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So, what’s News?

At no time in recent history have journalists and journalism, been as much of a threatened species as they are today. This is true whether they work for a daily newspaper, a magazine, a news radio station, a news TV channel or even an internet news website or whether they are in New York, London, Paris, Bombay or Delhi,
Among private equity and venture investors, news businesses are nowadays referred to as “vanity businesses”, something that men who have made their money in some other business buy for social prestige or to get the ears of powerful politicians.

But all this must sadden those of us who look up to the media to be that institution of society that “the people” depend on to look out for their interests against the transgressions of powerful actors of society like politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen or even sports stars. And also sadden young entrants into journalism who are drawn to the idealism that that the young protagonist of Orson Welles’ classic film Citizen Kane portrayed: pursue a news story doggedly till the truth is finally revealed. But today’s question is what are these truths and to whose benefit will the revelation of these truths be? And most importantly, why does the sincere pursuit of such truths not make the news organization financially successful?

It was Joseph Pulitzer, an Austrian Jewish immigrant newspaper owner, remembered now through the Pulitzer Prizes, who invented the business model that practically all newspapers in the world follow to this day. He arrived in America at the age of seventeen in 1864, got his first job as a soldier in the ongoing Civil War, moved to being a reporter and then an editor and publisher and finally a newspaper owner. In 1883, Pulitzer bought the ailing New York World in New York, dropped its price to a penny (one cent) a copy when his competitors were pricing their newspapers at 6cents and to make up for this loss initiated the practice of selling advertising space at prices fixed in relation to actual circulation: the newspaper business model was born, in which circulation was the driver to profitability. Pulitzer’s model worked wonderfully till the audience started wandering away to other news consuming devices like the TV, the PC and the Mobile Phone.

Indian journalism may be hobbled by an additional factor:  Indian journalists imagine themselves as the audience and produce content that they think that they and their families would like according to Dr Somnath Batabyal of the Centre for Media and Film Studies, University of London, and a former journalist, in his recent book, Making News in India, an ethnographic account of Indian TV news practices. This worked as long as advertisers were also seeking the same audience, the so-called  SEC A (Socio Economic Class A) made up of families whose chief wage earner has a college degree and works as junior, middle or senior officer or executive or as a self-employed professional or business owner.

Unfortunately, if there is one group that has fallen behind economically and socially in the post-liberalization period it is this group, who are largely in occupations with fixed salary incomes. Skyrocketing real estate prices in city centres (that where SEC A-type jobs are mostly available) have made housing unaffordable for them, prohibitively expensive private medical care darkens their retirement, hyper-competition makes higher education institutions like the IITs and IIMs a long shot for their children. Indian news media, print and TV, particularly the English language versions of it, have tried their best to reflect the anxieties of this SEC A group hoping that this will resonate. It worked up until the end of the 1990’s when the newly liberated Indian industry was satisfied with the minuscule audience (according to a NCAER’s How India Earns, Spends and Saves, less than a sixth of Indian households are headed by a college graduate) that the SEC A group provided. Today’s  advertisers, be they financial services, consumer durables or auto companies need to go far beyond the SEC A audience if they are to meet their sales goals. So, they bypass News organizations that still stay focused on SEC A audiences be in print, TV or even the internet.

But, wait, look, a new dawn is breaking and in the early morning light a new world is starting to be revealed: one where 800 million or more Indians gaze at their mobile phones all day. This “audience” barely has a school education and the head of the household is more often than not employed as an unskilled or skilled worker, or in a sales and clerical positions in small shops or are tiny scale traders in the unorganized sector of our economy. Whoever decodes what’s news for them and their children and convinces them it is value for their money to pay, say Rs 10 per month for it on their mobile phone, may be the next winner in News.
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How IIM Calcutta Fared in Thought Leadership in 2009-10

    For the last two years, its been a ritual for me to lock myself in a room for a week-end and read through the vast output of our faculty during the year. I get immense pleasure  from this and in sharing  with you today what I discovered I hope you will get a similar pleasure. The scale and width of the issues that our faculty have tackled is immense.

For example, why do some alliances between Indian and international firms succeed and others fail? Prof BN Srivastava, of our Behavioral Sciences group, in a paper presented at the Academy of Management meeting in Chicago in August 2009, titled Positive Organizational Scholarship: A Cross-Cultural Perspective from Five Nations used the Positive Organizational Scholarship approach to study this issue and concluded that success is based on the quality of the connection. The quality of connection, in turn, depends on  the emotional capacity to withstand both negative and positive experiences, resilience or capacity of the person to bend and withstand strain and to function in a variety of circumstances,  and the relationship’s generativity and openness to new ideas and influences and the ability to deflect the pressures that shut the generative processes.

We have of late observed the phenomenon of foreigners being hired for top management positions in Indian firms. Prof Rajiv Kumar of our Behavioral Sciences group studied the circumstances under which Indian companies hired such foreign talent and developed twelve propositions about this phenomenon. The desire to learn  superior execution skills from these ‘foreign nurtured talent’, getting their help in managing overseas subsidiaries particularly in dealing with the external environment are two examples of these propositions. He also notes that the Indian companies who hired such managers are ones that have global ambitions in growth and technical excellence. His paper, Foreign Nurtured Talent in Indian Business Houses was accepted for the 10th International Human Resource Management Conference held at Santa Fe, New Mexico in June, 2009.

We have seen the film industries in Hollywood or Bollywood where In independent business elements like studios, producers, directors, actors, technical personnel create a temporary network structure, which is project-based  and inter-organizational in a “system of recurrent ties among the various major participants who usually work under short-term contracts for single films”. Economists have been baffled why they continue this so-called network organization structure even though it has been demonstrated that the transaction costs of such a structure are far higher than a hierarchically or purely market oriented structure. Since networked structures are increasingly evident across many industries, Professor Amit Jyoti Sen of Behavioural Sciences Group with a doctoral candidate, Apalak Khatua, proposed a framework `for understanding the circumstances under which such network structures emerge and their paper, Inside the Interorganisational Network, accepted for Association of Heterodox Economics Conference at Kingston University, Kingston-on Thames, UK, July, 2009.

Outsourcing is what has driven India’s emergence as a global economic giant, yet little organization theory has developed to understand the many different organization forms these outsourcing firms take. In a study of sixty such firms, Professor Leena Chatterjee of Behavioural Sciences Group and Kirti Sharda, a doctoral candidate at that time, proposed five dominant types: Clear Eyed Strategists, Adapting Professionals, Focalizing Artisans, Conservative Controllers and Overambitious Associates. Their paper Configurations of Outsourcing Firms and Performance: Exploring  Organizational Gestalts was presented at the 2009 Academy of Management Meeting held in Chicago during August, 2009.

Businesses have, since the 1990’s gained great benefit from the Business Process Re-engineering movement. Re-engineering  involves a re-configuartion of “core processes” that “set of interrelated activities, decisions, information, and material flows, which together determine the competitive success of the company.” Is it possible to apply such a tool to governmental processes where what is ‘core’ and what is not is often under dispute, the concept of “value” and “value-adding process” are difficult to measure.   Professor Priya Seetharaman  of our MIS Group and Prof Raghabendra Chattopadhyay of the Public Policy Group, based on their study of West Bengal Panchayats, propose a system of ‘process channeling’ in their paper Process Reengineering in Government Institutions: Walking A Tightrope, presented  at the 5th Annual International Conference on Public Administration, 2009 held at Chengdu, China during October, 2009. This , incidentally is a great example of researchers from two different groups, MIS and Public Policy, collaborating on a common research project.

Algorithm-based recommendation systems are all the rage nowadays be it on Social Networking sites where you are recommended people you may like or in eCommerce sites where products are suggested for you. These face a continuous challenge in improving the quality of their recommendation. A paper entitled  by Professor Ambuj Mahanti of Management Information Systems Group has proposed such an improvement in his paper , Improving Prediction accuracy in Trust-aware Recommender Systems,  was presented at the 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences in Kauai, USA in January, 2010.

