Archive for the ‘IIM’ Category

The Madness in the Method

Posted: April 13, 2011 by Anindya Dutta in IIM
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Disclaimer :  Despite the views expressed below, the author of the post believes that IIM Ahmedabad is still the best business school not only in India but also in Asia, and competition has a long way to go to match the pedigree which IIM Ahmedabad has and continues to produce year after year. Moreover, the cost-benefit tradeoff of business education in IIM Ahmedabad is the best in the world.

Often over the last twelve months, we have been criticized for romancing IIMA a tad too much in our blog articles. However, as our lives’ train pulls out of the station at Ahmedabad, and we catch a fleeting glance of the red bricks in the distance, it is just about the right time to present an ode to this towering institution of management education sans the romance. (Apologies for the allegories and the metaphors, but sipping onto hot tea in a nice condo in Singapore, listening to the Beatles, my literary juices have just about started flowing!)

A few days back, an IIM aspirant, driven by the belief that WIMWIans drink magic potions of invincibility like the Gauls of Armorica, asked me for my perspective on the much hyped Indian growth story. Caught slightly off guard, I did my best to gather all that I had read and heard, added a dash of jargon learnt over the last two years and topped it up with a dash of myself – and out came a concise, three-word reply – “Confused and confusing”!

No, I was not referring to my state of my mind but to my views on the Indian macro-environment, and as I write this piece today, I realize that as a genuine reflection of the Indian political, economic and social fabric, I find IIMA as an institution eerily “confused and confusing!!!” Borrowing subtly from Catherine Taylor’s imagery on Mumbai, IIMA can aptly be called a strange beast. She will wake up every morning, hug you tightly, let you go abruptly, smile at you, hug you once again and just as when you come around to believing that everything’s fine, she will slap you right across your face. This is IIMA. Full of contradictions, surprises and dead-ends. Confused and confusing!

An MBA is honestly not meant to be an academic program – it is meant to be a logbook of experiences – experiences driven by industry-persons, by instructors, by assignments and most importantly by peers – experiences to learn from 24*7. For an MBA to be meaningful hence, batch diversity is an important cog in the wheel. Although international business programs’ emphasis on diversity borders on being a touch too exaggerated (some of the selections which these schools make for the sake of diversity are outrageous!), the equally calamitous lack of emphasis on batch diversity at IIMA is profoundly disturbing. At a time when India is staking claim to the global high table, it is expected that India’s premier MBA program should acquire an international flavor. After all, it would be just about logical to expect that India’s best B-School should be home to a classroom environment where experiences from all over the world work towards solving local cases and problems, rather than local experiences brainstorming cases from the Western world, as is the current norm. But alas, despite the lucidness of the argument, IIMA fails, year after year, to make breakthrough changes to a selection process which can be described as archaic and rickety at best.

IIMA, as a revered institution of higher learning, is often expected to be a beacon of India’s aspirations for the future, and not a lame reflection of the problems historically associated with our education system. It is hence, disheartening, to see that the most challenging experience for WIMWIans on a daily basis is that of grade micromanagement. The intensity of case analyses, classroom participation and assignment completions are often reduced to the sheer economics of marks. Such a skewed incentive system often results in hijacked classroom sessions with incomplete case discussions and half-baked learning. Obviously, the complete breakdown of the learning experience is a systemic failure since right from the day we step into the “hallowed precincts” of IIMA, we are told about the singular importance of a job out of campus, and hence the relevance of a “stud CV” and an “I-Schol” ranking (For the uninitiated; I-Schol, derived from Industrial Scholar, refers to the top 5% students of the batch). This kind of an academic system which makes students, several of them in their mid-twenties and with few years spent in the industry, bicker and lose sleep over sub-grades or a day zero summer internship makes for an abysmal and sorry picture. What’s more disheartening, is that after a few months, you realize that such a culture has been created more by design rather than by accident. Rarely, does anyone in the administration or otherwise talk about preparing for the long haul and building a strong focus on learning, which in the right incentive environment would also be the relevant precursor for good grades.

