Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Opportunities in a new era of globalization

I spoke with a bunch of management students at a college in New Mumbai at the start of the New Year. Though within the confines of a classroom, it was all very casual. I chatted with the kids (who were all in their early twenties) about my life experiences, threw in a few stories, got them to open up about their lives, their interests. Many of them had backgrounds in commerce, some in engineering, others in IT. One fellow had a degree in marine biology from Russia and said he was fluent in five languages. One of the (regrettably few) girls in that class said she was studying German on the side and hoped to conduct business with German houses someday.

Many of them seemed passionate about business and entrepreneurship, which was pretty great. One of the students for instance told me he wanted to run a restaurant but his parents didn't think he ought to; so he'd applied to b-school as a way to learn the general principles of running a business.

I spoke to several such kids individually after class. Part of the point was to reassure them that that they didn't need to do ridiculously well in college to "succeed" in life; that they would be better served by identifying a bunch of interests and working towards being among the best at those. They seemed to enjoy our chat as much as I did. Afterwards a couple of them told me that they wished their professors would engage them the way I did, which I took as a massive compliment.

The talk was a rewarding experience for me, not least because I got to refine my sense of how urban, college-educated students think today. It appears to me that while students are just as hesitant to question authority as my generation used to be, they are slowly beginning to buy into the notion of India as a potentially powerful global entity; no doubt this feeling will foster in them a sense of self-belief -- even entitlement -- over the next few decades.
I plan to recycle bits of the talk when I speak to class X and XII students at a couple of schools early next week. Here's my presentation from Jan 3. Feel free to borrow elements from it if you plan to speak to school or college students:


  1. What's often scary is that a large number of 20-somethings have cultivated few interests over time, and struggle to respond to the "Who am I" question (not just in an existentialist sense!). While some hobbies and interests require financial and other resources, and the encouragement of parents etc to pursue them; many kids grow up being told that academics - safe option academics - is the only route to an executive bathroom (nevermind the mismatch of a parasailing-type to make do with brass taps).

    The blinkers are put very early on; zealous parents, teachers and so on set the agendas, often at the cost of a child's natural and cultivated "overall" development...

    To the extent that your post (and indeed your chat/ PPT) directly points out the need for, and gives ideas to young grads to follow their hearts and find their feet, I think it's a fantastic effort! Thanks also for sharing the very clear and useful PPT. I suspect though, that a lot of damamge may be done much before one reaches the MBA stage (even for the supposedly brightest of the crop), and that samaritans like you (us!) must engage with younger students, and parent and teacher groups. Obvious, I know, but necessary still :)

  2. i agree with a lot of what you've said. but it's hard to judge when talking to them is too early or too late -- ideally we would need to address this on a case-by-case basis but of course it's impossible in practical terms.

    so i'm seeking to do the next best thing: trying to inspire them to find themselves by telling them a few stories from my life. i don't expect that every kid will be able to relate to my experiences, but that's hardly the point -- even if i'm able to create an "aha!" moment for a couple of kids every time i go out and meet students, i'd feel i was able to communicate something.

    besides there are so many factors that we cannot control: the quality of the kids' teachers, how conditioned they are to work efficiently, the sudden opening up of opportunities... life is too random to focus on the negatives. we've got to do what we can, and recognize the fact that the more time we spend talking to students, the less inclined we are to dismiss them on the basis of grades, IQ scores and other parameters that don't give you a complete sense of an individual's capabilities.