In another paper, also in the broad area of machine learning, Professor Uttam Kumar Sarkar of MIS Group, and his associates used mathematical techniques to locate interesting patterns in the reporting of adverse effects of pharmaceutical products using the US FDA data and presented their findings at the International Society for Clinical Biostatistics conference at Prague, Czech Republic in August, 2009.

Prof Debasis Saha of the MIS Group devised a new protocol to improve the efficiency of Wave Division Multiplexed Optical Networks, and the paper describing this work titled, An Intelligent Destination Initiated Reservation Protocol for Wavelength Management in WDM Optical Networks was presented at the 12th International Conference on Advanced Communication Technology held Republic of Korea, in February, 2010.

Prof Debasis Saha and his collaborators presented a second paper, this one describing a new technique for improving the quality of service when a local area wireless network and a 3G network operate together presented their paper, An Improved WLAN-first Access Scheme for UMTS/WLAN Interworking System, at the ACM Symposium on Applied Computing, University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland in March,2010.
Profs Subir Bhattacharya,  Rahul Roy and others from the MIS group used a Systems Dynamic modeling to evaluate the future of Software-as-Service as a business model and presented their paper Quo Vadis, SAS, at the International Conference of Information Management at Chengdu, China, April, 2010.

Prof Subir Bhattacharya and his co-worker devised a solution for a specific type of financial portfolio selction and presented a paper on this at the Conference on Automation Science and Engineering, Bangalore August, 2009. This paper is an early example where people from the MIS faculty used the facilities at our new Financial Lab and I hope we will see many more such cross-functional research endeavours.
Prof Anup Sen and his collaborator thought up an improvement to the so-called ‘greedy algorithm’  a way of quickly getting an approximate result, and presented their paper at Sixth International Conference on Autonomic and  Autonomous Systems, March 2010 – Cancun, Mexico, and has been subsequently published by IEEE proceedings.

Prof  Rajesh Babu analyses the dilemma of protecting ‘traditional knowledge’ and recommends a way to do that under the existing TRIPs/WTO regime and presented his paper, International Protection of IPRs in Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, at the International Conference on The Challenging issues under WTO at Koh Samui, Thailand, October 2009

The increasing demand for internet connectivity has resulted in access points sprouting up everywhere: in parks, shopping malls, restaurants, etc. Efficient algorithms are needed to connect wireless nodes such as a Laptop or a Mobile Phone evenly to the many Access Points available. Prof Uttam Sarkar of the MIS Group along with his co-author proposed a new algorithm to do this using the emerging 802.21 standard and their paper, Balancing Load of APs by Concurrent Association of Every Wireless Node with Many APs, was presented at the 5th International Conference on Networking and Services in Valencia, Spain in April, 2009.

Prof Asim Pal and others devised a new algorithm for improving the co-ordination mechanisms in e-market Supply Chains and presented their paper, Cooperative Game for Multi-Agent Collaborative Planning, at the International Conference on Operations Research at Hong Kong in March 2010.
To round off the rich work in our MIS Group, Prof Asim Pal, used game-theoretic concepts in another problem area, that of detecting so-called ‘sybils’, pseudonymous entities, that launch malicious attacks on computer networks and his paper, A Discriminatory Rewarding Mechanism for Sybil Detection with Applications to Tor, was accepted  at the ICCCIS 2010 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  in March, 2010

We have all watched in amazement as international commodity prices doubled between 2005 and 2008 and then in a six month period halved to a level that wiped out all the increases. How did this violent fluctuation affect the lives of the 400 plus million people in the Asia Pacific region whose lives are dependant on agriculture. Did the price increase benefit them as producers and since they are also commodity consumers, did it hurt them? Prof Parthprathim Pal of the Economics Group studied this issue and drew some policy implication for developing countries for the ongoing WTO negotiations. His paper, Commodity Price Movements and Their Impact on Human Development: Evidence from Asia and Policy Options, was presented at the 9th International Working Group on Gender and Macroeconomics conference, at Bard College, New York in July 2009.

Neo-classical economic theory postulates that growth rates between countries should ultimately converge because technology, capital and other supply side factors can, in today’s world, freely move around from country to country, but putting this theory to test has posed formidable methodological problems. Prof. Manisha Chakrabarty of our Economics Group and her co-authors presented a paper proposing some methodological solutions to this at the Tenth Islamic Countries Conference on Statistical Sciences at American University of Cairo, Egypt in December 2009.

Basing promotion and compensation decision on a rational and formal Performance Appraisal system is seen as a hallmark of professional and modern companies and is generally believed to be free of political and power and control issues. How does it fare in the Indian corporate situation which is believed to be relatively more paternalistic and relationship oriented than in other cultures?    Prof Amit Diman of our Human Resources Group devised an instrument for measuring the appraises perception of Performance Appraisal Politics and his paper, Performance Appraisal Politics from Appraisee’s perspective: Exploration in Indian Context was presented at the Academy of Management conference held at Chicago in Ausust, 2009.

Industrial Relations theory has largely been a creation of the Anglo-Saxon industrial experience. How does it fit the new paradigm in India in which an old formal economy of heavy industry and public sector enterprises, co-exists today with the new formal economy of IT and Financial Services and the massive informal economy of casual labour and petty trade which forms the majority of Indian employment? Prof Debashish Bhattacharjee and his co-author undertook a sweeping study of both the historical evolution of Employment Relations in India from 1947 right down to the effects of the Global Recession of 2008 as well as an equally magisterial look at how the Indian academic tradition of Industrial Relations has gradually transformed itself into the Human Resource Management movement. His paper, Comparative Industrial Relations Narratives and their Relevance to India, was presented at the 15th Congress of the International Industrial Relations Association meeting in Sydney, Australia in August, 2009.

Our newly formed Public Policy and Management Group has kicked off to a great start.
Profs Bhaskar Chakrabarti and Raghabendra Chattopadhay addressed the problem of developing the right measures for judging the effectiveness of Local Government Bodies and presented their paper, Administrative Reforms for Local Governments in Rural West Bengal at the Annual Conference of the International Association of Schools and Institutes of Administration, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil d August, 2009.

The same team presented two other papers, Village Forums or Development Councils: People’s participation in decision-making in rural West Bengal and Local Governments in rural West Bengal, and their Coordination with Line Departments at the Commonwealth Local Government Conference in the Bahamas in May 2009  and a third paper titled, Decentralization of Irrigation Management in India: Problems of Participation and the role of Water User Associations together with Suman Nath at 5th Annual International Conference on Public Administration, in Chengdu, China October, 2009.

Prof Manish Thakur, of the Public Policy Group did one of the few academic studies available on India’s giant National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. He points out that the value of this  scheme should not be judged merely by the preset targets they achieve but also by how they mobilize the poor  and also sets in motion the consolidation of a constellation of interests which for years to come will help the poor articulate their collective rights. His paper, Public Policy Interventions and Social Inclusion, was presented at 5th Annual International Conference on Public Administration, 2009 held at Chengdu, China in Oct 2009.

In his paper, Social Welfare through Business: Study of Home Based Ayah Service for the Aged, Professor Kalyan Sankar Mandal of the Public Policy Group presents an example of how a business can contribute to social welfare. This paper was presented at the 9th Conference of Asia-Pacific Sociological Association at Bali, Indonesia in June, 2009.

Prof Mandal also took a look at the prospect of private sector initiatives helping out in the gigantic task of improving primary school quality in his paper, Towards Universalising Primary Education: A Business Solution presented at the International Conference on Primary Education held at Hong Kong, November 2009.

Last year, the film Slumdog Millionaire, poignantly portrayed the despairing lives of people in our great cities. India now has over 35 such metropolitan areas each with a population of over 1 million. Over a 100 million Indians now live in such metropolitan settings and they live in unequal access to health care and education. Prof Annapurna Shaw of our Public Policy Group studies what she calls “place inequalities” at the metropolitan level in her paper, Metropolitan Governance and Social Inequality in India which was presented at the conference on Metropolitan Inequality and Governance in International Perspective held at University of Southern Californea, Los Angeles in January 2009 and at the 105th meeting the Association of American Geographers at Las Vegas on March  2009.