One of the high points in my IIMA stint was attending a class by a senior professor where he discussed a one page case-let related to a situation which he had personally experienced while consulting an Indian blue-chip company. Seventy-five minutes of gripping discussion left the class spellbound, such was the quality of insights and the control of the instructor. As I walked out of the class yearning for more, it struck me that the quality of learning in an MBA program can be strongly enhanced if case discussions were driven by people who have actually lived the case!!! Sadly despite this being commonplace in the Western B-School system where a case discussion is usually signed off by the protagonist of the plot, rarely does one get to experience such quality of discussion in IIMA.

To extend the logic further, the dearth of student-industry interaction makes learning very often too dogmatic, theoretical, unrealistic and a tad boring at WIMWI. The truth of the matter is that there can be no better business learning than from opportunities to hear from industry leaders and alumni who have been there and done that! But IIMA’s inability to encourage platforms where industry leaders participate and take interest in our learning on a continuous and regular basis in the form of mentorship programs, corporate tours and networking fairs is disconcerting and reflects a lack of will and desire on the establishment to think beyond the traditional style of education.

Speaking of networking, many people at IIMA believe that networking is an overrated concept not realizing that networking is not always about fake smiles, planned interjections, robotic nods of the head and business card exchanges. Rather, networking can be a potent knowledge multiplier and an opportunity to share experiences and learning. Networking literally means building a network of relationships, some of which, if not all, can develop into strong personal and professional support systems over time. As future business leaders, it is the quality of relationships which an individual maintains which make the difference between good and great leaders. Such relationships will be driven by a painstakingly brewed mix of strong business expertise and compelling people skills. Although, IIMA does a fairly good job of trying to provide the first of the two qualities, its efforts to educate students about the importance of the latter are almost non-existent.

Hence, in the absence of the requisite push from the institute to help students work on their personality development, student initiatives have often sought their own creative license. Sadly, however, such efforts are often given step-sonly treatment by the institute. Student enterprise and ingenuity does not, in most cases, receive the requisite encouragement, guidance and faith from the administration. Recently, one of my juniors came up to me with a suggestion for an event which the finance club could consider organizing. The concept was loosely based on a similar event in the US B-Schools called “A Day in Wall-Street”. The idea was to take all finance enthusiasts of IIMA down to Mumbai for a 1-2 day workshop wherein they could spend time at a variety of the financial institutions to experience first-hand what it is like to have a career in finance. The plan was well-structured and researched and I, being the outgoing coordinator and an evangelist of the finance club, would have loved to encourage the plan to be taken up with vigor. Unfortunately, having worked closely with the system, I am just as aware that such an idea will never see the light of day purely because the administration would never be able to reconcile with an event plan which involved the loss of 1-2 seemingly precious academic workdays. Such is the thickheaded approach of the institute with regards to the superlative status of academics, that creatively designed events and ideas which can prove tremendously value-additive for the students are not only not encouraged but are actively discouraged.

Last but not the least, IIMA despite all the hype and hoopla about being one of the best business schools internationally, is for all practical purposes a placement agency – an exceptional placement agency. A student’s learning curve at WIMWI is all about resume preparation, remedial sessions for last minute interview preparation, a Day Zero summer internship, a pre-placement offer and if that does not come by, then about the same rigmarole for final placements. A vast majority of the students’ reputations are made and marred by the day/cluster in which they were placed. When it comes to selecting electives for the second year, everybody wants to know which course is a high-scoring one to give that final push to their GPAs as people look ahead towards final placements. Rarely would you ever sit in the canteen and overhear conversations on RBI’s approach to interest rate management or HUL’s latest marketing campaign or for that matter, Uninor’s differential pricing strategy. If you however chose to complete that exceptionally poorly made coffee/tea at the canteen at your leisurely pace, you would surely hear words and phrases like PPO, Day 0, sub-grades, quizzes and REMs. To sum it up, IIMA teaches you how to package yourself well for that 40 minute interview, though I am not so sure how several of us would fare once the wrappings came off.

