alive today exhibit the same X chromosome related genetic marker (from mitochondrial roots) - proving they have descended from the same primordial "scientific Eve" ***
  • Several geological incidences facilitated mankind's journey through the vast spaces they travelled - for example the land masses connecting several disjointed nations of today were exposed due to ice-age(s) - thereby making walking over them possible (these later submerged under oceans)
  • Mankind of today is like a very old tree - there are hundreds of branches but the central stem is the same for all!
The complete technical story is here

Anyone can participate in this grand project. I did, and the results were astonishing. They actually told me about my deep ancestry (30 to 40 thousand years old).^

So keep wondering. These are things one must wonder about. Beautiful questions.

I now declare a competition - the best comment on this blog (received before Wednesday night) wins a fully sponsored dna analysis (that's worth a cool $125 approx.) So do write in.^^

* the first set of human beings who are actually our great-grand parents, that is, we belong to the line that has descended from them.
** Naturally, when we discuss deep ancestry, no one can ever tell you EXACTLY who was your great-grand parent (the one man or one woman, if you will) in a particular generation. Broad generalisations only are possible. Please be generous! We are talking of things that happened 30/40/50 thousand years ago!
*** all this is far more complex that I understand. Refer the links given for actual technicalities.
^ and I am assuming it to be right! Do I have another choice :-)
^^ for more details, refer to I will sponsor the entire cost .. you do the dna sampling and posting etc. You get the results directly. And by the way, I will be the judge of the "best" comment received before 30.09.2009 runs out. No questions or doubts to be entertained. Thanks for participating.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

What b-schools ought to be doing now

The thoughts in the latest column (Schumpeter) of this week's Economist magazine set my heart racing. The author tore apart the assumptions and vested interests that are in-built into the business school industry world-wide. As the leader of a chain of five business schools (as on date), it's important for me to analyse this. I advise all b-school leaders to read this one for sure.

The key charges against the industry are -
(with stalwarts like the Harvard Business School named specifically)
  1. The B-school industry is self-serving to the extent of being technically wrong at times
  2. The Professors can pull wool over your eyes as long as their interests (read 'consulting assignments') are being served
  3. The products carry a one-sided view of the world - only the booms, not the busts
  4. In a new world order post the global-crash, serious reworking is needed
Based on my professional experience, my ratings for these four allegations
  1. One hundred percent correct
  2. Almost fifty percent correct
  3. Almost eighty percent correct
  4. One hundred percent correct
While reading the column, I instantly recalled every conscious decision we took while creating the vision for our business schools just 14 months ago. Put briefly, our vision can be summarised as
  1. Create leaders (students) that are down-to-earth
  2. Focus rigorously on global vision development
  3. Develop compassion, honest values, respect for simplicity
  4. Take a long term view, and develop it in the students as well
And do all this in an enviroment of world-class quality and culture.

All this has required (of us) a lot of resources, commitment and patience! I surely pray that we are able to deliver this year in and year out, irrespective of what shape the economy takes in the short term.

The golden rule that "Class is permanent" is our driving force. Sacrifice playing-to-the-gallery. Sacrifice short-termism. Sacrifice sick razzmatazz.

In an industry now populated with marauders/ land-mafia/ politicians/ scamsters posing as 'management gurus', we hope that our honest educationsts-led approach gets noticed and rewarded.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seven strategic decisions of our lives

So I was asked to deliver a keynote speech* at this reputed national event, and I found myself sharing this wonderful learning I've gathered from my personal life, and which I suspect, applies to all mortals equally well.

My talk was on "The seven strategic decisions of our lives". It outlined the seven most important things that happen to us over our lifetimes.

Seven strategic decisions of our lives

Seven decisions = 100%,   so One decision = 14.2%

Strategic decision no.1 - Where are we born
Do we really have a say here? No. So that's a solid 14.2% of our live's impact gone out of our hands. This truly is destiny at its best. I have often imagined what life would have been like had I been born a Russian, or a Croatian, or an Inuit? Still better, how much better if I were born in the royal British clan? All that power, and wealth, at my feet. As I start pondering more, my sanskars wake me up and remind me grimly of the hot ceaseless fires of bottomless hell (garnished with whips) that await those who entertain any deviance from what destiny ordained. And I, everytime, stop short of reaching the Bachchan family, and the Tatas.

Strategic decision no.2 - Where are we schooled

Do we really have a say here? No. For the most part, no. So that's another hefty 14.2% of impact gone. That totals 28.4% so far. It's our parents** desire and outlook that decides what we get. Now being an educationist, I have realised that the GREATEST impact on our personalities is shaped during our schooling. I guess I was quite lucky to have had some of the most inspiring (and tough) teachers throughout my school. Despite the slaps and beatings which occasionally came my way***, I was pushed to the limit by a meritocratic environment, and my decision to take up education as a career may have been subliminally inspired by this.

Strategic decision no.3 - Who are our friends, relatives, community members, as we grow up
Do we really have a say here? Partly yes. Especially as we are growing up. So let's say half of the percentage impact is in our hands (7.1%). As we grow, the daily interactions we have with friends, relatives and community members helps us understand the "stimuli-response" patterns better, and the more encouraging the environment, the more confident we become. My father's words still ring loud in my ears. I was playing with a nephew of mine (and jocularly scaring him while he was learning to walk) when Dad said "Sandeep, encourage him. Everytime you pull him down, he will learn not to trust you." So that's how we are shaped, and our personalities are cast in a mould. Slowly, but surely.