In a rare look at India’s Small and Medium industrial companies who collectively produce 40% of the industrial output of our country, Prof BB Chakrabarti, presented a paper titled, Capital Structure of SME’s –a Puzzle that Merits Attention: The Case of India, based on a ten-year data set of 1300 such companies and presented at the West Lake International Conference on Small & Medium Business held at Hangzhou, China in  October, 2009.  What is exciting about this paper is that it was produced collaboratively with a business organization, Bitscrape Solutions and is hopefully a sign of more such collaborations that will come in the future.

Banks wooing all of us through SMS barrages on our mobile phone, television advertising, and advertising in newspapers and billboards is a feature of India’s new landscape of a hyper competitive consumer banking scene. Yet , there are few studies on how do Indian consumers judge service quality of banks. Prof. Koushiki Choudhury of Marketing Group took a shot at this and her paper, Exploring the Dimensionality of Service Quality: An Application of TOPSIS, was presented at the 4th International Conference on Services Management at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, U.K. May, 2009.

Complete flexibility in allocating products to manufacturing capacity based on realized demand is the holy grail of modern manufacturing. However, this kind of ‘total flexibility’ where all plants can produce all products can be a costly solution. Could there be an optimum combination of plants and products that maximizes the ability to meet demand and at the same time minimizes various types of costs? Prof. Ashis K Chatterjee of Operations Management Group demonstrates how this can be modeled and his paper, Benefits of Partial Product Flexibility, was presented at the 23rd European Conference on Operational Research, Bonn, Germany in July, 2009.

Signaling a new class of studies where our professors collaborate with those of international universities, Prof Rahul Mukherjee of our Operations Management Group, collaborated with Prof Hong Chang of Chosun University, Korea in presenting a paper, Highest Posterior Density Regions Based on Empirical-Type Likelihoods: Role of Data-Dependent Priors, at New Zealand Statistical Association Conference at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in  September, 2009.  This paper has since been accepted for publication in the prestigious Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference.

Prof Saibal Chattopadhyay, of the Operations Management Group also presented a paper, Exponential Clinical Trials: Sequential Comparison under Asymmetric Penalty at the same New Zealand Conference.

Professor Bodhibrata Nag’s book titled “Optimal Design of Timetables for Large Railways: a framework to maximise schedule robustness and minimise resource deployment, using a multi-objective mathematical model” has been published by VDM Verlagsservicegesellschaft mbH, Germany in February 2010.

Dealing with the demand uncertainties of short life cycle products such as fashion goods have always posed a challenge.  Prof Balram Avitatthur, of our Operations Management Group with his co-authors, developed a mathematical model to do deal with the associated procurement and transportation discount structures and this paper has been accepted for publication in The International Journal of Production Economics, from Elsevier.

Indian media and policymakers are fond of pointing to India’s youthful population and the demographic dividend.  Prof Janakirman Moorthy looks beyond to the year 2050 when India will have three times more people in the 60+ age group than we have now and tries to draw some implications of this. His paper on this phenomenon was accepted as a book chapter in The Silver Market Phenomenon Business Opportunities in an Era of Demographic Change, Edited by Florian Kohlbacher, and Cornelius Herstatt. Prof Moorthy also contributed , Cross-National Logo Evaluation Analysis: An Individual-Level Approach, to the September 2009 issue of the international journal, Marketing Science, and an article titled, Buying behaviour of consumers for food products in an emerging economy  to the British Food Journal’s  second issue of 2010.

Prof Jacob Vakkayil, co-authored a chapter titled, Conflict Management and Resolution in the book, Doing Business in India, published by Routledge.

He also contributed a paper, Dynamics of Multiple Memories, Reflections from an Enquiry, to the Sage journal, Journal of Management Enquiry. I found it one of the most valuable ruminations I have read in recent years about one of the frontier challenges in the new knowledge economy. Companies try all sorts of methods to capture as organizational Memory what they learn as they go along in business: project documents are stored in databases, case studies are caused ot be written, white papers and best practice documents are created, reviewed by gate-keepers and stored. These are then used in knowledge-sharing sessions. Yet, to new entrants all this seem like just another training session. Knowledge Management efforts in many companies lead only to disappointment. Jacob, then wonders what is the nature of Organization Memory? Is it one or is there a plurality of memories? Are organizational memories messier and more improvised than we think? Are local, relational memories more effective than global ones? Are there communities of practice with two strands, one inside the organization and the other extending beyond into other organizations? Are there tentative, nebulous memories which are more real than the grand schemes of long-term storage and retrieval?

I found these reflections on the very nature of knowledge breathtakingly inspiring and I feel it deserves to be heard beyond the confines of a Sage management journal.

And it is also a fitting book-end to my review today of the exciting intellectual effort going on at IIM Calcutta. I hope you got as much pleasure in listening to this recounting as I did in preparing this summary.

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The Misguided Search for Excellence

For a word that has its origins in 14th century Anglo-French, excellence has done very well. One can hardly ever attend a meeting of top policy makers in business or education or science without somebody or the other raising the question, Are we striving enough to achieve excellence in our field? For policy makers, excellence is one of those unquestionable goals.


            For  the  cult following that excellence enjoys among policy makers we have to thank Tom Peters and Bob Waterman and their 1982 book, In Search of Excellence.  They were consultants at McKinsey when they wrote this  book which went on to sell 3 million copies in the first four years of its existence and is believed to be the most widely held book in libraries in the United States.


            Peters and Waterman observed  traits that  successful companies had in common. Things like a readiness to take  quick action (as opposed to procrastination), a willingness to listen carefully to customers (as opposed to a take-it-or-leave-it attitude), and the discipline to  stick to their  knitting (as opposed to venturing into  unrelated businesses).


            These ideas seemed so stunningly obvious  and something that anybody could practice that  the notion for striving for excellence quickly became a corner of management thinking. It soon found its way well beyond the business world and into areas like educational and government policy making.       It mattered little that in a   short few years  after the book came out  several of these excellent  companies  ( Atari, Data General, Wang, to name a few) had collapsed financially. The search for excellence marched forward among policy makers.


The idea of searching for excellence has been around in education for a while in an equally unquestioned way.    In engineering education, for example, it led to the starting of a half dozen institutions, equipping them with more and better classrooms, more and better teachers and more and better labs and you now have a half-dozen IITs that meet the criteria of  excellence.


            The search for excellence in management education led to the founding if another half dozen institutions , equipping them with more and better classrooms, more and better teachers and more and better libraries and you now have a half-dozen IIMs that meet the criteria of excellence.


            And this was repeated in medical studies, in Design education, in Architecture and many other fields..


            All this is very comforting till you start counting the others. The several thousand other engineering colleges, the two thousand other management schools, the several hundred other medical, Design and Architecture schools that have not been favored with these extra resources.


            The theory of excellence works on the principle that if in a population of 100, five perform exceedingly well, the job is done. It does not pay attention to the other 95.


            Maybe it is time that we set these excellence theories aside and look to the teachings of William Deming, a .  philosophy that is exactly the opposite of the excellence theorists’. Up until then achieving manufacturing quality meant posting an inspector at the end of a production process to pick out the excellently produced items and send back the others to be reworked or discarded. Much like how we use tough entrance exams to select 0.5 to 1% of applicants to IITs and IIMs and forget  the others.


            Demings view was that when a production system turns out items of varying quality, we must ask  what is the variation trying to tell us about the process? There are two parts to this variation he pointed out. The first part is  intrinsic to the process.. He called these the common causes of variation.  And the second part  is because of things like an  operator falling asleep on his shift or  a particularly poor batch of raw material. These he called the special causes.


            The special causes  are relatively easy to fix  and can often be fixed by the people directly involved in the production process: the worker who operates the machine needs to get a proper night sleep and not fall asleep at the machine, the man who buys the raw material needs to avoid poor batches.


            The common causes, he said is the more insidious part of the variation of quality.  They  are often outside the control of workers and others directly involved in the production process and can only be fixed by those in management positions. Perhaps the product design itself is defective, maybe the operating processes are poorly defined, and maybe the working conditions are too poor.