In hindsight, all the discipline and rigor makes IIMA students very conformist – very “managerish” if I may take a few liberties with my English. We learn to be on time for appointments, to prepare well for team meetings, to base our analyses on rigorous number-work and to respect the sanctity of deadlines. And quite rightly so! However, there seems no place at WIMWI for the maverick, for the visionary, for the leader, for the rebel, for the out-of-the-box solution. As one of my friends, an alumnus from IIMA, rightly pointed out – “IIMA makes great managers, but does not make great leaders or thinkers!” No doubt, IIMA will get its own share of CXOs who have risen through the rungs of an organization for over two decades, executing projects with élan and poise before finally they get their view from the top. But IIMA does not prepare people to be the next Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, Richard Branson or for that matter our very own Sunil Bharti Mittal – IIMA does not prepare people to be ahead of the curve…

Have no doubts, my dear friends, IIMA still is undoubtedly a very fine business school with a strong pedigree of faculty, students and alumni – the finest in the region. But as we prepare for a globalized world, when IIMA is going to compete against the Harvards and Whartons as they set their sights on the lucrative Indian education market, it is time for the institute to not rest on the strength of its brand identity. It is time for IIMA to rediscover itself, to create new paradigms of business management and to deliver on its pledge to create leaders for the future.

I wrote a few months back about how there was a Method in the Madness here at IIMA. As I sign off and as the red bricks are reduced to a mere blur, I wonder whether after all, there is a Madness in the Method as well…


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Dear Class of 2011

Posted: March 27, 2011 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, IIM, life
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The words of wisdom below have been penned down by our dear friend, mentor and teacher – Prof. Nagesh Rao, who teaches Managerial Communication at IIM Ahmedabad.

Dear Class of 2011

A person, a nation’s character is best defined in difficult times.  An earthquake and a tsunami have wiped out thousands in Japan.  Yet, her grace and her generosity are inimitable.  In Miyagi where the tsunami would hit, a man who owned a fish processing plant was hosting 20 interns from China. When he heard the tsunami alarm he sensed that the interns couldn’t know what might happen or what to do. He got them all together and took them to a safe higher ground, and then rushed back to his home to rescue his family. He and his family are among the thousands lost.

Or we could talk about Mr. Raja, Mr. Kalmadi, Miss. Radia, or the IAS Joshi couple.  The choice is ours. Yours.

At 16, when my classmates were rushing to take science classes to pursue engineering and medicine, I chose commerce.  I thought I was a trailblazer, a deviant and one of a kind.  Four years later, after several gut-wrenching and listless accounting and economics classes, I knew it was not me.  I had chosen a major only slightly off the path and still within the norms of societal approval.  Did I take a radical step and follow my dream – my love for acting, my passion for dance, and my keen visual eye?  No.  I was afraid to leave the comfort of a stable boat.  Afraid to fail.  Worried what the Iyers and Guptas would think of me.  Afraid of myself.

The solution was simple and brilliant.  Procrastinate.  Now, I will work hard, make money, and dabble in my passion later.  Happiness, you see, is a choice.  Unhappiness is a choice.  The choice is ours.  Yours.

So, in a Mary Schmich/ Kurt Vonnegut MIT urban legend speech style:

chuck your blackberry.

listen to the silence.

have a pillow fight.

sing in a public bathroom.

drink some wine.

take a pilgrimage.

give your kids time, not the latest igadget.

mow your neighbor’s lawn.

be gentle with yourself.

surprise your grandma.

belch in a boardroom meeting.

keep a pygmy shrew for a pet.

plunge.  binge.

mail a hand-written letter

save strangers.  leave an imprint.


– Prof. Nagesh Rao

Can be reached at nagesh@iimahd.ernet.in

A toast to free-riding!

Posted: November 14, 2010 by Gurveen Bedi in Free-riders, IIM
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I had written this post a few days back and then shelved it since I had thought that it is pointless as it wouldn’t change anything. But a recent experience of a friend who I found crying since her group members had left her alone to deal with a tough assignment, made me want to dedicate this special post to free-riders. Hence, I  got back to working on this post, in the hope that it may change some people who are in the first year and have just got a taste of the ‘freedom’ of free-riding.

