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27 June 2008

Why I Am Not An MBA

Any Tom, Dick, Harry or Philip Kotler can be a marketing guru
Surajit Dasgupta

If there are three natural numbers ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ such that a^2 + b^2 = c^2, you call them a Pythagorean triplet (e.g., 5, 12 and 13 make such a triplet as 5^2 + 12^2 = 13^2. And if you substitute 2 by any number, say, ‘n’, then you see that you are unable to find any set of three numbers, ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ satisfying the equation a^n + b^n = c^n for n ≠ 2. This is known as Fermat’s Last Theorem, which no one could prove mathematically for more than three centuries after the French mathematician’s death until Andrew Wiles of Princeton University, UK, proved it in the last decade.

If Pythagoras of Samos and Pierre de Fermat had not formulated the above theorems, respectively, could Surajit Dasgupta have formulated them? Honestly, I do not suffer from such a grand delusion about my intellect.

Now, sample this: As we, human beings, grow by age, we want our professional, social and personal growth to take place simultaneously following this pattern:

“1. Biological and Physiological needs — air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs — protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
3. Sense of Belonging and Love needs — work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
4. Esteem needs — self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Self-Actualisation needs — realising personal potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.”
If Abraham Maslow had not put in words the above “Hierarchy of Needs”, could Surajit Dasgupta have done the same and earned for all times to come the credit for such a ‘great’ ‘law’? That was certainly possible.

Any average person with strong faculties of observation and articulation can tell you that the above is how people wish to grow. Or they may talk of the same algorithm using a different set of words.

How do I handle a difficult customer? “SATMAC,” my first boss in Delhi sought to make it easy for me, explaining that when a prospective buyer raises a doubt over any aspect of my presentation, I must first “Smile” and then “Accept” his objection (tell him that I would have felt the same, had I been in his shoes). In the next step, I am supposed to “Turn” his objection on its head to make him see all the more reason to buy what I am selling; then, “Make” the selling offer “And” finally “Close” the deal.

“What a brilliant discovery!” I indulged in a soliloquy, about to ROTFL (Roll On The Floor Laughing). Did this bossy character really have to do an MBA to note that the above is how an interlocutor moulds a seemingly intractable mind in his favour?

Surrounded by a pack of ‘intellectual’ salesmen, I was tempted to get myself enrolled for an MBA course from some university more than a decade ago while working with a multinational bank. I approached the Indira Gandhi National Open University, appeared for its entrance examination, qualified and even bought the course material for an MBA in marketing. But that was that.

Hundreds of general truths touted as ‘laws’ all over the books written by Philip Kotler and his ilk put me off completely. Much as my salary could have jumped to a few hundred thousand rupees by now with the help of that MBA, I was not ready to indulge in a tomfoolery of such gargantuan proportions for two constant years, studying routine stuff formulated by a handful of ‘gurus’ who are celebrated for reasons known best to the corporate sector.

But I do subscribe to the adage, “Common sense is the most uncommon thing in the world.” And I pity the crowd of thousands who flock to satsangs all over Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi, the celebrities like Madonna and Michael Jackson who listen to Deepak Chopra’s discourses awestruck, and the depressed who are pepped up by Shiv Khera. For, never have I found these crowd-pulling orators say anything that an ordinary person cannot think of independently — without help from a ‘guru’ — if only he exercises his brain a little. But why blame India’s north-western people alone for the herd mentality? Bengalis, the sanctimonious rational thinkers who consider themselves a class above the remaining countrymen, frown at me at the first visit to my house when they cannot locate a photograph of Loknath Brahmachari, Tailanga Swami, Balak Brahmachari, a swami from Ramakrishna Mission or any bare-chested baba hanging on the walls of the room where I meditate. They also snigger at me when I reply to the question, “Dikkha niyechhen? (Have you been spiritually enlightened by a guru?)” in the negative.

Like baba, like babalog! It's ‘cool’ to draw intelligence from 'professionals', not cultivate it through realisation — be it spirituality; be it marketing.

This is not to suggest that two years of an MBA curriculum is all about books that solve mundane problems by stating the obvious. There are indeed case studies as well. But do problems in the future replicate those in the past? Can they have similar, if not identical, solutions? Most certainly not. Therein lies the next problem with business school graduates. Once recruited, they try to handle emerging situations in their company through hackneyed means. They forget that in business there cannot be something called a “time-tested formula”.

Call it “business management” or “business administration”, the business that is either managed or administered can at the best be a shop, not an industry. It is for this lack of innovative thinking that despite MBA institutes and graduates filling our geography and society at a tremendous pace for the last two decades, among the prominent brands we only have a Reliance added to the old famous duo — Tata and Birla — in this period. Never mind the fact that the number of billionaires in India is rising at a considerable pace; what is the brand equity of the nouveau riche?