            Using Demings methods, Japanese auto and electronics companies learned to produce 100% of their output of high quality and with little or no rejects.


            When we praise the excellence of our IITs and IIMs and a handful of other elite institutions we may merely be praising the work of pre-Deming quality control inspectors.


            This is perfectly in keeping with the origins of the word excellence.  It originates from the 14th century Anglo-French word excellere which means someone or something that is much better than others. Intrinsic to it is the idea of selecting a few and not worrying about the rest.


            Is it time we abandoned this search of excellence, embrace the methods of Deming and identify the common causes that cause such quality variations in our education system?


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Comments welcome at ajitb@rediffmail.com


           


           


           


           


           

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The Tall Man Watching Over Chowpatty Beach

The monsoon in Mumbai was winding down and Ganesh Chaturthi had just been celebrated when it struck me that this would be a good time to pay my respects to a man I much admire. So, on a recent bright and clear morning, on my way to work, I stopped by at Chowpatty Beach , that small stretch of sand at the start of Marine Drive that is an island of calm in hectic Mumbai.


            It was nearing nine that morning and everyone other a few stragglers had finished  their morning exercise walk and gone. The few men and women still lounging around the benches strewn along the edge of the beach were, I guess, folks who had no particular place to go or nothing particularly important to do. On nearby Marine Drive, cars whizzed by in both directions, Mumbaites in their usual demonic  hurry to get to work.


            What Id come to see was there alright, if anything taller than I remember- nearly ten feet tall and when you add another ten feet for the pedestal it rested on , it was not easy from nearby to take the whole picture in.


            There he stood, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, veteran of many a battle, forever impatient to set his country free now caught in an unhurried pose. One hand clutching a book, perhaps the Bhagwad Gita commentary that he wrote when the British incarcerated him for six long years in a tiny cell in remote jail. The other held a walking stick lightly. One foot was slightly ahead of the other as if he was setting out on a march for one of the many causes he felt so passionate about. He stood there alert as if watching carefully all who entered Chowpatty Beach. On Ganesh Chaturti day, millions pour past his watchful eye to immerse the Ganesh idol into the sea here. And as every school boy in India is taught, it was Tilak who thought up the public version of what was till then a private festival to get around a fearful British colonial government prohibition of large numbers of Indian gathering at one place.  Early Ganesh processions even carried pictures of Garibaldi  the unfier of Italy.


            I wonder whether school children get taught nowadays why Tilak was sent for his first spell in prison. It was nearing the end of the 19th century, Mumbai and Poona were being ravaged by plague which had spread here through merchant ships that traded with Hong Kong. The British colonial administration started forcibly removing plague victims and isolating them in plague hospitals. 19th century science knew of no other solution to plague other than isolating people who already got it to prevent the disease from spreading to others. The high-handed way this isolation was done created an outcry among the population. Things came to a head when the British official in charge of this segregation effort was assassinated in Poona. Tilak was implicated, probably falsely, as a conspirator and sent to jail. All this may make Tilak look like an obscurantist who came in the way of medical progress he was far from that. In the middle of this turmoil, his newspapers in Poona were carrying up to date accounts of what Koch, the German scientist, was doing to isolate the plague virus. I wonder whether our school children are taught to make this distinction about Tilaks actions- the nationalist who objected to the way citizens were being herded into plague hospitals and the modernist who followed eagerly the progress that science was making in finding an answer to the plague problem.


            From where I stood beside Tilak I could see that Tilaks gaze would have taken in the row of glitzy shops  that have sprung up across the road on Marine Drive:  a Levi jeans shop, a Renault car showroom, one for Arrow shirts, an immensely popular outlet of Caf Coffee Day that is packed at all times of the day or night with young trendy, jeans-wearing college students. What would Tilak have made of all this?  When he died, in 1920, it was far from clear whether or when India would wrest Independence and Tilak till his end was uncompromising in his demand for Swaraj. But he was also the man who in 1880 had co-founded an English medium school in Pune, The New English School, and an English language newspaper, The Maratha .


            For that matter what would Tilak have made of what some environmentalists say- that the immensely popular Ganesh festivities that culminate in thousands of Ganesh statues being immersed in the sea cause environmental damage. The Ganesh statues were, in Tilaks time, made of harmless clay and  painted over with vegetable dyes, but present-day versions are made of plaster of paris that, environmentalists say, contains gypsum, sulphur, phosphorus and magnesium and are painted over with chemical paints that contain mercury, cadmium, lead and carbon.


Tilak, ever the modernist, would probably have led another movement, this time at the head of the environmentalists who suggest that permanent idols made of brass or stone be used, that a symbolic immersion be done so that the same idol could be used again the next year and oppose the use of thermocole and plastic in decorations. And, ever the great activist, he may have carefully watched the immersions from his vantage point at Chowpatty to make sure that these socially important directions are followed.


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Decoding the Rs 1 LacMessage

 



It is early January here in New York and the weather had no right to be as warm and sunny as it is today. By any account it has to be freezing and below zero Celsius and the streets have to be speckled with dirty, melting snow puddles. These pigeons that we see hopping along in the square ought to be hiding from the cold in a warm nook of some building. The streets are bustling with people. This is not a sight for early January. People ought to be indoor and the streets ought to wear the deserted January   look.



          I find myself strolling back from lunch with a prominent technology guru of a prominent Wall Street bank.



I have finally figured out what one lac means, he had said to me.



How come?  I asked, genuinely surprised. There have many things I have tried explaining about India to our western friends, but not our numerical system of lacs and crores. I thought we had left that safely behind in favour of hundreds of thousands and millions. The term lac had seemed so archaic. But here it was, back in the worlds headlines with the Rupees One Lac car from the Tatas.



I believe what the Tatas are unveiling today, their Rs one lac car, is going to change the way the world looks at Indian companies, my tech guru friend had said.



When the Indian software industry, made its mark, he had continued, the rest of the world had understood how they did it; Indian programmers were a tenth as expensive as programmers in the West. Then the Indian rupee steeply devalued from Rs 8 per dollar in the mid-1980s to Rs 45+ per dollar in the mid 1990s making the cost competitiveness case even more compelling. But the Rs 1 lac car is different. They will get to this target not by using cheaper labour or cheaper materials available only in India. They are going to get to this by bringing into play product design skills, consumer insights, management systems, perhaps even a new business design. In other words, they are going to compete on capabilities not resources. Thats why it is sending a shudder down the spine of many Western executives, not just car industry executives.



As I walked back to my office my mind strayed to other such moments in industrial history.



Take, for instance, Richard Arkwrights successful effort in the early part of the 19th century to make machines spin yarn of a quality equal to or better than that spun by skilled, hand spinners in India. His innovation made yarn cheaper and thus made cotton cloth woven from it affordable not merely by the very wealthy and it had been till then. What Arkwright did was not save labor costs by using machines instead of labour because any such savings were more than offset by the cost of equipment and factory buildings… His real innovation was in the design of work such that workers would all congregate at a fixed place of work (a factory) and thus work for predictable hours and under tight supervision as opposed to working odd hours at home. Superior work organization allowed output to be dramatically increased and made cotton yarn widely available, a feat that home-based spinners could not achieve.       The rise of the Western world was predicated first on this idea- the use machines to do at one central place what hitherto human muscle power had done in decentralized home based activity. Then came the use of chemistry to make synthetically and in plenty materials that had been hitherto available in nature in restricted quantities and in varying quality levels and consequentially at higher prices. Thus indigo from India was synthetically produced and became available in vast quantities and at a fraction of the price of natural indigo; aspirin, hitherto distilled from the bark of willow, was similarly synthesized and millions of ordinary citizens benefited.



Henry Ford created another revolution when he launched his Model T car and brought cars within the reach of ordinary people. He did this by deploying mass production techniques- a new system of arranging a sequence of metal working machine which did repetitive operations reliably and which could be supervised by the illiterate, unskilled immigrant labor coming off the impoverished farms of Ireland and Southern Italy- the only kind of labour available to him at that time. Fords  big idea, mass production, then got deployed in a wide variety of metal working industries and made such objects like the sewing machine and bicycles affordable by all.



