Archive for the 'career management' Category

When your child says, “I don’t like Math”…

When your child says, “I don’t like Math” what he/she is really saying is –

  1. I don’t understand/like the way the teacher is teaching OR,
  2. I’m struggling and unable to feel successful or be good at it

You may say, this is one of the most common things that children say about what they learn. You can literally replace it with art, music, science, badminton, new language…anything they attempt to learn and struggle with. True! And that is what makes the statement so dangerous. Here’s why?

  1. Isn’t math and all basic things children learn in school just tools that children need to use in their lives later on? It is like saying I don’t like the hammer, so I will not use the hammer to solve the problem that only hammers can solve. So, in a way, the dislike, really leaves the child weak and vulnerable in reality, unable to use the necessary tools when required in life to make decisions, communication, analyze or create an idea.
  2. Liking and disliking a subject is how children decide on careers and just like that, a disinterested/incompetent teacher in early years would have driven a perfectly capable child away from a career in science or art or sports.
  3. Both of these issues are inherently addressable if only there was awareness of what was driving the dislike.
  4. It is the loss of an opportunity to push oneself, to understand what makes you like/dislike something and figure out if it is important, how do you learn it? Wouldn’t you, if you knew it was important for your survival?

People like to share stories of how a child dropped physics and math in 10th grade because she didn’t like it, how another child picked arts because he was never good at science anyway, how a child picked up commerce because ultimately she wanted to become a designer and how all of this is a great sign of progress. Maybe it is better than struggling and feeling like a failure. I agree.

One thing I know for sure is if our children learned how to be successful at basic things like basic math, language and sciences in early years, whether they initially liked it/not, they would have figured out a lot more about life and success than anything else put together.

Let’s teach our children to figure out the hard stuff and then let them decide what they would love to do in life, rather than teaching them to run away from the hard stuff.They would hopefully be running towards something in their careers with both arms open rather than running away from something their whole life because they couldn’t figure it out!

 

 

Raising a self-aware generation

I had an off-beat resume land in my inbox recently. Nia (name changed) is an out and out commerce student who scored a whopping 97% in her commerce PUC and is set to go on to do her BCom and CA when she seems to have made an about-turn in her life and joined a teacher training course followed by a specialization in special needs education. Intrigued by her story, I call her. She clears few rounds with us and reaches the interview round with me.

I ask her the question point blank. “Why did you opt out of a commerce career for a teaching job? Is it because it was convenient?” She replied, “I was not well in 11th grade for a long time and in 12th I scored the marks because I had just spent hours practicing the sums and pushing myself, I had not understood the fundamentals, nor did I like it that much. When the marks came I forgot all that and went ahead and joined B.Com honours with coaching for CA. Few months down the line I realized that it was not meant to be. I always wanted to be a teacher and empower children. I was abused as a child for several years and I don’t want children to go through that in life, ever.”

I’ve not found this level of clarity between marks and skill level and humility in a fresher level candidate so far. I wondered, what made her different? Why is that such a rare skill to find? Maybe it was the life-changing event of ill-health, maybe it was the abuse. But, if takes a life-changing event like abuse or some other equivalent trauma to make our children naturally reflective should we wait for that to happen for each and every child on this planet before we teach them to think for themselves, reflect, understand and navigate the language of emotions and social interactions?

Also, by that corollary, should we then wait for our children to have something to talk to us before we teach them language? Shouldn’t we wait for them to figure out economics before we teach them numbers? Shouldn’t we wait for them to discover new facts and figures or new civilizations and cultures before we teach them science or history or geography?

When we teach a lot of these skills in just in case (they need it later on) why wait to teach them the more important skills of thinking, reflecting, communicating, problem-solving and managing emotional in life? Why wait for them to learn it in due course? Nia learnt it the hard way you don’t have to wait for your child to learn it that way too. You have a choice of enrolling your child at Sparkling Mindz today and starting work on all of these skills at an early age.

Nia learnt it the hard way you don’t have to wait for your child to learn it that way too. You have a choice of enrolling your child at Sparkling Mindz today and starting work on all of these skills at an early age. We can’t guarantee that children will not struggle, that is part of their normal life and growth trajectory, I believe with the essential thinking, emotional and social toolkit they will be better equipped to deal with the life’s ups and downs, when they come knocking.

 

 

IIT heads complain of plunge in quality

Today I read a news article in Times of India titled, “IIT heads echo NRN on plunge in quality”. The whole article goes on to talk about how the seats in IITs today are getting filled by students who are fatigued by years of coaching and in the larger scheme of things, don’t even want to be an engineer. It is sad state of affairs, indeed. But to hear the heads of the institutes complain, instead of do something about it, is sadder. This could have been easily seen coming and here are some thoughts of mine

1. If you set up an exam that is hard to achieve and pass through and prevent people with interest from joining unless they can showcase aptitude 2x the current level of education system. This kind of ‘fatigue’ is bound to happen. We, as Indians, are proud to pass through tests that are seemingly insurmountable and that give you a certain kind of ‘elitist’ status over others! Take the civil services, for example. Most people taking the exam don’t even know what they will be doing post the selection! It is the same with students who are getting coached to get into IITs (and to a large extent the CAT fever too! – they are being taught how to beat the system!!!) – while it will take you across the threshold, it will not get you inspired and motivated to become an excellent engineer or an excellent manager (or a good anything)

2. Next, what have the IITs themselves done to inspire the students joining to wake up out of fatigue and create interest? Is there an emphasis on innovation, creativity or even applying the skills being learnt beyond the basics? If so, where is it being showcased? It is a chicken and egg story and only if you focus on inspiring students will they get inspired and motivated – the other way round is an ideal dream, but can you make it a reality by just cribbing about it?