Strategic decision no.4 - Which college we go to

Put otherwise, it reads - what career we choose to be in. For many of us, the decision is entirely ours. We decide - based on what we have heard from others - what's best for us. And accordingly spend years preparing for entrance exams. Lot of us get a chance to attend the college or as is popular today - online school - we aspired for. And during our stay there, we start visualising what kind of a career and life lies ahead. I did my graduation from the IIT Delhi, and was fortunate to spend 4 years with some of the brightest and best people around. Those relationships have stayed with me till date.

Strategic decision no.5 - What we choose to do for a living
Or - what work we do. This is probably something totally under our control. That's 14.2%. Almost all of us decide on our own whether we wish to spend our lives as an adventurer (entrepreneur), or a guide (consultant) or a sincere doer (service). These are strong choices to select from. But we do. Often, we change course midway. Nothing wrong. We all evolve. Understanding that is very crucial. People can change track. We have to learn to be able to respect that. Even the Underworld makes this choice. They choose to kill for a living. That's their personal choice.

Strategic decision no.6 - Whom do we marry
Oh! Probably the most important "personal" 14.2% of our lives. 'Marrying right' is quite crucial. (what a thing to say^). People marry for different reasons. Some do it for love, some for money, some for status and power, some for happiness.. these driving forces can also change from time to time, seeding the future course of trouble. But if you ask me, wrong decisions that lead to broken relationships make children suffer the most. Anyway! For young people, my advice - take a careful decision. If you're planning a difficult career (Entrepreneurship, for example), the spouse must understand that "quality time" will be a casualty. Hence life has to be woven around some priorities, which if not done correctly, can lead to disaster. The honeymoon effect takes a couple of months to wear itself out, and then the stark realities of human limitations in full bloom emerge. So be careful!

Strategic decision no.7 - What values we choose to live with
Thiefs, thugs, scoundrels, cheats, scamsters, samaritans, citizens.. they all live side by side in a human society. The values we decide are the best for us, decide what we become. Some broad choices we select from are
  • Self-centred, honest, hard-working
  • Dishonest, self-centred, petty, hard-working
  • Fraudulent, scamster, scheming
  • Criminal, dangerous, no-holds-barred
  • Honest, hard-working, austere, social
  • Egoistic, hard-working, ambitious, social
It's a long list, and given above is just a sample. My final take - it is 100% a personal choice. Nobody can force us to choose the values we live with. Only we do. So no point blaming others.

What we make of this beautiful human life depends on these 7 decisions we make. With approx. 40% of our lives not in our hands, we really need to choose well!

* I have always dreaded this role, as it automatically implies gray hair, a serious pout, and a paunch-belly, all of which I sorely lack. Well, almost.
** the lucky few of us who have parents who care and have enough resources to take us through a good schooling experience. My heart goes out to kids who lack these. God give them strength. It must be too tough.
*** I was a studious and naughty child. Hence the beatings! From my experience, I am totally against banning physical punishment in schools. Teachers who truly love children, and care for them, must be given the right to exercise limited force in extreme circumstances. This amazing desire to copy the westers notion of "don't hit the child" is not appropriate in our cultural context. In the US, given the number of single parent kids, and divorced couples, such rules make sense. In India, they are totally incongruous. Anyway, I guess I am in a minority now. To be called a progressive teacher, you must proclaim - often fradulently - from the top of the roof your soft love for the kids (no matter howsoever you despise your teaching career).
^ Marriage as a fundamental human institution evolved around 6000 years ago as man settled down in an agrarian economy. As man settled, he(she) realised that for proper allotment of personal property, marriage was the most crucial first step. This subject makes fascinating reading indeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Future companies for the adventurous

Before I begin, my heartfelt tribute to the man who saved us all - the father of the Green Revolution - Dr Norman Borlaug. His fantastic story can be read here!

Across B-school campuses, it is placements time. Or it will be, soon. And the same questions will haunt students and professors alike - Which companies are the best to be chosen as role-model employers? Which companies are to be skipped? 

But a little reality check, and context-setting first. The terribly rude shocks of the past 12 months have destroyed most of the artificial intellectual arrogance that had gotten built across B-school campuses. In the period 2002-2007, even otherwise ordinary institutes with average output were on a high. The upward swing of the market was being construed as the lift generated by their own hard work and talent (which was not the case). Since placements were happening anyway (as companies were desperate to recruit anyone resembling a human being), everyone was consistent in one belief - markets have been tamed, vagaries are under control, and anyone with an MBA tag attached is hot property. Naturally, students and institutes alike were very choosy about companies and packages.

Those rah-rah years are gone for good. They won't return in a hurry. Maybe they won't ever return. And personally, I feel it is a great thing. Sanity always is.

So let me try and answer the question "which company to join". From all my experience, this is what I feel.. take this as "my advice for all young leaders/managers" -
  1. The choice is personal - safety v/s growth
    This truly is tough. For a young person, the safety of a large corporation is quite attractive, especially when loan instalments are to be paid. But look beyond the first few months, and for some of you, maybe a different (and unexciting) picture may emerge. For many, however, a large corporation is the final call, with safety and predictability taking precedence over everything else. That's not wrong, it's just a matter of personal choice. So when you  make a certain choice, please accept in good humour the baggage that comes with it. No point whining.
  2. If you want growth (and adventure), the best bet are small, upcoming companies
    The way the world is going, one can say that the most disruptive ideas will emerge from the least likely quarters. Since scale is no longer a prerequisite - in fact in many cases it positively hinders ideation - it is likely that the next killer idea is being shaped by a garage entrepreneur right now! Small, unknown companies are the best places where great ideas are getting nurtured today.
  3. Companies that are unheard of today, will be masters of the world tomorrow
    This sounds cheeky, but is the truth. There are strong reasons for this. i) Extremely cheap and almost free computing power (clouds), ii) large-scale global collaborative work tools (e.g., and iii) crowd-sourcing. All these were simply absent 10 years ago. Smart entrepreneurs are making full use of these tools.^
  4. Ten hot sectors to look out for
    • Renewable energy
    • Education services
    • Services management for services-sector
    • Bottom-of-the-pyramid microfinance
    • Bottom-of-the-pyramid FMCG & Telecom
    • Micro-medicine (Nanotech)
    • Low-cost mass housing
    • Budget hospitality solutions
    • Africa!
    • Personalised media services

