The Yellow Canary

Posted: September 7, 2010 by Gurveen Bedi in Career, Women
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It was a yellow canary. When she broke out of the egg, she came out all fluffy, yellow and grey. They taught her how to take flight with her tiny wings. They trained her to sing, in a soulful voice that became the fame of the jungle. They showed her to track seeds, and build her cup nest in the best of shrubs. Then one day as she was flying high in the sky, a netted cloth closed on to her, clipped her wings together. Next she awoke, she found herself in a golden cage, with an abundance of seeds, with people co-cooing her all around, urging her to sing.

She never sang again. And a few days later, was no more.

Similar to the life of the yellow canary, will be the life of several young women of our generation, whom for lack of better words, I will chose to call Alpha Females. These alpha females have been considered equal to boys since childhood. They have competed with the boys (and defeated them) right from school days – in exams, debates, tests – and then later on in higher levels of competition like college entrances, job interviews etc. This continuous competition and regular winning has ingrained an indomitable fighting spirit in their minds. They are employed by the best of firms, in the best of careers, and feel that their journey for success has just started.

And exactly at that point of time, comes along their netted cloth – marriage.

Suddenly the alpha females find themselves in completely unfamiliar terrain. All of a sudden, the expectations from them change. Their parents start expecting that they will now leave their career ambitions to have a fruitful and happy married life. Their husbands appreciate their success till date, but want them to become adjusting now. They do not want conflicts and believe that the important career in the household is their own, and hence the secondary career can be sacrificed a little. All this in the name of a happy married life.

In the process, the alpha females get hurtled around. The concept of taking their foot off the pedal or slowing down their success rate is too foreign to digest. They have two options, to stay alone or to slow down. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation. If they stay alone, the loneliness will finally get to them. If they slow down, their lack of achievement, after the hard work they have put in throughout life, will always pinch them.

If this is what equanimity between men and women finally gets you, one wonders about the efficacy of the efforts, when the expectations are skewed in nature. It is like encouraging women to run the 500 metres sprint, and then asking them to slow down after the first 100 metres; and then justifying it by saying that at least they got the experience of running the first 100 metres.

The recent years have seen a multitude of efforts being put in, all across the world, to confer on women a way of living similar to that of men, to enable them to stand in the world as equals in all respects, to feel liberated and emancipated.

But this emancipation is inherently flawed. It provides you with a liberated lifestyle while you’re young, but once you have experienced the freedom and independence that the lifestyle gets you, the society comes back again to strike you with its burden of expectations of adjustment.

This flaw, unless solved, will leave several young women utterly confused and torn apart in the process of their growth.

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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…

Of trusses, beams and columns

Posted: August 2, 2010 by Gurveen Bedi in IIT
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The last few days, in a course at IIMA, I have been studying roads and railways, the current issues in their development and financing.

These classes reminded me of a previous FARA (Financial Accounting and Reporting) lecture in first year, when the professor asked the civil engineers in class (unfortunately I was the only one in my class), to explain S-curves to the rest of the students. And I was stumped, since I had no idea what S-curves were. This made me wonder about the quality of engineering graduates in IITs these days, including myself.

It also reinforced a previously held view: IITs do not produce the best engineers

IITs may have some exceptional minds, may also have some amazingly intelligent engineers, who know their S-curves and structural mechanics. But the majority of the students are disinterested in the stream of engineering that they are in.

One reason is the admission process, where you enter an engineering stream in the first year, having absolutely no idea of what that engineering really is. And then you spend four years studying something you chose on a whim. In fact, I have met many a chemical engineers who enrolled in chemical engineering, thinking that they would be studying chemistry and chemical equations.

Another reason is the academic sense at IITs. The impression given to a student entering an IIT is that ‘Rigor ended with JEE’, which is quite the opposite to what you’re told at IIMs, that ‘CAT is just the beginning’. It is this expectation that gets ingrained in students and affects the way they deal with their academics in their remaining tenure.

But the biggest reason for all this, is the pedagogy at IITs. It is archaic and uninspiring, to say the least. Course content is rarely updated. New courses are also a rarity. Professors do not even attempt to discuss any contemporary issues or to generate any interest in students regarding their engineering stream. The maximum class participation is back-bench bickering and the occasional snoring. The concept of academic honesty went for a toss such a long time back, that it is not even a matter of discussion now. On top of that, every few years the workload keeps getting reduced, owing to the continuously occurring suicide cases.