Also note how silent the rise of Reliance industries was under a semi-educated Dhirubhai Ambani — overlooking the controversies surrounding his business expansion for a moment — and how noisy the effort of growth by Reliance’s shops are under his high-profile, MBA sons.

The way you cannot train somebody with a horrible voice to sing, you cannot sharpen horribly blunt brains. India has so many problems that each of them offers a unique business opportunity. But one does not see MBAs tapping them. Brilliant ideas, howsoever few, are invariably sprouting in the brains of graduates from other disciplines or even simpleton, rustic dreamers from remote villages. Can you teach how — and what — to dream? At a price of Rs 500,000 or more? Well, a boastful Arindam Chaudhuri declares so (without revealing the price, of course) in his full-page display advertisements in most newspapers of the country. Pity Sigmund Freud and The Interpretation of Dreams.

And pity the scores of frustrated IIPM graduates in private firms located in different parts of Bangalore, Gurgaon and Pune struggling as the lowest-rung executives in their offices. One wishes they did not have the MBA baggage. If nothing else, they wouldn’t have had an attitude problem while dealing with grubby — though resourceful — businessmen who provide the much-needed revenue to the MBA salesmen's employers.

As for the IIMs, let MNCs hire them for Rs 2,000,000 or more as the cost-to-company per annum. These graduates have no less right than Deepak Chopra to turn rich, cashing in on the despondence — and the consequent idiocy — of the materialistically rich. But dear MBAs, do spare a thought for generating employment rather than consuming it.

Let’s cut the degree to size. We don’t need Masters of Business Administration. We need Masters of Business.
If Sir had been a salesman: If general truths were laws, Isaac Newton wouldn't have stopped after formulating just three laws of motion

The writer is a mathematician and linguist, now a corporate communicator and has been a journalist, a teacher and a marketing manager (in reverse chronological order) in his previous vocations

25 June 2008

How Doctorates Are Doctored In India

A student wants to write a thesis on an untouched subject. He approaches a 'guide', a professor in the know of previously researched topics and also the person who can fetch the student his research degree. The latter exploits the former to the extent of extracting personal, menial jobs from the poor student. If the young chap obliges — which most of PhD aspirants do — he gets a doctorate, irrespective of his knowledge in the subject concerned. If not, he is thrown out of the system. That's the story of research in India
Sandeep Nagar

One wonders how many people give a serious thought to the fact that India is a premier country to supply scientific human resources to developing countries and yet we are so backward when it comes to scientific research.

We took 23 years (1984-2007) to make a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) when aviation just completed its first century and that too by assembling foreign parts*. We always get second-hand accomplishments in semiconductor technology. We still lack state-of-the-art fab (fabrication unit for electronic chips) in this country˚. When the world is moving towards 45 nm technology, we are struggling to get 130 nm technology and that too imported. We manage the world's biggest software industry but when it comes to making a big foray into software research, our companies shy away from 'adventure'. We still count upon CV Raman, Chandrashekhar and Hargobind Khurana to get the country some 'credit' for Nobel prizes, conveniently forgetting that two of these Nobel laureates did their work outside India.

Refer to any volume of a science journal and you would find at least 10 articles with Indian names but very few from Indian institutes; never mind that 12% medical practitioners in USA and 36% of NASA scientists are born in India †. We rarely see a headline which says that a certain experiment was conducted for the first time in the world by an Indian in India, whereas seeing a foreigner achieve scientific feats in his native country is so commonplace. Indian research journals have such a low impact factor rating that even Indian scientists do not want to publish their research here ‡. Two Indian journals had crossed the mark of 1.00 impact factor in 2004 while prominent journals abroad crossed impact factors of 50 long ago.

Few such Indian names can be recalled readily that stand for a scientist's just and successful fight against an anti-research environment. On studying the success stories of achievers in the field of science and technology, one finds that the system never contributed to the individual's success in a positive way. Former president of India Abdul Kalam's autobiography is just a single case in point.

An explanation of an anti-research environment is merited here. The field of research is based purely on creativity and innovation. One has to be innovative to see what is new and then transform the new idea into a product. For PhD students, it's the thesis. Everything depends on your approach. First you seek someone who already knows a lot about the subject (an animal whom we call "guide" , as if we are some sheep to be herded!) to know about the subject. He can explain to the aspiring doctorates what work has already been done in the given field. Then it's the student's job to find a new phenomenon in that subject which has not yet been discovered.