So before you decide, think carefully. The world is a beautiful place, with multiple opportunities. To understand this better, you may wish to view Venture Capitalist John Doerr's views on Entrepreneurship (and hence the way companies are run), and Disruptive technologies.

Disruptive technologies - click here 

Enterpreneurs are missionaries - click here

Choose wisely!

* at most b-schools, they used to have a "week" for placements
** Witness a typical scene in the corner office - "Get me 500 post-graduates", thundered the boss of an MNC subsidiary in India. "We have aggressive growth plans". The HR head meekly nodded his head. He had to get 500 heads, anyhow.
*** remember Google? In 1997, no one had heard of them. That's a mere 12 years ago. A mere 12 years! I distinctly remember a colleague of mine asking "what is this google thing? many students are talking about it.." In those days, the first set of employees to have joined this company have reaped the richest rewards of the company's blistering growth over the years. It's always that way. But not everyone can be Google. So what did you expect? That's how the world is. Most die. Some flourish. Few are blockbusters.
^ The tools, per se, do not guarantee success. They accelerate it, facilitate it, make it cheap. But luck, political sense and right timing are needed in equal measure to become a market success.
^^ Entirely my personal opinion. These are all relatively new or unknown sectors, with few talented people contributing. Take renewable energy for example. That's a sector whose success will determine the fate of the planet! Imagine!! And what do we have to show for that? How much coverage does media offer this sector? Relatively less. Another Google is waiting to emerge in this sector. It will happen suddenly. Out of the 6 major areas that companies are working in - Wind-energy (Esp. High-wind, using turbing bearing balloons), Algae fuel, Wave farms, Nuclear fusion, Geothermal systems, Solar satellites - anyone can be the winner. And the potential is boundless. Fossil fuel companies are truly dinosaurs. We have together destroyed much of our beautiful planet, and it's time for big change. Change so big, we cannot contemplate its size now. The only problem is no one knows "when" the change starts to happen. It can be tomorrow, or 20 years later! Well, that's the price of adventure. A word of caution - Bio-tech was touted as a gamechanger 10 years ago. Billions of VC dollars later, nothing much has emerged. It takes time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Organ donation and Red-tapism

Red-tapism is bureaucratic apathy, that tends to slow things down. We all know about it, and have faced it in one form or the other. So today, when I received an email of a friend bemoaning red-tape that slows down the noble act of "organ donation post-death", I found it quite moving.

To make the public at-large aware of this menace that is slowing everything down, I share that mail here (with my friend's permission) -

"Last Saturday morning at around 5.40 am I received a call from my cousin that my grand father (Nana) Mr Sohanlal Sanghvi (a respected naturopath & yoga expert), age 95, had passed away and that the elders of the family have expressed a desire to donate the eyes of my Nana.
I immediately called up Abhilasha Mimani who was travelling and Ayush Jain who was kind enough to immediately scout for the number of the right person and also make a trip to Indore's biggest government hospital (name being withheld) as nobody on their board number cared enough to take the call. Ayush gave me the number of Mr Sandeepan Arya - 93032 59844 who works with Muskaan (an NGO). Mr Arya was kind enough to immediately respond to our request and gave us some instructions over the phone on the precautions that we should take with the body like not switching on the fan and keeping a moist towel over the eyes. The entire team from Geeta Bhawan along with the doctor were at the location within an hour and removed the eyes and covered it such that nobody could tell the difference. Mr Arya also suggested then that we could donate the skin. Thanks to Dr Manish Patel and Abhilasha, last year we had a session on Skin Donation by Yi and I had a clear understanding of the process. I assured the family that the body wont get mutilated as only a thin layer of the skin is taken from the back and thighs. Immediately we called up Dr Shobha Chimaniya of Choithram Hospital and their team was on the way. Since my Nana had devoted his life to the wellbeing of the ill, the family took the bold decision in a difficult time like this of donating the entire body to the biggest government Medical College of Indore (name being withheld). Again Mr Arya took the initiative of calling the head of Anatomy, the dean of the college etc. It took an hour and over 50 calls to realize that the body can be donated within 4 hours from the time of death (we had another 2 hours), and that the dead should have filled up a form of his acceptance. Even after the entire family backing the body donation, the medical college refused to take the body and kept on passing the buck. Some other private medical colleges were willing to take the body but we didn't want to give the body to a private college which charged lacs for admission. Moreover, the family was hurt because of the bureaucracy and decided to conduct the funeral instead.
I ask:
How many families are in the right frame of mind on a death in the family to think of Donating an organ? Isn't the Government Medical College short of resources? Wouldn't it be right for the Dean of the College / Head of the Anatomy to have himself come, thanked the family for doing a noble deed, and respectfully take the body? Is my family the only one to have faced this? If not, then why isnt the media and the govt taking up this matter? After a humiliation like this, who would in his / her right sense ever think of donating a body to the medical college?
Though I recommend eyes and skin donation, and so did the family, it took me a while to convince my mother (who was traveling and shaken by the news of the death) that donating the body is a good deed and will help the students to become better doctors and eventually save lives. I wonder if I am over enthusiastic about helping others and whether I should stop worrying about the world and let it go to the dogs if so.
If somebody has a proactive and positive suggestion on this then please let me know. Although there is bureaucracy and un-thankful people in the govt, I know there are sufficient needy and good people too.
Anuj Kothari"
Hey Anuj, we all truly appreciate your spirit. And this pain of yours is being shared with many young minds across the country through this blog. I am sure good suggestions will pour in, and everyone who reads this will understand the importance of organ donation, of ensuring that the machinery is made to work the right way, and maybe also to protest for a right cause.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