The big idea behind the Rs 1 Lac Tata car is this- an Indian company, has dreamt up a management system and a business design to build cars that are affordable by people who had never dared dream  of owning a car..



The real message of the Rs 1 Lac car is that in one stroke, it is showing the way to Indian managements that a new era awaits- one where you compete on superior management capability leaving behind decades of attempting to compete on cheaper labour or cheaper natural resources.



Its like the early coming of spring after a long cold winter.



End

No Comments

Are our IIMs Overly US-centric?

Twenty six of us were seated around a long U-shaped table. It was late in the afternoon. The room was semi-dark. Each of us had a plate of sweets and a bottle of mineral water in front. A third of the people seated here were CEOs of large and famous Indian companies, some recently retired, others still very active in business.  Another third were high-level civil servants. The rest was a mix of senior company executives and academics. A slightly graying 40-something man stood at the head of the U in front of a brightly-lit screen. Everyone was intently focused on what the man was saying straining to take in every word above the whirring sound of the air conditioners valiantly battling to tone down the heat from the October afternoon sun.
 We were at IIM Calcuttas quarterly board meeting. The Professor at the podium was walking us through some pretty revolutionary ideas for updating the curriculum for the flagship two-year Post Graduate Programme in Management- the result of nearly three years of debate within the faculty. A mandatory course in a foreign language, other than English, was the first of the many revolutionary ideas.  The world is increasingly globalized, explained the professor, and our students need to be comfortable in dealing with people of other cultures. It was one of those ideas that catch you by surprise because once you hear it you wonder why you didnt think of it earlier.
 A compulsory course on Ethics was the next big idea. Of course, the professor quickly added, its not that we think we can teach people issues like ethics but it certainly was worthwhile to explore with young and impressionable minds what constitutes unethical behavior in business. Explore with them how to deal with bosses who sail too close to the wind in ethical matters. Perhaps even demonstrate to students that ethical companies get practical rewards such as higher stock market valuations. None of us around the table could quarrel with this either.
 There were a few murmurs around the table when the professor mooted his next big idea- increase and emphasize the mathematical content of the programme. More and more stock trading is being done based on mathematical models, he pointed out and since the majority of the graduating class finds its way to financial service and consulting companies, being adept at mathematical modeling is likely to be a useful thing.
 Thats when a really revolutionary idea was sprung on us. By a board member, a retired CEO. Is it possible, he asked, that our IIMs, espouse essentially an American way of managing businesses? Should we not be opening our minds to looking at other ways of managing too? Arent there lessons to be learnt, for example, from successful Japanese companies?  Companies such as Toyota have used a subcontracting system to rise to the top of the world auto industry. What are the practices they have instituted that makes co-operation with suppliers possible over the long term? What makes it possible for Japanese companies and their partners to exploit complementary assets? What allows them to have a convergence of purpose with their suppliers? How do they so successfully manage the interface between themselves and their suppliers? Is this something in the Japanese industry structure? Or something in Japanese society?
 While our meeting ended with all of us promising to think about this issue, that evening as I drove back into Calcutta city along the Ganges, I asked myself: are ways of managing businesses different across countries?
Prof Bruce Kogut of Wharton and INSEAD, writing in the journal, Management Science, is someone who believes that the institutional environment in which large firms operate differs significantly across countries. Boards of US companies, for example, are much more powerful than boards in France or Japan. Institutional investors have a large say in how large US firms are run whereas in France and Japan its not institutional investors but government bureaucrats that wield this kind of power. In Germany, commercial banks and labor unions have strong voices on company boards.  Again, in Germany, there are few industrial groups whereas in Japan groups of large companies are tied together in keiretsu with a large firm and a bank as the hub. These differences in the institutional environment play a crucial role in how management plays out.
Maybe management thought, to be powerful, ought be like the Ganges itself- springing from many different sources. The Alaknanda river meets the Dhauliganga, then the Mandakini at Nandprayag, then the Pindar at Karnaprayag, and finally the Bhagirathi at Devaprayag to form the Ganges. Then the Ganges emerges from the Himalayas at Haridwar, and flows for 800 km till the Yamuna joins it at Allahabad.  Then it picks up speed  as rivers such as the Kosi, Son, Gandak and Ghaghra join it. When it reaches Bengal, the Meghna River joins it before it flows into the Bay of Bengal.
 Maybe, what we teach at our IIMs need to be like the Ganges, nourished from many different sources.


READERS WRITE


 


Ajit,
 
I read with great interest your article on whether IIM’s are overly US looking.  I strongly agree with your thoughts.
 
The US is head and shoulders above other countries in terms of management research output. Add to it the fact that business schools across the world have come to rely on textbooks written by American professors and you have an American focus on management education.  
 
When I did an executive education program at IIM Ahmedabad in 2000, I remember a marketing professor taking us through an HBS case about the Suzuki Samurai. A group of people who had never been to the US, had little knowledge of the market environment were analyzing why a concept did not work. Obviously, the learning we derived from it was suboptimal. I am sure this situation is changing as the IIMs produce more case studies and research.
 
The graduates of 2009 should be exposed to the world order they will be function in (BRIC countries contributing disproportionately to world growth, shrinking populations & relative importance of Europe/Japan). In this regard, any steps taken by IIM Calcutta to modify the curriculum would benefit graduates tremendously.
 
I enjoy reading your notes about taking IIM C forward. Thank you for sharing them.
 
Krishna  
Krishna Hegde krishna.hegde@gmail.com


Ajit:


Big fan of rediff and India Abroad.   Congrats on building a great media business.


On your recent article about the philosophy of MBA programs, you had ended the article with a provocative question around whether our MBA programs need to be nourished like the Ganges and essentially saying we need to accommodate philosophies from multiple sources.  I tend to cringe whenever I hear folks espousing multiplicity for multiplicity’s sake.  We need our MBA’s programs to follow the “right” philosophy and if it does happen so that the “right” philosophy is an amalgam of various things from various cultures than we should do so.  The idea of a global buffet based educational philosophy where you pick things just because they are different does not make sense to me. 


Most MBA programs adopt an US centric view because the US centric view optimizes around capital and return on capital (not saying that this is a good or bad thing but just stating the fact).  Optimizing around capital has many social and labor implications – the Japanese optimize around market share and maximum production even if it undermines return on capital.  As a venture capitalist, there is no doubt which philosophy I believe in ;-) ;-).  If your goal is to maximize wealth creation (again not saying that is a good or bad thing) then the US centric philosophy is the way to go.


Venky
Venky Ganesan vganesan@globespancapital.com
——————————————
Dear Ajit,
 
I read your article in rediff.com with great relish. I admire the way you have steered rediff to become one of the foremost india based internet portals.
 
Regarding your article, while the argument is not very old that we are following US in terms of evrything we do, we will have to look at it from a different light. I feel that there is nothing wrong in accepting what is good from other cultures and countries. Looking at the specific aspect of curriculum, it is important to note that the number of electives offered by american graduate schools are far more than indian schools. Faculty shortage is one major concern, i agree.
 
You mentioned three different topics that was discussed, language course, ethics and more mathematical courses. I am especially keen that all bschools start full fledged course modules in ethics and CSR. These courses should be made mandatory and a clear expectation should be set as to what it means and how important these subjects are.
 
As such these are extremely important for any new bschool graduate, but there are some areas where i feel indian management schools should give more importance. For e.g it would be great if there is a course on new venture planning in indian context. This could include courses, workshops and meeting with people, like you for e.g., who have successfully established brands and companies in india and also india specific venture capitalists. This could also include how to deal with issues related to IP.
 
Another area is Knowledge Management. This century is touted as the knowledge century and the ability to develop, manage, dissiminate and profit from knowledge is of great importance. Again this is a concept that the japanese have used successfully to build their global dominance.
 
The internet has changed the world interacts and this has significant impact of business. You being the head of one of the leading global internet portal would vouch for that. The future business models would involve understand the social aspects of internet and how that can inspire and invigorate businesses. So the sociology of the internet and the concept of Web 2.0 should be made part of the tool set for future managers.
 