The very first mistake is usually done at this stage, as the students tend to depend too much on the guide. They expect him to do things for them. This is partially an outcome of a spoonfeeding educational system one has thus far grown up on. Anyway, the guide provides the service sought of him most of the time, but every service has a 'cost' — loss of self-esteem. You do whatever s/he says. Unfortunately we have a whole generation of guides who did the same when they were PhD aspirants. Now they seek to justify their actions by citing their servile past. Once you submit yourself, you lose your creativity.

The description so far was based on individual experiences. Nationally, most projects are allotted on the basis of 'contacts' rather than actual scientific abilities. All interviews and presentations are a staged dumb charade. The recruitment process is no better. Everybody in the scientific community knows this and meekly subscribes to it.

One needs to have 'good contacts' in order to get a project. It does not matter whether you have shown any capability which is required. My Indian PhD project was allotted to my guide, who knew nothing about the central idea of the project. He used to come to me for preparing his presentations!

Helotry is one of the most favorite ways to ensure that you get a PhD when you know nothing. If the guide asks you to run a DC motor with an AC current, the serfs would better run it that way. A majority of PhD students in universities cannot clear the basic examination for lectureship (National Eligibility Test). Most of them take admission in PhD programmes because they have nothing else to do after completing their masters.

And what do you get, if you refuse to do all this. My scholarship was somehow delayed for a full year. I had to wait that long to experiment on an instrument, since the man who handled the equipment did not have 'good relations' with my guide. My friend (who follows the same) had to move the court to get the required signatures for his final viva-voce session to be held in the department after submitting his thesis around one and half years ago.

All the cases above are of those people who cleared a national level examination and claimed national scholarship. Now what do you expect sincere seekers of knowledge to do in India except approach a different laboratory for their experiments Surprisingly, the better labs are mostly located outside India. Readers will not find it hard to reason out why.

The status of research in India is in a shambles. In the last few years, thanks to a scientist who was our president until recently, the Government has increased the inflow of money in research. But this has to be managed properly and in a professional way (deadlines should be deadlines; extending a deadline does not justify the term). India needs to change its age-old higher education policy and introduce more do-and-learn themes — rather than rote-and-learn themes — for educating the youth. Also, it must be wisely understood that research is a kind of investment for the future of the nation. The country's media should also highlight Indian achievements just as they do petty criminal cases or political scandals 24X7. The media has to show its mature outlook towards researchers as they are the backbone of the scientific progress that a country undergoes.

With a huge population, India can become self-sufficient if only it choose to. Mismanagement of human resource should be stopped immediately and efficiency should be the basis for the government while drafting policies.

The private sector is the key to improving the situation of research in India. It can develop a competitive research community as has been proved by foreign companies like IBM, Intel, AMD and others. This has worked well in the field of biotechnology. It can work in every field.

I hope that reader will understand that this article was written with clear intentions to portray the challenges ahead. We can do better if we rationalise our approach as we used to do in our golden era.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HAL_Tejas
˚ http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?id=503240

The writer was once a PhD student from India. He is now pursuing his PhD in spintonic materials from Kungliga Tekniska högskolan (Royal Institute of Technology), Stockholm, Sweden

23 June 2008

Why Do I Still Serve India?

An anonymous soldier
Though this is not a poetry blog, the newsworthiness of the following ballad merits its inclusion here. It has been composed by a fourth generation, 24-year old career officer in the Indian Armed Forces, spurred by the report of the Sixth Pay Commission and an insensitive article written by a 'respectable' denizen of the country in a national daily on the armed forces and the pertinence of the Sixth Pay Commission therein. This free-flowing verse has not been edited; it's to ensure that the originality of the angst is maintained. After all, when you are in pain, the language of expression is the last thing in your mind

How you play with us, did you ever see?
At Seven, I had decided what I wanted to be;
I would serve you to the end,
All these boundaries I would defend.

Now you make me look like a fool,
When at Seventeen and just out of school;
Went to the place where they made "men out of boys"
Lived a tough life …sacrificed a few joys…

In those days, I would see my 'civilian' friends,
Living a life with the fashion trends;
Enjoying their so called "College Days"
While I sweated and bled in the sun and haze…
But I never thought twice about what where or why
All I knew was when the time came, I'd be ready to do or die.

At 21 and with my commission in hand,
Under the glory of the parade and the band,
I took the oath to protect you over land, air or sea,
And make the supreme sacrifice when the need came to be.

I stood there with a sense of recognition,
But on that day I never had the premonition,
that when the time came to give me my due,
You'd just say," What is so great that you do?"