To dream is human, to do is entrepreneurship! (updated with new links)

(in this post, I thought I will use both British and American spellings of Entrepreneurship as I wished, but my readers have convinced me otherwise!)

So the big day arrived finally! For two weeks now, the entire system was gearing up to host the National Entrepreneurship Summit 2009, at PROTON Indore campus.

The entire event was being managed by a team of Faculty mentors, alongwith students of PGP2 (specialisation - Entrepreneurship & FMB), and members of the Entrepreneurship Committee.

And what a day it was! At a personal level, listening to five successful entrepreneur CEOs in a span of 6 hours was enlightening, entertaining, eye-opening and electrifying.

Here are my learnings from this Summit
  1. Entrepreneurs are lonely people. It's always lonely at the top.*
  2. When you are just getting started, it'll be nothing but business, business, business on your agenda. There is no scope for anything else. It's a matter of sheer survival, not any choice.
  3. A lot of them are not going to make it (through the startup stage). It's too nasty, brutal, and short!
  4. Money is a bad thing. It helps speed up the rate at which founding teams start to break up, unless wisdom prevails.**
  5. Scaling up is quite a different matter, as compared to getting started. The rules change quite dramatically.
  6. Ceding control in right measure at the right time is important, if you wish to grow up.***
  7. Understanding what kind of financiers to align with is a life and death situation for many enterpreneurs. The fit has to be right.
  8. Vishal Gondal (Indiagames) shared he knew little of the snappy financial terms that VCs would throw around, when he was a startup kid. He trusted his instincts always, and they've never failed him.
  9. Prakash Mundhra (Sacred Moments) revealed that participating in business-plan competition at b-schools is a great way of getting started on the road to being an enterpreneur.
  10. A common thread across all five CEOs' thought - you really need to hear the call from within you. If you don't, you are not meant for it.
  11. Vivek Bhargava (Communicate2) shared that the cost of acquiring an extra customer is always nothing compared to the direct addition the acquisition will make to the bottomline. Hence advertise more.****
  12. Sasha Mirchandani (BRV and Mumbai Angels) spoke about the VC's need to grow the X to 10X quickly, and exit. So offer them a plan that sounds plausible enough to be able to do this. Sasha also fondly shared the memories of one of the great Indian minds (who recently passed away) who was a mentor to Google founders.
  13. A beautiful pearl of wisdom : "the joy of creating wealth always exceeds the joy of having the wealth."
  14. Another : "the best thing that a government can do for enterprise building in this nation is to stay away from trying to help it!"
  15. Every enterprise will face a death-like situation at least once. It could be the result of sheer audacity, misguided enthusiasm, wrong investments or plain bad luck. Those who survive this stage, emerge much stronger.
  16. Holding on to your field force for a long duration is a really good idea. It inspires trust in your customers' minds.
  17. An interesting idea that popped up : Pooja kits for education sector^
  18. Good questions always create a good impression.
  19. The five CEOs were unanimous in this^^ - "the use of technology (at PROTON) to leverage such events is commendable. Even in corporates, one does not find such uses of technology"
  20. Smart and successful entrepreneurs are invariably EXCELLENT COMMUNICATORS^^^. It is such a pleasure to listen them speak. Such a pleasure!
  21. One of them was surprised to see all students neatly dressed in corporate suits. I made it a point to clarify that usually Saturdays are informal T-shirt days, but this being such a big summit, we didn't want to take a chance :-)
So, an amazing day, with five amazing people. An excellent experience, even for an old-hand at enterprise-building like myself. At times I wonder, how lovely life is when one is willing to listen to others, to share their experiences, and to try and validate one's own against that backdrop.

Remember my habit of validation?^^^^ I asked them what they liked the most.

The feedback from the CEOs was
  • We are surprised to see the number and quality of questions being asked^^^^^. This is a very healthy sign 
  • We visit many B-schools regularly. PROTON is unique. Many others have huge campuses, but andar se khokha hote hain. The tastefulness and world-class standard of PROTON's ambience is unexpected and very pleasantly surprising
  • The enthusiasm of students is very high. This is a strong differentiator
  • The stress on values is interesting. This should really help in the long run
  • Sasha said : "I am a very active & impatient kind of a person, and cannot sit still for more than an hour! I have spent the whole day at PROTON happily, enjoying every moment here!"
Jai ho!

Today's news
Check what the Hindustan Times says about this event. Click here
Check what the Dainik Bhaskar says about this event. Click here
Check what the Naidunia says about this event. Click here
CEO speak
Testimonaials! CEOs speak on their experience at PROTON. Click here!
Web Report
Detailed documented report of this event is here! Click to read
Lots of photographs can be viewed here!