Finally i feel that project management should also become part of the new manager. With a lot of developments happening in the infrastructure development in india, it would be important for people to have a good grasp of the project management methodologies.
 
Knowledge mgmt and project mgmt are offered as part of the PGESM program at IIMB. but it is necessary to offer these courses as part fo the normal MBA as well. I feel that these courses would significantly help the young student become a better manager.


Sathya Pandalai spandalai@yahoo.com
—————————————————————–
Dear Ajit


After reading, Are Our IIMs Over US-Centric, I thought our International Conference, ” Expanding Horizons of Indian Business & Indian Management”  would interest u. It is being organised by  Indian Business Academy in association with WISDOM, Banasthali  on Jan 15-16, at IBA Bangalore and Feb 19-20 at IBA Greater Noida. This would be a path breaking conf.  like the earlier conferences that we had at IISc and WISDOM. The attached brochure provides the outline of the conference and its themes.


We look forward to your support for the conference and invite u to present ur views. Already leading academicans such as Prof S. K. Chakraborty, Dr M B Athreya, Dr Gustavsson from Swedish Business School,  have confirmed their participation as key note speakers


Subhash Sharma
subhash sharma re_see@rediffmail.com
—————————————————————–
Hi Ajit,


Here’s what I feel about Ethics being “taught” being a “course” (as in, being part of syllabus).


We are a country of “moral science” classes being part of curriculum in schools.  Colleges dont have them, coz.it is felt that the kids have got the foundation right already, based on which the next lessons are taught.


Times when ethics / corporate governance is taught in Company Secretaries / Chartered Accountants course; governed as clause 49 of listing agreement; or regulated, you would always see that the “words” are what is met, “spirit” is what a few follow (largely because of the person’s values in life, upbringing and the eco-system that person is working in).  Example, think of corporate governance in Real estate industry…


While the thought of the IIM Prof is laudable, I think his ‘exploration’ might remain a survey / research paper on the subject.


Sharda Balaji
Legal Counsel, corporate advisor, aspiring enterprenuer
sharda  balaji <sharda_balaji@rediffmail.com>
———————————–


Dear Shri Ajit Balakrishnan,


I am a regular reader of Business Standard and  read  your
article regularly.
I am eager to know:
“Were you born in a village? or do you have any ancestral village in India?
Have you ever solved one or two problems of the said village or town?
What were those problems?
How did you solve them?
Were the solutions economical?


With regards,
S.C. Aggarwal,
Founder, Poverty Trust,
aggarwal@indiainfo.com


———————————-


Dear Mr Balakrishnan,


I enjoyed reading your column today. It is most unusual for the chairman
of a board to make public any item discussed in a board meeting- excuses
for not parting with nformation are more common.


I had occasion to post a comment in my blog. The link is attached.


http://ttrammohan.blogspot.com/


regards,


Dr.T T Ram Mohan              
Finance & Accounting Area          
Indian Institute of Management        
Vastrapur, Ahmedabad-380015    


 

4 Comments

Trying Times at Patel General Stores

At the southern tip of Bombay, where Colaba Causeway meets Wodehouse Road, wedged between Flashman Cleaners (Curtains, Carpets, our Specialty) and Teenage Library, is Patel General Stores.


Across the road is a taxi stand where half a dozen taxis are lined up. The taxi drivers chew pan, gossip and share an easy camaraderie. They are refugees from the jobless small towns of eastern Uttar Pradesh.  Baba, a tan dog w who they have commonly adopted lounges around too, waiting for scraps of food. On rainy nights, the taxi drivers let Baba sleep with them in their taxis. The taxis are their home too while  they wait to earn enough to afford a share of a room in Murthy Nagar, the vast slum that is home to the drivers, shop boys and dhobis and domestic help who serve wealthy Colaba and Cuffe Parade.



This corner is a good place to observe the gigantic forces now sweeping through the world and being hotly debated in academia and halls of parliaments: globalization, privatization, digitization
But if you asked the taxi drivers lounging here, or the ancient proprietors of Flashman Cleaners, or the two cousins who run Teenage Library or young Chetan Patel who manages Patel General Stores, you would probably be greeted with blank looks. They wouldnt even know what these words meant, let alone connect themselves to these waves of change.



Take the two cousins who run Teenage Library. When I first encountered them in the early 80s a fifty rupee deposit and a charge of a rupee or two per week  you could borrow Mad Magazines or Archie comics while  young neigbourhood housewives borrowed Mills and Boon novels. When the first whisper of media digitization arrived, Teenage Library was at its leading edge renting out video tapes of Bollywood movies and American shows like Cheers. When satellite television came roaring in  carrying Cheers and Threes Company on TV for free, they deftly switched to renting out DVDs of hard-to-get award winning movies. Now, video download services threaten but I am sure they will have a response for that too.



Or take Patel General Stores with its six feet wide front and that ten feet deep.. You stagger to the bathroom mirror one morning, reach out for your shaving cream and find that you cannot squeeze another drop out of it. Thats when you call Chetan at Patel General Stores and before you have finished stroking your emerging double chin, the door bell will ring with a young boy carrying the shaving cream.



But this happy if subsistence-oriented economic system in this corner of Colaba has of late had to deal with an ominous move. A Sahakari Bandar outlet, a dozen doors away which had provided sleepy but manageable competition has suddenly sprung to second life. Its been acquired by a major business house, wiped of the dust from its shelves, dressed up its staff in new clothes and started aggressive price competition. Local customers have started switching their monthly purchases of rice and dal and salt and haldi already to them. Patel General Stores business model and that of 11 million other stores like them in India, is going to be even more reliant on fleet-footed young men dropping out of school in rural areas. What may be at stake here may also be a system that currently serves as our economys shock absorber  as farming families, unable to support themselves , take their young sons out of school and send them to earn a living in the retail trade in cities.



Its comforting to know that we are not the only country that has had to deal with this transition from small, labor intensive, high transaction-cost retailing to efficient, low transaction-cost, large scale operations, but we may be one of the few thats dealing with it  simultaneously with some other mega transitions likethe one away from agriculture, the one away from small-scale industry.



At one extreme of the retailing transition is the United States with 80% of all retail now in the hands of large scale retailers. The pain of transition in their case was bearable partly because the growth of large scale retail in its first round happened in the newly booming suburbs of America in the 1950s and 60s. City retailers escaped these pressures for a long time. But even in America, the battles are far from over. When Wal-Mart attempted to open its first store in New York recently, a noisy coalition of corner stores, green activists, neighborhood groups, and labor unions thwarted them. So New York lives even today without a Wal-Mart store.



Then there is the case of France. In the 1970s, as the giant retail formats started becoming popular, the French parliament passed a law that required retail outlets with a sales area larger than 10,000 square feet in urban centers to get approvals from a local board of citizens Composed of self employed shop keepers, consumers and local politicians. Refusals can be appealed to a national level board. This is what has kept French cities so charming and perhaps also the reason why things cost so much in France.



Last week, we were strolling through this world when we noticed Chetan step out of his shop on a busy morning to feed a biscuit to Baba, the taxi-drivers dog, who had been waiting hopefully with a mildly wagging tail for his morning meal.
END



 

3 Comments

IIM and IIITs’ Class-less Future


It was 7 PM by the time I finished battling the rush-hour traffic in Bombay and arrived at Worli in mid-town Bombay from my office at Mahim,near Bombay airport. It had taken me more than an hour to travel the five kilometers. I had to hunt around for awhile before I located the name board. As the lift ascended at a glacial speed up two floors, through its collapsible grill door I could see women gossiping at open doorways or bargaining with vendors, the tell-tale signs of a building that housed residents who had moved from some village not so long ago.


I got out of the lift, gingerly stepping over stacked newspapers and wandered down a corridor to enter a room with personal computers lined up along its four walls. The lights in the room had been turned down, clearly to make the computer screens more visible. A dozen twenty-something men and women were sitting before these computer terminals with earphones attached, watching and listening intently and occasionally typing on the keyboards.