In economics, free riders are defined as those who take more than their fair share of the benefits or do not shoulder their fair share of the costs of their use of a resource. Free-riders exist everywhere. The businessmen who evade taxes, the carpool partner who never gets her own car, the people who steal electricity by illegal connections and most relevant to IIMA, the student in the study group who absolutely refuses to contribute.

The free-rider phenomenon stems from the structure of working in groups. Whenever work or responsibility is assigned to a group of people, rather than individuals, the belief of every individual is that the work will get done easily. Hence, some individuals evade the work since they know that the same benefits will accrue to them whether they contribute or not. A solution would be to avoid the group structure, but in several cases, that is impossible. A number of tasks are such that a group structure is a necessity – for example, a nation’s defence, spend on public infrastructure etc.

Specifically, academics at IIM Ahmedabad are all about groups and group assignments, hence it is a system inherently infested with free-riders. This post is thus addressed to the free-riders of IIM Ahmedabad in an attempt to enlighten them and if nothing else, at least to make them squirm about in their places.

Dear free-rider,

First, let me start by wishing you a “Happy First Year” at IIMA. There is probably no other breed of students that enjoyed the first year of IIM Ahmedabad more than you did. While most of the students were burning the midnight oil to finish that irritating Marketing decision sheet or that nauseous BRM project, you were laughing at their predicament and enjoying late night movies and cards in the company of other beings of the same breed. You would come to the class every morning, that’s if you would, and scoff at the others who were worrying about whether they had got the last assignment right, or whether their group would be called to present that day. You never realised that this smirking would come back to hit you someday – you probably still don’t. And have no doubts about it, it will hit you, all in due course of time.

While several students who entered this MBA program fresh out of undergrad, found the discipline here a sudden jolt that shook them and in the process, made “ladies out of the girls” and “men out of the boys”; you found this a seamless transition. For you, post graduation became just another extension of undergrad life. You never understood the essence of an MBA at IIMA, that it is not just a degree, it is a way of living. The struggle for daily case analysis, the long-winded group discussions interspersed with juices and section mails, the goof-ups in class presentations, the last minute run to the printer before assignment submissions, the infighting for work distribution and even the gruelling work itself – all constitute what an MBA at IIMA is about. You have missed out on all of it; you have lost out on a life that thousands crave to experience.

Apart from the experience, you have missed out on learning an essential skill that IIMA teaches you – time-management. I remember our Program Head announcing in class in the first month, “You all are brilliant and we know that if we gave you enough time to spend on academics, you would all excel. That is why we don’t. We give you a time crunch so that you learn to prioritize and multi-task”. And learn we did. Whether it was tons of assignments, several presentations, multiple clubs’ work, eating out, having a life, we did it. We managed it all and we came out proud. You failed there, and failed miserably.  In a struggle to manage work and fun, you chose the easy way out. I am just waiting to see you deploy these finely developed time-management skills at your respective organizations next year. I wonder what choice you will make then.

Also, you forgot an important part of what constitutes an MBA – the network that is built here. In a few years, students of our batch would be employed across different industries in a variety of sectors. From a marketer at HUL to a consultant at Bain, from an investment banker at Goldman Sachs to an activist at some NGO, we will have it all – an expansive spread of people, an amazingly well-connected network. But the only way one can tap this network is by having had a good reputation in campus in terms of work ethics and ability. The work that one does here and the identity one forms here, doesn’t end with graduation. It defines the manner in which people remember you once you graduate and determines the amount of respect that you are able to generate. But, in the quest of low hanging fruits of poker nights and parties, you perhaps overlooked that aspect of an MBA. Honestly, I don’t blame you. If you couldn’t understand the essence of the academic program in the first place, forgetting the importance of creating a network at a B-school is but natural.

But the biggest irony of it all is that in spite of the self-destruction that you have subjected yourself to, you still have the guts to believe that you are smart. You still feel that you have gamed the academic system and come out unscathed and victorious. You feel you’ve won, you feel you’ve escaped.

Well, let me break the bad news to you buddy!!! The truth is that you are a loser…

You have lost the opportunity so bad, you have harmed your reputation so much, that nothing you will do can recover it. Forget about being the “smart one”, you’ve been the worst kind of fool since you never realised that you were being a fool.