*irrespective of the organisation's size, be it 1, 10 or 10,000 crores. There are things that the top guy (the enterpreneur CEO) just cannot discuss with anyone. This probably explains the success of "Enterpreneur Only" type of societies
** that is, grow beyond a successful start-up stage. The first stage is the romantic one. it gets serious beyond that, and one needs to understand that the game will change
*** I have personally seen partners (educated, MBA-degree holders from some of the best B-schools) become sworn enemies the moment the business (that they founded together as a team) starts generating good revenues. The camaraderie of the founding days evaporates overnight. Such incidences leave me wondering - what is education teaching these guys?
**** example of the travel industry, and a hotel room going empty comes in handy while discussing this point
^ exams... tense kids... tense parents... got it?
^^ at PROTON, I have personally driven the installation of video-conferencing technology and live streaming kits, so that what we do at any one campus can be transmitted live to any other number of campuses (thereby multiplying the learning effect)
^^^ I advise all young managers - work very very hard to improve your communication skills. It is the single biggest differentiator in today's world. All your talent may lie undiscovered and untapped if the world can't see it - and communicating beautifully is the way to make the world see it.
^^^^ to understand more of "validation", see my blogpost
^^^^^ this means that at many b-schools, the level of participation in such programmes from the students' side can be improved significantly. Does this reflect inherent pedagogical limitations? Have the students been trained into being inquisitive always? I personally feel we have won a big battle as our students ASK a lot of intelligent questions always. Good, good. Asking questions is the most difficult thing to do. You need to know a lot to be able to ask sensible and intelligent questions, that go beyond the "pedantic" and "demonstrative" to being genuinely inquisitive

So many dreams, so much hope

I took a detailed session of more than 1000 students today. These are students of PT education, and I was speaking on the Admission Process Counselling system. There are hundreds of business schools in India, and students need inputs regarding process optimisation (which forms to fill, how much to spend, when to fill, how to fill etc.).

I truly enjoy this session a lot. I remember we started this concept (of AdPro) around 9 years ago, when the market was still in its nascent stages. Both the number of b-schools was low, and the vertical specialisations were few.

Then it started to evolve. And man, did it rapidly evolve!

Today, as I stood speaking (for 3 hours at a stretch), I could not stop myself from referring to my life's experiences on everything from running an enterprise to managing perceptions, and from being an HR manager* to deciding which girl to marry.

I realised some truth today. Simple, but elegant.
  1. Young people about to enter a business school are so full of hope, and optimism, it is almost a crime to show them a face of sordid reality (howsoever subtly).
  2. This optimism, this hope, truly is everything a young person can possess. Life is nothing without it.
  3. Realising what one is good at, is so important! Your entire life can change the moment you start building your career around your biggest personal strength.
  4. Young women and men are quite inquisitive, but at times, without having done their homework well. It is important that you learn to research things well before getting hung up on any one choice (you wish to exercise). There is no substitute to personal intense research.
  5. Indians are an extremely tolerant people. More than 70% of students raised their hands when I asked "how many of you faced some kind of an irritation or problem while going through the online IIM-CAT application process?" This means that tens of thousands across India must have faced serious problems in the past 3 days. Yet, everything is flowing normally and smoothly. The authorities will quiety glide past all this, with no one being held accountable. Long live my nation's bureaucratic systems!**
  6. The questions have largely remained the same over the years. This means young people's anxieties and aspirations are largely the same over time, and hence, some predictions are possible.
  7. Technology is a boon. I have started using technology quite a lot, as far as my online presence is concerned. I hope it helps my students, and colleagues. So now I blog, I tweet, I am linkedin, I orkut, and I am on facebook (my god! When will I live?)

Had to rush back to office as needed to prepare a full session for Saturday morning. We have the National Enterpreneurship Summit at PROTON this Saturday. Six CEOs will participate in the same. We are all quite excited about it. Will surely post the learnings on Saturday night. Stay tuned in... cheers!

* My sense of humour is rather acute, and a lot of students who are still "work-in-progress" as far as sensahuma is concerned, might have found some of my examples disconcerting! ha ha ha
** Mistakes can happen anywhere, with anybody. The point is : silly mistakes taking place in process management of one of the most important exams in the country, is a serious matter. You are simply not prepared for a quantum shift of the scale you are proposing.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spectacular failures

We often hear about big successes. They get talked and discussed. They are highlighted in the media, and case-studies are made out of them.

But there are spectacular failures, that escape our attention, after the initial media frenzy is over. In my honest opinion, more learnings can be gleaned from "spectacular failures" than from successes.

Let me share one such example with you today.

Remember eBay? One of the finest companies in the online Buy-sell-auction type of business, it grew rapidly and under the leadership of a dynamic lady CEO, became quite popular and profitable.

And at the top of its success, it took a big bet. And failed in that.

When eBay was at the top of its game, it thought of a killer idea. Buyers and sellers, and the ease of communication between them, is the key to success of this site (business). The more convenient that will be, the more convinced everyone will be, to return for more action. And with each action (transaction actually), eBay gets its fair cut. That's the whole revenue model.

So the killer idea was to connect them using Skype, the famous and free web-service that allows you to make free calls over the internet to other people on Skype for as long as you like, to wherever you like. eBay spent billions of dollars (read full post) to buy Skype and integrate it into its entire user experience. Imagine - it all looks so neat. It had to work out. It had to create great value for everyone. It had to work!

It did not.