A young woman who was striding up and down the room with a managerial air noticed me hovering at the doorway and came forward, a welcoming smile on her face. She was expecting me.
The class has already started, she said, leading me to a workstation and fitting me out with earphones. The computer screen in front of me was divided into three sections. Filling the right half of the screen was a power point presentation that was slowly rolling over with the words, The debt to equity ratio of a company reveals The left half of the screen was divided into two; the top half showed a live TV-like picture of a professor at his desk, explaining what was on the power-point screen. I could hear his clear, scholarly voice in my earphones. The lower left corner was like an Instant Messenger with many names listed, Sneha- Coimbatore, Divya- Delhi, Karan- Calcutta, obviously the names of the other students who had logged on from throughout India to the same class as me.We were all at a management class at one of IIM Calcuttas many Long Distance Education Centres. The lectures were being beamed over satellite from IIMCs Calcutta studios.
An hour later, not only had my fading memory of the implications of debt-equity ratios been refreshed, but I also felt like a person who had seen the future revealed to him. Here was a high quality professor of finance, reaching out over the airwaves not just to a class of a few dozen but to a class of thousands! Had we at last a way figured out a way to leap over the faculty shortages that currently limits the growth of high quality higher education in our country?
I could barely wait for the class to finish to talk to some of the students. What makes them battle the rush-hour traffic of the evening hours after a long and exhausting day at work to spend another hour at these grueling management classes several times a week for a whole year?
We get to learn management from the same high-quality professors who teach the two- year residential management programme at IIM Calcutta, said one student to me. Thats a great attraction.
Isnt it tough to digest these management concepts sitting by yourself at a computer terminal?, I asked her, after all, the students at the residential full-time programme can learn from each other through after-class discussions with each other..


We also meet in groups on some week-ends to share notes and help each other, she said.
Do all the students attend these classes rigorously? I mean , do any of them miss classes or drop out? I asked the manager of the Centre.


I havent seen many miss classes here. Thats probably because they are all working people who have put in five to seven years already and are paying for the course from their own earnings. And I can see that there is a camaraderie they have built among themselves which carries them through the year that the class lasts. Anyway, even if you miss the occasional class, the lessons are posted online for them to download and catch-up


Online education has it boosters and its detractors. Boosters see it as a way of making high quality education affordable and available to a mass audience in an era where faculty shortages are endemic. They also see it as a healthy move away from the current system which places the burden of imparting learning on the teacher to a new approach which makes the student more responsible for his own learning. Detractors, on the other hand, see online education as a cheapening of the educational process and, because online education often is often very profitable, an unhealthy pursuit of profit. While this debate goes on, almost all US Universities have taken some steps in online education.


A students university careerin the future, may no longer be through a particular place, time, or preselected body of academics, but through a network principally of students own making, says George Keller former editor of the journal, Planning for Higher Education. Students could stay at home or travel, mix on-line and off-line education, work in classes or with mentors, and take their own time. Their college careers wouldnt begin at age eighteen and end at age twenty-two, but be a life-long process.
END



——————————————————————————
Readers respones


Readers respones



Hi


I was thrilled to see an article on this course written by someone as eminent as you since I am doing this course myself ! Moreover since I work in Mahim I often go to the same Worli centre to attend these classes. I am nearing the end of the course and have thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of going back to school.


I totally agree with you that we may taken the first step, maybe not so consciously, towards ensuring top quality education to a much larger student community. Pursuit of profit? Well I would rather see institutions like IIM-C get financial independence through pursuit of profit than getting grants and being at the beck and call of ministers and bureaucrats.


Thanks again for the article.


Kind regards

Alok Tiwari
Alok Tiwari <alok.tiwari@bplmail.com>
————————————————-
read your piece — IIM and IITs’ class-less future — with interest.


One more heartening aspect of India’s evoluton-friendly higher education system is that it is proving not only popular overseas but giving other well-established global labels a run for their money, in more senses than one.


For instance, in Singapore where I live and work, S.P. Jain Institute of Management has carved a niche for itself in the business schools segment — a ‘market’ where Big Boys such as INSEAD, SMU, Chicago School abound. So have other well-known Indian primary and high schools.


Indian academics, it seems, can not only teach thousands of fellow Indians in India online, but excel at teaching multi-national classrooms overseas. And, in the days to come, more and more of them will likely make waves outside of the US (which, for long, has been their traditional overseas destination).


Well, your piece may well infuse fresh life into many middle-aged NRIs’ long-standing desire to pursue management education. How wonderful it would be then if IIM-C allows NRIs to enrol for courses at its Long Distance Education Centres in India.


If call centres could overcome the time-zone factor, so can LDECs, I’d reckon.


Best regards,
Siva
Siva <yssankar@rediffmail.com>
———————————————————
Good article.
Not just the IIMs and the IITs……..this model can be applied to even school education……only if our leaders have the vision and the will to make this happen.

Warm Regards,
C.B.Dubey

“Dubey,Chandra” <chandra.dubey@patni.com>
———————————————————–
Hi Ajit,


I think I am surprised by your article mainly because it seems that it has taken the institutions of higher education in India and eternity before they have started making their courses available online. Also, what is not covered in your article and one would need to worry about, is that in a world that has seen and recognized the value of blended learning; completing a management course, which challenging as it is on it’s own, should have been developed as an extension of the classroom lectures without accounting for the infrastructure for pre and post class help/learning, growing student discussion bodies, FAQ boards, smoked filled cafes et al. It sounded from your article that this is left to the student’s initiative, who if not competent in seeking these support aids is doomed to struggle through his eLearning modules.


Also, the greatest detractor of online education is not the quality of lectures delivered but the non customization of the content when delivered through new media. The greatest loss of classroom teaching is felt when it is delivered in an altered mode but with content customized in an attendant manner.


This article was particularly interesting to me as an instructional designer who worked in India many years ago at a job that then required me to “convert” existing classroom training to meaningful online learning and skill development. It seems, like a lot of other things, Indian educational institutions have allowed a new brain drain, where the services that were so superiorly developed in our own alley was not recognized, adopted and made available to our people first.


Random thoughts these…thank you for reading.


Piyali.
piyali.correya@teranet.ca
————————————–
Dear Mr. Balakrishnan,


I went through your article on the distance education course and the future of learning with a lot of interest. Ive recently joined the e-learning field, partly motivated by the power that it has to disseminate education and learning to the masses. The adoption rate is so high, that corporate spend on e-Learning is projected to grow at 40-50% yoy to reach USD 22 billion by year 2008 (gartner), and the K12 segment (US) is also a big consumer of e-learning courses.


As you would have found, online MBA is the most popular of all online courses (there are 130+ accredited e-Learning MBA courses from the US universities), and its good to know that that IIM-C is also offering something similar.


Even though we have live interactions, the inherent problem with the present synchronous delivery model would be that its the same as attending classes and doesnt allow full leverage of the anywhere anytime advantage offered by e-Learning (courses specifically designed for self-paced learning). One doesnt need a live prof to explain the debt-equity concepts, but his time is much better utilized clarifying doubts and discussing case studies with students, who already have gone through the concepts through a self-paced module online making it a variant of the standard blended learning program. Imagine someone who only gets free time late at night and on weekends.


Parts of the synchronous mode should, of course, be kept for other benefits like networking and motivation.


Subham L Chakravarty
Subham L Chakravarty <subham.chakravarty@astutix.com>
————————————-
Good Morning Ajit,


Why am I writing to you? I am up early this morning to catch up with some
reading/studying for the IIMC’s Long Distance Senior Management Program
under the aegis of NIIT-Imperia. As is my habit, I scroll through the news
portals as I have my morning coffee so that I am sufficient awake before I
get started. Today as I was doing this, your article on Rediff
(http://www.rediff.com/getahead/2007/aug/24ab.htm) caught my eye.


Just to say that our batch of 25+ in Mumbai (120+ across 5 centres in India)
is a motley crew ranging from 33-56 years in age; and a fair mix of senior
and middle management people from Indian Cos and MNCs. Why are we here? I
think because most of us have no formal or holistic mmgt training and that
is what we are looking for. And full-time courses, for one reason or
another, are not a feasible option.