3. Now, lets look at the industry. These children who join the IITs are very smart and the smartness flows to where they money is. If money is in engineering, they will continue being engineers, if it is in pharma/FMCG/ITES companies, they will get trained to become sales people for Pharma/FMCG/consultants, as the requirement might be. Look at it from their point of view and the society’s point of view, if you are the best of brains and you are not earning the best of salaries, you are a loser! There is no premium on thinking, being different, being unique or standing up for what you are passionate about (let alone sometimes even figure out what is it that you are really passionate about!) and then what about the self-fulfilling prophecy of these large institutes that the most successful people come from there?

4. That brings us to the story of change. What should change to make this better? The mantra is – Innovation and Creativity to create a “thinking generation” of students! The institutes needs to innovate at a much faster rate and create a new form of entry criteria, a new way of working with the corporate world, a new wave of innovation from their labs and that will create enough inspiration and motivation even in the most fatigued or uninterested child to beat and excel the system (where the system is aligned and focused in the right direction)

The seeds of change lie in you, if you are unwilling to lay them in the ground, don’t fret over lousy results!!!

PS: On second thoughts, whatever has been written above is a law of averages and I’ve seen enough inspired, motivated and self-aware IITians over my work life to be impressed by their smartness, hard work, dedication and motivation. So, please don’t take this as a personal note on anyone. I’m just responding to the system’s response on its own intake quality!

Breaking the MBA myth

I was having a chat with a friend of mine who is about half way done with his MBA. I was asking him about the course and how he is doing, so he said, “for me now the MBA myth is broken” and I was like, “what do you mean?” to which he explained that, “everyone mostly pretends to know stuff when they are really just copying information from Google” (his words, not mine!). This set me thinking and I will share with you what I discussed with him.

To be honest, when you are surrounded by people who are all doing the same thing in the same way and you have not hit any real life experience of doing business, one can be pardoned to think that is all there is to it – copy stuff from somewhere, not go deep enough and present it as if you owned the data pretending to know everything there is to know about it. But, like I told him, if one steps back, we can see that the more complex the things get the harder it is to tell between someone who is just “speaking” their way through vs. “doing” the right things. It is the same case with business – strategy, marketing, finance, consulting, are all complex domains in their own right and unlike in engineering where if one does not code/do something properly, it shows up easily, here it might take ages to understand the “rightness” of a decision as the “wrongness” of it and the over-emphasis on “luck”factor  in the media doesn’t help either. It all boils down to decision-making in highly ambiguous situations and requires a lot of skill than just “copying and pasting” information.

I was reading a book called “Alternative Schooling in India” and a particular sentence there really caught my attention. It said that the real test of education is if it teaches you to stand your ground when everyone is doing wrong, to have the courage to stand up and fight for something if you believe it is the right thing to do, to stand apart when everyone is rushing to follow each other…and I can’t but help compare this with what my friend was feeling about the “myth being broken”.

What do you think, is MBA a myth?

Learnings On The Job…Taking Home A Career

This is my 100th post, hurrah!!! Please feel free to rate the post and leave comments, if the posts interest you :).

Looking back at the 21/2 years that I spent in the strategic marketing role, I tried to think of what I took away from the experience and here are some thoughts…

1. Joining a “startup” group within a large company is not same as joining a “startup” – Remember, it is still a large company. (Note: Subsidiaries and some “startup” groups might be exceptions, but, hardly!). A startup within or outside a large organization is always hard work, there is always reputation to prove and establish with customers inside or outside. The thing to know is, in return for the security of the large group and the subsequent de-risking, the upside is never yours to share (which is fair, by the way). Having said that, the chaos, the adrenaline rush of making things work is definitely there for those who love that.

2. Always evaluate what you are learning vs where you want to go – Map your short and mid-term career path. These should be available in your organization and there should be a reasonable process in place to get there. If not, you are at the wrong place, to begin with. This was such a glaring fact in my case, with the market not being in India. For more details read my previous post here.

3. Look at the size and location of the market that the group will address as an opportunity – the favorable order should be starting with a local, large market going down to a remote, small market. Unless you want to eventually convert the remote location into your local residence. In which case, it might be ok to make that sacrifice of night-outs and family time.

4. Stay focussed, learn a “few” things well – Focussing and learning to do a “few” things very well can be much more fruitful than attempting to learn many things at the same time. You can experiment a bit and figure out a couple of things that interest you, but after a few of months it is always better to focus. More so in our group’s case, where the temptation to get into too many things was always there. Truth being told, it is always easier to sell depth vs diversity whether you are looking for a new job or talking to the VC about a startup. (Aside: If you have both to some extent, great! But, I’m referring to a choice, if you have to make one. Also, some will not know what they like most upfront, which is ok. Knowing that you are diversifying for the sake of finding what to focus is a “good” focus in itself. But, most importantly, be honest to yourself.)