Here is a web news report that documented this. Read carefully!
"eBay has finally acknowledged what has been obvious to the rest of the world for at least three quarters: the Skype acquisition gamble has failed. Among the news today:  Skype CEO Niklas Zennstrom officially gone (he's been virtually gone for months). eBay will take $1.4 billion asset-impairment charge. Skype has missed the targets Zennstrom and his team set at the time of the sale. Thus, eBay will only pay $530 million of the potential $1.7 billion earnout (some small consolation).eBay shareholders can only hope that Skype housecleaning doesn't stop here. The Skype acquisition never made sense strategically, and one reason Skype has struggled, we think, is that it is just a distraction to eBay (which needs desperately to focus on its core commerce business). eBay should immediately sell what's left of Skype to Yahoo, Microsoft, or Google, all companies that offer portfolios of communications services that Skype might actually benefit from being a part of."
eBay was lucky to have sold off whatever was left of Skype at a hefty price to someone else (who saw a future in it!).

If you are wondering why such a big deal failed to deliver, I can offer several possible reasons
  1. Failure of CEO's vision - it was a bad decision from the start. Was taken under pressure to deliver big numbers really fast
  2. Problems in integration - the usual M&A nightmare is back!
  3. Misjudging the consumer's taste and needs - more of enthusiasm, less of a rigorous research
  4. Plain bad luck - the combination of factors that must make a big deal work, was not present. Too many moving parts, too little time, too much pressure.
So you see, those willing to make big bets, should be ready to face spectacular upsets. This is what big coporate bets are all about. And so it is with life!

In India also, a similar story seems to be unfolding. The IIMs have recently decided to outsource their entire CAT testing process to a foreign firm. Apparently, this foreign firm is supposed to be king of its trade. I was hugely surprised at this decision of the IIMs, a publicly funded brand, to pay $40 m* to a foreign firm. I am certain an Indian company could have done an equally good job. Maybe better.**

Anyway, so this deal was done. And we all expected a FIVE STAR product to roll out from the pristine stables of this giant foreign testing firm.

In the last few days, from the first exposure that we have had to the working style of this company, confidence has been the casualty. Two reasons -
  1. The demo of the online testing process posted on the official site of the IIM-CAT, is so pathetic in quality that it left me wondering about a lot of things. The online registration process also threw up several limitations.
  2. The training video put up by the IIMs and this company on YouTube is not well-researched - it even lacks a proper Indian accent! So you are going to conduct a test for 2 lac+ Indian students, and process-train them with videos that do not even have Indian accents? Funny. (Check this -
So what next IIMs?  GDs and interviews with American accents?***

And here comes the absolute stunner - this foreign firm (in a tacit acceptance of its capability levels?) has already sub-contracted the humongous task of tying up with Engineering and Management institutes across India (for hiring their computer labs for conducting the IIMCAT) to a local Indian IT company. You know something? Sources tell me that this Indian IT company has little experience in such large scale logistical, testing exercises. And they are expected to manage the entire online IIM-CAT experience. You almost feel that a huge beta-version is being tested across hapless Indian students :)
What does all this prove? It probably shows the recklessness with which this deal was done. If I were an IIM Director, I would be really tough on the firm I am paying millions of dollars of taxpayers' money.

Let's accept it. No one can manager and deliver education testing services in India better than Indians can. Three cheers!

* $40 million is what the local newspapers reported, the IIMs will pay this foreign firm for this adventure
** yes, yes, I understand. All reasons will be proffered. You know, we want to make the IIM-CAT international, and offer it as a competitor to the hallowed GMAT. And all that! So why not let an Indian IT company use this grand opportunity? Are you trying to tell us that Indian IT firms (coupled with expertise from testing firms) are NOT capable of this? So what are the IIMs and IITs doing in the first place?
*** this is not a small matter. You get paid tens of millions of dollars, and this is the video you produce? Imagine a student from a small town wathcing the video. He/she will be scared stiff hearing the accent itself.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

From Thought to System

Sometime ago, I saw a beautiful advertisement for a consulting company which showed human footprints on a seashore and declared - "Your ideas are like these. Unless you convert them to solid reality, they'll be gone in no time." * 

I agree completely.

Every day, we realise certain simple solutions and truths related to our day-to-day existence. Most of these are pretty basic, direct, and simple. But nonetheless, they are solutions. On some specific moments, we come across really great ideas.

But in most cases, our ideas vanish by the time the next morning arrives. You know why? We lack the discipline of converting them into solid reality. So how does one go about doing that? 

Here is a stepwise Ideas Management process -
  1. Whenever you come across any idea, write it down in your diary. This is the indispensable first step. (remember sand, waves, shore?)
  2. Reflect on your idea when you are no longer in the thick of operational busy-ness of the typical manager's working day.
  3. Involve others also, as they can share and contribute. Of course, you must be personally comfortable while doing so.
  4. See what's the "time span of appilcability" of the idea. Can it be applied immediately to solve some short-term issue, or is it a long term idea suited to address some grand strategic issue?
  5. There are only three things you can do with an idea. Act upon it now (option A), Store it for later retrieval (option B), or Dump it (option C).
  6. Once you are sure of what you want to do with the idea - A, B or C - take action accordingly.
  7. Get approvals, sanctions, agreement, consensus.. and push it forward.
  8. Take full personal ownership of that idea. Remember - usually nothing moves forward in an organisation unless someone takes ownership of it.
  9. Push, push, push .. till it achieves its desired destination.
Let me share an example.

Some time ago, a colleague of mine suggested that maintaining "good health" is a serious concern for young people everywhere. So, we can try to do something about it. We thought over this matter for some days, and realised that a solution needed to be found that was - cheap, easy to implement, and acceptable to one and all generally.

