Savoring every bite of the last term

selective focus photography of woman using white and black slr camera
Capturing the last moments

To begin, the term break was disastrously unproductive. I did not move beyond a page in the writing and editing work I had scheduled. Rather did I read much. But there were more revelations. I found that I’ve lost the ability to be sane in solitude. I’ve temporarily lost the ability to enjoy being. All along, I looked for distractions through videos, social media, or people. With too many things to do, there was a dread of not doing anything at all and being without hope in general. And then, when I come across people on social media or books, who are like what I dream to be, a moment of poignancy sets in.

On the brighter side, I got a couple of days of good work and caring for team members, a couple of memorable outings with my close friends, and some warm moments of companionship with my flatmates. The holiday also helped me understand, I believe, what I should prioritize in life. 

.  .  .

As I step into the final term of b-school, it is a moment to stop and gather my thoughts.  What do I look forward to in this final term at b-school? As I picked my courses for the term, I decided to focus on the wider and higher aspects of career and life. Thus, my choices of courses in Leadership Development, Management Lessons from Bhagvat Gita, Entrepreneurship. My other three courses were also explorative – ‘Customer Relationship Management’, ‘Behavioral Finance’, and ‘IT & Business Innovation.’ In addition, I’m also hoping to gatecrash a course on Corporate Governance.

My focus is to learn as much as possible from the coursework. I wish that I develop a life-long muse for a couple of the above subjects. In the same measure, I also want to do worthy projects in a couple of the above subjects.

It is also a moment of emotions and nostalgia for me. The ritual of cracking open a new case every day, be imported to a new place and new role, and be caught in a decision dilemma, will soon come to an end. The cold calls, the case discussions, the ‘aha’ moments in class, and the team presentations too. Now that I realize that only a little of this experience left, I want to savor it with more attention as one would relish the last few bites of one’s favorite meal. 

I must confess that a certain amount of fatigue had set in the previous term. On more occasions than I’d like, I was not enthusiastic about what I was learning. There could be multiple reasons – the kind of subjects, professors, other pressures, etc., But in this last term, I hope to recover that curiosity and the delight in learning.

On a more crucial note, I also understand that I must use this time to develop greater self-belief, and also believe in the hopes I have for myself and the world around me.  

These final moments are important. My experience of these last couple of months will shape my memory of my twenty months at b-school. I want to chew and savor every bite of this last term.  

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Day 106: Test run wisdom, meaningful motivation, and my first systems simulation

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A nice little town

“If you were to test a product that is to be launched in the metro cities, where would you test the product?” Our marketing strategy professor threw this question at us.

“In a similar metro city. It will have similar characteristics to that of the launch market.”

“In a city with a diverse set of population. The capital city of New Delhi would be a good fit as it has a wide range of demography.”

“In a tier-II city. No one might notice my product in a metro city.”

After three or four responses from the class, the alternatives saturated. The professor explained his logic. It would be wise to test the product in a tier-I or a tier-II city for two reasons. First, it ensures that there is not much hullabaloo and the competitors do not notice the product. Second, in the event of a failure, the brand is less affected as there is less visibility in these cities.

.  .  .

The more we are in real situations of leadership the more we understand that building and caring for our teams are immensely critical than any strategic operational plan we may come up with. Just a couple of days ago my colleague in the student-run committee brought up the issue of too much work, no fun, and the junior members feeling unappreciated for their effort. I felt exposed. Getting great output from the team is not enough, it is important to keep them motivated. These skills are called upon in various situations – in student-run organizations, in one’s learning team, or in competition teams.

As I wondered about this, the power of analytics seems to have figured what I needed. This HBR article on motivation showed up on my LinkedIn feed: What Not to Do When You’re Trying to Motivate Your Team

The author begins with a startling question: “How many of you have ever received a compliment from your boss that actually offended you?”

I ran my memory to recall the kind of compliments I had paid my team members. Could I have offended someone?