These are just a few generic ones that I can think of, right now. I shall keep posting more thoughts as they come along. As they say, sometimes a contrast serves the purpose of a “light” better than the visibility the most powerful light can render.

Shifting Gears From Semiconductors to Education

I recently made a career shift from Semiconductors to Education and I’ve been asked why I made such a radical shift in Industry. For those who want a quick answer – I wanted to do something related to India and something that would be meaningful to me in some way. (Now, I’m not saying that semiconductors do not make an impact, they are at the heart of the digital revolution we are seeing today and will continue to remain so, for some time to come). For those with a patient ear, please read on, I promise not to dissapoint you.

I’ve been working in a strategic marketing role in the semiconductor Industry, located out of India. My short bio – I’ve a bachelors in Electronics Engineering and worked as a Systems Engineer for a couple of years before pursuing an MBA from ISB, Hyderabad. The strategic marketing role was my first job out of MBA school (You can read more about me here). Now, come to think of it, it is a weird place to locate a strategic marketing group for the semiconductor industry. For those who are new to this party – semiconductor market in India is very small in comparison to many other sunshine sectors like healthcare, media, education, financial services and so on…as well as, in comparison to other larger semiconductor markets worldwide – China, US, Europe, Taiwan, Japan and Korea (and the order has a reason to it…go figure!)

There are some parts of the semiconductor ecosystem that are very robust in India, thanks to the outsourcing wave. Those include design (both captive units and services organizations), applications and even R&D (to some extent) but there are large chunks missing – which include the customers, manufacturers and in turn, strong distribution networks and sales and marketing organizations. Those working in the design, R&D and applications in the semiconductor industry aspiring to move on to marketing roles in the same industry post an MBA in India, I have dissapointing news for you. Those roles are very few and lack the growth opportunities that you would dream of, when you go to an MBA school. I get quite a few calls every month from people working in this industry wanting to make the vertical shift and I never cease to get amazed by the sheer kind of talent that this industry attracts in India. So, if you are in one of these categories or an aspirant, consider yourself warned and feel free to reach out to me for more industry dope & specific options…

So, is there a chance we might be catching a market at its nascent stage of development? After all, you can look at the glass as half-empty or half-full, right? This is a question one of the aspirants asked me, while I was explaining my above analysis to him. Here’s my answer. Well, semiconductors is a mature B2B market. For it to grow in India, the customers – the electronic design and manufacturers – should be a large industry, which has not happened so far. And, with the overcapacity in electronics and semiconductor manufacturing in other APAC regions, the likelihood of a large electronics design & manufacturing base out of India seems bleak. (This is not to say that Indians are not innovative or brilliant at electronics design. In my own previous job as well as in the startup circule, I’ve seen quite a few brilliant designers and I also come across brilliant product ideas on a regular basis from students and professionals alike). But, there is a vicious cycle in action here, unless someone manufactures their creativity and makes a big success of it, the ecosystem will not kick in and unless the ecosystem kicks in, the “big success” will always be yet to come (and I’m not even talking about Govt. sops here). Of course, there are always cheap manufacturing houses available in China, but how many people have access to it at their tinkering and bootstrap stages? That brings me back to my point about the need for “tinkering shops” and more so, in electronics business for innovation and ecosystem growth in India.

Over the past few months, I had to make up my mind to continue in my cushy job (knowing that it had nothing to do with India and was not meaningful enough for me)  or take some risk and do something directly relevant to the Indian market. I’ve been interested in the education sector for sometime and finally, I’ve decided to take the plunge . I’m joining a startup, Ariem Technologies, based in Bangalore as their Director for Marketing and Business Development. It is a new journey for me and I’m really excited about this role. You can expect to hear more about my interest in the education sector (some of it you can read here), my learnings on my previous job (thanks KK for asking this question) the company, role and their solution in the next few weeks…

Why Consulting is such a sought after career choice?

I’ve thought about this endlessly, perhaps will continue to do so…but applying one of the principles I read in Nissim’s, Black Swan seems to help me address this question very elegantly.

In a section where he touches upon career advice he says how the best career advice he ever received was one about picking a career that was scalable (he later on talks about how that advice was one of the worst too…but we will come to that later). One in which your continuous presence does not limit your upside potential, one in which the quality of your decisions and not you as a physical entity has prominence. Lo behold, apply consulting to that framework and the question solves itself. It is one of the easiest professions for the logically-thinking people where they can make intelligent sounding strategies and rake millions out of pretty looking presentations.

Now, please don’t think of this as a high-brow statement, I belong to the same class of individuals classified as consultants and know the importance of the work as well as the painstaking, backbreaking, mind numbing effort that goes into making those pretty-looking presentations. However, it is like one of those moments when some puzzle falls in place and you have to celebrate it by announcing it to the world and hence, here I’m,  a step closer to the blessed state of knowingly doing what I’m doing.


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