Speaking for myself, I could have accomplished some of this one my own, but
preferred a structured approach. Do we truly learn? I think yes. The more
disciplined and dedicated among us read much beyond what the professors’
notes or suggested reading (which are just a starting point). More
importantly, we independently analyse cases and the discussions that we have
amongst ourselves are as educative.


And once we have lost our “stage fear” the interaction over the synchronous
platform is also enriching. Perhaps not as much as the classroom; we are
onsite at IIMC next week and may be this myth will be dispelled too :-)


Now that I am awake, it back to the grindstone…


Aruna

Aruna Panangipally <aruna@ibruk.in>
———————————————-
Hi Ajit,


It is indeed a good article, however isnt it important to actually have the prof with rich industry experience to be right in front of u and share his part of experience along with the subject of topic. Doesnt that give much more value and a better understanding for the subject.


Coz just hearing someone give a lecture over an earphone, doesnt quite have that effect that the one in person gives u.


Darshan
Darshan Dodia <darshandodia@rediffmail.com>
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Hi Ajit:


I found this very interesting, especially because I have developed several online courses, including rarely found (in the USA, that is) online Market Research course for MBA students which I taught for the first time last year and about to start again on 8/27. I am also developing an undergraduate MR course that will debut in 2008. The online variation of a very unique course called Marketing and Money that I developed from scratch to strengthen the woefully weak marketing math skills of my American undergraduate business students won the AMA’s annual award for Innovative Excellence in Marketing Education in 1995. I think the true potential of online education in India lies in its ability to revolutionize the quality of secondary education where millions of bright youngsters suffer from very mediocre infrastructure. A public/private partnership could result in the blossoming of hundreds of thousands of Internet education centers all across the country,
run/supervised by retired high caliber teachers. Cannot think of a better way for corporate sponsors to invest in society. Companies big and small can sponsor or become patrons for as many centers as their budgets permit, while the Central and State governments pay for or subsidize the Internet access of these places. One talented Maths teacher can, as you rightly point out, reach zillions of children. Mere clicks of online buttons could deliver content in all 15 languages of India. In addition, this would be a great resource to coach smart, but resource starved rural kids for IIT JEE etc. The point is India already is very conscious of and is spending big public bucks on education. The Net has the potential to multiply that many times over. This is certainly true of our common home state of Kerala. Hope the folks there catch on to this. I desperately hope they do! I have lots of fond ideas and dreams and am willing to help in any way I can from my
rather distant perch.


Best regards,


- gg
(BTech Mech IITM 1973, PGDBA IIMA 1975)


gopala “GG” ganesh, ph.d.
professor of marketing
university of north texas
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Good article on distance education. This is what I suggested to IITK
and iisc to do jointly for M.Tech degree many years ago.
Perhaps the technology is better now.will send to friends again and
put on my soon to close web site. Instead they now spent Lakhs of
Rs and put the ppt slides on web site.
pai


M.A.Pai Professor Emeritus
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Univ of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign
S and T India Portal www.indusscitech.net
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Hi Ajit,

I read your article called IIM and IITs class-less future on rediff. This is really awesome. You know what I think is that online education has more advantages than disadvantages. This is proved by the very fact that you have already one such.


Bye the way, I was never aware that IIMs and IITs also distance learning courses. Can you please let me know if it is possible to pursue MBA from any of the IIMs by distance learning? If yes, whats the procedure for admission and attending the classes? This is because Im a full time employed person and cant afford to study full time.


Rachna Bansal

“Bansal,Rachna IN GGN SISL” <Rachna.Bansal@siemens.com>
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Dear Sir


I am glad to see your article


My views/doubts/premature questions


Do we really want to make the education / “college education” a
life-long process. When will we start working to raise our families and
take better care of them. Will our standard of life improve by going to
college throughout life. The purpose of a college education is to
provide the students with some skills which are relevant and help them
help themselves and their families. A typical life would be office and
college and nothing more. Think what will happen if a father and a son
go to the same online class, there will be no clear demarcation of
authority and many more lines will vanish.


For the cost of education, it has to be always less than the benefits it
will give otherwise no one will join the class rooms, if i stretch my
education to a longer time period it is bound to cost me more ( money /
time or both (assuming i assign a relatively higher utility to time ))


I don’t have any solutions of what seems to be a problem to me right now
but I guess this way we may derail from the underlying purpose of the
education.


~I am afraid what you said is right and I will see that sooner or later.
Guess I am ready for the new wave :)


Regards
Ruchir
PGDM IIMC
2009
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3 Comments

Discovering What We Dont Know

I stared at the sheaf of photocopied reading material that the instructor had distributed to our class anger welling up inside me.

           “Many years had passed during which nothing of Combray had any existence for me”, said the opening line of the reading. What possible relevance could this reading in old fashioned, stilted English have to what I had joined this class to learn.

            I glanced around at the rest of the class of two dozen or so New Yorkers who had committed to the grueling schedule of two hours of evening class after work every week to polish our creative non-fiction writing skills at the New School, New York. It was shortly after the dramatic events of 9/11 and everyone in New York was trying to find meaning to things through writing and reading and things like that. The Whoopi Goldberg look-alike African American woman who usually sat next to me seemed unperturbed. Was I the only one who found this old fashioned reading material irrelevant?

     I took another shot at the reading: “one day, in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, something that I did not ordinarily take.”

     My sense of frustration only increased. Why didn’t the instructor just give us a list of five things to do to improve our writing styles instead of making us wade through this kind of stuff?

     I could barely wait for the class to end that day. As I stepped out into the cold, New York night on my trudge back home, I did not even stop to drop a coin , as I usually do, into the bowl of the man and his mangy dog huddled in one of the doorways on 10th Street.

    Later that night, with no deadlines to chase I decided to take another shot at the reading, picking up at the point where I had left off, the part where the narrator is in the French town of Combray and has just been offered tea by his mother.

    “I declined at first, and then for particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for those short, plump little cakes called  ‘petite madeleines’.”

    I found myself getting drawn into the reading now. When I looked up an hour had passed and I had unwittingly read several thousand words of the reading.

    As many a reader may have guessed by now, the reading which I had found ‘irrelevant’ and caused me so much irritation but which I was now deeply engrossed in was the opening passage of Marcel Proust’s  In Search of Lost Time.  Published in 1913, many consider it the first novel of the 20th century setting the stage for the ‘modern’ novel. Graham Greene called Proust the “greatest novelist of the 20th century”, and W. Somerset Maugham called the novel the “greatest fiction to date”.

    What had caused this intense sense of frustration and irritation in me when the young instructor at the New School in Manhattan first gave me this reading? Was it that I did not ‘know’ that Proust was such a great author or that  In Search of Lost Time was such an epochal novel? If he had told me this, would  I have then got to know something that I did not know- that Proust was such a great author.

    Recognizing solutions to problems, both in science and management, often can be traced to a similar phenomenon- not knowing that we dont know something.

    One of the instances of this proved to be a turning point for Ayurveda.  Immunizing people against small-pox through ‘variolation’, a process where dried smallpox scabs were blown into the nose of an individual was known and practiced in parts of India as early as the 17th century. But for this to be part of public health policy in India, it had to find its way first to the Ottoman Court in Istanbul, where a British diplomat’s wife, Lady Montagu encountered it in 1717 and took the practice to England.  There, it was realized that since variolation could lead to the small pox disease in a high proportion of cases, a safer version was needed. With this knowledge, the solution to small pox entered the zone where many knew that a solution was possible and all that was not known was how to make it safer. Edward Jenner, an English physician, saw that dairymaids infected with cowpox were immune to small-pox and hit on the safe solution in 1798.  Vaccination as a public health measure that saved millions of lives in India had to wait for British public health policy to bring it back. And Ayurveda, missed a crucial breakthrough by not knowing that a nascent solution to small pox epidemics existed right here in India.

    “And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of Madeleine”, recounts Proust’s narrator at the end of the famous passage, ” immediately the old grey house upon the street rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, and with the house the town, the square, the country roads, all the flowers in our garden, the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea”.

END

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