Long back you promised a well to do life;
And when I'm away, take care of my wife.
You came and saw the hardships I live through,
And I saw you make a note or two,
And I hoped you would realise the worth of me;
but now I know you'll never be able to see,
Because you only see the glorified life of mine,
Did you see the place where death looms all the time?
Did you meet the man standing guard in the snow?
The name of his newborn he does not know...
Did you meet the man whose father breathed his last?
While the sailor patrolled our seas so vast?

You still know I'll not be the one to raise my voice
I will stand tall and protect you in Punjab Himachal and Thois.

But that's just me you have in the sun and rain,
For now at Twenty Four, you make me think again;
About the decision I made, Seven years back;
Should I have chosen another life, some other track?

Will I tell my son to follow my lead?
Will I tell my son, you'll get all that you need?
This is the country you will serve
This country will give you all that you deserve?

I heard you tell the world "India is shining"
I told my men, that's a reason for us to be smiling
This is the India you and I will defend!
But tell me how long will you be able to pretend?
You go on promise all that you may,
But it's the souls of your own men you betray.

Did you read how some of our eminent citizens
Write about me and ridicule my very existence?
I ask you to please come and see what I do,
Come and have a look at what I go through
Live my life just for a day
Maybe you'll have something else to say?

I will still risk my life without a sigh
To keep your flag flying high
but today I ask myself a question or two…
Oh India…. Why do I still serve you?

22 June 2008

Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Même Chose

President Sarkozy is a big disappointment
Mathieu Mercier
Last year, during the presidential election in France, facing Nicolas Sarkozy was another candidate, a woman. France, it seemed, was not yet ready to elect a woman as the head of their state. Ségolène Royale was being criticized in every public forum, sometimes quite unfairly. People thought she was too naïve and, hence, unfit to govern France. Sarkozy thus emerged as the other — the only viable — option left.

Among other things, his oratory skill was largely noticed and appreciated. His experience as a seasoned lawyer came in handy! More importantly, Sarkozy’s past record as an administrator was clean. It was not surprising that the French thought he was the only person capable of governing France after years of rule by extreme and moderate socialists.

However, with time Sarkozy started disappointing his voters with his mistakes, some of them seemingly intentional. He was also seen as a callous leader when, as the cost of living in France skyrocketed, the French saw their president on television, traveling all over the world, arm-in-arm with Carla Bruni, till then no more than his girlfriend (the officially declared one!). In Egypt, he did not look like a visiting head of state taking a day off while on his site-seeing trip. Rather, he behaved like a happy-go-lucky tourist accompanied by his muse. Here it must be clarified that we, the French people, are a liberal society that does not have any problem in accepting Bruni or any other woman as our president’s consort. But when somebody seems to have ‘fun’ at the expense of work, we must protest. It was during the last Christmas that the people of France learned that Sarkozy was dating a famous singer. They were astonished. If people living in other parts of the world think that the French found the president’s behaviour unbecoming, the perception is wrong. Rather, the French felt sorry for the beautiful woman who was seen with a not-so-reliable man! Perhaps, a suave Sarkozy was a heady attraction!

The tour to Egypt was a turning point; immediately thereafter, public opinion about Sarkozy nosedived. People who had voted him to power wondered what their president was up to. As most promises he had made during his election campaign were not kept, disappointment with the president’s conduct snowballed. When people are tired of governance by a certain kind of ideology, they are desperate to try out the alternative. Well, the alternative has failed France. The naysayers were sceptical before Sarkozy’s election. Now they stand vindicated.

Sarkozy was deceptive in his way of governing the country. During the election, he had said, “I won’t lie to you… I will be the president (not only for my voters but also for) every French citizen.” He may not have lied, but considering the conduct expected of a French president, he has been rough and arrogant. Every year, we celebrate a festival of agriculture in Paris. This year at the function, Sarkozy arrived like many other ministers did. As he was exchanging pleasantries with the congregation, a man refused to shake hands with him. The man provoked the president further by exclaiming, “Hey, don’t touch me!”
“Get lost, you bastard,” was Sarkozy’s reply!

The news spread like wildfire and the French were shocked by their president’s language of expression. Whatever the provocation, a president needs to have the mettle to withstand it and maintain a dignified demeanour.

But is the president worse than the precedent? Before Sarkozy, we had Jacques Chirac and his ministers. That reign was nothing great to write home about either. Actually, ‘reform’ is a difficult proposition in France, as the French are by and large subjects of inertia. If a president has an agenda of reforms, he must be brave. Chirac wasn’t brave. Is Sarkozy so? That’s difficult to tell. The president is very liberal in certain aspects and a hardcore socialist in others. Let the future deliver the final judgement on Sarkozy.

The writer is an administrative officer with the National Police, Government of France

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.