The author then lists the kind of motivation techniques that could have a negative effect – high praise, insincere compliments, effusive expressions of public appreciation as compensation. Then, in a helpful manner, suggests a few ideas that model meaningful expressions of recognition – asking for the story behind their work, let them know how the person’s work has contributed to the larger goal, acknowledge their personal costs behind their accomplishments.

I have unknowingly used these better ideas of meaningful motivation at times, but it was not conscious. Now that I understand it better, I’m determined to be more meticulous about the recognition I give to those working with me.

.  .  .

In the Business Dynamics class today, we built our first simulation model using Vensim. We modeled the beer game. The system behaved the same way as the graphs we plotted after our game. This is extremely cool. But I need to spend time with the reading material and examples to get a good hold of it.

Day 100: Goal attainment anxiety, listening to Salisbury Cathedral, and the beauty of the starry sky

man in white shirt using macbook pro
The anxiety of goal attainment

Right, it’s day 100. It is ironic that when a goal is in reaching distance, instead of the joy and excitement of reaching a goal there is a lot of anxiety. It is the question of ‘what next’ that has haunted me over the last few days. Can these 100 days be turned into a book? This anxiety has sapped any excitement of reaching the 100 days. I think this is something that is probably experienced by a lot of people as they reach the end of a treasured project and something that is worth taking more about.

Befitting Day 100, the case we dealt with today in the Digital Transformation class was about something that is dear to me. It was the digital transformation of the Tate Museum, London. I’m a champion of the old world public spaces like libraries and museums (the new world public spaces are restaurants, malls, and movie theatres). I’ve had some of my best moments in these spaces. Not that I have any hatred for the new world spaces, I perfectly enjoy them too, but just that the old world public spaces seem to be dwindling and there is an urgent need to stand by them so that we may not lose perspective of the unique and critical benefits they offer to our civilization.

What Tate Museum had done was something phenomenal. A look at their website is could pull a person unbothered about museums or art to give it a chance. That, I think, will be the greatest achievement of the digital medium. If museums and libraries have to flourish it is not enough they retain their existing patrons but take an evangelical approach to gain more patrons.

The digital content does exactly this: enables us to have a deeper experience

Of course, the digital medium also enables a following from around the world. At my table, thousands of miles away from the Tate Museum, I can experience the Salisbury Cathedral.

You too can experience it: Listen to the Salisbury Cathedral

I couldn’t help but compare the website of the Tate to the website of the topmost museum in India. The National Museum at New Delhi contains a treasure of artifacts beginning from the Indus Valley Civilization, over four thousand years ago. I’ve been there multiple times and have been overwhelmed being surrounded by history.

But the museum awaits its Tate moment.

I will also soon start reading about the Tate-like examples for public libraries.

I gained some lessons in negotiation today, but I shall wait another day to talk about it.

Four of us friends took a walk around the campus a little past midnight. Far away from the beauty-robbing effects of light pollution, the night sky was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen. As we walked, I couldn’t help but keep crooning my head to catch one more glimpse at the star-dotted night sky.

Day 97: Measuring success, an exciting project, and fixing new priorities

achievement activity adolescent arms
How do we measure success?

How often do we judge a candidate’s success by the high-paying job right out of b-school? Is a high-paying job right out of b-school the ultimate sign of success? Is this what the objective of the candidates should be?

I’ve thought about this before. We’ve always seen comparisons between b-schools on the basis of the median salary out of b-school. This is myopic. If there is to be a better parameter – it must be in the kind of progress the alumni are making five years down the line.

Today, I came across an article about HBS Dean Nitin Nohria’s thoughts on this.

What we want is to have students, 10 years later, be at an arc in their lives where they really feel that they’re gaining increasing responsibility.

Ten years out is when you start to see the breadth of leadership that the class represents. So that’s exciting.

Read the article here: The dean of Harvard Business School isn’t impressed by flashy, high-paying first jobs after graduation – to see who’s successful, he looks at another measure entirely

.  .  .