Then came the group ideation stage where everyone sat together and hammered out the idea in its practically implementable format - Walk PT Walk - a daily brisk walk of 3.5 kms for everyone, staff and students. The idea is simple - you sweat profusely, get refreshed from within, and stay fit from the cardio-vascular point of view.

We were cautious about not getting into the "gym" rut - it is too costly, deters many, and generally cannot be used as a team-building tool.**

We really went after this idea strongly. It was implemented for the staff of PTHQ, PROTON campuses, and SBM campuses. And also for students of PROTON and SBM. We pushed it hard, and provided significant leadership for several weeks, till leaders were created at all levels.

Today we look back with pride (it has been just 3 months) and can proudly say "We did it!" An idea was born, got refined, was test-piloted, and finally taken to execution. But the most important thing - it was made into a system to be followed.

Full credit goes to the students and staff who willingly accepted all this, and made it a success. Thanks everyone, and promise me that you will spread this far and wide, for the benefit of more people.

The media started taking note. We proved that a substantially good idea was converted to consistent reality.

What a satisfaction it has been, putting theory into practice. Trust me, nothing gives greater joy to a practising manager/leader. So get cracking with your own Ideas Management process. My best wishes!

Closing remark - remember our talk on Kaizen? It is interesting to see Kaizen put into practice with the software I use to upload my blogs daily. Everyday, I am observing small improvements that are making it easier for me to work with this software.  

* Interestingly that company itself vanished a few months later! 
** I was in the Weight-lifting and Power-lifting teams at IIT Delhi (1989-1993). I know what it takes!


Right partners - a strong differentiator

Getting the right (external) partners in an enterprise is almost as important as doing things right yourself. In fact, organisations that develop the right partners for their core processes consistently over a period of time develop a strong differentiator and source of strength. A good example - Maruti Suzuki Ltd. On the other hand, organisations that fail to do so keep struggling, keep striving just to de-bottleneck on a regular basis.

External partners are also knows as associates, channel partners, vendors, joint venture partners etc. depending on the depth and extent of engagement you enter into with them.

I have had a whole range of experiences with (external) partners over past 16 years. These range from the miserable to the heavenly, from the pitiable to the praiseworthy. At times we have lost time, energy and resources trying to develop some of them. At times, we have succeeded big time, and have developed enviably beautiful relationships.

So what are the ingredients of a successful partner development strategy? This post is not on that, but a few quick tips - trust, patience, and foresight. More on that later.

Let me share my experience on the fishpond I have in my cabin. When we were putting up the new facility of PT universe, the architect proposed we put a big fishpond in my cabin, with exotic marine fish. Fortunately we decided against marine (sea) fish, and decided to go for regular ones (although slightly exotic). So we imported this huge tank from China (almost all fishponds are, nowadays), and got a local Indore fish vendor to supply the fish, and maintain the pond on a regular basis.

Then started the nightmare. 

The vendor was good at selling the school of 15 fish - a hefty 5k a piece - sourced from somewhere near Bombay. But he sorely failed in providing any after sales support, despite my explicitly asking for it, and willing to pay for it. I've been a fishpond enthusiast since the age of 10, and knew from experience that such a big pond will need strong, regular & technically correct maintenance. But that did not happen this time. The vendor was not able to provide that in time. We lost almost half the fish in the tank to variations in temperature (they are sensitive to that) and I pressed the panic button. After a long search, we found another experienced vendor who has, so far, done a neat job in maintaining the pond and guiding us about the day-to-day nitty gritty. This issue was serious because the huge pond sits right next to my table - so everyone takes at least one good look at it and identifies anything that is wrong :-)

I learned some lessons here.
  • Get only experienced vendors, ready to offer after-sales service on call
  • Resist impulses to buy exotic stuff - maintenance is almost impossible unless you are personally an expert
  • Buying is one thing, maintaining is quite another
  • Whatever is not your core activity, is a big pain to manage always
Fortunately, we were able to get things in shape once more.

Another partner I got a chance to work with is the National Enterpreneurship Network (NEN). All I can say is - it is a superbly driven and inspired organisation run by some of the most selfless people I have met. Their drive to create enterpreneurs is quite extraordinary, and their achievements so far are quite solid. One of the things I liked the most was a comment by their senior functionary. In a meeting, he shared that he would like to bring (for a guest lecture to PT universe) a successful enterpreneur who has built his enterprise from scratch and now has annual revenues of .... guess? .... of more than Rs 40 lacs!

I was impressed. Only someone with a lot of depth can take pride in that kind of a figure. Normally, to impress me, he would have quoted figures running into crores. But the innocence and genuinity of that interaction made me realise that this organisation was worth working with. So I committed some resources to working with them. We are trying to collaborate on some important things. One such thing is the National Enterpreneurship Summit scheduled this weekend at Indore, which will feature six new-generation CEOs.

Overall, an interesting summit this should turn out to be. I will update my blog on Saturday night (on this event).

Since you have reached this far, let me share a very personal experience with you.