Contrast this with IIMs. One out of every four lectures at IIMA is an experience in itself. The use of teaching aids like videos, movies, presentations, in-class exercises make learning such an interesting experience that people like attending classes. The professors do their best to relate courses to the latest happenings in the world. The workload is terrifying, yet there has never been a suicide attempt.

No wonder some of the brightest students out of IIT, opt for non-engineering jobs and MBAs at the end of their engineering. It is easy for the professors at IITs to complaint about this trend, but very difficult for them to accept that they are one of the key reasons for the same.

IITs could learn several lessons from IIMs. Perhaps it’s time for some professors to come down to IIMA for MDP (Management Development Program).

Crossroads

Posted: July 24, 2010 by Anindya Dutta in Career
Tags: ,

The last few weeks have given me an opportunity to take a long hard look at myself , as I go through the excruciating mental grind of making some important decisions related to my future professional career choices. Not that I have not tackled difficult issues before, but this time the approach was different. On this occasion, true to WIMWI style, I decided to approach the problem the traditional WAC way. Lay out options which are available to you, outline criteria for evaluation and then judge your options on the basis of the outlined criteria. Although this piece is no excerpt from “How to make career-related decisions for Dummies”, I have outlined certain generic criteria which anyone, I believe, should apply to judge a career option.

So here is how it goes…

Assume you are evaluating a career option at company A.

Criteria 1: When you look around at what the senior people in company A are doing, does that excite you?

Typically, people talk a lot about enjoying what you do. But most of us enjoy what we do when we can unleash our creative or analytical abilities to help us take key decisions, and then back those decisions with compact strategic execution. And that typically does not happen when we start our careers as analysts/associates or whatever fancy designations different companies may give us. That usually happens when one has gone through the muck, the grind and earned greater business experience which gives people around us greater confidence to allow a person to take responsibility. So judge a profession/company based on what you think you will be doing 5-6 years down the line, and not what you are doing now.

Criteria 2: Does company A give sufficient regard to your need for work-life balance?

Now, all of us have heard a lot about work-life balance. The reality is that the more you earn, the less you tend to balance. In fact, most job descriptions which claim to provide you with a great work-life balance are typically bullshitting you. It’s a competitive world out there and if you want to be at the cutting edge, you need to slog, and that usually comes at the expense of other worldly benefits. The important point, however, is whether the company/sector recognizes the need for work-life balance. I stress on the word “recognize” purely because no company/sector can provide you a great work-life balance all the time. However, as long as the company/sector recognizes the need for work-life balance as a prerequisite for high work quality and sustainable efforts from its employees, it will ensure that you never typically burn out. As I said, its not just about talking the talk but also about walking the walk….

Criteria 3: If you were to want to try out something else after a relatively long stint at company A, where does the experience at A leave you?

Although this applies more to a sector or industry choice rather than a company-specific decision, I know of friends for whom this has been a deciding factor in making company level decisions as well. Well, this criteria can be likened to checking whether the insurance policy you are buying is good or not. Most of us, I presume, are looking to progress in our careers with a diverse range of experiences, and it is important to be able to take calls on industry and company of choice keeping an eye on exit options, if and when we want to bail out or move on to the next challenge

So, that’s just about it!!! Plain and simple as I had promised…

Now many people will argue that there are several other factors which need to be given due importance while assessing available career options. Well, that’s true. For some people factors such as monetary compensation or location might as well turn out to be dealmakers or dealbreakers. However, in my humble opinion (and I am no authority on this subject), for successful sustainable fulfiling professional careers, the above three criteria are necessary condititons on which a given career option should be evaluated. These criteria are no red flags in anyway whatsoever, but establish very good preliminary ground to begin evaluating options in more granular detail.Once you are satisfied with how a company performs on these criteria, it is highly recommended that one should look at other more personally relevant criteria as well.

Purely as a rule of thumb, in my opinion, a company which fails on any two out of the above three criteria should be immediately rejected. However, the actual rule one would apply would depend on the relevant context.

Well, I am off to continue my search for answers to questions which I am confronted with at present. If you radically disagree with any of my thoughts, please drop in your comments.