I spent the evening doing some research on the ready to eat category.  I did not make any progress. I checked my Instagram and WhatsApp tens of times during that couple of hours. It’s a chicken and egg problem. Is my lack of progress leading to a state of distraction and restlessness or is it the other way around?

82% of menstruating Indian women have to use unhygienic alternatives such an old cloth, rag, hay or even sand.

There is another interesting project lined up. This one is close to my heart. The Niine Movement aims to tackle the taboos of menstruation and raise menstrual hygiene awareness; they make sanitary pads. Our team will be working on consumer insights and building a penetrative distribution channel in our experiment zone. If this succeeds, the model will be scaled up the national level. In the last third of the b-school education, this is an opportunity to test and build my skills to make a real-world impact.

When one important thing is done, new priorities are to be set up. I have to quickly narrow down my new priorities and start working on them. I fear that my next five months will just trickle away in restless exploration.

Day 96: Public sector excellence and the importance of team disharmony

architecture booth buildings bus
The public sector presence

As b-schoolers, we are exposed to lots of corporate leaders from the private sector. Today, we met the more than ten leaders from public sector firms in India. Public sector units began with India’s socialist beginnings. While accounting for 2% of the firms listed on the stock market, the public sector units account for more than 15% of the total market capitalization while also contributing 20% of India’s GDP.

Such big drivers of the Indian economy, these public sector units seldom are in media’s limelight except when government talks of disinvestment. They are the silent workers of the economy. Despite the common characterization of the public sector as being inefficient all over the world, some of the most spectacular organizations in the world belong to the public sector.

While the salaries at the entry levels are relatively higher in the public sector, the wage gap between the public and the private sector increases as we move up the ladder. The government, as a model employer strives to maintain a reasonable ratio between the bottom-most and the top-most role. Despite the phenomenally low pay compared to similar roles in the private sector, especially at the top, some of the most impactful leaders in our society have come from the public sector.

.  .  .

One of the speakers brought out an interesting point during the discussion. It is about how disharmony in teams enhance performance and the creativity of the team. This is something I’ve experienced over the last year and a half of working in different teams, but I had never thought about this in concrete terms.

The performance benefits of controlled disharmony are witnessed in the performance jazz bands, between Lennon and McCartney, between Wozniak and Jobs. What matters in the team is the psychological safety.

Read more here:

  1. Disharmony in your team? Encourage it!
  2. Can harmony hurt team performance?

.  .  .

A little past midnight, seated by the steps beside the grass, in the blissful cold-breeze of pre-winter nights, over some tea and ready-to-eat noodles, my team and I pondered over our approach to a corporate competition. We had to give a solution to HUL’s bid to launch a ready-to-eat product in a particular city. First meetings are awkward and filled with pockets of silences. This was the same too. After a couple of hours, we had taken a one step ahead. Enough for the day. But for the first time in many months, I spent casual time with a bunch of people under the night sky.

Day 95: Angel Tampopo, wonders of a smile, and The Guardian

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It was all because of Tampopo!

Random things happen. They could turn out to be the help you needed. My search for a post-b-school role has ended just as it began. I now know where I will join as I complete my b-school the coming spring (about 6 months from now). I believe I got the best that was there. I’m really happy about it. This success has a taken quite a while to come.

What are the odds that your interviewer has watched the off-beat Japanese film that you’ve written an article on? As I gave my introduction, I mentioned towards the end that I write articles connecting films and management. The interviewer asked me to give a glimpse of one of my articles.

I never expect people to have watched the films I’ve watched. So when I asked to explain I assume complete ignorance from the listener. But at my mention of the word ‘Tampopo,’ the big guy’s eyes lit up and a smile sprang. I asked him if he has watched the film. If only someone has captured the joy on my face when he had said yes! I then started to set the context of the film for the other interviewer. The big guy intervened and wanted to know what management connection I had drawn. I explained. He was joyed.

It is trivial unnecessary to talk about the rest of the interview.

A smile can work wonders.

But there is another lesson from films that I consciously practiced that day. The film is Monsieur Ibrahim and the lesson is to ‘smile.’