"One of my ex-employees who was heading a team, left the company in a huff some years ago, over a major difference of opinion. We pleaded that he complete his handing-over responsibilities properly to the new guy in-charge, and complete one very crucial external engagement assignment before leaving. I personally, literally, pleaded before him. He just did not budge. His words then were - "Sorry sir there is no point in discussing all this! I am leaving, and that's it." So, left with no choice, we settled his account and bid him a pleasant goodbye. Due to the unprofessional transitioning, we incurred heavy losses. Today, I got an email from that person (a cheerful email) declaring he has started his own software business and wants to sell an institutional management software to me. Imagine! He wants me to trust him now! Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. He has lost that golden opportunity. I was discussing with my senior colleagues today - if only he had given us a painless transition then, today's contract could probably have been his. As it is, we are looking for an ERP for PROTON and SBM. But that guy? Forget it! Even if he is the last ERP vendor in the world, we won't consider him. This is not because we don't like him as a person.. he may be great, but it is because he has lost all credibility. This thing - CREDIBILITY - is everything in business decision-making. Even if you have to incur some short-term loss today just to fulfil your promises, try to do justice to it. At least don't run away abruptly from your duty! Remember friends - if you ditch someone (especially your employer) badly today, you are likely to lose some BIG opportunity tomorrow. Life has a way of getting even. That's why my guiding principle has been - never be unfair to anyone, never under-deliver on any promise made, and never let anyone take you for a ride either."

You see, it is always a good idea to fulfil the commitments you make.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

The joy of discovering!

There is a strong sense of joy in discovering simple things. I realise it everytime I spend a day with my wife and kids. Since the kids are growing up fast, the quality of interaction is different each time.

Today we decided to drive down to a historic place called Mandav (also known as Mandu, around 100 kms from Indore). We got late in deciding this, and then I got late on some conference calls (bad things these conference calls!!) and started at 12 noon. But we were back home by 8 pm, with everyone totally delighted with the experience! (I did not expect that initially)

I discovered several simple things today.

A large patch of the NH3 (Agra Bombay road) - which earlier was rickety, patchwork-laden, and hardly a highway - has undergone massive transformation. It now resembles a proper 6 lane international standard highway. I had not driven down this road for some months, and did not realise that a replica of my favourite Mumbai-Pune expressway has been created right in my backyard! Great job NHAI.

I love driving on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. The maintenance of the greenery along the dividers is so good it's deligtful always. Flowers of all colours! (that is something I am afraid will not be repeated in my region as my experience with the Mhow-Dewas concrete bypass of 40 km length dictates.. the green belt inside the divider has been reduced to weeds. Funds had been allocated for proper greening of the entire divider belt, it never happened. It was a scam reported by local newspapers, but all officers responsible got away scotfree.)

The natural beauty of Mandav is outstanding, more so in this season. All shades of green are visible. I have tried to capture some pictures to share that. For a nature-lover or a Green-lover, Mandav is a paradise. It almost makes one wish he were a herbivore! Oohhh... chomp, chomp, chomp, regurgitate!

There is this curious fruit you find in Mandav, exceptionally different tasting, called Mandu-ki-imli. Gorge yourself on it because you are not likely to find it anywhere else. Techincally, it is Baobab seeds, locally known as Mandu's tamarind (or Mandu ki Imli). Mandav is the only place in the whole of Asia where these can be found, they say. Here are pictures of the fruit and the tree as well.

Being a teacher is a bad idea during such vacations as you are distracted by wrong use of langauge everywhere :-) An example is this signboard. The words "pedal" and "nauka" are wrongly spelt in Hindi.

The MP Tourism has a healthy circuit running across the state. Mandu is a favourite desitnation of tourists, both Indian and Foreign. They have upgraded their facility here recently. The lake is pristine - simple, raw and untarnished. But with each passing year, I fear (like I do for my favourite destination Goa) that construction and/or commercial activity may pick up.

Here are some more pictures of the beautiful roads (that seem to never-end), and the surrounding hills, some of which are breathtakingly beautiful and virgin.

Playing with the monkeys at the lakeside was fun. I regret we are destroying their natural feeding habits. Fortunately, the monkeys at Mandu were not aggressive, like their bretheren I have encountered at many other places of pilgrimage or hill-stations (some are so dangerous they may pose a threat to babies left untended.) 


Here is a video link as well, of the encounter with the monkeys!

Mandu is a beautiful destination (of historic value - I won't delve into all that, as that's a very long story).

You will expect no private party to get rights to aggressive marketing on the streets and trees. I was surprised to find enterpreneurial zeal going on rampage in Mandu through the main street. It is hugely distracting as the only signboards you expect in a place like Mandu are direction boards put up by the government. Honestly, anything else is a letdown. An example of what I mean is shown here. Tourism authorities - are you listening?

Around 8 years ago, I had visited Mandu when a BEAUTIFUL fossil museum - reportedly funded by local MP's fund and created by a renowned craftsman /artist -was just inaugurated. I was thrilled to visit "Ashmadha" museum then. It was beautiful. Great models of what the Dhar district (Mandu lies in Dhar district) region was like crores of years ago. The fossil remains of sea-creatures of that age and documentary descriptions etc. were all neatly displayed inside the building, even as two huge concrete dinosaurs stood sentinel in the garden outside.
The very next year, I was horrified to find the museum fall into disrepair due to almost zero maintenance.

We Indians are excellent at creation, superb at inaugurations, and horrible at maintenance.
We need to really improve on "maintenance" in everything we do. Everything.

While driving back, I always prefer taking a less-travelled kachha road almost 20 kms long. It winds its way through very small villages, towns and farmlands - the real India. It ultimately connects to the highway.
You see lots of activity even on a Sunday evening - tractors plying, young men in groups standing and chit-chatting, farmers carrying their produce, women tending to kids / carrying water, etc. This truly is the real India - in the heartland.


Sometimes, it is best for some places to be left untouched. That's the best development one should contemplate for such places. Their natural existence is their joy.
Mandav is one such place. It's a fantastic experience at minimal cost. Highly recommended!