And I, pity your foolishness.

Regards,

A free-rider hating person

The Method in the Madness

Posted: August 18, 2010 by Anindya Dutta in IIM
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It has been over a couple of months since the batch of 2010-12 joined IIMA, and seeing everyone go through the motions of the first term here at IIMA has made me nostalgic quite a few times. Now before I write any further, let me issue a few disclaimers. The last piece written by Gurveen did extol the IIMA pedagogy as one which was superior to that of the IITs. I will also touch a similar cord, though slightly differently. However, neither of us are evangelists of the IIM model of business education, nor do we intend to become so. Over the next few weeks, we will write a lot about the nice as well as the not-so-nice things which are home to this place we fondly call WIMWI and beyond.

For now, this is how it goes…

As I turn back the clock, one ritual which I remember having practiced several times during my fachcha year, was walking down the subway stairs after a gut-wrenching quiz (The academic ones, not the ones which we associated with the O’Briens when we were a lot younger) and complaining about how the education system here at Ahmedabad was focused more on grades and mastering the statistics of rankings, rather than on learning and individual development. Also often several of our discussions during our fachcha days raised existential issues about how IIMA was heartless and devoid of a soul, the only aim of which is to separate the so-called grain from the chaff. Such was the intensity of emotions that all of us experienced and endorsed strongly at that time, that these feelings seem fresh as ever even these days. Sigh!

In fact the one year as a PGP1 can be described at best by a single word – madness. But as I walk down memory lane, I do not remember the despair of 2-3 assignments to submit daily in the third term nor do I notice the familiar sinking of the heart on Sunday nights when I used to realize that a much hated subject with decision sheets, senseless (Atleast to me!!!) case studies and terrorizing professors was awaiting me for the next three days. On the contrary,I see, believe it or not, a method in this madness.

Let me explain…

Life at IIMA whizzes by. The amount of pressure (of many kinds) which this institute puts one under gives one very little time to reflect and introspect. But as everyone goes through this daily “pain”, everyday at IIMA does build character. Every event, every concept, every institution, every ritual has its own place in this “method”.

Take for example, T-Nite. Ask anyone who has been through the 72 hour magical extravaganza which descends on WIMWI every August and they will tell you some very important realities of life and management which they have learnt at T-Nite. T-Nite teaches you to bond, to compete, to fight together for a cause, to innovate,to work in a team, to improvise, to work your a**es off, to win together and also to accept defeat sportingly. These are not lessons which can be taught in a FRA class, nor can they be inspired in an ID session. But these are learnings which makes one a better manager, and more importantly a better human being.

It doesn’t stop there. As I write this piece, my dearest fachchas are preparing for another monumental challenge colloquially called “summers prep” at WIMWI. For the uninitiated, “summers prep” is a 2 month long odyssey of remedial sessions, resume verifications, pre-placement talks, CV submissions, interview preparation which ultimately culminates into an absolute anti-climax in the month of November, with everyone taking home a 2 month ticket to a corporate house for the summer months. As one goes through this challenge, one plans only to revise plans later, despairs only to exult later, obtains fleeting clarity only to lose it in abysmal confusion later and prepares for one career option only to unlearn and focus on another later. One of my seniors aptly called it an “emotional rollercoaster which makes you huff and puff”. But more important than the corporate brand that you take away to flaunt for the rest of the year is the fact that this process instills in you an instinct for survival, an unprecedented appreciation for discipline, a desire to manage and organize oneself effectively and more importantly a sense of humility. As before these are not lessons taught in classrooms, nor are they passed on down the years by seniors. You simply learn it as you go through it…

There are several more instances of the method in the madness which I could write about – but will leave it just at that lest I play spoiltsport for my fachchas who have so much more to experience and learn here. IIMA fachchadom is baptism by fire, and yes it is a lot of madness. But as I conclude, my mind goes back to the famous scene from the movie 300.

Persian messenger: This is blasphemy! This is madness! [Leonidas lowers his sword and looks toward Gorgo, who nods.]

Leonidas: [facing the Persian messenger] Madness? THIS IS SPARTA!!!

Madness?? This is WIMWI…