Who knew of all that I’ve done in b-school, my interviewers would value my film articles! The lesson for me and everyone is to find something and do it well. It will work one day, if not immediately.

.  .  .

I’m having a great time in our Digital Transformation course. Today, we discussed a case on The Guardian, which I had been anticipating even before the beginning of the term. The case is about The Guardian’s Transition to the online world. I have a fondness for newspapers, news stories, long forms, and journalism in general. A couple of years ago I even hatched a plan to read at least one newspaper (online) from a country. I did not go beyond ten countries.

guradian

While The Guardian is something I have been reading on and off, what stands out is the message at the end of every article requests a donation from the reader to help it sustain its objective.

Takeaways from the case/class:

  1. The fall in circulation of newspapers started in the 1960s, much before the digital era. Among the prime reasons could be television. But why didn’t managers take the fall in circulation as a problem then? Because of the boom in population, the absolute numbers of the newspapers sold were always increasing (US Newspaper Industry). The professor teased us on the numbers before she gave out the answer.
  2. Digital exacerbated the fall of newspapers. The ads moved online. The newspaper business model was unbundled. In addition, the ads in newspapers now moved to specialized placed online – niche websites for real estate, employment.
  3. One of the important insights as newspapers moved online was to not replicate the print version online. Different medium demand different content.
  4. Post the advent of the digital medium, the forces in the newspaper industry have moved in the unfavorable direction.
  5. The suppliers in today’s online newspapers are not just journalists but graphic artists, tech people, citizen journalists
  6. Guardian followed an ambidextrous strategy of exploiting the print business and exploring the digital business. It undertook strategic renewal when it figured out that its print business is going down.

Guardian’s success is also attributed to Guardian’s ownership structure. It is not owned by a corporate group but by The Scott Trust. This is to aid financial and editorial independence, which unfortunately ails much of the media today. This ownership structure ensures that the financial gains are invested back into journalism rather having to pay shareholders.

Read this overview of The Guardian’s Ownership Structure: The Scott Trust: why the Guardian is unique

When I raised a question about supplier’s power going down as evident in the fall in the salaries of journalists, our professor played this: John Oliver on Journalism

Yet, newspapers are dying. Does anyone care? Newspaper Death Watch records the demise of newspapers in North America.

Day 82: Chai, end of holidays, and severe anxiety

automatic city control crossing
Moving on

I met a friend of mine today. Career goals, the automobile industry moving towards mobility solutions, pressures of global integration and local responsiveness, taking up GMAT within the end of 2018, good managers and bad managers – these flowed into the conversation. We had tea from ‘Chai Kings,’ a new startup that hopes to serve up to the demand of the tea loving people of Chennai. While I had Sulaimani, a a black tea with herbs and spices, that originated Kerala, my friend a masala chai, a tea with milk and spices.

Here’s an article on Chai Kings: For the Love of Chai

On Sulaimani Tea: History and a Cup of Sulaimani

Taking about Tea, there is a book Chai, Chai by Biswanath Ghosh, a Journalist and an author. He goes on a Chai expedition across the railway stations in India.

.  .  .

My last day at home. The term break comes to an end. At dawn tomorrow, I take my flight back to my school. From Monday, it will be back to the grinding routine.

I had hoped that the term break would be a period of reflection and path-setting. I’d imagined that I’d have time to sit and think through things which was impossible during the term. But it didn’t turn out so. My days were spent restless and confused trying to do many things and leaving so many undone.

And finally, this evening I realized that I hadn’t done much in the last week to advance my long term goals. It has been a perfect case of not-prioritizing and goal displacement. It made me severely anxious.

It terrifies me. When am I going to live the way I want to?

But one things has always been constant. There is a lot of sanity that returns and priorities shine brightly when one significant period ends and another begins. That’s what happened today: sanity returned.

I will not be fluttered. This is all human. My learning from the books I’ve read gives me the faith to see through these troubles. I will keep faith in me. I will find strength in the better angels of my nature. And move on and move forward.

Good bye. See you back in school.