Posts Tagged ‘Diversity’

The Madness in the Method

Posted: April 13, 2011 by Anindya Dutta in IIM
Tags: , , , , ,

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…